For the U.S., It’s Black and White

20170323 MNT BW Gallery BINGHAM

by JACK BELL

These are frenzied times for the United States men’s national team.

The months of waiting since Bruce Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann as the team’s coach have dwindled to hours and minutes ahead of Friday night’s crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match against Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif. (Fox Sports 1, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, kickoff scheduled for 10:55 p.m.).

The frenzy part comes after the American team lost its first two matches (vs. Mexico and at Costa Rica) in the Hexagonal, the final round of regional qualifying that will send the top three finishers to Russia next year and a fourth to a playoff for another spot in the 32-team field. With eight games still to play in the Hex, a six-point haul with wins against Los Catrachos and at Panama on Tuesday would quiet a cacophony of doubters.

20130206 MNTvHON Michael Bradley

U.S. captain Michael Bradley (4).

“There’s no two ways about it – we let ourselves down in Costa Rica,” Michael Bradley, the captain and midfield general, told reporters after a training session earlier this week after the crushing 4-0 loss on Nov. 15 that eventually cost Klinsmann his job. “We didn’t play well enough. Mistakes turned into bigger mistakes, which turned into bigger mistakes. We are where we are, and now it’s about on Friday night beginning this process of moving ourselves back up the table – stepping on the field from the first minute and playing in a really, really aggressive way that ultimately leaves no doubt as to who’s stepping off the field the winner.”

The U.S. is 15-4-4 against Honduras, with a 12-2-3 record on U.S. soil and 5-2-1 in World Cup qualifying. In his previous tenure (1998-2006) as the coach of the American team, Arena has faced Honduras six times, going 5-1-0. Since taking over again, Arena has had scant time with his players, other than a January training camp and a few friendlies. Bradley talked about the adjustment to Arena after years with Klinsmann.

“Just across the board, we feel like we let some different things slip,” Bradley said. “He’s [Arena] come in and found the right way to work and talk and show some things and make sure we understand who we are and what we’re about – ultimately where we’re stepping on the field giving ourselves the best chance to win.”

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Tim Howard. Photo by Matt Kremkau

Yet a roster depleted by injuries, suspensions and a personal absence have cast a pall over the U.S. chances. Jermaine Jones and Timmy Chandler are both suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Because that leaves Chandler with only one possible game, the one at Panama, Arena decided that asking the defender to travel from Germany would not make sense. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who had seemed to emerge as the No. 1 choice, is unavailable after the birth of his second child. That means that Tim Howard, 38, who is coming off surgery that ended his season in 2016, will likely start in goal.

On the injury front, the list is long and troubling. Out are DeAndre Yedlin (thigh), Eric Lichaj (pelvis), Fabian Johnson (thigh) and Bobby Wood (back). To fill out his roster, Arena called in Graham Zusi, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Wondolowski.

“We’re fine,” Arena told reporters. “We’re going to have 11 good players on the field Friday night.”

It is difficult to know how adventurous Arena will be with his lineup selections for the match against Honduras. The omission of the budding star Christian Pulisic would raise eyebrows, as would a decision to sit Jordan Morris as a running mate up top with Jozy Altidore. Additionally, the promising Kellyn Acosta is itching for to make his second appearance for the American team. Arena is known for going with “his guys,” be they guys who have played for him before (like Sebastian Lletget with the Galaxy) or veterans like DaMarcus Beasley and Alejandro Bedoya. The return of Clint Dempsey after dealing with an irregular heartbeat also gives Arena access to one of his guys.

What is certain is that the U.S. needs to #Get3 to avoid a renewed frenzy of soaring proportions.

Possible U.S. Starting XI

Howard; Cameron, Gonzalez, Brooks, Beasley; Bedoya, Bradley, Kljestan, Pulisic; Altidore, Dempsey.


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