The goal for the U.S. men's national team in its next two CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches is to get six points, according to manager Bruce Arena, who on Friday announced his 23-man roster for the Oct. 9 match at El Salvador and the Oct. 13 match at RFK Stadium against Panama.
"We are now approaching crunch time in the semifinal round of qualifying," Arena said. "If we can get six points, we're going to be in a position we want to be, and likely into the next round."
The U.S. men played these same two teams in their last pair of matches in early September, defeating El Salvador 2-0 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Sept. 4 and then playing to a 1-1 draw with Panama in Panama City four days later.
In the Panama match, the U.S. was outplayed for much of the second half, yet escaped with a draw when midfielder Cobi Jones netted a stoppage-time equalizer. Against El Salvador, the U.S. faced a physical battle, but with the help of a controversial sending off of an El Salvador player just before halftime, Arena's men were able to pick up an insurance goal and take all three points.
Playing in San Salvador a week from Saturday, the U.S. may face an even tougher test, Arena said, noting the often intense atmosphere of World Cup qualifiers in Central America.
"One would expect, with the U.S. coming to town, it's going to be a capacity crowd. So it's going to be a real challenge in that environment," he said. "The field will be adequate. It won't be an excuse. But there is going to be a real home-field advantage with, I'm very sure, a real solid backing for the Salvadorean team."
Against Panama, the U.S. will be under pressure to rebound from what many U.S. soccer analysts and observers described as a disappointing result.
"We need to turn around real quick (after the El Salvador match) and head back to D.C. and play a Panama team that demonstrated to us that they're a very good team and certainly capable of beating us," Arena said.
The roster that Arena will bring into camp prior to the upcoming matches is very similar to the one that faced El Salvador and Panama a month ago. Only four changes have been made to that roster, as 12 MLS players were summoned.
The MLS players called into the U.S. camp include Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Gaven (MetroStars), Cory Gibbs (Dallas Burn), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Eddie Johnson (Dallas Burn), Cobi Jones (Los Angeles Galaxy), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Pope (MetroStars), Tony Sanneh (Columbus Crew), Jonny Walker (MetroStars), Josh Wolff (Kansas City Wizards) and Kerry Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards).
Earthquakes forward Brian Ching, one of four players tied for the MLS lead in goals scored, will sit out this portion of the semifinal round of qualifying. Ching, who scored the equalizer in the U.S.'s semifinal round opener at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica against the Reggae Boyz and tallied the first goal against Panama, had run into a stretch of poor form since then and more recently suffered a left quadriceps strain that kept him out of the QUakes' lineup last weekend.
While Ching will miss out on the next two U.S. matches, three other MLS players return to national team camp, including Columbus's Sanneh, who makes his first appearance on a U.S. roster since rejoining MLS. Sanneh last played for the U.S. on June 2 in Foxborough and scored the final goal in a 4-0 defeat of Honduras. Colorado's Mastroeni returns to the U.S. roster after sitting out for nearly three months due to injury, and Kansas City's Wolff is back in the fold as well.
Another notable absence in the roster is captain Claudio Reyna. The veteran midfielder recently developed a hamstring injury while training with his club side, Manchester City, and it was determined that he will not be fully prepared to take the field with the U.S. team next weekend.
The MetroStars will send the most players of any one club to the U.S. national team, with three. Seventeen-year-old midfielder Gaven, who received his first U.S. cap on July 11 in a 1-1 tie with Poland, is looking to make his first appearance in a World Cup qualifier. Veteran defender Eddie Pope is likely to make his 65th appearance, while Walker will join former MetroStars 'keeper Tim Howard and Kasey Keller as the U.S. team's netminders.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.