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USMNT Roster Prediction, October Qualifiers

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The final games of the Hex are upon us. Who will Bruce call in to close out qualifying?

MLS: Toronto FC at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The USMNT have two games left in the 2018 World Cup. If they win both of those games, they get a few more. But for all intents and purposes, these next two games are the World Cup for the U.S. Win and you’re in. Lose and you might not technically be out, other teams could still lose and you could still end up squeaking in automatically or winning a playoff game for the literal last spot in the tournament, but a whole lot gets left up to chance. So let’s not do that. Let’s win.

That’s the message Bruce seems to be taking to heart with recent comments. Unfortunately for many who wanted to see wholesale changes to the sides that crumbled against Costa Rica and Honduras, it’s still going to look a lot like last time.

So, there’s that. On the one hand, it’s understandable. Hiring Bruce Arena was the opposite of taking risks. It was the safe choice. And if the U.S. win the next two games like they’re expected to, that safe choice is immediately justified. On the other, it’s a troublesome quote for a team that frequently looked like they were out of ideas in their last two qualifiers. There will necessarily be a couple changes just due to injury and players recovering, but don’t expect too many shockers here.

Goalkeepers

Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

If I was coaching this team, would I bring Ethan Horvath along as the third Keeper? Absolutely. But I don’t think Bruce will, if only for continuity’s sake. Tim Howard, despite losing a step, figures to start against Panama, with Brad Guzan taking the reins against T&T.

Defenders

DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Jorge Villafaña, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Graham Zusi, DaMarcus Beasley

The big news here is a healthy DeAndre Yedlin, who figures to slot back into the starting right back position. Graham Zusi looked like he was stuck in the mud against Honduras and against Panama the last time these two teams squared off. Yedlin’s pace will be vital in supporting a center back pairing that will be second-choice at best in the absence of John Anthony Brooks. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler’s selections are both dependent on their respective health (a hamstring issue for Cameron and a nasty shot to the face that left Besler bloodied), but I would presume that if both can go, they’ll be the first choice center backs. Villafaña will continue his run as first-choice left back, while Ream, Gonzalez, Zusi, and Beasley round out Arena’s usual suspects of defenders. Yedlin’s return bumps Eric Lichaj out, as the Nottingham Forest man was the only defender to not see game time during the last two qualifiers. If injuries curtail the call-ups of Besler or Cameron, expect a Matt Hedges call-up.

Midfielders

Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Dax McCarty

This is the same exact compliment of midfielders Arena brought last time, I know. There is nothing Arena’s comments or the collective play of the midfield that leads me to believe he’ll actually switch it up. The only major question mark is Kellyn Acosta, who has struggled with groin issues and fatigue in recent weeks. Otherwise Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic lead the way here. Darlington Nagbe figures to see plenty of game time thanks to his ability in multiple spots throughout the midfield. Fabian Johnson will be back and hopefully be fully fit as well, after clearly being hampered by a recent return from injury last month. Paul Arriola has settled in at DC United, Dax McCarty is still his steady self, and Alejandro Bedoya is the type of piano-carrying player Bruce likes. With Sebastian Lletget and Kelyn Rowe both still recovering from injury, I don’t see anyone else Bruce has shown any real trust in over the last year he would call up for these qualifiers. Apologies to Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, but I expect to see them making their senior USMNT debuts later this year or early next year. Lee Nguyen caught fire this summer, and this roster lacks a true number ten outside of Pulisic, but he hasn’t gotten a sniff from Arena.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Clint Dempsey, Dom Dwyer

Jordan Morris’s injury opens the door for another forward to sneak in here. When Jozy was suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Arena replaced him with Chris Wondolowski. But with two full games to play, surely Bruce will realize how little Wondowloski brings to the table at this point, right? Against Honduras with three strikers in front of him, he was a body to fill a spot. Dwyer hasn’t exactly splashed in his new-old home of Orlando, but he still provides a far more dynamic presence up top.

Just please, God, don’t bring Gyasi Zardes.