Call it Mission: Very, Very Difficult — the first official international break of Bruce Arena’s second tenure as U.S. national team head coach kicks off nine very short days from now, and with it come a pair of virtual must-win 2018 World Cup qualifiers, against Honduras and Panama.
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On Wednesday, Arena announced his 23-man roster for those vitally important fixtures — in San Jose, Calif., March 24; in Panama City, Panama, March 29. Present are many of the names you’ve long grown accustom to seeing — Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, among the safely assumed — as well Clint Dempsey, who returns to the USMNT fold after sitting out the final few months of 2016 due to an irregular heartbeat.
Arena elected to leave out both Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber, arguably the best creative midfield options in the entire USMNT player pool.
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Following a 2-1 defeat to Mexico (home) and a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Costa Rica (away) — results that ultimately cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job — the USMNT sits on zero points from their first two games of the Hexagonal round of qualifying. Based on history, the Yanks will likely need to collect 14 or 15 points from their final eight games in order to qualify directly (top three) to next summer’s tournament in Russia, or reach the inter-confederation playoff (fourth) against the fifth-place nation from Asia.
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FULL 24-MAN ROSTER
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (L.A. Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Burussia Monchengladbach), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)