is taking nothing for granted.
“The door for Russia -- there is not even a crack open right now," he said after the USA's 1-1 tie with Honduras gave it reasonable
odds of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. "There is a lot of work to be done to get to Russia.”
Lots of questions were raised throughout the U.S. lineup after the 2-0 loss at home
to Costa Rica and 1-1 tie with Honduras earned on an 85th-minute goal.
Arena has said he's unwilling to go with anyone he hasn't seen before -- so no Timmy Chandler
-- and it
isn't likely he will make any dramatic changes for the matches against Panama in Orlando at home on Oct. 6 and at Trinidad & Tobago five days later.
But there are a number of
questions he will have to answer once and for all. 1. Howard or Guzan in goal?
It's hard to see Arena going with
someone other than Tim Howard
or Brad Guzan
in goal for the next two games. Howard has played four of the six Hexagonal matches under Arena and the last three games at the Gold Cup;
Guzan started the last two away games in the Hexagonal and first two games at the Gold Cup.
Howard had been solid in every game until Friday night when he failed to stop Marco
on Costa Rica's opening goal that changed the complexion of the match. What was common to both keepers was their distribution, which was poor. The Urena goal followed a bad kick by Howard
that the Ticos won in midfield and led to a counterattack.
Long term? If the USA goes to Russia, it is still hard to see Arena making a change. The keeper with the biggest upside is
22-year-old Ethan Horvath
, who is starting for Belgium's Club Brugge -- unbeaten and untied in league play -- but without a chance to show off what he can do in Europe -- Brugge was eliminated
in both UEFA Champions League and Europa League qualifying -- he won't have a platform to make his case. 2. Two or three in the middle of
The U.S. backline did not cover itself in glory in last two games. The second Urena goal for Costa Rica followed a horrible pass by Geoff Cameron
's failed attempt to stop Rommel Quioto
put the Houston Dynamo forward in on goal for the Honduras goal on Tuesday.
The two center backs, Tim Ream
turned the ball over frequently against Costa Rica while the outside backs, Graham Zusi
and DaMarcus Beasley
, struggled to keep up the speedy Honduras attack.
should come as no surprise. The ages of the seven defenders Arena started in the two games are 35, 32, 31, 30, 29, 28 and 27. All but Jorge Villafana
and Ream are holdovers from the 2014 World
Arena doesn't have a lot of alternatives in the short term. John Brooks
is out for the October qualifiers and he'll likely miss the November playoff, if it comes to that.
is set to return at Newcastle United after missing three weeks with a hamstring injury, but there is no guarantee he'll start for the Magpies.
Both Brooks and Yedlin
are only 24. Earlier in their careers, they were prone to mistakes, but they both are athletically superior to what Arena otherwise has at his disposal and both can contribute offensively.
Costa Rica exposed the problems the U.S. backline has handling pressure, and a big reason the USA struggled to create much was it got so little help from the back four in attack. The sequence that
led to the first Tico goal epitomized the problems -- the USA had possession but ran out of ideas, so Ream passed the ball back 40 yards to Howard.
In the last 20 minutes at Honduras,
Arena went with three center backs and put Paul Arriola
on the right side and pushed Kellyn Acosta
back to the left back in a move that settled the backline.
think of playing Arriola and Fabian Johnson
(or Darlington Nagbe
) on the wings if he doesn't think Villafana and Zusi are contributing enough in attack. 3. Two central midfielders or two forwards?
Like in the last two games of the Gold Cup, Arena started Michael Bradley
as twin central midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 at Honduras. That pairing didn't work perfectly, but the USA did look more comfortable in midfield, relatively speaking, than it did
against Costa Rica.
The continued twin pairing of Bradley and Acosta would also allow Christian Pulisic
to move into a central role (as opposed to starting out from a position on
the right wing) and be pushed farther into attack (and relieved of defensive responsibilities).
Arena will counter that playing Pulisic wide or centrally doesn't matter -- he is given the
freedom to go where he wants -- but he'd likely agree that he wants Pulisic farther up in the attack, where the USA has gotten so few touches. (One those came, however, when Pulisic was fouled 27
yards out, setting up Acosta's free kick that led to Wood's tying goal.)
But if Arena sticks with four in the back, Bradley, Acosta, Pulisic, plus two wingers would require Arena to go
with only one forward, like he finished the T&T game in June. He started Jozy Altidore
and Bobby Wood
against Costa Rica and Clint Dempsey
and Jordan Morris
Honduras, but both pairings were starved for service.
At this point, getting more from the players in the wings and getting Bradley and Pulisic in better positions to create might be
bigger priorities for Arena as he tries to crack open the door to Russia.