With his back to the wall heading into the final two World Cup qualifiers, U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena took some gambles with the players he called up Sunday.
And one of those rolls of the dice has already come up snake eyes with the Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes being scratched from the roster before it was even released after straining his groin in the first half of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake.
The U.S. team is scheduled to begin training in Orlando, Fla., on Monday. Zardes will not be replaced on the roster, leaving the U.S. with 25 players.
Zardes’ inclusion on the preliminary U.S. roster was surprising since he had been passed over for the U.S.’s first six qualifiers under Arena and has struggled for the Galaxy this season, scoring a career-low two goals in 23 games.
But his name wasn’t the only one on the roster that was followed by a question mark.
Also called up were forward Jozy Altidore and defenders Geoff Cameron and DeAndre Yedlin, who all missed substantial time with their club teams in September because of hamstring injuries. Former Chivas USA standout Juan Agudelo, who has never appeared in a World Cup qualifier, and Benny Feilhaber, who hasn’t been in camp ahead of a qualifier since 2009, are also on the roster.
Among the notable omissions were midfielders Fabian Johnson of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Cristian Roldan of the Seattle Sounders as well as FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, who was replaced by Michael Orozco of Mexican club Tijuana. Also out is Seattle forward Jordan Morris, who strained a hamstring last month.
The U.S. has little room for error in its final two qualifiers, against Panama on Friday in Orlando, and Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10. The Americans are fourth, a point behind Panama, in the six-team CONCACAF tournament and only the top three earn automatic berths to next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
The U.S. can secure a spot by winning its last two games, but anything short of that would require the Americans to get help from Costa Rica and Mexico, who play their final games against Panama and fifth-place Honduras, respectively.
“It’s a roster we’ve selected that we believe will give us success in these next two games,” Arena said. “We have a pretty balanced roster with experienced players, and if any issues arise, I think we have cover in all positions. We need to anticipate some issues with players with injuries, as well as suspensions.”
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), 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), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter: @kbaxter11