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.
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).
GOALKEEPERS (3): 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. DEFENDERS (10):
(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. MIDFIELDERS (9): *Kellyn Acosta
(FC Dallas) *Paul Arriola
(Tijuana/MEX) *Alejandro Bedoya
(Philadelphia Union) *Michael Bradley
(Toronto FC) Fabian Johnson
(Bor. M'Gladbach/GER) Dax
(Chicago Fire) Darlington Nagbe
(Portland Timbers) Christian Pulisic
(Borussia Dortmund/GER) Christian Roldan
(Seattle Sounders) *carrying
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.
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:
, 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.
(Toronto FC) *Clint Dempsey
(Seattle Sounders) Dom Dwyer
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
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