Bruce Arena's approach to team-building is predictable. He identifies a veteran core of guys who he thinks he can win with, and then sloooowly adds and subtracts pieces from the group. Sometimes he waits a little too long to get those new faces into the mix. More often in the past, he's held on too long to the "loyal, energetic gamer" types who keep their mouths shut, do the dirty work and don't get overawed by big moments.
Arena is probably a better coach now than he was 11 years ago, when he last managed the USMNT. But he is still Bruce, and trust goes a long way, and if you thought that the USMNT squad for the upcoming qualifiers would be anything but "veteran laden," you were comically mistaken. Arena was not about to leave qualification in the hands (at the feet?) of a group of relative neophytes, no matter how talented.
This squad has 16 holdovers from the 2014 World Cup, and the other 11 members are all – with one exception(*) – guys who've been through CONCACAF battles with either club or country. Nobody's going to go out there against Trinidad & Tobago, or go down to the Azteca and be surprised by the intensity, the officiating, the challenges, the crowd, the diving, the pressure, etc. etc. etc.
(*)The one exception is Ethan Horvath, who's either the third or fourth 'keeper with this group, and will be along for the trip to get some experience just as Tim Howard and Brad Guzan did last decade.
A Few Notes:
The inclusion of Horvath and Nick Rimando doesn't mean that Bill Hamid or David Bingham or any of the other young-ish 'keepers who've gotten cups of coffee with the US before are on the outs. If Hamid plays in the coming months as he's played in the last two weeks, he'll be in every discussion henceforth, and Bingham has bounced back after a miserable start to his 2017 season.
But it doesn't make sense to tear either of those guys away from their MLS clubs for this extended camp when none of them stands a chance of playing. Horvath's season is over in Belgium, so bringing him instead makes sense.
- Zimmerman's been part of two camps already this year, and would've been fifth on the depth chart at CB for the US this time around. It looks like he's been replaced here by his club teammate, Matt Hedges, who left the January camp early due to injury and wasn't called for the March qualifiers (Zimmerman was). This is smart from Arena, who's getting both guys used to being around the team to varying degrees, and will hopefully call them both in for the Gold Cup.
- It appears that DaMarcus Beasley beat Garza out for the backup left back spot behind Jorge Villafaña. I'm fine with that, since Beasley's a guy you are 100 percent certain you can throw into the cauldron without fear of him being overwhelmed by the moment.
- Lichaj's omission – he's an in-his-prime fullback who's equally adept on either side, and who has a ton of top flight experience – but Arena, for whatever reason, preferred Timmy Chandler as (presumably) DeAndre Yedlin's backup. I disagree, but fair enough.
- It's a fair bet Williams gets a featured role with the Gold Cup team this summer. But for the time being it looks like Arena preferred Dax McCarty for the backup d-mid spot.
There is depth everywhere except for the No. 10 position, which is all Christian Pulisic's. Between him and Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson and Darlington Nagbe, there should be enough creativity to go around – with or without Pulisic, there's more attacking talent here than Arena's predecessor, Jurgen Klinsmann, habitually called in.
Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris have both been slowed by injury over the last several months, but I can't profess to being any kind of shocked that they're both on this roster. I am, though, slightly surprised that the forward pool is only four deep at this time. I could happily have talked myself into a C.J. Sapong or Christian Ramirez invite.
Paul Arriola wasn't great during the second half of the Clausura, but he's one of just a few guys on this roster who are comfortable as true, wide midfielders (Pulisic and Johnson are the others). He has a very specific role, and let's give the kid credit: He's been very good at filling that role when called upon in Red, White and Blue.
Kellyn Acosta and Alejandro Bedoya are both here to be varying types of No. 8s. Either would be comfortable as a shuttler if Arena opts for the 4-1-3-2 he deployed in that huge win over Honduras, and either would be comfortable as Michael Bradley's central midfield partner should Arena opt for the flatter 4-4-2 – with, say, Pulisic and Johnson cutting inside from the wings – that he tried with less success at Panama.
This is the role Jermaine Jones has played for the vast majority of his USMNT career. It'll be interesting to see how the US go about filling that spot now that Jones is, for the time being, unavailable.
Here's my Best Guess XI vs. T&T:
Against Mexico, sub in Omar Gonzalez for John Brooks and Wood for Jozy Altidore.
|GK||Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)|
|GK||Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)|
|GK||Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)|
|GK||Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)|
|D||Matt Besler (Sporting KC)|
|D||John Brooks (Hertha Berlin)|
|D||DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo)|
|D||Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)|
|D||Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)|
|D||Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca)|
|D||Matt Hedges (FC Dallas)|
|D||Tim Ream (Fulham)|
|D||Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna)|
|D||DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)|
|D||Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)|
|M||Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)|
|M||Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana)|
|M||Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)|
|M||Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)|
|M||Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)|
|M||Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire)|
|M||Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)|
|M||Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)|
|F||Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)|
|F||Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)|
|F||Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)|
|F||Bobby Wood (Hamburg)|