Jurgen Klinsmann takes no chances with U.S. squad for crucial WCQs
With a qualifying spot in the next round of World Cup qualifying at stake, U.S. men's national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has opted for a veteran roster before games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2, and Trinidad & Tobago four days later.
All told, 26 players have been called in. The group includes Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore but the Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey has been left off due to an irregular heartbeat that was announced by his club on Friday. No timetable has been given for his return. LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes was also left off the roster due to an undisclosed injury he sustained in Saturday night's 0-0 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Altidore has been plagued by hamstring issues for much of 2016 -- one such injury caused him to miss the Copa America earlier this summer. But since returning to his club on July 23, Altidore has scored five goals and added one assist in eight appearances, three of them starts. It is expected that he will be relied on heavily to pick up the slack created by Dempsey's absence, and forward Bobby Wood (fresh off scoring on his Bundesliga debut for his new club Hamburg) will also play a big role. Opportunity will also beckon for Dempsey's club teammate, Jordan Morris, and FC Utrecht's Rubio Rubin, with San Jose Earthquake mainstay Chris Wondolowski rounding out the group of forwards.
Beyond that, the roster looks very similar to the one that saw the U.S. reach the semifinals of the Copa, with 19 of the 23 players on that roster getting recalls.
"We definitely think that the group that got fourth in the Copa America deserves a certain priority going on to the next World Cup qualifiers because they did tremendously well [in that competition]," Klinsmann said. "It was an exciting tournament with great games. The whole group learned a lot, playing teams like Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina. This is a big stage, and they deserve to come back and confirm what they did in the tournament in these upcoming, very important World Cup qualifiers."
That list includes captain Michael Bradley, who will serve a one-game suspension against SVG for yellow card accumulation. Michael Orozco is also suspended due to the red card he incurred late in the Copa America third-place match against Colombia.
Colorado Rapids midfielder Jermaine Jones has been called in despite not playing for almost two months due to a lingering knee problem. It is expected that he will be checked out by the U.S. medical staff and the hope is that he will be ready if needed. That said, it seems unlikely that he will play in either match.
Jones' injury and Bradley's suspension mean that Klinsmann will rely heavily on Kyle Beckerman to man the center of midfield against the Vincy Heat. It could also mean that one of Christian Pulisic or Darlington Nagbe will get extended minutes.
With regard to the defense, the group that performed so well at the Copa (including Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Fabian Johnson) are on the roster. Omar Gonzalez is back in the frame after missing out on the Copa while FC Dallas defender Kellyn Acosta is expected to provide valuable depth at both full-back positions.
In terms of unexpected call-ups, both Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola and Caleb Stanko of FC Vaduz are on the roster.
The U.S. currently lies in second place in Group C with seven points, three points behind T&T but just one point ahead of Guatemala. A win against the Vincy Heat, combined with a T&T win against Guatemala, would see the U.S. clinch a spot in the final hexagonal round, due to begin in November. Given the edge that the U.S. has over Guatemala in goal difference -- currently, plus-six -- a win in St. Vincent combined with a draw between T&T and Guatemala would all but guarantee that the U.S. would advance. Should Guatemala prevail over T&T, determining who will advance will come down to the final day.
"We are preparing for these two games very seriously with a lot of urgency because we want to finish off our group in first place if possible, and this group of players gets the chance to do that," said Klinsmann.
The U.S. team will be expected to log plenty of air miles over the next week. Because St. Vincent's airport can't accommodate jets, the team will stop over in Barbados, where it will take a series of 19-passenger planes -- including one just for the team's gear -- to make the final journey to St. Vincent.
U.S. Roster by position
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha BSC), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.