With two more crucial World Cup qualifiers and a friendly awaiting in the next two weeks, United States men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena called in a roster of 27 players on Sunday that included no real surprises or omissions.
The USA will open camp in Denver on Monday in preparation for three June games. A friendly with Venezuela next Saturday in Sandy, Utah, will be followed by World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City, Colo., and against Mexico three days later in Mexico City.
Arena selected an experienced team with 11 players who have reached double-digits in World Cup qualifying appearances. But the squad also includes all the strong younger players, like 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund phenom Christian Pulisic.
“We have a roster that has good balance all over,” Arena said in a statement. “We have good young players and hopefully it’s a team we can put together to get us points in both games.”
After his March camp was beset by injury and unavailability, Arena finally has something close to his best team available to him. Of the major contributors in recent years, only the LA Galaxy’s Jermaine Jones is unavailable due to injury.
“I think we have a good group,” said Arena, who took over from the ousted Jurgen Klinsmann in November. “I’m still in the early goings with this team and I haven’t seen all of our players, so this camp gives me the opportunity to see six new faces we haven’t had in with the team yet, which is valuable.”
Those players are Brad Guzan, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Ethan Horvath, Bobby Wood and DeAndre Yedlin – all of whom, save for Horvath, could conceivably be starters.
Yet for the most part, the group is familiar to Arena, who hasn’t really had time to experiment with playing styles or try new players. “There’s some continuity there as well as the fact that we’re getting to see some new faces, which is important,” he said.
After four of 10 qualifiers in the final phase of qualification for the World Cup in Russia in 2018, the U.S. sits in fourth out of six places. Back-to-back losses to open the round in November were followed by a 6-0 victory over Honduras and a 1-1 tie in Panama in March. Yet for the Yanks to qualify directly, they’ll have to climb one more place, as just three teams book a ticket right out of the so-called hexagonal round. A fourth will be entered into a playoff with Asia’s fifth-placed team.
Having risen from last place with no points in the last pair of games, the pressure is lifted off the U.S. somewhat. But the prospect of the next few games is nevertheless daunting. While Trinidad and Tobago is an eminently beatable opponent, the away game in Mexico has never yet produced a qualifying win in the daunting Estadio Azteca at Mexico City’s thin-aired altitude and uncomfortable heat and humidity.
To that end, the Venezuela friendly will be played at altitude as well, just outside Salt Lake City, to help prepare for playing T&T and Mexico even higher up.
The Mexico game is scheduled earlier in the international window than you might have expected — and two days ahead of the other two games in the CONCACAF region — to help accommodate El Tri’s participation in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia in the second half of June, a berth it gained at the expense of the U.S. in a one-game playoff late in 2015. In exchange, Mexico agreed to stage the game at night, rather than in the searing afternoon.
But this presents another challenge: the quick turnaround between games, requiring careful planning. “I can guarantee we will not be playing the same team from game one to game two,” Arena said. “There will be a number of changes for the game in Mexico, so we’ve built a strong roster to allow us to do that.”
Finally, there is the fatigue the many European-based players will contend with, although that’s a difficulty for most all teams. Arena, however, thinks the blend with Major League Soccer players who are mid-season will alleviate the strain. “The issue with the players from Europe is they’re completing a long season that started last July or August depending on their club team,” he said. “They’re at the end and they’re probably a little bit beat up, but I know they have another two weeks left in them. The MLS players are at a point where they’re getting pretty fit and sharp, so I think it’s a good time.”
U.S. MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund).
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV).
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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