Sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning, the USSF announced the 26 man roster that will decide if the US will participate in the 2018 Russia World Cup. It is fitting that the announcement was made under a cloak of darkness, because this roster has me shrouded with doubt. This week will be the most important week in US soccer for all of 2017, and possibly 2018 too.
First, let’s paint a quick picture of what the next 8 days will mean to our country and its soccer efforts. The US is not qualified for the World Cup, far from it. We currently sit in 4th out of 6 possible places. Only the top 3 countries qualify automatically. The 4th place finisher has a chance at qualifying, but will have to play a home and home series against an Asian confederation team, which at the moment looks like it would be Syria. Do you want the US national team to travel to Syria? Me neither!
Very fortuitous to the United States, the team that currently sits just above them in qualification (Panama) is the team that the US will face off against in Orlando on Friday, October 6th. With a win, the US would be clear of Panama by 2 points, with a loss, we would no longer be able to catch Panama on points and would be fighting for the 4th place play in with Honduras. The US will finish up their World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, October 10th in Trinidad & Tobago.
The Interesting Picks:
For the most part the roster looks status quo. You have plenty of the big names and stalwarts that have guided this team throughout qualification. The likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and the boy wonder Christian Pulisic are all on the roster. That doesn’t raise any concerns, but who isn’t on the roster and who they were replaced by is what has me feeling a pit in my stomach that I can’t shake.
Arguably the best player in the entire US national pool, John Brooks, is injured. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the US as he has time and time again masked deficiencies across our backline. Likewise, Fabian Johnson, a versatile midfield/left back option for the US was not called in. His club form has been meh this year and he has dealt with lingering injuries recently.
Injuries are a part of the game and every coach knows that you have to have a “next man up” mentality with these things. What had me so perplexed however was just who Bruce Arena thought the next man up should be. Despite limited time with the national team during this qualification cycle, Arena has called in Benny Feilhaber, Chris Wondolowski, Gyasi Zardes, Demarcus Beasleyand Juan Agudelo. I don’t have the time or the patience to breakdown each of these players and what they have to offer, at least not in this article. But here are my hot takes as I stew over these selections.
Benny Feilhaber: Of the 4 of these players selected, he is probably the best, and probably the most deserving. I hate him because of who he is and the club he plays for, but he adds something to the midfield that the US can use when teams bunker in.
Chris Wondolowski: He is older, his production has slowed down and I think there are a handful of younger options that should get the call ahead of him. Dom Dwyer is working himself back into solid form and played very well for the US during the Gold Cup group stages before being abruptly sent home when the knockout stages began. He or Morris would be my picks over Wondolowski.
Gyasi Zardes: Really? The guy that has subpar stats and a dumpster fire of a team? The guy that was supposed to be the up and coming king of LA until Keane and Donovan left town and now he just looks exposed? The guy that Sigi Schmid has resorted to playing at RB? Yeah, that guy. I can’t help but think this was purely Bruce Arena calling up “his guy” from his days at the Galaxy. I can’t think of any other explanation.
Update: Zardes has removed himself from the roster due to a groin injury suffered last Saturday against Real Salt Lake. He will not be replaced on the roster, which is also weird. You have the spot, use it!
Demarcus Beasley: Battle tested but old as hell.
Juan Agudelo: Meh!
Here is to hoping that whatever Bruce has cooked up in his plan to qualify will work. We have two games left and my world will become a much darker, sadder place if the US fails to qualify for the World Cup.
The Full Roster: (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals):
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 35/6), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 12/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 24/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 16/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX; 6/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 6/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 4/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; (8/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 20/3)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 5/0), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution; 0/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 5/1), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 9/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 38/7), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City; 6/0), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 9/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 11/5), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 4/1)