Arena Calls 26 Into Camp for Crucial Qualifiers

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

US logoThe math is simple: If the United States men’s national team defeats Panama on Friday and then wins at Trinidad and Tobago it is virtually assured of gaining automatic qualification to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The operative word is if.

“It’s a roster we’ve selected that we believe will give us success in these next two games. We have a pretty balanced roster with experienced players,” Arena said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “The players always give the commitment, that’s never an issue. The issue is whether we get the results we need, and I think we’re positioned to do that. I think if it comes down to where we need four or six points in our last two games, I think that’s fine and we’ll get it done.”

The U.S., Panama and Honduras are essentially playing in a three-team mini-league to determine who earns CONCACAF’s final automatic berth to the World Cup (third place), the region’s playoff spot against either Australia or Syria (fourth place) and who sees their World Cup dream end next month.

If the U.S. wins both games, the only way the U.S. won’t earn a top-three finish and  direct qualification to Russia is if Honduras also wins its two remaining games and is able to make up a minimum nine-goal deficit in goal differential (currently a seven-goal margin, two U.S. wins would increase it to at least nine). The Hondurans are playing away to Costa Rica (which has conceded three goals in seven home qualifiers) and home against Mexico (which has given up four goals in 13 qualifiers). 

None of the German-Americans brought into the team by the former coach Jurgen Klinsmann were named to the 26-man roster. Arena selected a veteran- and MLS-heavy team that includes two of his favorite players: Chris Wondolowski and Gyasi Zardes. Later Sunday, Zardes withdrew, citing a groin injury

The roster (all MLS players unless noted otherwise):

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta), Tim Howard (Colorado), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/Mexico), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/Mexic), Tim Ream (Fulham/England), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/Mexico), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/England), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Dallas) ,Juan Agudelo (New England), Paul Arriola (D.C.), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago), Darlington Nagbe (Portland), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/Germany), Gyasi Zardes (Los Angeles)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto), Clint Dempsey (Seattle ), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/Germany)