A dozen years have passed since Bruce Arena last called up a U.S. team for World Cup qualifying. Yet a few of the same names were on that roster and the one Arena summoned Wednesday for the next round of qualifiers, which begin next week.
Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley, veterans of that 2005 team, were among a handful of surprise picks for this year’s team, which will play Honduras on March 24 in San Jose before meeting Panama four days later in Panama City.
The U.S., which lost its first two games in the final hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying, needs at least a win and a draw in the two games to get comfortably back on the road to Russia 2018. The top three teams in the six-team, 10-game competition advance automatically to next summer’s tournament while the fourth-place finisher meets the fifth-place team from the Asian qualifiers with an additional World Cup berth at stake.
“We put together a roster that we think has balance and one that gives us an option in playing a number of different ways,” Arena said of the team, which features 14 players off MLS teams, seven from Europe and three from Mexico. “The primary rationale is to help us be successful in these two games. But we’re also looking down the road and bringing in some young players that we think have an opportunity to be an important part of the national team program as well.
“Our approach to these games is simple: We want to win.”
Dempsey, a forward, and Howard, a goalkeeper, are both coming off injuries that caused them to miss the last qualifier in November, Dempsey with an irregular heartbeat and Howard with an adductor fracture near the groin.
But both have played well with their club teams this month, which was enough to convince Arena they could help him too.
“We know there are some good days still ahead for Clint,” Arena said. “We think he’s a player that can still help us in these games — perhaps at a reduced role.”
Also named to the team were Galaxy midfielders Jermaine Jones and Sebastian Lletget. Jones is suspended for the Honduras game after picking up two yellow cards in the November qualifiers. For Lletget, meanwhile, the Honduras game will be something of a homecoming since he was born in San Francisco and played youth soccer with a club in Santa Clara.
“It’s something special to be a part of it,” he said.
Among those not chosen were German-American defender Timmy Chandler, who is also suspended for the Honduras game because of yellow-card accumulation; New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan and MLS defenders Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) and Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United).
Also excluded were defenders DeAndre Yedlin and Eric Lichaj, who are dealing with injuries.
Defenders: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union) Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Sebastian Lletget (Galaxy), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)