The USMNT are in camp for their final two hexagonal World Cup Qualifying matches. Now is a good time to face a few facts:
- This next game isn’t a do or die game.
I know, I know – that statement does NOT make for good headlines. But, despite your reluctance to put down your pitchfork, it’s the truth. Let’s not devalue the phrase “do or die” for the sake of getting casual USMNT fans to come out of the fringe and take a rooting interest. CONCACAF qualifying may be brutally physical, humid, and relentless, but it’s also forgiving. Don’t you remember Mexico’s horrific qualifying campaign in 2013?
As we know, the top 3 teams out of CONCACAF automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The fourth team plays a home-and-away playoff against the fifth-place Asian team. That Asian team will be either Australia or Syria. They’re ranked 50th and 75th in the world, respectively. For perspective, USA are ranked 28th, and Panama 60th. I’m not saying THAT playoff series would be a given for USMNT to win, but its 2 more games. It’s a very forgiving qualifying format indeed.
If we finish fourth in the hex, and the Asian team scores the first goal in the playoff series, then I’ll start to worry. Until then, RELAX. Sorry casual fans – if you can’t get up for the hexagonal games, you’ll have to wait for the big dance in 2018.
- Fabian Johnson is not 90 minutes fit
Like a lot of fans, I was disappointed to see Fabian Johnson left off this roster. Admittedly, I haven’t been following his Bundesliga season too closely. Come to find out, he was working through an injury during preseason. He has only played 180 minutes in his team’s first seven Bundesliga games. He’s not match-fit and let’s be honest, hasn’t looked all that good for the USMNT in 2017.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Fabian Johnson, for my money, was the best option the USMNT had at four different positions: left back, right back, left midfield, and right midfield. His name was written in the starting XI in pen, you just didn’t know where he’d line up. That’s kind of a problem, because no one benefits from playing your best player in four different positions on any given day. Bruce Arena has decided, and rightfully so, that Johnson’s best position is left midfield.
Darlington Nagbe is also a left midfielder. He’s been great this summer for the USMNT. I’m not writing Johnson off for the future, but why not play the hot hand right now? Would you really bring him into this camp and start him over the fit, in-form Nagbe at this point?
- Players 17-26 don’t matter
I can see how this roster may leave people wanting for answers:
“Isn’t Dom Dwyer a better forward option than Chris Wondolowski?”
“Does the USA not have a better left midfield option behind Nagbe than Gyasi Zardes?”
“Hasn’t Matt Miazga done enough to earn another call-up?”
“When will we see Weston McKinnie?”
At face value, all of those are valid questions.
But – just, RELAX. We won’t see much, if anything at all, from the guys at the bottom of this roster.
Indeed, my biggest complaint about Arena is his over-reliance on veterans. I mean, are we really going to “Weekend at Bernie’s” Damarcus Beasley in Qatar 2022? If Arena is still the coach, I wouldn’t bet against it. (Beasley is DEFINITELY going to Russia, right?). Although Arena has a reluctance to play the kids, hopefully we see some of them in the January camp. For now, he needs to stick to his guys and get the job done.
It’s a bit trivial to squabble over players 17 through 26 at this juncture. Sure, it’d be nice to start grooming the next crop of young players for the future, but we don’t have that luxury. Bruce Arena needs to qualify for the 2018 World Cup right now, and frankly, players 1-16 are more than talented enough to do it.