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Breaking Down Bruce Arena’s USMNT Selections

The United States could potentially miss out on the 2018 World Cup, and with a crucial six points on the line, did Arena select the right roster?

Soccer: 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup -USA  at Jamaica
Bruce Arena at the Gold Cup earlier this year.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We are currently three days away from getting a good glimpse at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s future. As you probably know by now, there are three possible scenarios that can occur. First, the United States qualifies outright, by finishing within the top three spots of the CONCACAF region’s Hexagonal. Second, the United States finishes fourth in the Hex, and faces either Australia or Syria in a home-and-home playoff for one of the final World Cup spots. And third, the United States fails to qualify altogether.

Obviously no one wants that final scenario to happen. However, it is incredibly hard to deny that a coaching change and lackluster performances amidst this final qualifying campaign have caused serious doubt to weigh heavy on the minds of those that support the Stars and Stripes.

The only way to ensure that the USMNT secures a spot in the top three is by winning these next two games against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. But the spotlight is shining brightest on the game this Friday against Panama at Orlando City Stadium.

Panama currently sits above the USMNT on the table in third with 10 points, while the USMNT is tied with Honduras in fourth, on nine points. Panama also currently has a one-goal advantage on the USMNT on goal differential. So, as I said previously, winning these two games is a necessity, and the Yanks shouldn’t take their opponents lightly.

Bruce Arena announced his roster selections for these qualifiers on Oct. 1, and with the weight these next two games hold, I wanted to take some time to analyze Arena’s picks, compare alternatives, and give you my opinions on the direction I think the U.S. Men’s National Team should be heading.

I will start by saying that my initial hot take when I reviewed the roster was, “Ehhh, well that was a collection of really safe choices.” And to be completely honest, that is exactly what Arena did. This is all (for the most part) his tried and true guys, with little room for experimentation. I do understand that, however, looking at Arena’s selections, there are without a doubt a few head-scratchers in there that I would love to dive into.

I’m going to get the first one out of the way nice and easy here and that is Gyasi Zardes. I understand that he has already withdrawn from the team due to injury. Zardes’ body of work this year has been incredibly poor for the LA Galaxy, and he hasn’t contributed much for the USMNT in the last 16 months either. In six appearances, he has no goals, and just one assist, which came against Martinique in the Gold Cup. The initial inclusion of Zardes isn’t what got me heated, though (that happened after I did some more research on his stats).

Where my issue with Arena lies here, now that Zardes has withdrawn from camp, is that Arena decided not to replace him. It is a bit excessive for Arena to have chosen a 26-man roster to fill 23 slots for the qualifiers; I assume Arena was using this tactic to breed competition out of his players ahead of these massively important games. However, in my mind, Arena’s decision to not replace Zardes with someone else shows that his mind was already made up as to who would be in that final 23, and Zardes was one of the three pawns that Arena selected to just be there.

With players like Jordan Morris, Fabian Johnson, Dom Dwyer, Kelyn Rowe, and Matt Miazga, among many others, all pushing hard for a potential roster spot for the 2018 World Cup, it means that this decision by Arena could potentially be very damaging to their stock in the USMNT moving forward.

What I believe to be the most infuriating piece of this article is in the past, so I think we should evaluate some of the other selections that I’m sure raised a few eyebrows over the weekend. The first one is just a quick little throw away, and that is the third-string goalkeeper, Nick Rimando. I love Rimando as a player, but unfortunately he was never going to crack into the No. 1 spot with the USMNT, as long as Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are around. And since Rimando turned 38 over the summer, I think it’s time we start paying closer attention to our younger talent, as Guzan is the youngest goalkeeper on the roster at 33 years of age.

As for the defenders, there are really only two names that stick out to me in a negative way and they are DeMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco. Beasley confuses me a lot as he’s previously retired from international play but somehow keeps getting invited back and returning to the fold. Personally I am a fan of Eric Lichaj, and want to see more of what he can do in tense situations. Another fullback that I think needs to be reconsidered is Timothy Chandler, who hasn’t been involved with the national team wince withdrawing from camp prior to the qualifiers in May.

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qulafying-Mexico at USA
Timmy Chandler against Mexico last November.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

As for Michael Orozco, he has just begun to seem like a lost cause to me. At 31 years old, and never locking down a starting position aside from during a Gold Cup a few years ago, I feel like his position would be better suited by a younger player like a Matt Miazga, or Cameron Carter-Vickers from Tottenham Hotspur. I feel as though Orozco was handed this spot due to the injury of John Brooks, but a younger player that can compete for a future roster spot makes much more sense to me than a guy who has is quickly moving past his prime.

When it comes to the midfield, I know the name that brought forth a lot of questions initially was Benny Feilhaber, but personally, I love this call -up. Feilhaber has been fighting for years on end to get back into the limelight of the USMNT, and his numbers and leadership this season with Sporting Kansas City show that he deserves to be back.

Juan Agudelo, on the other hand, is a name that I have major issues with. To start, with the New England Revolution, Agudelo is a forward, but Arena lists him as a midfielder. Second, since the beginning of May, Agudelo has only scored two goals and had one assist in 10 starts with the Revolution. Meanwhile, the Revs have played 23 games in that span of time. If Arena is classifying Agudelo as a midfielder, I cannot understand how on Earth he chooses him over the likes of Fabian Johnson, who has been one of the USMNT’s most consistent players over the last few years.

There are even two better American midfielders that play for the Revolution currently: Kelyn Rowe, who is currently injured, and Lee Nguyen, who as of now has 11 goals and 15 assists on the season, and that assist tally is good enough for second-highest in the league this season. So, to say that I’m perplexed by Agudelo’s inclusion may be a big understatement.

When it comes to forwards, we have our usual suspects — Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood. However, one name that somehow found its way onto the roster is Chris Wondolowski. I’ll be honest and completely transparent with you all here: I am not a big fan of Wondolowski. He is a great MLS striker and poacher, but on the international level, he does not cut it for me. He’s had another fantastic season with the San Jose Earthquakes — 12 goals and six assists at 34 years of age is impressive. Hell, he’s scored 126 goals for San Jose since 2010. The guy is a goal machine in California. But of the 11 goals he has scored for the USMNT in 35 appearances, only five of them came in competitive matches, and those matches were against Belize and Cuba in the 2013 Gold Cup.

Aside from those two games, Wondolowski never really took off with the USMNT (see his whiff against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup), and we have guys that are younger, faster, and hungrier than he is that deserve to be in his shoes right now, regardless of whether or not he is one of Arena’s tried and true guys. With Jordan Morris injured, Dom Dwyer is the most important name to look at here, and I’m not just tossing Dwyer in there because I’m an avid supporter of Orlando City. I’ve written articles before about how I think Dwyer should be a mainstay with the USMNT. Dom can run circles around the aging Wondolowski, and I think it’s time that Arena figures that out.

I know that a lot of what I write has an eye toward the future, and I do have very high hopes for the USMNT. I think the team will make it through with this roster, I just think Panama is going to be a very tight game, and the chances of advancement will rely solely on the final match day, which may see the U.S. in that playoff against either Syria or Australia further down the road. I just think that these are names that Arena should keep his eye on, rather than just going with the same roster time and time again that is just full of aging players and others that never reached their full potential.

But I would love to know your thoughts here. Do you think I’ve got some of these players right? Are there other names you would include? What did you think on my take on the Zardes scenario? Please feel free to communicate your thoughts in the comments section.