Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard - US national team - during national anthem
Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Arena: US "very cautious" about Dempsey, Howard's status for qualifiers

Bruce Arena is preparing to do without Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard for the US national team’s huge World Cup qualifiers later this month.

Speaking to reporters in Millbrae, California on Tuesday on the occasion of CONCACAF’s announcement of the group placements for the 2017 Gold Cup, the USMNT coach expressed his excitement at Dempsey’s return to match action over the weekend after the Seattle Sounders’ star striker missed the second half of the 2016 MLS campaign due to an irregular heartbeat.

But Arena plans to be “very cautious” about Dempsey’s return to international play. And with Howard still in the latter stages of recovery with the Colorado Rapids after his season-ending groin surgery in November, Arena said he’ll wait and see how his veteran duo are doing with their MLS clubs before deciding whether to call them in for Hexagonal clashes with Honduras (at the San Jose Earthquakes' Avaya Stadium on March 24) and at Panama four days later.

“I'll follow their lead,” Arena said of the Rapids’ handling of Howard, who did not suit up for Colorado’s season-opening win over New England on Saturday, “as well as following the lead of Seattle with Clint.”

Arena is taking a similar approach to USMNT defender Geoff Cameron, who finally returned to game action for English side Stoke City over the weekend after several months out with a knee problem.

“Between now and when the players report, there's going to be a lot of issues, so we have a Plan A, a B and a C, and in a lot of cases we're probably going to go to Plan C,” Arena said. “Two players, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, may not be available. It may be the case with Geoff. They've all been good players for the US team. We'd like to have them all. The reality of the situation is that that's not likely.”