USA-Costa Rica: Three decisions Bruce Arena must make

Who will start for the USA against Costa Rica on Friday? There are only a few question marks in the U.S. lineup, but you have to keep in mind whom Bruce Arena then plans on starting on Tuesday against Honduras in decidely different circumstances weighs into Friday's decisions.

One of Arena's strengths as a national team coach is to control what he can control, come up with a plan based on that and then articulate that plan to his players who then know what their roles are in a game and over two games.

Things he can't control are injuries and suspensions. He says he has 26 healthy players available Friday night, so he won't know until after the Costa Rica what changes in plans he might have to make for Tuesday in San Pedro Sula based on injuries his players suffered.

Injuries. In his first qualifier against Honduras, Arena lost Sebastian Lletget, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron for the Panama game four days later, but the USA got out of the game against the Canaleros with a 1-1 tie.

Against Mexico, Arena was without Jorge Villafana and Alejandro Bedoya, both nursing injuries picked up in the T&T game. One or both players might not have started at Azteca any way, but Arena's extreme rotation -- seven lineup changes -- based on coping with the shorter turnaround time (one less day) and altitude also was insurance against absences due to injuries and suspensions.

Suspensions. The six players in camp carrying yellow cards are Jozy Altidore, Paul Arriola, Bedoya, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley.

Obviously, losing Bradley, the captain and rock in midfield, because of a second yellow against Honduras would be a huge loss, but the others are more or less replaceable.

But Arena might want to save Arriola for the Honduras game -- and start Fabian Johnson against Costa Rica -- for tactical reasons, but not playing Arriola against the Ticos ensures he will available on Tuesday.

With that in mind, only three lineup questions must be answered for Friday's game against Costa Rica:

Who starts alongside Cameron at center back? Brooks is out, but Arena still has Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream and Matt Hedges to choose from

Likely decision: Besler next to Cameron in the middle and Villafana to his left on the outside. (Graham Zusi should replace injured DeAndre Yedlin at right back).

Does the USA go with one central midfielder or two? For both previous home games, Arena went with Bradley alone and Christian Pulisic pushed up as high as he could get. For the road games, Bradley was partnered first with Jermaine Jones and then with Kellyn Acosta.

Likely decision: Bradley alone in central midfield with Pulisic in front of him (and Darlington Nagbeand Johnson on the outside).

Does Clint Dempsey start or come off the bench? Dempsey started the two qualifiers in March and scored four goals, making him the Hexagonal leading scorer (ahead of Pulisic). But he was pulled at the hour mark against T&T and didn't play against Mexico. He started the USA-El Salvador game in the Gold Cup quarterfinals but came off the bench against Costa Rica in the semifinals and Jamaica in the final.

Likely decision: Dempsey reprises his supersub role, like he did against the Ticos in Arlington, Texas, where he won the Gold Cup semifinal with a goal and an assist. Altidore and Jordan Morris start and Bobby Wood is saved to come off the bench against Costa Rica and start the Honduras game.

U.S. Roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United; 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 KC; 11/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 22/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 15/0), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas; 0/0), Eric Lichaj (Nott. Forest/ENG; 0/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 5/0), Jorge Villafana (Santos/MEX; 3/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC; 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; 35/7), Fabian Johnson (Borussia M'Gladbach/GER; 16/1), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 7/0), Christian Pulisic (Bor. Dortmund/GER; 9/5), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 0/0).
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 38/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders; 39/18), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 3/0), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 10/4).
Note: Caps and goals in World Cup qualifying in parentheses.

9 comments about "USA-Costa Rica: Three decisions Bruce Arena must make".
  1. Craig Cummings, August 31, 2017 at 9:55 p.m.

    Wondo has never been in a WC Qualifier,o/o I find that hard to believe. Typo ?

  2. Thomas Cobra, September 1, 2017 at 8 a.m.

    Wondo's time has come and hopefully gone. He is just a role player. Yes he has scored a lot of goals never any of any that really mattered. Remember the big one he missed. Open Net remember don't tell me you forgot. Too many good young players that need to step in and learn the pressure of a MNT game. Say good bye he will not see one minute in any of the next two games!

  3. Charles Stamos, September 1, 2017 at 11:15 a.m.

    I see the key to success is our back four. Who starts at outside back is the priority decision. At left back, Vilafana has shown promise and brings an attacking mindset. He was slow and beaten on a counter in the Gold Cup - hopefully that was an isolated play. Zusi brings less offense and more defense than Yedlin on the right side. I see Yedlin coming in if we are down in the 2nd half. Besler and Gonzo can each play one game in the middle. I agree with Kennedy at midfield and up front. Dempsey is a 2nd half player. He does not hustle for 90 minutes. Let's get a couple of 2-0 victories. That would cement our way clear to the WC and demonstrate what should be a clear superiority in our region.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, September 1, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

    Charles, I don't see Yedlin on the roster and you'd leave out Cameron? And, like the ole clique, you control the mid, you control the game. My opinion. Lets hope we can score 2 or 3.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, September 1, 2017 at 6:31 p.m.

    I am with you WS. We have a very strong midfield in back of the strikers. Looking forward to a good match.

  6. Wooden Ships replied, September 1, 2017 at 9:17 p.m.

    Bob, we didn't score 2 or 3, but we won the game before the game. Hindsights easy but I would never have Wood and Altidore up top together, too alike. This will be hard to get the taste out of the mouth. Need a group spit to excise that game.

  7. Charles Stamos, September 1, 2017 at 6:24 p.m.

    myback four would be Zusi Cameron Besler (or Gonzalez) and Vilafana - Yedlin would replace Zusi prn in the future

  8. James Madison, September 1, 2017 at 7:22 p.m.

    Yedlin is absent---injured.

  9. Craig Cummings, September 4, 2017 at 9:25 p.m.

    I never said I want Wondo to play, heck I do not want him on the ream. I prefer Cristian Ramirez up front.

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