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Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras

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Avaya Stadium will have a different feel on Friday night when the U.S. Men’s National Team hosts Honduras as CONCACAF World Cup qualifying resumes.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

USMNT manager Bruce Arena will be coaching his first competitive match with the Stars and Stripes since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and now it’s his job to help guide the squad back to the World Cup after stumbling early on in qualifying under previous manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up?

The U.S. currently sits bottom in the Hexagonal with zero points through its first two matches, while Friday’s opponent — Honduras — holds three points after picking up a victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Matchday 2.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Arena will have his hands full though, not only with the U.S. opposition, but also with his lineup, which is set to see some serious changes both due to injuries and suspensions.

[ MORE: Cameron eager for USMNT return

Jermaine Jones won’t feature for the USMNT as he serves a yellow-card suspension against Honduras, while Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson and Brad Guzan are among those left off the 26-man roster after sustaining injuries in the lead up to the match.

[ MORE: Wondolowski grateful for USMNT call up after Wood injury

There is some good news for the U.S. though, as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron return to the squad after going through their own injury layoffs. Dempsey has already scored twice for the Seattle Sounders since MLS action resumed earlier in March, while Howard has also found his form through the opening three weeks for the Colorado Rapids.

Meanwhile, Honduras will look to make matters worse for the Americans as Los Catrachos attempt to beat the USMNT for the second time on U.S. soil. The only time the USMNT has lost to Honduras in the U.S. was back in September 2001 when the Americans fell 3-2 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.

Several familiar faces will take the field for Los Catrachos, including five MLS players and various other former MLSers. Houston Dynamo trio Boniek Garcia, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis all figure to play a role for Honduras, while Sporting KC’s Roger Espinoza and captain Maynor Figueroa of FC Dallas will also play dangerous roles for the visitors.

One name to keep an eye on will be 24-year-old midfielder Andy Najar, who now plays for Belgian side Anderlecht after previously plying his trade in MLS with D.C. United.

Five questions for USMNT ahead of World Cup qualifiers

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The USMNT’s next two World Cup qualifiers will be pivotal in deciding whether or not they’ll qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Cameron eager for return

With plenty of injuries restricting Bruce Arena, the upcoming games against Honduras on Friday and Panama next Tuesday are massive for the U.S. national team.

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Here’s a closer look at some lingering questions heading into the next seven days.


Who will play at full back?

With DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson out injured, the USMNT is without their top two full backs for these games. That’s a big, big problem. Arena may have to put some square pegs in round holes when it comes to playing Geoff Cameron at right back or even Matt Besler or Tim Ream at left back, while DaMarcus Beasley can also slot in at full back if needed but Jorge Villafana will likely start on the left. Simply put: the U.S. defense is weaker without Johnson and Yedlin at full back. They’ll be missing two of the four defenders from the unit which looked so strong at the Copa America Centenario last summer and the Cameron-Brooks partnership may be broken up in central defense. Far from ideal.

Can Pulisic deliver?

There’s been plenty of talk from Arena about Pulisic being ready to start and contribute regularly for the USMNT.

“He has the potential to be a great player and I think he’s going to be a big part of our team, he’s not going to be a role player. He’s going to be an important part,” Arena told Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd earlier this month.

Pulisic, just 18 years old, is having a fine first full season for Borussia Dortmund (four goals and seven assists and a new contract is pretty decent…) and he may be used centrally for the U.S. in the next two games. He has the ability to control the tempo of games but often he’s played out wide for Dortmund and the USMNT. It would be a big call for Arena to hand the keys to the U.S. offense to Pulisic but he clearly has the talent to handle that pressure. Now, can he deliver on the international stage? The USMNT has a new star and they need him to deliver sooner than many would have expected.

Will Arena go for experience in central midfield?

With Jermaine Jones suspended for the Honduras game, there’s a big hole alongside Michael Bradley in central midfield to fill. Arena may well go for experience in this kind of situation. Sacha Kjestan and Dax McCarty are the obvious choices with Sebastian Lletget and Darlington Nagbe perhaps too inexperienced for these must-win games. Alejandro Bedoya could slot in alongside Bradley and he’d offer plenty of industry but his best position is out on the right and tucking inside to help build attacks. If I had to choose I’d go with Kljestan. His poise on the ball and his form for the New York Red Bulls over the last 12 months prove that he deserves the chance to step up and dovetail with Bradley in midfield.

Is USMNT capable of setting the tempo?

Having Kljestan start in midfield would be a big part of this as it’s likely that the U.S., especially against Honduras, will set the tempo of these games. Both Honduras and Panama will likely sit back and then look to hit the USMNT on the counter and without recognized full backs that could be very dangerous for the U.S.

This is all about game management. Arena’s men know that at times down in Panama they will be up against it and there will be severe pressure on their goal the longer the game remains scoreless. That said, they will be expected to create chances and they can’t just sit back, defend and hope to score goals from set pieces like they did at times in the Copa America last summer and for most of the 2014 World Cup.

Can Altidore carry the team?

Jozy Altidore will need to carry the U.S. to victory in these games. With Clint Dempsey still battling back to full fitness following his four months out, plus Pulisic still a teenager, the fact that Bobby Wood is out and Jordan Morris is extremely doubtful puts a lot of pressure on Altidore’s shoulders.

It may not have been the case during his time in the Premier League, but for Toronto and the U.S. national team he has been the go-to man in key moments. Altidore usually delivers and he has 37 goals in 100 appearances for the Stars and Stripes. If the USMNT can get Dempsey and Pulisic on the ball, then Altidore will get service in the final third. He always adds power and presence up top but not having Wood alongside him may mean he’s isolated for large spells of these games. The U.S. needs to stop that happening to not only get the best out of Altidore but also give themselves the best chance of grabbing the two wins they desperately need to get back on track in the Hex.

How will USMNT line up vs. Honduras?

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The U.S. men’s national team host Honduras in a crucial World Cup qualifiers in San Jose, Calif. and Bruce Arena has so many options to choose from.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to the PL?

However, with key men Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and DeAndre Yedlin all out injured, the USMNT will have to plug some gaps and get creative with their lineup choices.

[ MORE: Cameron eager for USMNT return

Not ideal when you need two wins or at least four points to get yourself back on track in the Hexagonal.

Below is a look at the most likely options for Arena’s men on Friday.


USMNT line up options vs. Honduras

JPW’s pick

—– Howard —–

— Zusi — Cameron — Brooks — Villafana —

—– Bedoya —- Bradley —- Kljestan —- Pulisic —-

—– Dempsey —–

—– Altidore —–

Experience in defense

—- Howard —–

— Cameron — Brooks — Gonzalez — Ream —

—- Bradley —- Lletget —-

—- Bedoya —– Dempsey —– Pulisic —–

—– Altidore —–

All-out attack

—- Howard —–

— Zusi — Cameron — Brooks — Villafana —

—- Bradley —- Acosta —-

—– Bedoya —–

 —- Dempsey —- Altidore —- Pulisic —-

Conclusion

With both full backs out of this squad, it seems likely that Geoff Cameron may be used at right back, with Jorge Villafana at left back. There’s a bit of risk in that as breaking up the Cameron-Brooks central defensive partnership which worked so well last summer could impact the entire defensive unit.

In midfield the trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradly and Jermaine Jones not only has experience in these big game occasions but also has a good blend of power, pace and poise. Yet, with Jones suspended for this game, one of Sebastian Lletget, Sacha Kljestan or Dax McCarty could slot in alongside Bradley. The latter options are more experienced and may be the safe bet.

Then, up top Jozy Altidore will obviously lead the line and then it’s all about getting Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic in the correct positions underneath him. Pulisic could well play centrally to get the best out of his undoubted talents.

Look for MLSers Kellyn Acosta and Darlington Nagbe to feature but they may not start in these crucial qualifiers. Experience seems to be the key for these games as the U.S. aims to get back on track.

World Cup qualifiers: Injured USMNT up for fight?

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Two of the USMNT’s best players have pulled out of the squad due to injury as the Yanks face two massive World Cup qualifiers in the next eight days.

Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson were injured in Bundesliga play this weekend, a rough start to the week for Bruce Arena as he prepares for a Friday home tilt with Honduras before a March 28 match at Panama.

Johnson was almost certainly going to play left mid or left wing for Arena, while Wood had a terrific chance to play alongside Jozy Altidore in a 4-4-2.

[ MORE: Wenger reportedly wants Arsenal stay ]

Throw in DeAndre Yedlin, and Arena’s not off to a flying start.

The U.S. is dead last in World Cup qualifying after beginning life in the Hex with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico — Wood scored the goal — and a 4-0 humiliation at Costa Rica.

Honduras beat perceived group minnow Trinidad and Tobago after a 1-0 loss at Panama. They also have good road acumen, losing 1-0 at full-strength Argentina and drawing at Mexico in a September WCQ.

Anyone who’s watched early season Houston Dynamo has seen the danger that lurks with Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto in attack, not to mention Anderlecht’s Andy Najar and Tenerife’s Anthony Lozano.

So how worried should U.S. supporters be?

Probably not too much.

[ MORE: Dempsey, Morris score for Seattle ]

Honduras is a good CONCACAF side, to be sure, but the USMNT should operate beyond injury concerns when it comes to Los Catrachos.

The Yanks beat Honduras 2-1 the last time they met, a July 2015 Gold Cup match. That was a lineup that had Ventura Alvarado next to Timmy Chandler, Kyle Beckerman at holding mid, and Gyasi Zardes at left mid. Yeah, seriously. And they won.

Before that it was a 1-1 draw in Florida, and a 3-1 win in the 2014 Gold Cup semi.

Plus, the Yanks were without Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard in the last round of qualifiers. If that wasn’t enough for Jurgen Klinsmann to keep his job a few more months, than day-saving Arena can’t be excused for not having two wide men and a striker.

Here’s a lineup Arena can use (although his decision not to call in Timmy Chandler because of a one-match suspension is a bit baffling. Will the Bundesliga left wingback get a call for Panama?).

Howard

Zusi — Cameron — Brooks — Beasley

Bradley

Nagbe — Bedoya

Pulisic

Altidore — Dempsey

versus

Quioto — Lozano — Elis

Najar — Boniek Garcia

Espinoza

Izaguierre — Figueroa — Figueroa — Beckeles

Escober

Championship Focus: Newcastle drop more points, but remain top

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No one wants to win the Championship, and no one wants to lock up a place in the playoffs to fight for promotion to the Premier League.

The Championship’s top nine teams (all sides currently within five points of the fourth and final playoff place) have a combined nine wins from the group’s last 27 games played, including zero by the current leaders.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

Birmingham City 0-0 Newcastle United

With every opportunity to sew up the league title, Rafa Benitez‘s Magpies have two points to show for their last three league games, a run which includes a painfully (four shots on goal between the sides) scoreless draw away to 18th-place Birmingham on Saturday.

It was still somehow better than any prospective title challenger could muster…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Chelsea delight, Arsenal misery ]

Leeds United 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

After erasing a five-point deficit with a pair of wins last week, Brighton came crashing back down to earth on Saturday, losing 2-0 away to a quickly climbing Leeds side which now sits fourth in the league table, two points back of third-place Huddersfield Town and two points clear of fifth-place Reading.

Chris Wood grew his league-leading goals haul to three with a second-half brace (63rd and 85th minutes), and Garry Monk‘s side looks to be the peaking-at-the-right-time team — seven games without a loss (four wins, three draws) — with the promotion playoffs six short weeks away.

Elsewhere in the Championship

(19th) Bristol City 4-0 (3rd) Huddersfield Town
(6th) Sheffield Wednesday 0-2 (5th) Reading
(7th) Fulham 1-4 (16th) Wolverhampton Wanderers