USMNT – World Cup Qualifying Match Day 4
The USMNT faces Costa Rica in a key qualifying match for next summer’s Russia 2018 World Cup. The match is slated for NY’s Red Bull Stadium on Friday September 1st at 6:30 EDT followed by an away game in Honduras next Tuesday. When looking at the history of the MNT playing in NY one wonders why the US Soccer Federation chose such a venue? The MNT actually has a losing record in NY. However, for this match it makes sense for a number of reasons. Red Bull Arena is a natural grass surface so there are no concerns with having to lay sod over artificial turf and how well it holds for a match. Secondly, the team likes to play in stadiums where they feel like they are at home. This is most easily accomplished in smaller venues where ticket sales are more controlled. In this case pre sale tickets allotments to the American Outlaws and season ticket holder for the Red Bull has assured at least a near sellout pro American crowd.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
But the last reason is the biggie. Playing in NY minimizes the flight times for players coming from Europe and is easy for the team to travel to its next match down in Honduras. There is always travel involved during these short FIFA dates. And the training periods are short to begin with so minimizing travel (and maximizing time in training) just makes a ton of sense.
To prepare for the matches, Manager Bruce Arena called in 26 players for the training camp before pairing down to his 23 man rosters and ultimately to the 18 man game day rosters. Here are the callups along with their current club, number of World Cup Qualifying caps, and goals scored.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 14/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 36/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 34/6), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 11/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 22/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 15/0), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas; 0/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 0/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 5/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 3/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 18/3)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 4/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 3/1), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 9/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 35/7), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 16/1), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 7/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 9/5), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 0/0)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 38/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 39/18), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 10/4)
There are a number of interesting decisions with this roster. First, recognize that two defensive starters, CB John Brooks, and D DeAndre Yedlin are both injured and unavailable. So once again, Arena has called in Graham Zusi and Eric Lichaj to fill the right back spot for Yedlin. While John Brooks is probably our strongest CB it is one area where the MNT has a lot of depth and experience with Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Geoff Cameron.
As for the goalkeepers, there was no question that Howard and Guzan would get called in. The third spot is more interesting. Clearly Arena figures that Rimando is a better emergency replacement if both Howard and Guzan were to get injured than other options such as Bill Hamid, Evan Horvath, or Jesse Gonzalez.
In the midfield I don’t think there are any real surprises. Some would disagree and argue that several younger players should have been called in. But like the Goalkeepers, Arena chose to stick with the veterans. More on this in a minute.
At forward, its pretty clear that the four main guys are Wood, Altdidore, Dempsey, and Morris. However, the last forward called to camp is perhaps the most curious move by Arena. Wondolowski has never done real well (or bad) playing for the MNT and one would think he is on the outside looking in next summer. Wondo is 34 and its hard to imaging him making the WC roster over a number of younger players or guys who seem to offer more offensively (Dom Dwyer, Juan Agudelo). So why include him now? I think there are two reasons why Arena included Wondo. First, by all accounts he is a great guy in camp and a hard worker in training sessions. Since its unlikely that the fifth forward will get any minutes in the next two matches I see these as solid attributes for the camp. Secondly, and this is pretty unlikley, but in the event of injuries and needing a late goal in the Honduras match Wondo is the type of garbage collector you want inside the penalty area. He has a knack for finding that loose ball and putting it in the next. Again, I doubt he plays but I do understand why he got called in.
Now what about the guys who many are clamoring for. Why aren’t they in this camp? Guys like Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Ethan Horvath, Weston MacKennie, Jesse Gonzalez, Haji Wright, or a host of others. All of these guys have solid cases of why they should be on the squad in Russia. So for those who are fans of these other guys don’t lose hope. They well may be on the plane to Russia. So why not now?
Three Reasons for the Qualifying Roster
1. Remember nine months ago the boat the MNT was in. They lost their first two matches of the Hexagonal at home to Mexico then on the road at Costa Rica. And it was pretty apparent in that Costa Rican match that the players quit as a team. So after matchday one the MNT found itself at the bottom of the qualifying table. So the USSF did the right thing and fired then manager Jurgen Klinsmann and hired Bruce Arena to right the ship. So Arena did what most anybody in his place would have done. He called in guys he mostly already was familiar with. A team of mostly veterans that he believed would play well together and give the team the best chance to qualify for Russia. After all qualifying for Russia was what he was hired to do. And he is well on track to do just that. In fact they have not lost a match since Arena returned as the manager. Sure it was a watered down Gold Cup. But they won the trophy and as they say in all sports “you can only beat the teams you are scheduled to play.” So for these two matches Arena has stuck to pretty much the same approach. Hey if its working!
2. These short FIFA dates only give 3-4 days for training camps. It is very difficult to bring in new players, get them accustomed to the atmoshpere, and get them all on the same page as to the tactics to be used and what their roles would be. Its a bit of a risk to bring in new players and try and mesh them well in such a short time frame AND when you are still in critical space for qualifying
3. A number of these players are currently not playing (Williams for example) or have just broken into their clubs starting XI. IF they are to provide value for Russia its more important at this time that they are getting as many minutes they can for their club teams. Calling them in for a short camp does them little good and can cause them to slip right back to the bench of their club team. The more they play the next six weeks the more Arena will see and have tape for he and his staff to evaluate them for future callups.
So all in all I think Arena has a pretty good group called in. Take four points (and hopefully six) in matchday four and have qualifying pretty well assured. Matchday 5 has us facing Panama at home and Trinidad and Tobago on the road. Much easier games for which to experiment with some younger players. Plus their will be the winter camp (although European based players are not available then since its not a FIFA scheduled break) and friendlies to further bring in guys. And lastly there will be one more major camp next summer before they head to Russia and a number of friendlies then as well. So there is plenty of time to integrate some youth. Right now its more important to qualify. So give that here’s how I see the Costa Rica formation.
And in this formation Dempsey, Altidore, and Wood are interchangeable. Any two of them can play in this setup. And defensivley, Lichaj and Zusi are also interchangeable. And you could also see Ngabe on the left and Arriola on the right in place of Johsnon. Of you could have Johnson at either of the outside back positions although Arena has said he prefers him in the midfiled.
Now there is one other major option that Arena could use if he chooses to go with a three man central defense. That would look something like this.
The next five days are not make or break. The US could still qualify even if they got zero points, although that would put them back in the ditch. But earning at least four points gives them so much more flexibility the rest of the way. Lets do this!!
And one last thought. Because of the insane card accumulation rules used by CONCACAF for the Hex the US still has a handful of players (Altidore, Besler, Cameron, Bradley, and Brooks) sitting on yellow cards. If any of them get another card they will have to sit the following match. Not until the 10th game is over are the cards reset. Ridiculous but it is what it is.