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Barstool’s USMNT WCQ Preview – The “Roster Is Out & This Is What You Need To Know” Edition

Sam’s Soccer Safe Space for Stoolies

1a-USA

[Preamble: Tough to wake up and learn of the carnage in Las Vegas. Not sure I would have felt much like blogging today but I wrote this last night so figured might as well post it. Tragedies like this certainly put a lot of things in perspective. Soccer is just a game. That said, perhaps coming together to watch the USMNT this week can serve as a small counterweight to the forces trying to pull us all apart… or at the very least be a temporary distraction from the harsh realities of the world around us. Either way, thanks for reading. To paraphrase dem PMT boys, I don’t say that enough. Viva America. Holler.]

Hi haters,

Here is the sad reality of the situation: Friday’s game in Orlando against Panama is the most important World Cup Qualifier in the history of the United States of America.

Some people might argue that the game at Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 in which we ended up qualifying for the 1990 World Cup was bigger

and there is a valid argument for that since that game and specifically Paul Caligiuri’s game-winning goal really helped get the ball rolling for soccer in the US, but I think this week is bigger based (1) on the recency principle and, more importantly, (2) because of where the sports is right now – finally making in-roads into the mainstream universe – and how disruptive it would be right here right now to miss out on World Cup 2018… not to mention how unconscionably embarrassing it’d be.

I mean, seriously, just imagine how many times Puty would bang his little monkey lubricated with tears from cry-laughing about the (other) Great White Satan missing his personal soccer extravaganza because they/we lost out some tiny Central American micronation.

1b-puty

That right there, folks, is a pretty disgusting mental image… and it also would be rock bottom.

Anyway, the main point of this blog will be to run through the highlights, lowlights and talking points from the 26-man roster than Bruce Arena is going with for the games – Panama followed by at Trinidad & Tobago next Tuesday – but there are a lot of in’s and out’s to this situation so first let’s take a quick peek at how things stand and the games on deck.

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Table/Schedule

Table after eight of 10 games:

3-table

Reminder: Top three teams qualify for WC18 automatically, fourth place will face Australia or Syria in a do-or-die home-and-home playoff, while fifth and sixth get squadoosh.

As for the games still to be played, this is what we got:

2-schedule

It is essentially down to a three-team race involving the US, Panama and Honduras. Mexico has clinched qualification (something to remember since they could play weakened squads in their remaining games, including a potentially important one at Honduras). Costa Rica has all but qualified but still needs a result to make it official (noteworthy since their remaining games are versus Honduras then at Panama). And Trinidad & Tobago is all but eliminated.

BEST case scenario: USMNT beats Panama and Costa Rica (still needing one result) beats Honduras on Friday.

WORST case scenario: USMNT loses to Panama and Honduras beats Costa Rica, which would means fourth place (and a playoff) is the best we could hope for, however, we would no longer control our own destiny and instead need to beat T&T and need Honduras to lose (at home) to Mexico on Tuesday.

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USMNT ROSTER

4-roster

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders (10): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Paul Arriola (DC United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)

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TALKING POINTS

• Biggest controversy is Arena leaving Fabian Johnson at home. Think back about 12 months and most people had him rated as the best American soccer player on the planet. Then came injuries, poor performances, questions about his motivation and a new coach, and here we are. Conclusion: I am NOT a fan of leaving FJ off the roster. A lot of people will disagree with me on this but I would have liked to see Arena call FJ in and play him at LB, which would have taken some of the pressure off of him to get up and down the field (he’s coming off injury and may not be 100% fit) and he has anyway been pretty disappointing going forward. I still think he has the speed, know-how and (critically) big game experience to be our best LB at the moment.

Similar career arc as Ronald Koeman (not a compliment)

Similar career arc as Ronald Koeman (not a compliment)

• FJ’s roster spot seems to have been given instead to Benny Feilhaber, who has been decent for SKC in MLS but hasn’t played a meaningful minute for the USMNT in many years. Conclusion: I don’t mind bringing someone like Feilhaber – alternatives being Lee Nguyen (NE Revs) or Sacha Kljestan (NY Red Bulls) – who can add a new dimension to the team offensively, so of the “controversial” moves this is the one I find least questionable.

Michael Orozco has been consistently disappointing for the USMNT and is a very questionable inclusion, though I get that Arena likely went with him because he technically is a bit more flexible than other candidates and can play CB or RB. Conclusion: I am NOT a fan of bringing him and think there are better options out there, starting with Matt Miazga (on loan to Vitesse in the Dutch league) or – to satisfy Arena’s knee-jerk nativism – even an MLS-er like Ike Opara (SKC) or Walker Zimmerman (Dallas).

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Gyasi Zardes? I mean, wtf?? Conclusion: needless to say, NOT a fan. It’d be one thing if he was at least lighting it up in MLS but, alas, he most certainly is not, and Arena compounded the problem by playing him out of position. BUT it doesn’t really matter because Zardes picked up a groin injury the other day and has withdrawn from the roster. (Update: USSF said that nobody will be brought in to replace Zardes. Alrighty then.)

• Tim Howard (38), Brad Guzan (33) and Nick Rimando are (38) are all well over the age of 30. Conclusion: I am NOT a fan. Bringing one or even two “veterans” would be fine, but why the hell is Arena calling in Rimando – a guy who has a 0.000000% chance of seeing the field – when we have plenty of younger guys like Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson or (especially) Jesse Gonzalez, for whom the experience of being around a high-pressure WCQ game could be invaluable? I don’t know, suffice to say it boggles my wee mind.

Very rare Nick Rimando rookie card

Extremely rare Nick Rimando rookie card

Wondo. Wondo, Wondo, Wondo. The only thing a lot of casual fans know about him is his miss against Belgium, a play that he will never live down as long as he lives, but he continues to put up numbers in MLS. However, he is a known quantity at the national team level and has consistently proven unable to be a difference maker against even second-level CONCACAF competition (eg, Panama). Conclusion: I get it, Bruce sees Wondo as his “glue guy”, but nevertheless I am NOT a fan and would have liked to see someone more dynamic like Dom Dwyer.

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CONCLUSION

So of the more “contentious” moves, I dislike five and like one. Not a great ratio. What’s more, there are plenty of other quibbles to be made about the roster, such as…

“Why are Oldballs Beasley and/or Graham Zusi (as a RB) still things?” (Tbh, I’m not sure.)

and/or

“Why wasn’t someone like Schalke’s Westin McKennie called in?” (Arena may give guys like him a look in the months leading up to WC18 if/when we qualify, at least I hope so, but there’s no chance he was ever going to call in a total n00b for these kinda high-pressure games, and honestly I don’t blame him.)

***BUT HERE IS THE MOST/ONLY IMPORTANT THING***

The only “talking point” that really matters is the question about Fabian Johnson, as it is the only one that SHOULD have any impact on the most likely starting lineup. (other than perhaps Feilhaber, who could posssssssibly slip into the XI… but I wouldn’t count on it.) Thus, in the end Orozco, Zardes, Wondo, McKinnie, etc – these are issues worth discussing but they ultimately matter only if things end up going way off the rails. So, rather than expending a ton of energy bitching and moaning about this or that personnel decision and/or how you think Arena should be fired, the time for that has passed. Let’s instead come together and think positive thoughts about Friday’s game.

At the very least please don’t be these people:

usa

I’ve seen a fair number of these “I hope USMNT fail to qualify” hot takes from American soccer fans… and just know that if you fall into that camp I hate you, I hate your guts, I hate everything about you… but in these turbulent times I nevertheless respect your god-given right to be wrong and dumb.

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(PRELIMINARY) STARTING XI

This is subject to change as the week goes on and I put more thought into it (and talk to my SAUCES) but here is an extremely off-the-cuff stab at what a possible starting XI might look like… I should point out that, despite a lot of people calling for Arena to stick with a formation similar to the 3-5-2 that we finished the Honduras game in, I am leaning hard at the moment towards 4-4-2 for several reasons that we can discuss later in the week.

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Super-sub: Deuce

Super-sub: Deuce

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So that’s the official preview to the official preview, the latter of which will be posted on Friday. I’m not nervous you’re nervous.

Okay, that makes me feel a little better. COME AND GETCHA WHUPPIN, PANAMA!


Holler,
Samuel Army