Who Should the United States Call Up for the September World Cup Qualifiers?
U.S. coach Bruce Arena and the United States will need to get as many points as possible from the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in September against Panama and Honduras, and the U.S. will need the strongest squad possible. The United States is currently sitting in third place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with 8 points while Mexico is in first with 14 points and Costa Rica is in second with 11 points.
During the 2017 Gold Cup, Arena used less than a full strength squad that needed all six roster additions after the group stage to win the tournament full of countries’ B Teams. In September, the United States will need Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey starting to field anything close to an A Team. Without Pulisic or Dempsey, the United States has no playmaker, which has proved to be a problem for a team that struggles to score without them. Dempsey and Pulisic playing together gives the Arena his best squad.
Besides Pulisic and Dempsey, Arena will also need Geoff Cameron and John Brooks starting in the center of the defense as both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are a level below the European based center backs. Cameron and Brooks are better defensively, technically, an athletically than Besler and Brooks. The United States was also missing its best center forward Bobby Wood in the Gold Cup.
The United States’ passing and creativity was poor during the Gold Cup, but a full-strength team for World Cup qualifying should fix these two problems.
Here’s who Arena could or should call up for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras in September:
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, William Yarbrough
Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are obvious locks for two of the three goalkeeper spots, but the third spot is a hard choice. Ethan Horvath and David Bingham have been recent picks for the third goalkeeping spot, but William Yarbrough has shown well for the U.S. before. The U.S has plenty of goalkeepers to chose from, but Yarbrough is the most proven and most ready if a third goalkeeper is needed in the event that both Howard and Guzan are injured or suspended in two games.
DeAndre Yedlin, Eric Lichaj
Right back is an interesting position for the U.S. In many ways, the U.S. still needs a better right back. After Steve Cherundolo retired, none of the U.S. right backs have looked anywhere close to as good. DeAndre Yedlin is of course the top option, and Eric Lichaj looked a lot less smooth than he did for the United States years ago. Graham Zusi has looked ok for the U.S. His overall skill level is good for a defender, and he can cut onto his left foot, which is a useful skill. In international soccer, the United States really needs a right back with speed, technical ability, and good defending. Yedlin has the speed, but he doesn’t really have the polished technical ability of a top class right back. Arena likes using Zusi, but Lichaj has more experience.
Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, Walker Zimmerman
Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are the first-choice starters for the U.S. Despite Arena’s using Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler in the Gold Cup, Steve Birnbaum and Walker Zimmerman have all looked better, even if the former two have more caps. Arena will probably select Gonzalez and Besler as the backups – or at least Gonzalez- but World Soccer Source supports Birnbaum and Zimmerman. Birnbaum is faster and more technical than Gonzalez, and Zimmerman is a better marker and tackler than Besler. Zimmerman is also good technically and athletic enough for international play, even if Besler is known for his speed.
Jorge Villafaña, DaMarcus Beasley
Jorge Villafaña as solidified his spot as the starting left back for the United States. He’s both solid defensively and dynamic and lively going forward. Villafaña also has the skill to cut onto his weaker right foot to play passes or crosses, and he’s become one of the primary attacking pieces despite playing as a defender. After Villafaña either DaMarcus Beasley or Greg Garza have to be the second-choice left back. Garza at times looks slow, and Beasley is in his mid-thirties. Beasley always performs well for the U.S., plus he still has his speed. Beasley is the likely back-up between the two.
Defensive Midfielders and Central Midfielders
Michael Bradley, Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan
No big surprises in this group. Michael Bradley is the obvious starting defensive midfielder in what will likely be a 4-1-3-2 formation. Dax McCarty is Bradley’s substitute, and Kellyn Acosta is a box-to-box or Number 8 midfielder who offers plenty of creativity and quality, including free kick and scoring quality. Unlike Bradley and McCarty, Acosta offers more playmaking and attacking flair and skill.
Attacking Midfielders and Wings
Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Paul Arriola, Kelyn Rowe
Look for Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic, and Darlington Nagbe to start from right to left in the line of three attacking midfielders in front of Bradley. Kelyn Rowe will likely be the first substitute for those three positions. Rowe has long been an MLS standout, and he stood out for the U.S. as well in the Gold Cup group stage. It would be surprising if Arena left Rowe off the roster, especially with Sebastian Lletget injured. A healthy Lletget is an immediate starter on the right over Arriola, and Lletget is probably the best substitute for Pulisic as the Number 10 as well.
Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Jordan Morris
For a long time, the U.S.’s forward options were poor, and the U.S. had a hard time scoring goals. Now with the emergence of Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore’s improvement in form, the United States has a more dangerous attack that’s better at putting the ball in the goal. Wood is excellent at stretching the defense and beating defenders 1v1, and the Hawaiian is a clinical finisher with both feet. Another huge plus with Wood is his willingness to attack defenses directly and take shots even when he gets even a half chance or a glimpse of the goal. Jordan Morris attacks defenses in the same way that Wood does, and he’s qualified to start over Altidore and partner Wood. Clint Dempsey has to be a starter up top for this team, and there will be three full days between the two World Cup qualifiers. Three days aren’t a lot of rest, but it makes more sense to let Dempsey start both games and just sub him out if he runs out of steam, especially since this team has three Number 9s on the roster. You have to think that Arena not starting Dempsey in the semifinals and finals was because it was the Gold Cup and not World Cup qualifiers.