Eric Lichaj

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Who’s in form and healthy three weeks out from huge USMNT games?

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We’re a little over three weeks away from the United States’ most important World Cup qualifying games in some time.

Consider the matches versus Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago on our minds, so expect more than a few posts as we build up to the Oct. 6 and 10 matches.

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In the meantime, injuries continue to pile up. Starting center back John Brooks had already been injured, and backup striker Jordan Morris is also out. Geoff Cameron may be healing quicker than expected, which is good news.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena has maintained that he wants to use players who’ve been a part of the team in qualifying and the Gold Cup, and he’s the sort of defiant character who is likely to stick with that philosophy.

But his center backs, aside from Matt Besler, really let him down in the Yanks’ one-point international break, and Morris’ injury opens the door to someone to join Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in the strike corps (Chris Wondolowski was also called up earlier this month).

Let’s humor ourselves in spite of Arena’s stated plans, and take a look at Americans in form or back to health, here and abroad:

  • Right-sided man DeAndre Yedlin is back from his hamstring injury and made the 18 for Newcastle last week.
  • Matt Miazga has returned to Vitesse’s Starting XI, and led the back line to its first clean sheet of the season on Saturday.
  • Timmy Chandler has played every minute for Eintracht Frankfurt at right midfield/wingback during the club’s 1-1-1 start to the Bundesliga season, and scored in Cup play.
  • Lee Nguyen is back for New England, and WhoScored rates him as one of only two Americans in MLS’ Top Ten players this season. He has nine goals and eight assists.
  • The leading American scorers in MLS this season? It’s a tie between obviously call-up Altidore and inconsistent but powerful CJ Sapong with 13 a piece. Next is Wondolowski, Dempsey, and Christian Ramirez with 11 each.
  • Not angling for a call-up with this one, but while we’re here spare some positive thoughts for Julian Green. The 22-year-old World Cup goal scorer finally got a start for 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Furth, who broke a four-match losing streak with a 1-1 draw. Green went 90 minutes at left mid.
  • Terrence Boyd has subbed into every 2.Bundesliga match for Darmstadt, nabbing one assist. Lynden Gooch has also been a regular sub in Sunderland’s midfield.

So what’s an early guess at the 23 men Arena will call up next month? Again, this isn’t our 23, just an “Arena’s mind” prediction.

Goalkeepers

Unless Arena has a sudden change of heart and opts for Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and DC United’s Bill Hamid (or LA Galaxy man Brian Rowe because, well, LA Galaxy), it’ll be the same trio: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando.

Defenders

Nothing’s certain after Geoff Cameron, though educated guesses say Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana are coming, too. Eric Lichaj didn’t get into either qualifier, but could still be in the mix. Was Arena turned off by Tim Ream or DaMarcus Beasley? More importantly, does he see anyone else who’s a clear improvement (Again, does he see them)? Completing our eight will be Chandler and Yedlin.

Midfielders

Arena called up eight earlier this month, and it seems likely he won’t change much from Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic. Wild card looks to Danny Williams (if he can get some Huddersfield PT), Lee Nguyen, Cristian Roldan, or Kelyn Rowe.

Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Arena to ditch Johnson for one bad performance, and Rowe could get a chance to build on his Gold Cup. But if there’s a change, it’ll be Jermaine Jones for one last hurrah. That would likely come at the expense of McCarty.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore is due for a big, big performance having taken a terrible yellow card to miss the Honduras draw. Bobby Wood will be there, too, and maybe we’ll see them together. Clint Dempsey makes it three, which leaves a spot for… Wondolowski like last time? Old pal Gyasi Zardes? Sapong?

Arena names 26 to latest USMNT roster for 2018 WCQ

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10 days from now, the U.S. national team could be all but officially qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Pulisic, Dortmund in fine form, cruise past Hertha Berlin ]

That is, of course, the best-case scenario — a pair of wins over Costa Rica (Friday, Sept. 1) and Honduras (Tuesday, Sept. 5) during the penultimate pair of Hexagonal fixtures. The worst-case scenario is… well, worse.

On Sunday, Bruce Arena named the 26 players he’ll require to secure six more points and send the USMNT onto 14 points, which would then require just a single point from the final two games of the Hex to secure a top-three spot and automatic qualification for next summer’s tournament.

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The biggest question, answered: With established staring center back John Brooks unavailable for the next three months due to a thigh injury, Arena did what many expected him to do: a pair of left-footed center backs, Matt Besler and Tim Ream, will now line up as Geoff Cameron‘s partner in central defense.

FULL ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Moenchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders).

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)

Newcastle, USMNT defender DeAndre Yedlin injures hamstring

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DeAndre Yedlin will miss the start of the 2017-18 Premier League season and he may not be ready for the the USMNT’s two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers in September.

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The Newcastle United right back injured his hamstring in a preseason game against Mainz last week and Yedlin, 24, will now be out until the end of August.

Speaking to the media his manager Rafael Benitez confirmed the injury news, saying “we think it’s two or three weeks that he will be out.”

That means that Yedlin will likely miss Newcastle’s first three games back in the Premier League — home games against Tottenham and West Ham plus a trip to Huddersfield — after promotion from the second-tier.

More importantly, at least for USMNT fans, Yedlin will be struggling to be fit for the qualifiers against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and Honduras on Sept. 5.

At Newcastle new signing Javier Manquillo is in line to start at right back with Yedlin out, while the U.S. may use Geoff Cameron, Eric Lichaj or even Graham Zusi at right back for the crucial World Cup qualifiers. Lichaj would be the best pick after his solid showings during the 2017 Gold Cup success and given the fact that Cameron has forged a fine partnership with John Brooks in central defense.

This is a setback for Yedlin who has worked hard to get back to the PL with the Magpies after joining them permanently from Tottenham Hotspur last summer after a loan move at Sunderland helped him establish himself in England.

How might the USMNT line up in the Gold Cup Final?

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The United States men’s national team became the favorite to win the Gold Cup when Bruce Arena called up more than 500 caps worth of experience after the group stage, but there’s one group that wasn’t improved at all by the legendary MLS coach, and that’s defense.

So while Michael Bradley and Tim Howard certainly help the unit take shape and Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all improve the side’s speed, passing, and creativity, no move was made to help a back line that’s done anything but thrive in this tournament.

Most of this is not Arena’s fault. John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Geoff Cameron were given time to focus on their European careers, and “next batch” backs Tim Ream and Timothy Chandler fit into that overseas bunch as well.

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That doesn’t change the fact that the easy weakness for the USMNT right now has a big chance to be exposed by opponents Jamaica, who — as funny as this sounds — are possibly a worse match-up for the Yanks than the side it upset in Mexico’s ‘B Teamers’.

While player ratings are far from the be-all, end-all, we’ve had two writers handle the Americans’ five matches of Gold Cup. Here are the ratings for the eight backs on the roster by appearance.

Jorge Villafana — 6.5, 5, 6; Omar Gonzalez — 6, 5, 7, 5; Matt Miazga — 7; Matt Besler — 7.5, 6, 8; Eric Lichaj — 5, 7; Justin Morrow — 6, 5; Graham Zusi — 6, 5.5, 4; Matt Hedges — 5, 5.

Only Besler has avoided a dud so far, and keep in mind that Arena has not subbed a back in the tournament and also loves Gonzalez.

[ WAYBACK: How U.S. lost to Jamaica in 2015 Gold Cup semi ]

Dealing with speedy Jamaica is a challenge for a group that’s looked pretty mixed up when it comes to dealing with counter attacks. This is especially challenging for one player, Matt Hedges, who is better suited for teams that want to attack through the air.

As for the midfielders and forwards, remember that Arena pulled Paul Arriola after 66 minutes in the semifinal and let Darlington Nagbe and Jordan Morris go all 90.

Considering all that, here’s how Arena may try to win the Gold Cup and put one American foot in Qatar for the 2021 Confederations Cup (That’s still happening, by the way).

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

Bradley — McCarty

Arriola — Corona — Zardes

Altidore

As a bonus, here’s how we think the subs may play out given player use in the run-up to the final. Call this between the 65-80 minute marks, and it can work with the lead or pushing for an equalizer or winner:

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

 Acosta/Pontius — Bradley — McCarty — Nagbe

Altidore — Morris

FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT vs. Costa Rica — Gold Cup semifinals

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The last time the U.S. national team faced Costa Rica, the final score was 4-0 in favor of the home side, in San Jose (not the one in California). Six days later, Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena.

On Saturday, it’ll be Arena’s USMNT which takes on Los Ticos with a place in the 2017 Gold Cup final on the line. One of Mexico and Jamaica, who’ll face off in the second semifinal on Sunday, comes next.

When: 10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

Arena has made five changes to the team that beat El Salvador 2-0 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal. Incoming are Graham Zusi (for Eric Lichaj), Matt Besler (Matt Hedges), Jorge Villafaña (Justin Morrow), Kellyn Acosta (Gyasi Zardes) and Jordan Morris (Clint Dempsey).

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]