Who Should the United States Call Up for the September World Cup Qualifiers?

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:

Goalkeepers

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.

Right Backs

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.

Center Backs

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.

Left Backs

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.

Forwards

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.

 

Takeaways from the United States’ 2017 Gold Cup Victory

Takeaways from the United States’ 2017 Gold Cup Victory

It felt like the United States eked out its 2017 Gold Cup victory, rather than truly outplaying its competition. There were plenty of positives to take away from the tournament and the championship, even if the rotation of players led to a lack of excellent team passing and creativity most of the time.

Jordan Morris, Kellyn Acosta, and Paul Arriola all either reaffirmed their talent or they showed more of what they were capable of. Acosta and Arriola oddly received some criticism for not showcasing enough talent and special qualities, but Acosta looked smooth, skillful, and involved, while Arriola looked fast and dangerous.

Without Christian Pulisic acting as a Number 10 behind the forwards, there definitely was a lack of playmaking and creativity in the attack that saw Jozy Altidore dropping back into the midfield to receive the ball and playmake. Luckily, Clint Dempsey was around to win the semifinal and break the deadlock in the final, but Bruce Arena deserves some criticism for cutting Kelyn Rowe after the group stage and not always starting someone to operate as the team’s playmaker. Arena has several quality playmakers to choose from in the field, and he arguably didn’t have any of them on the roster for the group stage or knockout rounds.

Against a weak CONCACAF field of B Teams, the United States should have been more dominate and impressive. Arena did what was necessary to win the tournament, but the U.S. barely won most of its games. The only rotating of players that made sense was not starting Dempsey in the semifinal when he had just played 90 minutes a few days before. Other than that, there was too much meddling with the starting lineup, which affected the team’s performances negatively. Not starting Dempsey in the final didn’t make much sense either since Dempsey only played some 20 minutes in the semifinal.

After so many years of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones not pairing well as the team’s holding midfielders, Acosta proved himself to be a box-to-box midfielder who partners well with Bradley. Acosta plays with graceful skill and easy athleticism, and he passes well. Arena now has the option of either using two holding midfielders or two forwards, and this allows him to field a more attack-minded or slightly less attack-minded lineup whenever he wants. Morris continues to be a direct and aggressive striker who scores goals and unsettles opponents with his speed, so the United States has another striker like Bobby Wood who can get behind the defense and score.

Without the first-choice center backs, right back, striker, and playmaker, the United States’ Gold Cup squad wasn’t it’s A Team, so this wasn’t a chance to see if the United States has built on its progression under Arena. Nevertheless, at least the United States won the tournament, which should have been much easier to win. The real lesson is that the United States should always be starting its very best lineup until they are more dominant.

 

Bruce Arena Taking United States 2017 Gold Cup Competition Too Lightly

Bruce Arena has been a better national team coach than Jürgen Klinsmann in terms of his player selection and tactics, but Arena has taken the Gold Cup competition too lightly. In the 2017 Gold Cup, the United States has been drawing or barely winning, and in the semifinals, it took Clint Dempsey coming on in the 69th minute to break the deadlock with an artistic assist and a masterful free kick goal to finally beat Costa Rica.

Arena’s coaching decisions in this Gold Cup haven’t been poor, but they haven’t been excellent either. Arena has been taking opposing teams too lightly by shuffling lineups and auditioning players too much while also failing to start a playmaker behind the strikers to fill Christian Pulisic’s Number 10 role. Pulisic is already back with his club team Borussia Dortmund, and the United States’ passing, creativity, and attack has been subpar compared to previous recent U.S. National Team games.

The second-time U.S. coach was close to fielding a strong lineup against Costa Rica in the semifinal, but again there was no real attacking midfielder or playmaker until Dempsey came on late in the game. Pairing Kellyn Acosta and Michael Bradley as the holding midfielders behind the more attacking players was an improvement for the squad as Bradley could sit deeper in front of the defense and Acosta was free to go forward more. On the other hand, starting Graham Zusi once again at right back was suspect at best. Arena is apparently going to insist on having Zusi as a right back option, and Arena has really dug his heels in on this questionable decision.

Against Jamaica on Wednesday in the 2017 Gold Cup Final, Arena will likely start Dempsey rather than saving him for the end like last game which was done on purpose to account for Dempsey’s 90 minute performance just a few days prior to the semifinal against Costa Rica. Look for Dempsey to play alongside Jozy Altidore up top in the attack or to play as the center attacking midfielder behind Altidore and possibly Jordan Morris. We could see the United States drop Acosta in order to go with the more attack-minded 4-1-3-2 formation, but maybe not.

Arena has been taking the United States’ Gold Cup competition way too lightly in the 2017 Gold Cup, but against Jamaica in the final, Arena would be wise to not start the likes of Zusi or Gyasi Zardes. It will be interesting to see if Paul Arriola or Joe Corona starts in the final, but with many first-choice attacking players like Pulisic, Sebastian Lletget, and Kelyn Rowe not on this roster, one of Corona or Arriola should start.

 

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic should be the first name on the United States’ team sheet, and he should be on the team sheet in the Number 10 role.

When Bruce Arena first deployed Pulisic as a Number 10 beneath Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, what Arena did was set the United States up to showcase its best passing and best attacking play ever.

Recently, when the United States tied Mexico 1-1 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Arena was somewhat forced to not use his first-choice players because they were operating on only a few days rest from a previous World Cup qualifier, but Pulisic nevertheless started. In the 3-4-3 formation used by Arena, Pulisic was operating out on the left wing in an attacking triangle, and this lessened his impact to attack Mexico and facilitate the American attack. Pulisic didn’t have as many touches on the ball out left, and he wasn’t in a position to feed Bobby Wood up top at striker as much as Pulisic could have in the middle.

Rotating players was excusable, but there was no need to use Pulisic out left or to use one less midfielder. Arena made the wise decision to start Kellyn Acosta in the center of the midfielder with Michael Bradley, and with Acosta helping out Bradley, there was no need to use three center backs instead of two. With the set-up used, there was a big gap between where Acosta and Bradley were and where Wood was up top.

This game against Mexico, while a good draw for the U.S., nevertheless showed how much the U.S.’s passing and attacking ability weakened with Pulisic out wide instead of behind the striker or strikers, and the team’s passing was certainly worse with Darlington Nagbe on the bench as one of the rotated out players.

Given Pulisic’s abilities and importance for the U.S., some minor criticism of Arena’s tactics against Mexico is warranted. The U.S. did earn an important point for the draw, but that point likely mostly came from an incredible and sensational golazo from Bradley.

Starting Pulisic as the center attacking midfielder should take precedence in an Arena lineup for the United States, and the real decision for Arena going forward will be whether or not he starts Acosta again with Bradley in more of a 4-2-3-1 or if starting two forwards is key for Arena. Whatever Arena goes with, Pulisic must be used centrally to orchestrate the American attack and to score and create goals.

 

 

Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico

Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico

Michael Bradley scored a stunning golazo against Mexico in Sunday in World Cup qualifying when he chipped Mexico’s goalkeeper Memo Ochoa from some 40 yards out while sprinting. Bradley’s goal was worthy of Francesco Totti who lived to score by the cucchiaio, as it’s called in Italian.

Several minutes into the game against Mexico, Bradley stole a pass from Mexico weaved right in between two defenders and more or less immediately hit a soft chip while sprinting over Ochoa who was near the top of his own penalty box.

Shawn Francis had it right when he posted a photo of Michael Bradley on Twitter with the caption, “Remember when you thought my dad got me this job?”

Bradley’s goal was impressive for several reasons. First, he hit his chip without any hesitation when he possibly could have tried to score by hitting his shot low and hard into the corner. Second, Bradley hit the chip from some 40 yards out, and, third, it’s very difficult to get the weight of the shot just right off a chip. Finally, Bradley hit his chip while dribbling at a sprint which makes the chip so much harder not to hit too hard over the crossbar.

In many ways, you can’t help thinking that Bradley should still be playing in Serie A if he’s able to score that caliber of an international goal. MLS offered Bradley a huge salary, but Bradley’s abilities are better maximized in European club soccer. In Serie A, Bradley proved himself to be an excellent dead ball specialist, and his chip against Mexico further showcased this control of the ball.

Before Bruce Arena took over as head coach of the United States, fans and the media had been lamenting Bradley’s play with the national team, but with better players deployed in a more logical tactical setup, it appears the Bradley’s struggles might have been caused by playing with subpar players.

After a goal like he just scored, Bradley might have silenced a small minority of his critics who unjustly blamed him for the U.S.’s poor play before Arena took over.

 

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Who Should the United States Start Against Mexico in World Cup qualifying?

Except for starting Jozy Altidore over Bobby Wood at center forward, coach Bruce Arena got his United States lineup right in the World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago in Denver. The United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 as they should have, and the U.S. should obviously be playing for the win against Mexico in Mexico City.

Altidore played well for the United States in the last game where he even set up a goal, but Wood is the more dangerous player and the more difficult player to defend and contain. Arena also has the option of altering his formation, but he seems content with his 4-1-3-2 formation which has worked very well for the U.S. It’s even an attacking lineup, which the United States and Arena never used to use.

Wood over Altidore may be the only lineup change for the United States, and having Wood and Pulisic running at the Mexican defense in Azteca should be a more electric attack than the U.S. has ever fielded in Mexico’s enormous Azteca stadium in Mexico City. There is a possibility that Kellyn Acosta will start against Mexico with the logic being that the United States will need another center midfielder to keep possession and recovery possession, and both Bradley and Acosta cover a lot of territory.

Fabian Johnson didn’t play particularly well in either of the last two U.S. games, but nobody doubts his talent, speed, or experience. Nevertheless, Arena should play somebody over Johnson, and that somebody should be Acosta.

Using Acosta would alter the Americans’ formation, and just maybe Dempsey plays tucked in on the left rather than playing as a second striker. Pulisic moves all over the attack and all over the field for that matter, and rigidly confining Dempsey or Pulisic to wide or central roles on the field is a misunderstanding of how they play and how the sport is played.

A strong option for Arena against Mexico therefore is to insert Acosta into the lineup and not use a three-man defense with three center back, which is something the U.S. is comfortable enough with to really use against Mexico. Even though the U.S. just played Thursday, switching up the center backs or the defense at all feels risky. If a player or players get tired, then that’s what substitutes are for. Going with the 4-3-3 formation would help with the fatigue from the recent game since the 4-3-3 would have Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta as a three-man midfield with three center midfielders to keep possession and recover possession, which would make for an attacking three of Pulisic, Wood, and Dempsey who are all fluid and versatile attackers who know how to move into space and show for the ball. Rather than trotting out some unproven and new defense, Arena should play a three-man midfield of Nagbe, Bradley, and Acosta

Here’s who World Soccer Source believes the United States should start against Mexico:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin

Center Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: John Brooks

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Right Center Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Left Center Midfielder: Darlington Nagbe

Right Wing: Christian Pulisic

Center Forward: Bobby Wood

Left Wing: Clint Dempsey

 

Bruce Arena’s Forward Options for the U.S. National Team

Bruce Arena’s Forward Options for the United States Men’s National Team

Bruce Arena has five good forwards for arguably only four forward roster spots. Some of these forwards are clearly better than the others.

For starters, Clint Dempsey is the best forward in the pool, and the best American soccer player ever.

Next, Bobby Wood is the best center forward in the pool, even better than Jozy Altidore. Wood is more technical, faster, more aggressive, and more clinical, and all of these reasons make him better than Altidore.

After Altidore, comes Juan Agudelo, who is more creative and more skilled than Altidore. Like Wood, Agudelo is a more aggressive and direct player than Altidore, who himself has undergone something of a Renaissance. Altidore has vastly improved his playmaking and passing, plus he has been attacking defenders more directly and beating them off the dribble.

Finally, we have Jordan Morris, who plays like Bobby Wood, but Morris still heavily favors his right foot; Morris has also not shown the type of clinical finishing that Wood has shown, but Morris can definitely put the ball in the back of the net. Morris offers speed like Wood, but Morris has to be faster than Wood, who himself is devastatingly fast.

So, we see that Arena has a good problem, and the way the Dempsey plays makes him something of a playmaker, which allows Arena to put all five of these players on the roster. Maybe it’s too many forwards since all are center forwards, but Agudelo, Wood, and Altidore all also play like second strikers or withdrawn forwards.

Because the United States historically has had problems scoring enough goals against elite competition, there is something to be said of just making a habit of calling up four to five forwards who have no problems scoring. Using two forwards at once is common enough and often wise, and a substitute for two forwards would give the roster four forwards, plus Dempsey who of course is also an attacking midfielder.

The major story line for the United States’ next game will be whether or not Arena will be wise enough to start Dempsey and Wood together without getting distracted by all the attention and buzz around Altidore’s much improved play. There is also the storyline of Agudelo’s more consistent club play where he’s starting and scoring as a Number 9 for the New England Revolution, and leaving him off the roster would be a big mistake. If one forward has to be left off, then it might have to be Morris, but not calling up a forward with world-class speed combined with aggressive and skillful play might be a big mistake too.

Is Altidore’s improved play more impressive than Agudelo or Morris’ abilities?

We’ll see.

 

Takeaways from the United States’ World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama

Takeaways from the United States’ World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama

The United States beat Honduras and drew with Panama for an important four points in World Cup qualifying, but the United States should have taken the full six points from these two games. Bruce Arena reverted to an overly conservative lineup against Panama with both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the center of the midfield, and Arena’s center back choices, Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream, looked bad against Panama. With Jones in the midfield, the U.S. lost the passing skill and attacking flair they showed with Christian Pulisic as the Number 10 behind Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.

Here are some of the big takeaways from the United States’ two World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama:

Bruce Arena Is a Bigger Proponent of Skill Soccer than Jürgen Klinsmann

Bruce Arena is a bigger proponent of skill soccer than Jürgen Klinsmann, which is strange. Klinsmann is one of the all-time leaders in World Cup goals as a striker, but he never fielded the players and formations needed to really attack opponents. In every game that Arena has coached for the United States in his second coaching stint, he has fielded proactive lineups with as many technical and creative players as he could fit into the lineup. Arena had multiple injuries to deal with against Panama, so that lineup was not as technical, creative, and attack-minded as his Honduras lineup. Nevertheless, Klinsmann’s lineups were never as bold and attack-minded as Arena’s, who used to be known for always using the 4-4-2 formation with two defensive midfielders, except for his use of Sebastian Lletget as the other central midfielder for the LA Galaxy in 2016. With the U.S., Arena’s preference has been to use two forwards with three attacking midfielders and only one defensive midfielder, and Arena was even bold enough to let Christian Pulisic be the team’s Number 10 over both Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan.

Christian Pulisic Should Be the United States’ Permanent Number 10

As soon as Christian Pulisic was allowed to play the Number 10 role, he attacked opponents directly with speed, skill, and vision, and he created four goals for Clint Dempsey in two games. To be fair, one of Dempsey’s goals was a free kick, but Pulisic directly set up three of Dempsey’s four goals. Pulisic has already displayed a full array of passing and attacking skills in the Bundesliga, and as one media member put it, the fact that Panama instantly chose to hack and push Pulisic around was the ultimate sign of respect for his abilities.

Bruce Arena must focus on improving his defense

The United States was without three of its four defenders against Panama, but nevertheless, both Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream just looked not good enough to be playing for the U.S. Perhaps Ream was just a little nervy at times, but Gonzalez is not quick enough and fast enough to be starting. Arena will have to commit to using Walker Zimmerman and Steve Birnbaum when Geoff Cameron and John Brooks are out, and Arena must also look for some more center backs. Andrew Farrell is one option because his combines the defending, speed, and skill on the ball to play at the international level. Surely, the U.S. has some other center backs as well.

Clint Dempsey Looks Like He’s Still in His Prime

Fresh off of recovering from an irregular heartbeat, Clint Dempsey played like a monster against Honduras and Panama. Deuce benefited from playing with Pulisic, but all of Dempsey’s goals except the fourth one required a ton of skill; the fourth goals required coolness in front of the goal more than anything as the goal was all Pulisic’s work. Not only is Dempsey’s touch and finishing looking sharp, but physically he looked light on his feet and fast. Dempsey has never been lightning fast, but his overly all athletic ability has been underrated as many mischaracterized him as mostly a toughness player. Dempsey has stood out as an American for his skill on the ball, trickery, and clinical finishing, but his continued ability to run all game and beat people in a foot race are also important.

 

The United States Lineup Was Too Conservative in Draw Against Panama

The United States Lineup Was Too Conservative in Draw Against Panama

Bruce Arena fielded an overly conservative United States lineup featuring Jermaine Jones against Panama, and the team showed less passing and attacking prowess in a 1-1 tie. The United States could have used the full three points against a Panama squad that is frankly not good enough to warrant an overly defensive lineup. Not attacking the opponent might be the best way to let the opponent attack you.

In the previous win against Honduras, Arena used only one defensive midfielder behind a line of three attacking midfielders and two forwards, and this setup allowed Christian Pulisic to pull the attacking strings behind Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. Using a 4-4-2 formation with Jones next to Michael Bradley in the middle of the midfield, the United States didn’t open up the Panamanian defense enough or create enough scoring chances.

Jozy Altidore, who was involved and impressive in his playmaking as a center forward was largely invisible against Panama in a formation that didn’t get him enough touches as it had against Honduras.

Panama was all over Pulisic pushing him around and trying to take him out of the game with physicality, but the Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder powered through the physicality and was largely unfazed. On the U.S.’ only goal which Dempsey scored, Pulisic shook off and danced around two Panamanian defenders to set up Dempsey from point blank range, and Dempsey didn’t miss. Pulisic continued to display tons of skill and impressive speed, and there can be little doubt now that Pulisic is the best U.S. player along with Dempsey. Pulisic looks to be better than both Landon Donovan and Dempsey, and compared to Dempsey, Pulisic is much quicker and faster, and a better passer.

The American defense was bad with Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, and Jorge Villafaña from right to left, but Villafaña continues to impress. Zusi, Gonzalez, and Ream shouldn’t be starting when there are better options, which there weren’t.

Darlington Nagbe was excellent again with his passing, slashing runs, and speed, which he uses to bring the ball into dangerous areas in the attack. In the next U.S. game, Arena would be wise to continue to use Nagbe on the left wing with Pulisic in the center and Paul Arriola on the right wing, since Sebastian Lletget is now injured.

Arena made a roster mistake in not bringing Juan Agudelo. Once Altidore was ineffective against Panama, the U.S. needed a sub for Altidore, and there wasn’t one. This should have been Agudelo. Altidore needs a lineup that feeds him the ball more, and his passing and dribbling was impressive against Honduras. Still, it’s hard to start Altidore over a healthy Bobby Wood, who was injured for these two World Cup qualifiers. Even though Altidore impresses, Wood is better at stretching the defense than Altidore, and the Pulisic will be an even bigger weapon with a striker of Wood’s smoothness, directness, and speed.

The big takeaways from this game were several: Altidore continues to improve, Pulisic is outstanding as the playmaker, Dempsey and Pulisic are the best players on the team, and an attack-minded lineup is the best U.S. formation.

There’s no way around the fact that being satisfied with a tie against Panama is a little weak and small-minded. The United States is too good at soccer now to be ok with a tie against Panama when the U.S. could have really used the full three points for the win.

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Who Should the United States against Panama?

Whatever Bruce Arena does, he should be sure not to change the attack-minded nature of the United States’ lineup that beat Honduras 6-0. Arena only used one defensive midfielder, Michael Bradley, as opposed to using a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, and this allowed the United States to overload its lineup with attacking players without having too little defensive coverage in front of the defense.

There’s no reason to change goalkeepers, especially since Brad Guzan isn’t even on the roster, so Tim Howard should start in goal again. However, the rest of the defense will have some changes as one of the two starting center backs, John Brooks, is unavailable. Arena was using Geoff Cameron at right back, but Arena may need to move him back to center back because otherwise the center of the American defense may be too week.

The U.S. could start Cameron with Tim Ream, and this would give the United States two athletic and technical center backs to try to get three more points against Panama. Omar Gonzalez is a decent center back, but he frequently looks prone to be wrong-footed or outfoxed with lateral quickness and speed. Likewise, Matt Besler, the only U.S. center back option, is fast but somewhat mediocre for international play. If Arena wants to be really bold again, then he could use Walker Zimmerman who is fast enough, technical enough, and aggressive enough to make for a quality center back in international play. Compared to Gonzalez and Besler, Zimmerman is likely harder to get past and more intimidating for attackers.

In the Front Six, which would include the defensive midfielder, the three attacking midfielders, and the two forwards, the United States should change as little as possible from the lineup that pounded Honduras. For one of the first times ever, the United States looked like they were playing skill soccer, and that lineup produced quick passing, creative play, and goals. Since one of those starters, Sebastian Lletget, cannot start against Panama due to injury, Arena should let Paul Arriola start at right wing over Alejandro Bedoya. Arriola is playing great for Club Tijuana, and Arriola plays the type of free-flowing soccer that Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Darlington Nagbe play.

Here’s who the United States should start against Panama:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Right Back: Geoff Cameron

Center Back: Omar Gonzalez

Center Back: Tim Ream

Left Back: Jorge Villafaña

Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley

Right Wing: Paul Arriola

Attacking Midfielder: Christian Pulisic

Left Wing: Darlington Nagbe

Forward: Jozy Altidore

Forward: Clint Dempsey