The time for Bruce Arena to experiment with his national team roster is over, so the team the U.S. coach called up Sunday for the resumption of World Cup qualifying is older, deeper and more experienced than the one he used in July’s Gold Cup.
A dozen of the 26 players Arena summoned have made 10 or more appearances in World Cup qualifying, five have more than 100 international caps overall and 19 players are age 27 or older. Compare to the team with which Arena started the Gold Cup. That roster included 13 players who had appeared in fewer than 10 international games and 11 who were no older than 26.
“We have a good roster,” said Arena, who is unbeaten (9-0-5) since taking over the national team in December. “We need our best possible roster in order to achieve what we want to achieve here, and that’s to earn points in both games.”
The U.S., third in the CONCACAF qualifying table six games into the 10-game tournament, plays Costa Rica in Harrison, N.J., on Friday before meeting Honduras in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Sept. 5. Mexico leads the six-team standings with 14 points followed by Costa Rica (11), the U.S. (8) and Panama (7). The top three automatically qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
But if there were few surprises in the team Arena selected, there are some holes, especially on the back line where John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Orozco are unavailable because of injury and Timmy Chandler was omitted from the roster. Two other defenders, Omar Gonzalez and Fabian Johnson, are coming off injuries of their own.
That could leave Arena to piece together a starting backline from a group of nine defenders that includes 35-year-old DaMarcus Beasley, who has played in four World Cups, and two others – Matt Hedges and Eric Lichaj – who have never even played in a World Cup qualifier.
The U.S. also has six players coming into camp carrying yellow cards, meaning another caution against Costa Rica would disqualify them from the game in Honduras.
Up front, however, the U.S. is loaded, with Clint Dempsey, the national team’s all-time scoring leader; Seattle teammate Jordan Morris, who scored the winning goal in the Gold Cup; and Toronto’s Jozy Altidore. The midfield includes captain Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic, who had a goal and assist in his Bundesliga opener with Borussia Dortmund, while Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are once again the anchors in goal.
“We’re far from being in Russia,” Arena cautioned. “Things can change real quickly over these next two games. We have to make sure we’re the team that secures points at home and hopefully get some points on the road.
“If we do that, we’re a lot closer to Russia. No one is safe and this point and a lot of things are going to happen over this weekend.”
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)*, Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)*, Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United)*, Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)*, Michael Bradley (Toronto)*, Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto)*, Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
* - carrying one WCQ yellow card and facing a one-game suspension with a second caution.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11