U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena was in attendance last Saturday at Spartan Stadium to watch the Galaxy and Quakes lurch their way to a 0-0 tie.
He refused to specify which players he might be observing as possible call-ups for the next two World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador and Panama. Not only did Arena not say when he would announce his roster, he also refused to say if he had decided it would be announced at all. The U.S. is a bit short on the right side of midfield as well as in the middle, with Chris Klein out for season and Claudio Reyna hobbled by a quadriceps injury. Reyna, though, has been called into camp for evaluation by the U.S. Soccer medical staff if nothing else.
Cobi Jones has come on as a sub in the first three qualifiers of the semifinal round, and Earnie Stewart wasnÆt recalled after starting at right mid against Jamaica and playing rather poorly.
Landon Donovan is the projected starter at right mid unless Arena moves him up front, which is a possibility, because DonovanÆs teammate Brian Ching is also injured and didnÆt play against Los Angeles. Yet with Josh Wolff healthy, Clint Mathis scoring a goal last week in Germany, and Brian McBride getting at least spot duty for Fulham, Arena has other options at forward besides the GalaxyÆs Jovan Kirovski.
If Arena wants to gamble on Chris ArmasÆs fitness, or that of Pablo Mastroeni, he has a midfield alternative for Reyna. Brian Mullan struggled through one of his worst games as a Quake against the Galaxy and Richard Mulrooney played his usual aggressive, busy role. Mastroeni has played central defender for Colorado this season, and Arena has reservations about whether playing that role can instill the fitness and sharpness to play midfield in a qualifier.
The impressive form of Tony Sanneh, the newest member of the Crew, also poses some intriguing possibilities. He played central midfield and right back and scored the only goal as Columbus beat D.C., 1-0, last Saturday.
On the L.A. side, Sasha Victorine played against Denmark and Argentina last year at right back but hasnÆt been recalled since. Pete Vagenas and Kevin Hartman are in the pool, barely. Califf played only a few minutes in San Jose as a substitute and because of a torn meniscus and other injuries has started only one MLS game since early July.
The MLS players called by Arena will miss league matches Oct. 9, the same day the U.S. plays in San Salvador, and those who play in both qualifiers will have only a short period of recovery before the final weekend of MLS games Oct. 16-17.
A Crew-Fire match Oct. 6 will also be affected. Will there be a repeat of last June, when Rapids coach Tim Hankinson refused to let Pablo Mastroeni miss a midweek game, and Arena retaliated by rescinding the call-ups of three Wizards, who then played in a 1-0 Kansas City win over Colorado?
Arena acknowledges heÆll face another round of feedback from MLS coaches losing players during a critical phase of the season, just as he did in September for the second and third games of the semifinal round.
ôThatÆs always part of it,ö he said during a training session sandwiched between a 2-0 victory over El Salvador and a 1-1 tie in Panama City. ôUntil MLS adjusts its schedule to the FIFA [international] calendar, weÆre going to have these conflicts. But I canÆt worry about it.ö