Bruce Arena announced a 27 (!) man roster for three upcoming games over the next couple weeks and it’s one that should make most fans happy. It is a very deep and strong list of players for this June camp that will culminate in a second crack at Mexico at the Azteca in Mexico City on June 11. After the disastrous first match against El Tri in Columbus, it will be something of a revenge game for team and a great early bellwether for how the team plays under Arena. We’ll have more on the site closer to that match, but first a look at the roster.
The goal minders remain the stable bunch of Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Nick Rimando, with the addition of Ethan Horvath for a dash of youth. The USMNT is nearing a time in the not-so-distant future when an injection of youth at the net will be necessary on a full time basis. None of Guzan, Howard, or Rimando are the future. Although important qualifying matches against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico are not the time or place for experimentation at such an important position, one hopes that the Gold Cup roster this summer will not include any of the older three so that plans can be made for the future. Unless Timmy starts aging backwards, there is no clear line of succession yet and it needs to be established.
At defense, Arena has easily his strongest lineup since taking over, with a healthy John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Jorge Villafana. Those are, in all likelihood, the starters but the inclusion of Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler,
Timmy Chandler (has withdrawn with an injury — typical), and Tim Ream all give depth in case of injury or suspension. Rounding out the group is Matt Hedges, nominal right back Graham Zusi and I-guess-not-retired DaMarcus Beasley. I would say that if either of those latter two see significant minutes, something has probably gone wrong, but Arena has a strange habit of playing guys forever and with Chandler gone, Zusi is probably Yedlin’s primary back up. It probably goes without saying, but this is also an area where more youth would probably be a benefit in the long run, but considering the team still sits fourth in qualifying, this is a safe selection.
Helpfully, there is some of that youth in the midfield, with Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola included for the camp, alongside presumed starters Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, and Christian Pulisic. The big question is who gets the fourth midfield starting spot (to the extent there is one, more on that in a minute). With Jermaine Jones out with injury, and maybe out more permanently after the not-great showing last time around, there is a potential opening for one of Alejandro Bedoya, Dax McCarty, or Darlington Nagbe. Another wrinkle to keep an eye on is where Pulisic lines up. He showed last camp that he may be ready for a full time run centrally, opening up a wing for any of the other midfielders.
And last, but certainly not least, the forwards have no surprise inclusions with Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, and Bobby Wood comprising a perfect blend of old and new players. The interest really lies in who of the group starts and how many of them. Given how the roster was listed with such a small group of forwards, more than likely, Arena will roll out a nominal 4-4-2, limiting his selection of the strikers to two of the four. Two months ago I would have said the only choice can be Altidore and Wood, but after Dempsey’s exceptional performance last go around, it will be interesting if he gets the start over Wood. The other alternative is, rather than have Pulisic move centrally, leave him out wide and allow Dempsey to play underneath Wood and Altidore. Playing all three strikers changes the formation to more of a 4-3-3, but gives the attack a real bite.
The first answers to these questions may be unveiled June 3rd, when the USMNT will play a friendly against Venezuela to warm up for the qualifiers. If everything goes to plan (and when does it ever), the team will try to secure four points from the matches that follow. That would hopefully vault them into the top three of World Cup Qualifying and the safety of an automatic bid. In the interim, keep an eye on Arena’s starting eleven choice for the friendly and who gets some run after half. Check back next week for a preview of the Mexico game and starting eleven predictions.
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