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'Nations league' impact upon U.S., Mexico

CONCACAF
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U.S. could move into World Cup position

United States
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U.S. Hot List: John Brooks, Geoff Cameron hit form at the right time

The guys discuss the joint 2026 World Cup bid with ESPN's Sam Borden, and Dax McCarty opens up about his trade to Chicago.

Back in February, United States coach Bruce Arena told ESPN FC that with World Cup qualifying in full swing, he wasn't looking to introduce many new faces into the American squad.

"We're trying to cut it down, not add to it," Arena said at the time.

That approach figures to remain in place when the U.S. reconvenes in suburban Denver at the end of next month to prepare for a June 3 friendly against Venezuela and two tough qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago and in Mexico.

Depending on how those games go, July's Gold Cup could give Arena a golden opportunity to take a first-hand look at outsiders making significant contributions to their club teams. There's no shortage of players in that category this week. And given how injuries decimated his side ahead of last month's matches against Honduras and Panama, some of those players might position themselves to provide valuable cover before qualifying comes to a close at the end of that year.

It could also reveal some intriguing young options ahead of the main event in Russia, provided that the U.S. makes the grade for 2018. That's been the case in each of the last two cycles, when talent on the bubble like Stuart Holden and Alejandro Bedoya used the so-called off-year Gold Cup, for which regulars who have been involved in qualifiers the month before typically aren't available, to secure a place in the final 23 for the following year's World Cup.

Who might do the same this summer? A few of the candidates are among the 10 names hot-listed below.

Warming up

John Brooks, DF, Hertha Berlin (German Bundesliga)

Why he's here: The 23-year-old center back has started two games for his hometown club since missing last month's 1-1 qualifying tie in Panama, scoring the eventual game-winning goal Sunday against Augsburg.

What this means: Having a healthy and in-form Brooks is important to the U.S. although it didn't go unnoticed that he played for Hertha less than a week after withdrawing from the national team because of a sinus infection.

John Brooks' return to fitness and form is a major plus for Arena and the U.S. national team.

Geoff Cameron, DF, Stoke City (English Premier League)

Why he's here: Cameron appears to have recovered from the thigh strain that kept him out of the Panama game and Stoke's April 1 trip to Leicester City; he went the distance in each of the Potters' last two matches, including Saturday's 2-1 loss to Liverpool.

What this means: The quick recovery is good news for the U.S., Stoke and the versatile 31-year-old Boston-area native. Cameron, who has played almost 150 league games since joining Stoke in 2012, missed four months earlier this season because of a knee injury.

Joe Corona, MF, Tijuana (Mexican Liga MX)

Why he's here: The 26-year-old has quietly emerged as a full-time player for the Xolos this season, starting Tijuana's last nine league games.

What this means: Corona hasn't played for the U.S. in almost two years, but there's an outside chance he could put himself in contention for a look ahead of the June qualifiers. If not -- central midfield is especially crowded for the national team -- he's a Gold Cup shoo-in.

Dominic Dwyer, FW, Sporting Kansas City (MLS)

Why he's here: Dwyer became a U.S. citizen last month. Last weekend, he scored his first goal of the MLS season in SKC's rout of Tim Howard's Colorado Rapids.

What this means: The Englishman has been among MLS's top scorers over the last thee seasons and remains on Arena's radar. A flood of goals could even earn him an invite next month. A Gold Cup call is more likely, though.

Eric Lichaj, DF, Nottingham Forest (English Championship)

Why he's here: Back in action after injury forced him off Arena's most recent roster, Lichaj, 28, scored his second goal of the season on Saturday in a 2-0 victory over Huddersfield.

What this means: With DeAndre Yedlin (thigh) out until at least the end of April and other U.S. fullback options looking razor-thin, Lichaj (who can also play on the left) could get another shot when the Americans open camp in Colorado.

Matt Miazga, DF, Vitesse (Netherlands Eredivisie)

Why he's here: After struggling for minutes early during his season-long loan from Chelsea, Miazga has now made 20 league appearances for the Dutch club.

What this means: It's still hard to see the 21-year-old cracking the Blues' squad for 2017-18 but he could compete for major Gold Cup minutes against other U.S. center-backs such as FC Dallas pair Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman.

Cooling down

Terrence Boyd, FW, Darmstadt (German Bundesliga)

Why he's here: Boyd emerged as a starter for the relegation favorites coming out of the winter break but he lost his spot before temporarily getting back in the lineup for last week's match versus Bayer Leverkusen. Alas, he was an unused substitute in Saturday's 3-2 loss to Ingolstadt.

What this means: Ups and downs are normal for a player who recently returned from a long-term injury and going down to the second tier could actually be a blessing in disguise for Boyd, who hasn't played a full season since leaving Austria's Rapid Vienna in 2014.

Ethan Horvath, GK, Club Brugge (Belgian Jupiler League)

Why he's here: The 21-year-old walked away from a starting job with Norway's Molde in January but has yet to make an appearance for his new club.

What this means: Joining a team in midseason isn't easy, not least for a young goalkeeper, and having to sit was always the risk when Horvath transferred. It also puts his Gold Cup participation in doubt partly because he's been idle for months but also because he'll probably need every minute of Brugge's preseason in order to win the starting job.

Aron Johannsson, FW, Werder Bremen Berlin (German Bundesliga)

Why he's here: It's been almost a month since Johannsson said he's willing to leave Bremen in order to get more playing time. Since then, he's seen just 18 minutes of action and has been an unused sub for three consecutive games.

What this means: Like Horvath, Johannsson is in a tricky spot. He could get a run of games for the U.S. in July and potentially bolster his chances of cracking a second straight World Cup roster. On the other hand, making a strong impression during preseason will be crucial if he does move to a new club.

Michael Orozco, DF, Tijuana (Mexican Liga MX)

Why he's here: Injury forced the Californian to leave Friday's scoreless tie with Club America after just 24 minutes.

What this means: It's the latest minor ailment -- Orozco missed last month's qualifiers with a knee issue -- to disrupt what has been perhaps the best season of the 31-year-old's career.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

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