The U.S. has called up its squad for World Cup Qualifiers. These will be the first significant matches of Bruce Arena’s second tenure with the team and they will be quite significant. The U.S. sits bottom of the qualifying hex after two matches, with zero points and a -5 goal difference.
Questions from the Klinsmann era carry-over. None of them have straightforward answers. There are still some young, athletic, and versatile players, but the team has little proven top-level quality and not much of a spine. Can the U.S. take steps going forward without getting ripped apart at the back?
The World Cup, little more than a year away, looks closer than it did a few months ago. Here are a few thoughts on the squad.
These Are Your Goalkeepers
Arena selected old hands Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Nick Rimando. All are experienced. The latter two are in their late 30s. None are the week-in, week-out Premier League-caliber goalkeepers the U.S. was flush with the past decade. Maybe one of the younger players slips in for a roster spot. But, the U.S. probably sticks with experience.
Familiar Back Four Questions
Right-back will be makeshift for these two matches. DeAndre Yedlin, who is having an excellent season for Newcastle, will miss due to injury. Timmy Chandler, suspended for the first match, won’t be recalled from Europe for the second. Maybe that’s Geoff Cameron sliding over. Maybe its Michael Orozco.
Left back, no surprise, remains an issue with Fabian Johnson slotting forward to midfield. The nod could go to former Portland Timber Jorge Villafana or old man DaMarcus Beasley. The central defense should be some combination of John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler is not in the squad. Tim Ream (?) is.
Central Midfield Is A Concern
The U.S. must do a better job controlling the midfield and covering its defense. It’s not clear the personnel is there to do so. Jermaine Jones, who will be 36 in 2018, is still in the squad. Arena could slide Cameron forward into defensive midfield to play with Michael Bradley. His old club hand Sebastian Lletget is another option. This could also be an opportunity for either MLS youngster Kellyn Acosta or Dax McCarty, voted MLS’ most underrated player to prove their worths. If the U.S. is going anywhere, it needs to be quicker, stronger, smarter, and better on the ball.
Will There Be An Attacking Midfielder?
Arena left out Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, the two obvious veteran candidates to play a central attacking midfield role. Nagbe or Lletget are also options there. Bradley could conceivably slide up. Grant Wahl suggested Pulisic could play in the middle. It could also be a sign the U.S. plans to go 4-4-2
The U.S. Does Have Options Going Forward
Going 4-4-2 would make some sense, because the U.S. has options up front. Jozy Altidore has experience and provides a physical presence. Bobby Wood is playing well in Germany. Jordan Morris has a full professional season under his belt. Inveterate scorer of pivotal goals Clint Dempsey is back in the squad. Dempsey is still a tempest, even if the teapot has a diminished range.