Bruce Arena

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic post-UCL loss ]

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 wanted Jermaine Jones, but what do the stats say?

Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images
1 Comment

The steel in the midfield of the United States men’s national team was low if not altogether absent for the majority of their one-point international break.

Bruce Arena’s men fell 2-0 at home to Costa Rica before Bobby Wood helped them steal a point in Honduras at San Pedro Sula on Tuesday.

It was Michael Bradley with Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, and Fabian Johnson on Friday, and then Bradley, Nagbe, Pulisic, and Kellyn Acosta on Tuesday.

[ MORE: World Cup prognoses for all confederations ]

Missing from that mix was combustible veteran Jermaine Jones, out with injury and apparently very much wanted by Arena.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“I know I came from a long-time injury, I got injured with the toe, so me and [US head coach Bruce Arena] we talked and everything is okay. If I’m 100 percent fit I want to focus first on the Galaxy, get that playoff spot, then focus in October on making the national team roster.”

The 69-times capped Jones has four goals for the national team including a stunning blast against Portugal at the 2014 World Cup.

With Jones, who’s been injured for much of this year, the U.S. has one draw and two losses in World Cup qualifiers.

He was also one of the side’s better players in the Copa America Centenario, although he picked up his only red card as a USMNT player when he was sent off against Ecuador.

Jones had been talismanic for Colorado and New England, but how has his presence affected the USMNT since he debuted under Bob Bradley in 2010.

All data via Transfermarkt

With Jones (tournament play): 17W-4D-12L
Without Jones (tournament play): 21W-5D-5L

But hold on, should Jones be punished for not being called up for Gold Cup action since 2011, let’s take another look at those marks without those weakened tournaments (B Teams or not).

With Jones (tournament play exc. Gold Cups): 13W-4D-10L
Without Jones (tournaments exc. Gold Cups): 7W-3D-3L

Jones played every minute of one of the United States’ top World Cup performances in 2014 (1W-1D-2L) as well as the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico. He also played in five Copa America matches (3W-2L) while missing the elimination match versus Argentina with a red card suspension.

That leaves us World Cup qualifying with and without Jones, and let’s only look at Hex matches to eliminate the weaker teams (Sorry 12-1 aggregate wins over St. Vincent, though he played one and missed the other).

With Jones (Hex): 5W-2D-3L
Without Jones (Hex): 4W-3D-1L

Finally what about versus Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago? The Yanks did win in Panama without Jones in the 2013 Hex and drew in T&T with him in the last round of qualifying.

I’m a big Jones supporter, but even in the face of these numbers I find it hard to make the argument that his first international action with this group since March should be in must-win qualifiers with the nation’s soccer reputation on the line.

Is 3 the answer? Formation options for USMNT in key October battles

Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
2 Comments

The United States men’s national team controls its own destiny when it comes to World Cup qualifying, a fact that has been in its corner since the beginning of the Hex and even its 0-2 start.

Matches remain at home against Panama, the team currently occupying the final automatic spot in Russia, and on the road against Trinidad and Tobago. The Yanks drew Panama on the road and waxed T&T at home, but that was before this week’s setbacks put the U.S. under World Cup qualifying pressure it hasn’t faced in years.

[ MORE: USMNT’s World Cup scenarios ]

Even worse? A draw against stingy Panama, which has only allowed five goals in eight Hex matches, would leave the Yanks requiring a win and help in order to slide into third.

The United States has picked up just two points from its five matches against the teams ahead of it on the table, a home draw with Panama and a road point at Mexico. The Yanks have also kept just two clean sheets, and those came in 6-0 and 2-0 home wins over Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.

The biggest problem, by far, is defense. Whether set pieces, counterattacking, or even the run of play, the U.S. has allowed 11 goals in the Hex. And clean sheets against Panama have been hard to come by, with 1-1 draws in the last four competitive matches between the two.

So is the answer three at the back?

It’s a small sample size, but the U.S. looked bright in recent matches against Mexico and late in the Honduras draw when it moved to three defenders at the back. Arena used Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Geoff Cameron in the 1-1 draw at Mexico, flanking them with DaMarcus Beasley and DeAndre Yedlin. Against Honduras, there was Cameron, Gonzalez, and Matt Besler in the middle.

[ USMNT: Recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

A 3-5-2 or even a 3-6-1 with Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood up top would give the Yanks a plethora of midfielders, a position which has been lonely if not awful over the last two qualifiers (Alejandro Bedoya, Danny Williams, or even — gasping while ducking — Jermaine Jones would be welcome respites from the soft play of the middle section).

John Brooks’ thigh injury will keep him out of October’s qualifiers, but Yedlin should return to return Graham Zusi to backup status. Timmy Chandler continues to perform very well for Eintracht Frankfurt, but Arena has said he doesn’t want to call up players who haven’t been involved with the team. That’s problematic because he’s the one who hasn’t taken a look at the right-sided Bundesliga player, who’s had struggles in the U.S. shirt but played the third-most minutes for a mid-table German side (Might wanna look, Bruce).

Also, I believe that Arena should be forced to watch Zusi and Gonzalez on Honduras’ goal every morning when his alarm goes off and then during the final two hours before he announces his lineups for Panama and T&T.

Alas, that’s digression.

Arena loves the 4-4-2, so it seems likely three at the back remains a break glass in case of emergency tactic. But humoring the idea, would you rather have Fabian Johnson at left back — if we see Jorge Villafana again, oh my — left mid, or left wing back? To me that’s the question.

Here’s a 3-5-2:

Wood — Altidore

Johnson — Pulisic — Bradley — Bedoya — Yedlin

Besler — Cameron — Ream

Howard

And a 4-4-2:

Wood — Altidore

Pulisic
Nagbe — Arriola
Bradley

Johnson — Besler — Cameron — Yedlin

Howard

And, for fun, a 4-4-2 if Arena breaks from his routine of only using guys who’ve been in his call-ups:

Wood — Altidore

Pulisic
Chandler — Arriola
Bradley

Johnson — Besler — Cameron — Yedlin

Howard

Three things from the USMNT’s draw in Honduras

1 Comment

It wasn’t a good night for the United States men’s national team, but the point it stole from San Pedro Sula puts it back on track to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Match Recap | Player ratings ]

The Yanks will finish the international break outside the automatic qualifying places if Panama wins vs. Trinidad and Tobago later Tuesday.

Jims and Joes, not X’s and O’s

If there’s anything to glean from this miserable night at the San Pedro Sula, it’s that two coaches have failed to figure out how to get through to this batch of USMNT players.

Jurgen Klinsmann clearly had lost the team following losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, and Bruce Arena was given credit for steadying the ship over a 14-match unbeaten run leading that included a Gold Cup title.

But even that tournament with a mostly B-team wasn’t convincing, and Arena — admittedly a U.S. Soccer legend — got the plot completely wrong twice in the last week with World Cup hopes on the line.

Looking past Friday’s mess in the midfield and porous defensive set-up, Tuesday’s performance was again about lineup choices. Arena pulled the plug on Geoff Cameron coming off a poor Friday, and also left Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson out of the lineup.

Arena didn’t have the option of Jozy Altidore, the CONCACAF killer whose foolish yellow card cost him a one-game suspension, and there was logic to starting Clint Dempsey next to Sounders teammate Jordan Morris. Dempsey also happens to be the best attacker in USMNT history, so there’s a possible pass to be given there.

But Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi were miserable on the right side of the defense, and Darlington Nagbe was bossed out of the game aside from one early and electrifying dribble.

Arena plugged in high-motor Paul Arriola and Cameron with not much cooking in the second half, and put eventual equalizer Bobby Wood into the fray with under 20 minutes to go. The subs fixed things, in a sense, but in a way there’s little credit for that: At least Cameron and Wood should have been given a starting role.

Here’s Morris on Wood, who understandably seemed a bit put-off after the match:

“He’s a great player. I love playing with Bobby. He fights, he works. He’s good in the box.”
Yep, like he was before the match. Full disclosure: at halftime I questioned the use of Morris over Wood, and the former ran his shorts off in the second frame. The equalizer doesn’t happen without both players.
All that said, and it needed to be said, it’s paramount we look past the manager and directly at these players. The performances for these last two qualifiers, and really five of the eight, have not been good enough for where the program believes it should be. Debate those expectations all you will, but it’s just not good enough.

Soft first half, especially in the middle

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The United States looked motivated to start the match, but the pace and hustle slipped away as the half wore on. The Yanks completed a total of 37 first half passes according to the CONCACAF site, and had just 40 percent of the ball.

The midfield was largely non-existent. Bradley completed eight of just 13 passes in the match, and Kellyn Acosta failed to complete a single pass (0-for-2). Darlington Nagbe was tidy with his passing (14-of-15), though we’ve covered his flaws elsewhere. Winning 50-50 balls was a daunting proposition against a Honduras side which very much deserved three points on the night.

Third is a must

For everyone assuming that a Top Four finish will be enough for the U.S. because of a fairly soft Asian confederation, those thoughts got a swift kick to the rear end following Australia’s failure to hammer Thailand on Tuesday.

That, coupled with sent the Socceroos into the third place game against Syria, one they’ll be expected to win, and Australia is the sort of team that can go heart-for-heart with a typical U.S. side and perhaps bring a more talented side to the party (one that could hardly be a longer trip for the away sides).

And given the political climate in both countries, Syria would be a trickier test than it appears on paper (or on the Internet). Get it done versus Panama at home, and breathe a sigh of relief that the country’s soccer status hasn’t been set back a decade.

Throw in one more thing: Major League Soccer’s regular season ends on October 22, meaning some players will be in the throes of a playoff race but only eight MLS teams will have been active in the previous 2.5 weeks.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Arena thinks US immigration debate fires up opposing players

AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter
6 Comments

SAN Pedro SULA, Honduras (AP) American coach Bruce Arena thinks the divisive debate over immigration policy in the United States is firing up opposing players and fans.

[ MORE: Three key storylines for USMNT heading into Honduras match ]

“Our immigration policies are impacting people in Central America, right, and there’s probably a little bit of anger over that,” Arena said ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier at Honduras. “And then your national sport gets a chance to play the U.S. I’m sure it becomes very meaningful.”

Arena also criticized the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to play last week’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. While ticket priority was given to season-ticket holders of the New York Red Bulls and people affiliated with the USSF, supporters of the visitors were a sizeable portion of the sellout crowd of 26,500.

Costa Rica won 2-0, giving the U.S. two home qualifying losses in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957.

“It was already decided, but I don’t think we should play in a venue that’s comfortable for the visiting team,” said Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann in November. “I don’t think it made a difference in the game.”

The U.S. had lost just one home qualifier in 50 matches since 1985 before a 2-1 defeat against Mexico in November at Columbus, Ohio. Last week’s game was the first World Cup qualifier in the New York metropolitan area.

“We don’t get any luxuries of going on the road and everything is nice and comfortable and we’ve got a good fan base coming out to the game and all of that,” he said Monday. “Obviously our country is unique to other countries. We’re a melting pot and all the countries in CONCACAF, many of their countrymen make it to the United States in one capacity or other and they’ll come out and support their team. So we have to be shrewd in the venues that we select to play different countries.”

[ MORE: U.S. faces must-win trip to Honduras in World Cup qualifying ]

The last U.S. home qualifier in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region is Oct. 6 against Panama in Orlando, Florida.

“I haven’t looked into that. Am I going to find out that there’s a big Panamanian population in Orlando?” Arena said. “I would sense that Orlando is going to be very much pro-American.”