A brutal weekend in the Bundesliga has cost Bruce Arena two of his expected starting 11 for Friday’s crucial World Cup Qualifying match versus Honduras with Fabian Johnson and Bobby Wood joining a third presumptive starter, DeAndre Yedlin, on the U.S. MNT injured list.
The trio is also unavailable for Tuesday’s away game against Panama, bad news for a U.S. side that sits last in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying (The Hex) after dropping its first two games to Mexico (2-1) and Costa Rica (4-0).
Those losses raised the specter of missing out on the World Cup next year in Russia and prompted U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati to fire Jurgen Klinsmann, replacing him with Bruce Arena.
Having guided the U.S to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup Finals, Arena was seen as a safe pair of hands, although these absences make the returned U.S. boss’s job that much more difficult.
The news was not all bad this weekend for the U.S. with a few players putting in notable performances before heading to San Jose, where the U.S. will host Los Catrachos Friday night at Avaya Stadium at 10:30 pm ET.
John Brooks powered home a headed goal from a corner kick for Hertha Berlin on Saturday. The big center back couldn’t prevent Hertha’s 4-2 loss to Cologne but Arena will be glad of Brooks’ presence on set pieces and in the heart of his defense, especially after seeing Brooks come up lame during Saturday’s match before being cleared by Berlin’s medical staff.
Brooks may be joined in front of Tim Howard, who is playing well and will start in goal, by Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez played several years in L.A. under Arena and with Geoff Cameron a likely choice in Yedlin’s fullback position, the coach may well lean on the Pachuca mainstay.
Arena had indicated his preference to use Fabian Johnson in the wide midfield role that Johnson plays with Borussia Monchengladbach, leaving the eternal left fullback question up in the air.
Jorge Villafana has recently returned to the Santos Laguna lineup after looking like an outcast for several months at the Liga MX club. Arena is a fan but he may turn to old reliable DaMarcus Beasley, remarkable considering that Run DMB received his first U.S. MNT cap under Arena all the way back in 2001.
Wood is likely to be replaced alongside Jozy Altidore by Jordan Morris, unless Clint Dempsey’s positive start to the season, two goals in 269 of a possible 270 minutes, has convinced Arena to turn to Deuce from the start, rather than off of the bench as the coach has suggested.
With Wood out of contention Arena could also opt to use Altidore as a lone striker, a role the TFC man has conceded doesn’t suit him. Arena may not want to tinker with his power forward, Altidore is coming in hot, scoring one goal and setting up the other in Toronto’s 2-0 win Saturday in Vancouver.
That just leaves the midfield. Jermaine Jones is unavailable Friday through suspension but again, Arena has options. Arena has said repeatedly that Michael Bradley will play the “six,” most likely leaving three midfield spots to be filled.
Christian Pulisic will claim one. Arena has said the BVB teenager would be used wide but the coach has surely taken note of Pulisic scoring goals from a more central role in Bundesliga and Champions League play.
Pulisic can be used centrally, perhaps at the top of a diamond, or wide. Arena has selected a versatile group to battle for the other two positions. Alejandro Bedoya, Sebastian Lletget, and Darlington Nagbe can also be used as wings or through the middle. Centrally, Sacha Kljestan is more of a creator, Dax McCarty a solid defender and distributor while Kellyn Acosta is the wild card. The 21-year-old FC Dallas man is defying categorization so far in what is shaping up as a breakout 2017 season and may force Arena’s hand.
March 24, 2017 – 7:30 PM PT
MNT vs Honduras @Avaya Stadium; San Jose, Calif.
FS1, UniMas, UDN
March 28, 2017 – 10 PM ET
MNT vs Panama @Estadio Rommel Fernandez; Panama City, Panama
beIN SPORTS, Telemundo, Universo
GOALKEEPERS (3): *Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/ENG; 13/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 33/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 33/6), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER; 2/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 19/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 12/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX; 6/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 2/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas; 0/0) Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 1/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 6/0, Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 31/5), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy; 16/0), **Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 15/1), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 3/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 5/2)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 33/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 36/13), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), ***Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 8/3)
*replaced by David Bingham.
**replaced by Graham Zusi
*** replaced by Sacha Kljestan