By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (May 18, 2017) US Soccer Players - Two weeks from Saturday, the USMNT will return to match play with a friendly vs Venezuela at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. It's a warm-up before pivotal World Cup qualifiers vs. Trinidad & Tobago on June 8 and at Mexico on the 11.
Injuries complicated USMNT coach Bruce Arena's last roster for the March qualifiers. The USMNT got the job done taking four points from two games. Still, the loss of several regulars nonetheless limited Arena’s options.
Ample time remains for similar disruptions to the next set of games. That's part of the issues with international soccer. In general, however, things look to be setting up a good deal more favorably for Arena and his staff this time. The MLS season that had just begun ahead of the previous set of games is now in full rhythm. With the European and Mexican club campaigns at or near their conclusion, retaining sharpness is as much or more a concern for most of those players as avoiding injury.
With all that in mind, here’s a positional breakdown of the upper end of the player pool at present. “Last time” denotes those Arena called in March. “Back in the mix” includes players returning from injury or otherwise out of the picture then who might be leading contenders for a call-up now.
Last time: David Bingham, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando
Back in the mix? Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath
When it comes to goalkeepers in June, I expect a return to the standard norm of the past several years: Howard, Guzan + A.N. Other. The longtime incumbents have both gotten regular minutes of late, even if Guzan’s came in a doomed cause for relegation-bound Premiership side Middlesbrough.
Horvath has made a solid start to his new life in Belgium with Club Brugge, though it’s unlikely to push him into a roster spot. Rimando just returned to Real Salt Lake’s lineup after a hamstring injury and may have nosed ahead of Bingham, who’s been up and down with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Last time: DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Jorge Villafana, Walker Zimmerman, Graham Zusi
Back in the mix? John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Matt Miazga, Eric Lichaj, DeAndre Yedlin
Compared to March, Arena has options to consider this time around. Most of March’s backline corps is playing regularly, while several Europe-based defenders are well on course for significant roles next month.
There’s ample competition for places on the flanks. An even keener battle for the starting center back jobs is taking shape. This weekend the USMNT technical staff will likely keep a particularly close eye on Brooks, who’s returned to match play a bit ahead of schedule, in the Bundesliga’s final round of the season.
Last time: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic
Back in the mix? Joe Corona, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams
Jones is out with a knee injury that has put his June availability in real doubt. Nagbe also has injury concerns. Other than that, there’s lots for Arena to like here.
Acosta is playing the best soccer of his pro career for FC Dallas. Bradley has helped Toronto FC climb atop the MLS standings. Arriola and Corona’s Club Tijuana have mounted a promising Liga MX playoff run. Johnson’s status is hazy. The influential winger is reportedly close to returning from a persistent hamstring issue and has little time left to prove that he’s fit and in rhythm ahead of the next Hexagonal games.
Last time: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski
Back in the mix? Julian Green, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood
Altidore and Wondo have made good starts to the MLS campaign. Dempsey’s and Morris’s Sounders are suffering a bit. Wood is the one to watch here. He was a near-lock USMNT starter earlier in the year, knocked off his stride by injury and suffer a scoring drought on his return. According to his club coach, he is playing through pain as Hamburg labor to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.
“Bobby is someone who fights through week after week. He’s trained for weeks on painkillers. He plays on painkillers,” said manager Markus Gisdol last week. “He made a great effort and will continue to do so in the next games. And when it matters, he’ll score the goals again.”
Hamburg needs to beat Wolfsburg this weekend to avoid dropping into a relegation playoff. In one direction or another, the final day of Wood’s season may have a marked impact on his state of mind should he get a US call.
More from Charles Boehm: