The time has come for Bruce Arena. A “23 to 25 man” roster will be announced at some point this week for Hexagonal matches against Honduras and Panama. The United States are certainly not out of the running for Russia at this point, but 6 points from the next two games would do them a world of good after losing out to Mexico and Costa Rica.
This is an interesting time for the player pool. Some regulars who have been out injured for several months are just now coming back into the fray, while other sure-fire starters are struggling with health and suspensions at the worst possible moment. Taking all of these things into account, here’s my best guess at a 24 man roster Bruce Arena could name for his first meaningful matches with the USMNT, the second time around.
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
This group is the most familiar-looking one that you’ll see. Howard just got his first game time since coming out against Mexico last fall, and looked far better than he had any right to against the New York Red Bulls. Brad Guzan just got his first playing time for Middlesbrough in several months against Manchester City in FA Cup play, and managed to keep the game relatively close despite Boro being severaly outmatched. Rimando was one of the big winners in January Camp, as David Bingham and Luis Robles didn’t make much of a mark, and a younger option like Ethan Horvath isn’t playing.
John Anthony Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, Steve Birnbaum, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Greg Garza
The person everyone thought would be a big question mark due to health, Geoff Cameron, has put in a couple solid shifts for Stoke City in the last few weeks, and appears ready to go. The person everyone was counting on to be there for Arena no matter what went down, DeAndre Yedlin, is sidelined with an injury that he may or may not recover from in time for this game. But with Arena project Graham Zusi seeing a lot of right back time in January Camp and Steve Birnbaum also having right back experience, I expect DeAndre to still be called in based on his form for Newcastle, at the very least to be evaluated. Two people that could throw a wrench in this are Timmy Chandler and Jorge Villafana. Villafana outplayed Garza in January but hasn’t gotten many club minutes since, as opposed to Garza being the out-and-out starter in Atlanta. Chandler is a better option for backup right back than Zusi in my mind, but I have a hunch Arena rolls with Zusi based on his experience. I included Fabian Johnson here because I think Arena will play him at left back for the time being, but who really knows where he’ll end up on the field. Tim Ream, Eric Lichaj, Walker Zimmerman, and Chad Marshall are dark horses for this bunch.
Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber, Paul Arriola, Dax McCarty, Alejandro Bedoya
The big leap I’m taking here is Paul Arriola. But Arriola has been tearing it up for Xolos in Mexico, most recently netting the winner against none other than Club America to send Tijuana into the quarterfinals of Copa MX. His most direct competition for a spot and any playing time is Alejandro Bedoya, but Bedoya looked exceedingly average in January, and started beef with Jozy Altidore this past weekend as well. It will be interesting to see if and/or how that affects his USMNT standing. At the moment, I still think Arena calls him in as a veteran presence on the squad. Bradley and Pulisic are fairly obvious locks. Lletget and Nagbe also impressed Arena during January Camp, and fill rolls not many other players can in the midfield. McCarty gets the nod as Jermaine Jones is suspended for the Honduras game, and Kljestan and Feilhaber fulfill the #10 duties on this roster. A name to look out for here is Kellyn Acosta, who can play as a #8 and a #6, and has already scored three goals in all competitions for FC Dallas. Emerson Hyndman could also be an outside chance here after a great start to his loan at Rangers.
Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood
None of these names should be surprising. If Dempsey can go 90 minutes two weeks in a row, he’s going to get called in. Jozy and Bobby’s presence is also assumed on health, and Jordan Morris’s speed is always welcome. With Juan Agudelo and even Terrence Boyd waiting in the wings, it’s kind of nice to feel “beyond” looking at Chris Wondolowski as a necessary option for the last forward spot, even if he’s been playing well for San Jose. We know how that story ends.