All hands on deck: Our USMNT picks

Bruce Arena will have a nervous weekend as he watches the players he is counting on for the deciding World Cup 2018 qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago get through their club games. Key players down the spine are coming back from injuries, so he'll likely again call in an expanded squad.

Three overriding themes:
1. Win two and clinch. There's only the remotest of chances the USA won't qualify for the World Cup as the third-place team if it beats Panama and T&T. Easier said than done.

2. First things first. The USA needs to beat Panama, preferably by two or more goals, which will give it some wiggle room against T&T. It will no longer control its own destiny in the race for third with a tie in Orlando. But a loss next Friday means fourth place -- and the November playoffs -- will be the USA's only remaining path to Russia.

3. A long Friday night.
USA-Panama will kick off at 7:35 pm ET. After its game finishes, the USA will be seeking updates from Costa Rica-Honduras, which will start at 10 pm ET in San Jose. A USA win and Honduras loss will be Friday's best outcomes, putting the Catrachos out of the picture (with 99.9 percent certainty).

Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)
Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Last time out: Howard and Guzan split time in goal, as they did in the June qualifiers. Howard started at home against Costa Rica, and Guzan played at Honduras. Howard was at fault on the opening Tico goal.

This time: It's hard to see Arena deviating from his rotation system for the final two games.

Close calls: None. Rimando has been made sure of that, excelling for RSL, now in fifth place in the Western Conference, and should keep the No. 3 spot.

*DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo)
*Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
*Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG)
Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, MEX)
Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)
Matt Miazga (Vitesse, NED)
Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG2)
Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna, MEX)
DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG)
Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
*carrying yellow card.

Last time out: With John Brooks out injured, Arena started Cameron and Ream against Costa Rica, then went with Besler and Gonzalez against Honduras. Cameron and Ream had nightmares in New Jersey; Gonzalez was at fault on the Catracho goal. Zusi was the only player who started both games; Villafana and Beasley each got a start on the left side.

This time: The good news is Yedlin is finally healthy and starting for Newcastle. He should start both games at right back, like he did in June, and give the USA an attacking option out of the back badly lacking in the September qualifiers. Villafana should start against Panama, though Arena may again go with Beasley for the Hex finale at T&T.

The big question mark is at center back. A lot depends on whether Cameron can go. He injured his hamstring in his first game back with Stoke City after the USA's match at Honduras and hasn't played since. The Potters are riddled with injuries at center back and hope Cameron will be fit for the game against Southampton on Saturday.

Close calls: Miazga (who starred for Vitesse in its 2-1 win at Ajax on Sunday but struggled in the 3-0 loss to Nice in the Europa League on Thursday) should return as a sixth center back, cover in case Cameron can't go or Besler or Cameron is suspended for the T&T game.

*Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)
*Paul Arriola (Tijuana/MEX)
*Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)
*Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
Fabian Johnson (Bor. M'Gladbach/GER)
Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire)
Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER)
Christian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
*carrying yellow card.

Last time out: Bradley, Nagbe and Pulisic started both games in September, though Nagbe was not the factor he was in the June win over Trinidad & Tobago. Johnson started but was invisible for much of the game against Costa Rica; Acosta joined Bradley in central midfield at Honduras.

This time:
Bradley, Nagbe and Pulisic should start against Panama. The question will be who is the fourth player in midfield. Johnson, who hasn't playing much for Gladbach? Or Arriola?

The problem is Acosta has been bothered by a groin injury and didn't dress for the last two FC Dallas games. He'll be in Orlando, but it is not yet clear if he'll play for FC Dallas when it plays the Lions on Saturday afternoon.

Close calls: Teens Tyler Adams, Jonathan Gonzalez and Weston McKennie have been getting a lot of attention, but if they aren't going to play -- which they won't -- Arena won't call them in.

Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
*Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
Dom Dwyer (Orlando City)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER)

Last time out:  Arena rotated his four forwards, starting Altidore and Wood against Costa Rica and Jordan Morris and Dempsey against Honduras with Altidore suspended.

This time: It's crunch time, so Altidore and Dempsey will be the go-to guys and Wood the wild-card, which worked out in San Pedro Sula.

Altidore has missed three games in a row with a lingering hamstring injury but should start when Toronto FC hosts the Red Bulls on Saturday. Wood has been bothered by a knee injury but started and went the distance for Hamburg in both Bundesliga games last week -- both 3-0 losses. On the positive side, Dempsey had one of his best games of the season on Wednesday as the Sounders crushed Vancouver, 3-0.

Close calls: Like Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski and Dwyer both scored on Wednesday, but it's hard not to see Dwyer (three goals, four assists in his last four games) in camp at home in Orlando.

14 comments about "All hands on deck: Our USMNT picks".
  1. Miguel Dedo, September 29, 2017 at 10:12 a.m.

    I hope we will not be a qualifying cycle late in shifting to the next generation of goalkeepers. Tim Howard's contribution as leader may not be enough to offset his slower and slower reaction time.

  2. Alfred Randall replied, September 29, 2017 at 10:37 a.m.

    I hope Brad Guzan is the No.1 as his Atlanta matches recently have indicated very good form.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 29, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    I think Horvath is the next #1 but I don't think he should be thrown in for these games having barely played for the USMNT before. But I'd like to see him get some looks next cycle.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, September 29, 2017 at 9:53 p.m.

    I agree Fire, Horvath is complete and should be our number 1. I'd even go with him in Russia.

  5. Rusty Welch, September 29, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    Nagbe hasn't shown much (flashes but wildly inconsistent), and Dax is questionable playing at the international level. I would think Johnson (if healthy again), or Chandler would be better options (with the bonus that Chandler could play as defender if needed as well - not flashy, but solid all around). Weston McKennie looks great for Schalke so far - much more energy and pace than all but Pulisic, plus the fact that he played with Pulisic in the youth system, would be nice to see him get a shot but agree that Arena most likely won't bring him in. Maybe he should hit that panic button and give the kid a shot though - based on the last few games, this team needs an infusion of energy!

  6. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 29, 2017 at 11:38 a.m.

    I can't see McKennie getting his debut in these games. This is not the time for new players. I thought he had a decent, but not great, game for Schalke last weekend. Maybe if we qualify and he keeps playing regularly for them, he'll be an option for Russia. There will be opportunities for him to play for the USMNT in friendlies before then.

  7. Scott O'Connor replied, September 29, 2017 at 3:47 p.m.

    Bruce has already said that he is not looking beyond the World Cup. Since he's not likely to keep the job after that, he doesn't care about growing the player pool for the 2022 cycle. Thus promising teens without Pulisic-like prowess, are not going to get much of a chance. Maybe January camp although European players aren't made available for that camp since they are still in season.

  8. Chris Sapien , September 29, 2017 at 1:20 p.m.

    Don't laugh but: 3-5-2 Guzan, (Rt to LF) Gonzalez, Cameron, Besler; Yedlin, Bradley, Pulisic, Nagbe, Villafana; Wood, Altidore. First off the bench if ahead Arriola, Tied or trailing Dempsey,

  9. Scott O'Connor replied, September 29, 2017 at 3:23 p.m.

    I appreciate your outside the box thinking. That is effectively a 5-3-2. I think far too defensive for a must win game with 5 defenders on the field. Its going to be Howard, Yedlin, Gonzo, Besler, Villafana, Johnson, Nagbe, Bradley, Pulisic (Probably Mike as holding and Nags in front of him), Dempsey, Altidore. We need Dempsey for as long as he can go. The whole Super Sub thing is dumb. He's limited to 30 minutes if you do that. We need him to score early to take charge of the game.

  10. Scott O'Connor, September 29, 2017 at 2:41 p.m.

    A concern that jumps out me is that our control of the game early usually depends on high pressure. Altidore and Dempsey are 2 of the laziest as far as running after the ball when the other team is in possession. This means the ball will be entering the midfield more easily forcing Nagbe and Pulisic (neither that great in tackling the ball) to respond. Michael Bradley is going to need to play a monster game to control the midfield.... Not sure it's in him....

  11. Kerry Solomon, September 29, 2017 at 3:12 p.m.

    I think Chris S may have something. Although don't right off Dempsey yet. Yes, he's older but his effectiveness now in his career is the first sub but not too late in the match. He needs at least 35 minutes t I make a difference.
    They need to control the midfield and have them move it forward to feed our attackers. Almost every forward we have can strike well but you have to feed them on the ground(easy to control quickly) so they can turn, maybe beat 1 or 2 defenders at the most and SHOOT. Something we sometimes forget to do.

  12. David Mont, September 29, 2017 at 3:58 p.m.

    Any player good enough to start in Bundesliga should be on the team. Hence, Weston McKennie.

  13. Scott O'Connor replied, September 29, 2017 at 4:31 p.m.

    Yeah but that would then qualify Timmy "La-Z-Boy" Chandler to be an auto-include.... No thanks.

  14. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 30, 2017 at 9:06 a.m.

    Fortunately the coach puts a little more thought into his selection than that.

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