The penultimate pair of CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup qualifiers is right around the corner for Bruce Arena and the US men’s national team, making it time once again to dig up the roster selection crystal ball.
This doubleheader will see Costa Rica visit Red Bull Arena a week from Friday (6:30 pm ET; ESPN, UniMás, UDN) before the USMNT heads down to Honduras the following Tuesday, Sept. 6 (5:30 pm ET; beIN SPORTS).
With second-place Costa Rica and fourth-place Panama each facing the daunting prospect of dropped points against Mexico in this round, Arena will insist on no mistakes in his team's effort to close on a ticket to Russia for next summer's World Cup. If the US can sweep all six September points, it's quite possible they'd be set up to clinch their World Cup 2018 place with a game to spare by beating Panama in Orlando on Oct. 6.
As such, don't expect much in the way of surprises from Arena for this roster. Even with a few starters out or doubtful, the squad should lean heavily on known quantities.
Everyone knows Guzan and Howard are shoo-ins for selection, with the Colorado Rapids veteran seemingly the starter. The third pick likely comes down to Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson and Ethan Horvath. We'll give this nod to the 22-year-old Horvath, who is coming off a big week at Club Brugge that saw him shut out AEK Athens in Europa League qualification play before making several big stops in their weekend league victory.
Injuries have done a number on the projected starting backline, with John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin currently in their clubs' recovery bay. Cameron will retain his place in the heart of defense, with Besler and Gonzalez battling to partner him. It appears as though Zusi will step up to work right back, while one would imagine Villafana keep his left back spot despite being rendered a Santos Laguna back-up – for now, anyway – thanks to his late arrival to the Liga MX club following the Gold Cup.
The forced roster shuffle will presumably open a spot in central defense for Ream. Even though Timothy Chandler has enjoyed a solid start to his Eintracht Frankfurt campaign, we'll go with Lichaj to fill out the right back position. As he was during the last round of qualifiers, Beasley should be around to start the road contest.
Most of the center midfielders are no-brainers. Bradley and Pulisic are locks to start, while Nagbe can't be far behind them in that regard. Arriola and Bedoya provide adequate depth and fill a role, and Acosta should be around for more seasoning despite a so-so Gold Cup.
As with the defense, the midfield crew is a bit hobbled. Having missed Borussia Monchengladbach’s league opener last week and being out for full training until Thursday, Fabian Johnson is in doubt for the weekend. If he can go at Augsburg on Saturday, Arena may well call him up and bump Zardes (who probably makes a FabJo-less squad with Kelyn Rowe now injured) off the squad.
Altidore possesses the most complete game in the striker corps, Dempsey is at least a super-sub and Wood is a defense-stretching finisher. Morris, who has four goals in his last nine games for club and country, offers the home-run option out wide.