The Roland Blog: Your 2018 U.S. World Cup Team … Sort Of

Bruce-Arena-2B

 Seth Roland, the men’s soccer coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., is a past associate of Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and other top coaches. He jumps into the fray as the United States continues its march to the 2018 World Cup in Russia and gives EoS his take on who will be on the U.S. roster.

By SETH ROLAND

US logoThe U.S. has not yet qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and although it’s bad form to talk about who would go to Russia before the U.S. qualifies, let’s have some fun.

There are 23 roster spots. From here, it looks like there are already 15 definites, 4 likelys and 4 other spots up for grabs.

Here are the 15 players who, as long as they stay healthy, will be going to Russia (presuming the U.S. qualifies — that’s the last time we’re going to say that!):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan

Center backs: Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks

Wing backs: Deandre Yedlin, Jorge Villafaña

Central midfielders: Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta

#10: Christian Pulisic

Wingers: Darlington Nagbe, Fabian Johnson

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris

Four players With an Inside Track … At the Moment

  • Dax McCarty (central midfield) … He’s a third central midfielder and can play the defensive midfield role as needed
  • Graham Zusi (wing back) … Coach Bruce Arena seems to like Zusi in this role…similar to how he shifted Robbie Rogers back to wing back with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
  • Paul Arriola (winger) … Maybe I’m jumping the gun, especially placing him ahead of Alejandro Bedoya and Gyasi Zardes at winger, but Arriola has played well in World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup.
  • Bobby Wood (forward) … It will come down to Wood and Dom Dwyer for the fourth forward spot. Wood has the inside track at the moment.

The Third Goalkeeper

Photo by Matt Kremkau

NYCFC’s Sean Johnson is in the running for the No. 3 spot.                Photograph by Matt Kremkau

Bill Hamid, Ethan Horvath, Jesse Gonzalez and Sean Johnson. … This is a toss-up with Hamid having the edge right now. But that doesn’t mean he will have the edge in 11 months, especially with his unfortunate tendency to get injured.

The Final Three Field Spots, and the Choices

  • One more center back: Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Matt Miazga
  • Maybe one more wing back: DaMarcus Beasley, Eric Lichaj
  • One or two more wingers: Alejandro Bedoya, Gyasi Zardes
  • Wild card: Jermaine Jones

Before we decide on the final four players, let’s consider. …

Guys Who Have Played Well for Club, but Not for Country

Matt Hedges, Timmy Chandler

Hedges had a difficult Gold Cup … the 2016 MLS Defender of the Year was exploited badly on a few occasions in his two Gold Cup starts…he’s out of the running for a spot.

Chandler is out of the U.S. national team program along with Jurgen Klinsmann, and rightfully so. Has anyone performed worse, recently, for the national team than Chandler? Has anyone seemed to care less about his own poor performance than Chandler? Absolutely no shot at making the squad. Arena does not share Klinsmann’s belief that someone playing in Germany is automatically better than someone playing in MLS. Arena’s evaluations are performance-based, and he has much more respect and appreciation for MLS. He is concerned with how well someone is playing, regardless of which team they’re playing for or what league they are playing in.

Arena Will Not Take Young Players to Russia for ‘Exposure’

Everyone in the squad of 23 that goes to Russia will be there because Arena is convinced they can help the U.S. team win now, not down the road.  There will be no Julian Greens who, let’s be honest, was selected by Klinsmann for the 2014 World Cup simply to humiliate Landon Donovan.

The Intangibles

Arena loves Beasley and values what he brings to the locker room, at the hotel and on the field when called upon.  He will be 36 years old by the 2018 World Cup, but as he proved at the Azteca in the World Cup qualifier against Mexico in June, he can still get the job done at left back in a one-off situation. I don’t think Arena will make a sentimental decision, but if he believes that Beasley will be able to contribute in 11 months, then I think he might be going to Russia. If Beasley does, it would be his fifth World Cup!

Lichaj did reasonably well in the Gold Cup, but it seems that he is destined to be an alternate, at this point, behind Yedlin, Villafaña, Zusi, and Beasley … and Arena can always move Fabian Johnson to wing back.

Bedoya was captain of two of the first three games in the Gold Cup.  Surely, that shows that Arena has appreciation for Bedoya’s experience and maturity. Bedoya played his best game in ages against Nicaragua. His fitness and energy are his best qualities, but Arena will have to decide whether he’s a guy who can perform consistently well against non-CONCACAF teams.  

Jones was the best player for the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup, but he will be 36 years old next summer and has, of late, endured a spate of injuries. The guy is a winner, however, is a competitor and a monster rolled into one. Who wouldn’t want him as an option in an important World Cup game? Arena will probably monitor J.J.’s play over the course of the next 11 months, but at the moment, he seems to be on the outside looking in.

Zardes is a bit of a rabbit’s foot, having played for Arena with the Galaxy and helped him win MLS Cups. He has the athleticism that Arena loves (as does Morris), and Zardes appears to be rediscovering his form.

Center Back

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Matt Miazga may be on the outside looking in for the World Cup.     Photograph by Matt Kremkau

 

This is the most interesting decision for Arena. Presuming Hedges has played himself off the roster, it probably will come down to Besler, Ream and Miazga.

Besler turned in solid performances against Costa Rica and Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals and championship game. Not the most spectacular player, but someone who gets the job done, and has the experience of having played at center back in the 2014 World Cup. He could also be used as a left back in an emergency. Reminds me of Frankie Hejduk … not great, but effective.

Miazga is the dark horse. He is getting more and more experience, but can only play center back. It may be too late for a spot in 2018, unless someone gets injured. He will spend this season on loan again from Chelsea to Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands.

To Review: The Options

There are only three remaining outfield spots. The options are: Bedoya, Zardes, Besler, Ream, Miazga, Jones, Beasley and Lichaj

The Envelope Please …

  • Arena will take Besler over Ream and Miazga at center back
  • Both Zardes and Bedoya will be selected
  • Beasley will be an alternate, because Johnson can be moved to wing back and Besler can also play left back, if necessary … but don’t be surprised if Beasley ends up going
  • Jermaine Jones … only if Bradley, Acosta or McCarty are injured, and only if Jones is healthy and in-form

Arena Says the World Cup Is a Young Man’s Tournament  

Clint Dempsey’s role has changed recently to sometimes being a starter, sometimes being a reserve, and sometimes not playing at all because he doesn’t have the legs like he used to. He will be 35 next summer.

In addition, Beasley and Jones’ durability and stamina for multiple games within a short period of time has also suffered … which is why it is unlikely that Dempsey, Beasley and Jones would all go to Russia even in the event of injuries. Two of the three may make the trip, but all three going seems like a long shot.

Three of 20 would be 35 and older, 15 percent of your roster. It might be appealing, but difficult to justify.

Systems of Play

The above selections give Arena the option of playing any number of systems … 4-2-3-1 … 4-4-2 … 3-4-3 … or as Arena likes to say, any formation “that adds up to 11.”

It’s hard to predict injuries. A lot can happen in 11 months … stay tuned.