With two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers coming up for the U.S. national team in the next week, Bruce Arena will need his best players to stand and deliver.
But what is his best XI right now?
[ MORE: Mendola analyzes USMNT roster ]
Fabian Johnson and John Brooks are out through injury (Brooks is out for three months and Johnson is working his way back to full fitness) but aside from their absence the USMNT are pretty much at full strength for the pivotal CONCACAF qualifiers against Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando and Oct. 10 at Trinidad & Tobago.
Below is a look at how I would line up the U.S. for their upcoming games as they likely need at least four points to seal the third and final automatic World Cup spot from the CONCACAF region.
JPW’s strongest USMNT XI for World Cup qualifiers
—– Howard —–
—- Yedlin —- Cameron —- Besler —- Beasley —-
—- Bradley —- Acosta —-
—- Pulisic —- Dempsey —- Wood —-
—– Altidore —–
Tim Howard just gets the nod over Brad Guzan in goal, while DeAndre Yedlin‘s return to fitness is a big boost for the U.S. So to is Geoff Cameron recovering from injury in time for these games and he should be partnered alongside Matt Besler who has been steady and dependable both for the U.S. and Sporting Kansas City over the past few months. At left back I’m going with the experience of DaMarcus Beasley for these crucial qualifiers. “Just give me two more solid games, Beas” will be the message from Arena. I would have taken a chance on Fabian Johnson and called him up, but Bruce will have his reasons.
In midfield Michael Bradley and Kellyn Acosta seem to be the best partnership in the middle, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Benny Feilhaber comes straight into the team in the holding role with Bradley or even Alejandro Bedoya. Again, experience will count for a lot. That’s why I’ve gone with Clint Dempsey from the start in the No.10 role and have Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic either side of him in the three attacking mid roles.
Those three can interchange throughout the game and if Deuce can only last 60 minutes you can either bring on another forward or a midfielder depending on if you want to chase the game or hold onto a lead. And up top Jozy Altidore will lead the line and, hopefully, get the support he needs from Pulisic, Dempsey and Wood.
Hold your breath, U.S. fans, this will be a rocky ride in the coming week.