USMNT World Cup qualifying roster raises eyebrows

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The United States men’s national team won the Gold Cup with a B- or even high-C team, so this is not the end of the world, but Bruce Arena’s latest round of World Cup call-ups should set off alarm bells for those hoping for the Yanks’ best team this summer in Russia.

While perhaps it’s time to stop assuming the Americans will rise to their level in this month’s World Cup qualifiers, we’ll continue to choose the realistic-if-optimistic take that a side with Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, and Michael Bradley should defy CONCACAF opposition almost regardless of their roster mates. And most of the questionable inclusions are unlikely to see more than a few minutes on the pitch.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios for USMNT ] 

Saying that, in some ways it feels like Arena is trolling American soccer with his call-ups, perhaps knowing that the expected success regardless of his roster can make a false statement about the player pool. And there’s a snarky part of me wondering if releasing this roster on Sunday morning instead of during halftime of a nationally-televised MLS match is more than a simple coincidence.

The U.S. has two of its easiest qualifiers left on the docket, with Panama arriving on Oct. 6 and a trip to essentially-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, so Arena can do what he wants despite the desperation.

Arena is a bit shorthanded due to injuries, with star center back John Brooks and sub striker Jordan Morris out. Altidore and Cameron are just returning from injuries, too, but started for their clubs this weekend.

So who’s healthy and gone from last month’s disappointing showing? Johnson and Eric Lichaj.

Who’s in? Michael Orozco, Benny Feilhaber, Juan Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes.

Who’s been overlooked? Now we move into opinion, but Vitesse center back Matt Miazga, Toronto FC left back Justin Morrow, Seattle’s Cristian Roldan, New England’s Lee Nguyen, and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie all have legit reasons to raise a hand and proffer a, “Uhhhh, coach?”

You might then say, “Woah, Nick, that’s not completely in line with Bruce Arena’s recent expectations that he was going to avoid bringing in new faces and ride with the horses that got him to this point.”

Right, depending on how you read Arena’s comments, but so is the coach.

  • Orozco, the 31-year-old Club Tijuana back, is uncapped under Arena and not currently starting for the Mexican club.
  • Agudelo has one goal since returning from the Gold Cup, and has never played in a meaningful away match for the USMNT.
  • Feilhaber has four caps since the start of 2013.

Zardes had been a long-time part of the side until a post-Copa America Centenario injury, returning to the fold for the Ghana friendly and Gold Cup, so it’s less of a stretch philosophy wise even if he’s being trotted out at right back for the LA Galaxy by Sigi Schmid.

I guess I just don’t get it, even acknowledging that Arena’s forgotten more soccer in his life than I’ve watched in mine.

Even noting his struggles last month, dropping Johnson reeks of the full-blooded American critiques which have always tasted wrong. And the call-up of Orozco is baffling and has the faint scent of expert Jurgen Klinsmann trolling (not that any manager would be so petty in such a big spot). To say something audacious and improbable, I’d keep Morrow over Orozco based only on his Saturday night hat trick alone.

Again, it’s not that this roster dooms the Yanks in its next two matches, or that the same roster couldn’t defeat Syria or Australia if needed in November.

But it’s a troubling idea that Arena, making huge decisions for American soccer, is neglecting one of the generation’s most accomplished players in Johnson and reaching into the MLS bin for players he hasn’t previously used in meaningful matches. It’s the sort of head-scratcher that worries you about summer in Russia, assuming they get there.