With only four games left in 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying, Matchdays 7 and 8 will go a long way towards determining who will go on to represent CONCACAF in Russia next summer.
Upon naming his 26-player roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s September qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras, head coach Bruce Arena spoke about the team’s composition and outlook for camp as players begin to convene in Harrison N.J. on Sunday.
ussoccer.com: What are your overall thoughts on the 26-player roster?
Bruce Arena: “I think we have a good roster. The decisions are simply based on the fact that we need our best roster possible in order to achieve what we want to achieve here, and that’s to earn points in both games. I think we’re strong in the goal, up top very strong, and I like our midfield combinations. Our back line has had some injuries over the past month that will hurt us a little bit, but I think if everyone comes into camp healthy, we have good options in our back line and good depth. I think overall we have a pretty solid roster here. We’ve called 26 players because we come into camp with six guys that have yellow cards, and we also have some players that are dealing with injury so we have to be smart.”
ussoccer.com Every player on the roster has been in camp in 2017. How important is it to have that continuity and familiarity going into these games?
BA: “When I came in, we were behind the eight ball and we didn’t have a whole lot of room to experiment, especially in World Cup Qualifying. Everyone here is experienced inside the group, they know what needs to be done, what’s expected of them, our style of play, and how we go about doing things. I think since everyone’s been with us now in 2017, it’ll make what is a really difficult week a little bit easier. People from the outside don’t realize how difficult it is to bring in a team and players from literally all over the world and get them recovered from weekend games and get them prepared for a critically important game on Friday. It’s a real challenge, and to have a group that’s together now that has tasted some success in 2017 should allow it to be a smooth transition into this game on Friday.”
ussoccer.com: Like previous camps, the team is missing a few regulars due to injury. Can you speak about the comfort level you have with the depth of the player pool going into these two matches?
BA: “We’ve experienced injuries throughout the year and that’s all part of it with National Teams or club teams, but I have enough confidence in these players. I think the experiences we’ve had together during the year will allow us to deal with any kind of issues that may arise as we get involved in these next two qualifying matches.
ussoccer.com: How much did performances during the run to this summer’s Gold Cup title factor into your roster decisions for this camp?
BA: “These decisions are based on everything we’ve seen over the year, not just the Gold Cup. Thinking of that tournament, there were some situations where it obviously helped, but we’ve looked at the whole picture during the year, when players are playing not only with the National Team, but their club teams as well. We’ve taken into account a lot of factors in building this roster.”
ussoccer.com: Could you talk about how tight the CONCACAF Final Round World Cup Qualifying standings are going into Matchdays 7 and 8?
BA: “We’re far from being in Russia. I think one country is a little bit comfortable in this competition right now, which is Mexico with 14 points. Costa Rica is in pretty good shape with 11 points, then you have the U.S. with eight, Panama with seven, Honduras with five and Trinidad with three, so things can change real quickly over these next two games. We have to make sure we’re the team that secures points at home and hopefully get some points on the road. If we do that, we’re getting a lot closer to Russia. No one is safe, at this point and a lot of things are going to happen over this next weekend.”
ussoccer.com: You mentioned that these roster choices are a culmination of following these players since January. How you would describe the form of this group?
BA: “We have a number of players that are playing well. Our strikers have started off well - Jozy Altidore is doing well, Clint Dempsey has had a good run with Seattle, Bobby Wood got a goal over the weekend, Morris has been good with Seattle, Wondolowski scores goals in San Jose. Our midfield is all playing regularly. Fabian Johnson came back from an injury and he’s ready to go. Michael Bradley has been excellent, Christian Pulisic has had an outstanding start at Dortmund. We have veteran goalkeepers, and we’re really confident with whomever we go with there. Our back line will be a little bit tested, but we have experienced players here in Cameron, Gonzalez, Ream, Besler, Villafaña, Beasley, Zusi and Lichaj. I’m confident whoever we put on the field can get the job done.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve known Paul Arriola for a long time. What is your impression of his recent transfer from Club Tijuana to D.C. United?
BA: “It’s been a good move. He’s been playing and probably playing a little bit more than he expected in the early going. He’s had a lot of strong shifts with D.C. United, a team that arguably has had a real tough go in 2017. Now they’re on a three-game winning streak and things are rolling. I think It’s been a good move for Paul, and we’re hopeful when he comes into camp he continues to show progress.”