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
. 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
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
, 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 Nagbe
and 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
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.
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).
Caps and goals in World Cup qualifying in parentheses.