Arena Picks 24 Ahead of World Cup Qualifiers

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by JACK HAZZARD 

There were surprises — large and small — sprinkled throughout the list of 24 players released by United States Coach Bruce Arena ahead of next week’s crucial World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and at Panama. The team will gather in camp in San Jose, Calif., on Monday ahead of Friday’s match against Honduras.

For fans of the New York Red Bulls, perhaps the biggest shock was the exclusion of the team’s captain and midfielder Sacha Kljestan. In addition to Kljestan, Arena decided not to choose defender Timothy Chandler, who would have missed the Honduras match on a suspension; Kansas City veterans Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber; defender Steve Birnbaum; Julian Green; and DeAndre Yedlin, who is injured, as was Eric Lichaj, who was hurt last weekend playing for Nottingham Forest. Kljestan, Birnbaum and Feilhaber were part of the team for two January friendlies.

Bruce Arena

U.S. Coach Bruce Arena

“We put together a roster that we think has balance and one that gives us an option in playing a number of different ways,” Coach Bruce Arena told ussoccer.com. “It’s a roster where the primary rationale is to help us be successful in these two games, but we’re also looking down the road and bringing in some young players that we think have an opportunity to be an important part of the national team program as well.”

Arena’s return as national team coach, replacing the fired Jurgen Klinsmann, seems to have opened the national team door again for a number of players — particularly a threesome of veterans who only recently returned to the field after injuries. Clint Dempsey is back with the national team for the first time since last summer’s Copa América after dealing with an irregular heart beat; goalkeeper Tim Howard will again vie with Brad Guzan now that Howard has returned to the Colorado Rapids after sustaining a groin injury that required surgery; and Jeff Cameron only recently regained his starting spot at Stoke City.

“Clint has a history that is almost second to none,” Arena said about the men’s national team second career-leading goal scorer. “We know there are some good days still ahead for Clint. He’s made great progress in preseason and his first two games with Seattle, and we think he’s a player that can still help us in these games — perhaps at a reduced role — but a player that still has a tremendous history of scoring goals and creating opportunities. To have that kind of player available I think is invaluable.”

The former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty, who was traded to Chicago during Major League Soccer’s off-season, was named to the roster, as were Jermaine Jones, Tim Ream (another former Red Bulls player) and Kellyn Acosta. And an Arena favorite, DaMarcus Beasley, is likely to see action at left back. Beasley has been to every World Cup with the U.S. since 2002.

After hosting Honduras at the San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium on March 24 (kickoff at 10:50 p.m. Eastern), the American team will travel to Panama for a match on March 28 (kickoff at 10:05 p.m. Eastern). After two rounds of games, the U.S. is in last place in the Hex after losses to Mexico and at Costa Rica. The next round of games (vs. Trinidad and Tobago, and at Mexico) will be played in June.

The Roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/England), Tim Howard (Colorado/MLS), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake/MLS)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston/MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany),  Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/Mexico), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Tim Ream (Fulham/England), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas/MLS)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas/MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia/MLS), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/MLS), Jermaine Jones (Los Angeles/MLS), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/Germany), Sebastian Lletget (Los Angeles/MLS), Dax McCarty (Chicago/MLS), Darlington Nagbe (Portland/MLS), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/Germany)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/MLS), Clint Dempsey (Seattle/MLS), Jordan Morris (Seattle/MLS), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/Germany)