USMNT: Three things to watch for — USA vs. Serbia

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With Bruce Arena set to make his (re-)debut as U.S. national team manager on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, versus Serbia), three things to keep an eye on as the USMNT gears up for the resumption of World Cup qualifying in March…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]


The shape (and members) of the midfield

Arena is generally quite flexible when it comes to formations and tactics, which is to say he typically alters his system to get as many of his best players on the field as he can at one time, within reason. When you look at the roster for these games, the most intriguing unit on the field is undoubtedly central midfielders, within the realm of wondering, “what’s Bruce going to do with the lineup?”

Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber are maestro passers which the USMNT has desperately needed in its bid to become a possession-based, front-foot attacking side. They were, of course, left ou tin the cold by the former manager for far too long, and that (among other things) was eventually a large part of his undoing. Now, they’re both in the team, and both deserving of a place in the starting lineup — with any luck at all, we might even see them play together. These days, Kljestan is the purer no. 10 of the two, while Feilhaber has proven himself for three seasons running as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in MLS — their roles seemingly reversed from early days of their careers.

While the temptation will always be there to play Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones together in the center of the park, we’ve 1) already seen that movie, and 2) know how that story ends. Bradley is unquestionably the more disciplined of the two, when instructed to sit in front of the backline, and his long-range passing dwarfs that of Jones, thus the most complete passing midfield in USMNT history could be realized over the next week, in games that count for nothing, which is precisely the time for such experiments.

[ MORE: Arena not panicking (yet) about USMNT’s place in WCQ ]


So, uh, who’s gonna play left back?

It’s a question that’s been asked for, well, basically an entire decade. Seven years ago, Carlos Bocanegra, a center back by nature, was holding down the left side of defense; Jonathan Bornstein got nearly 40 run-outs at the spot; DaMarcus Beasley was reborn a left back for the 2010 World Cup; the Brek Shea experiment fizzled out quickly; Greg Garza was (very) briefly the left back of the future; and more recently, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler and Edgar Castillo marauded up and down sideline with varying degrees of success.

Too long, didn’t read: the USMNT hasn’t had a steady left back since Arena’s last tenure. A quick glance at the current roster reveals that it’s, well, still lots of the same names. Garza is back from a long-term hip injury, and having made a loan move to MLS expansion side Atlanta United this winter, is likely months from reaching anything resembling his best. Until then, it’s likely Johnson who’ll be played out of position to fill the void (Beasley his likeliest deputy), which is less of a problem now that Christian Pulisic has exploded onto the scene and made the left wing spot his own. Still, Johnson is 29 years old and will be 36 before the 2022 World Cup, so this is likely his final go-round. The door is open for anyone — literally, anyone — to step into the position and claim it as their own. Simply unearthing a capable left back for his successor could go down as Arena’s greatest achievement to date, and he’s already the man who took the Yanks to the 2002 World Cup semifinals quarterfinals (you will not be forgotten, Torsten Frings).

[ MORE: Altidore to join 100-caps club, but can he name the 16 others? ]


Who’s the no. 3 goalkeeper, once and for all?

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan seem set to tussle for the no. 1 and 2 goalkeepers’ jobs until they’re both bald rolling in wheelchairs, thus the age-old question rages on: who’s the deputy’s deputy?

Bill Hamid is the best of the bunch (don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently), but he left camp with a(nother) knee injury, and most are beginning to wonder whether or not he’ll ever be healthy enough to nail down a regular place in the USMNT, pre- or post-Howard/Guzan. That leaves Nick Rimando, David Bingham and Luis Robles, whom I rank in that order, from top to bottom. Sure, Rimando is 37 years old, and he’s lost a bit of the agility and quickness that allowed him to thrive as a 5-foot-10 athletic wonder in net, but he’s been managed closely by the staff at Real Salt Lake in an effort to slow the deterioration, and he’s the only one of the three listed above with more than two caps (he’s got 21).

Honduras holds Costa Rica 1-1

AP Photo/Moises Castillo
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Honduras did the United States a favor by taking a point from visiting Costa Rica in Tuesday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula.

Anthony Lozano pushed a 35th minute chance past an indecisive Keylor Navas, as Los Catrachos set the stage for a hopeful three points.

[ STREAM: T&T-Mexico, Panama-USMNT ]

Vancouver Whitecaps center back Kendall Waston’s haphazard defending helped allow the goal, but he scored off a late Costa Rica corner kick to ensure Costa Rica will finish the international break in second place.

With four points, Honduras moves ahead of Trinidad and Tobago and the United States before both sides play Tuesday.

Costa Rica beat the U.S. 4-0 in 2016, while the Yanks battered Honduras 6-0 on Friday.

WATCH: Video Assistant calls back Griezmann goal

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France and Spain used the Video Assistant Referee program on Tuesday in a friendly, and the French likely rue that decision.

Antoine Griezmann had an incorrectly allowed goal reverse for offside, while Gerard Deulofeu saw an initially ruled offside goal allowed upon review in Spain’s 2-0 win over France.

[ MORE: Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina ]

Here’s an example, as Griezmann’s barely offside goal was overturned in less than a minute (Both calls took less than a minute to decide):

At the risk of sounding like a caveman, I really don’t like these razor thin offside calls being subject to review.

When you consider the improbability of timing the moment of contact with the ball — how many times have you seen a freeze frame conveniently used to make a case? — it just seems to mess with the spirit of sport.

What do you think?

Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina in World Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Argentina took steps backward Tuesday in its pursuit of a 2018 World Cup berth, on and off the field.

It started as Lionel Messi was suspended four matches for verbally abusing a referee in Argentina’s Friday win over Chile.

Then La Albiceleste made another move in reverse with a shocking 2-0 loss to Bolivia in La Paz. Argentina started Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, and Ezequiel Lavezzi on the bench in what many presumed to be an easy win.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins scored as ninth-place La Verde picked up its third win of qualifying with a win over powerful Argentina.

The bad news kept coming for Argentina (and Everton), as Ramiro Funes Mori left the match in the 36th minute with injury.

Bolivia will finish the international break at least 10 points back of the playoff spot, while Argentina could finish as low as that fifth-place spot.

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.