Bruce Arena has officially been named new US national team head coach, and one of his first actions since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann was compiling a massive player pool of 50 or more players. We don’t know who is on that list, but we have a pretty good idea of the players in consideration.
Looking at the current crop of American players home and abroad, I’ve compiled a 55-man player pool, told through their likelihood of starting or making a roster. Let’s get started:
Obvious starters: Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore
There’s no keeping these guys out of the starting XI. It has been confirmed that Bradley will be the starting No. 6, Brooks and Cameron are locked in on the backline, and Johnson is either in wide midfield or at left back. I only included one striker (Altidore) here because it’s possible (but, in my opinion, unlikely) that Arena could switch to a one-striker formation, in which case Bobby Wood would be pushed to the bench.
Possible to likely starters: Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya
The other players with the highest possibility of starting. Wood is playing consistently for Hamburg in Germany, Yedlin is the best right-back in the pool, and Jones and Bedoya have proven themselves in the past. Depending on formation and other personnel, these guys could be pushed out, which has happened to Bedoya recently.
The future: Christian Pulisic
The prodigy Pulisic deserves his own category. He is, in all likelihood, a sure starter on the wing, and he continues to make gameday rosters for Borussia Dortmund. He’ll be on the wing, thankfully, instead of in the No. 10 spot where Klinsmann played him, as Arena confirmed recently.
Starting goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
Klinsmann was never able to differentiate between Howard and Guzan — another example of his struggle to evaluate players — so he mostly rotated them, pretending it was a viable solution. With Howard out for an extended period of time, Guzan could end up being the starter come March.
Fringe starters: Timmy Chandler, Gyasi Zardes, Matt Besler
Chandler, who has been solid for Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, started over Yedlin against Mexico and Costa Rica, putting in subpar, mistake-filled performances that can at least partially be blamed on Klinsmann’s coaching. Besler got starts at the Copa America and in the recent qualifiers, but doesn’t — and shouldn’t — fit in an Arena starting XI. Zardes, who was, of course, managed by Arena in LA, was injured in November but will be a possible starter on the wing or up front.
The young-ish forward crop: Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo, Julian Green, Aron Johannsson
The forward depth chart behind Wood and Altidore is deep. Sounders Rookie of the Year Jordan Morris heads that group, with Bayern Munich’s Julian Green — who can play in midfield as well — and the Revolution’s Agudelo right there with him. Johannsson is well past being considered “young”, but the 26-year old plays in the Bundesliga and made the November roster. These are all players who will be seriously considered in March, and you will almost definitely see Morris and Agudelo in January.
Better passers in midfield: Sacha Kljestan, Darlington Nagbe, Dax McCarty, Benny Feilhaber, Sebastian Lletget, Lee Nguyen
Arena said he wanted better passers in central midfield, and he should look no farther than MLS for his answer there. MVP candidate and attacking midfielder Kljestan could very well be a starter, and is there with Feilhaber and Nguyen as the best midfield creators in the pool. Nagbe, a player that Arena said could play centrally or on the wing, is a box-to-box ball-mover and late runner in Portland, while Lletget played a similar role under Arena with the Galaxy. McCarty is a defensive midfielder who freed up Kljestan in New York and is a threat on set pieces. Many of these players, most notably Feilhaber, were in exile under Klinsmann.
Defensive depth: Steve Birnbaum, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Matt Miazga, Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow
Behind Chandler and Besler on the backline depth chart is this slew of MLS, Mexico, and England-based players. Birnbaum and Gonzalez have consistently made rosters thanks to solid performances with D.C. United and Pachuca, and Miazga — who is currently on loan in the Netherlands from Chelsea — is one of the top younger defenders in the pool. Hedges was the MLS Defender of the Year despite Klinsmann’s refusal to consider him for the national team. Lichaj is playing consistently in the Football Championship for Nottingham Forest; and Morrow has excelled playing wing-back for Toronto FC.
Klinsmann’s old favorites: Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Orozco, Graham Zusi
These four players were almost never left off a roster by Klinsmann, but it probably (hopefully) will be different under Arena. Orozco plays any position on the backline and was often used as a utility depth option in front of players like Hedges and Miazga. Wondo, Zusi, and Beckerman are older MLS talents that have had success with the national team, but aren’t necessary with other players arising as potential future options.
Other goalkeepers: Bill Hamid, David Bingham, Ethan Horvath, William Yarbrough
Brad Guzan doesn’t play at Middlesbrough, and Tim Howard is 37 and injured; Arena should be looking for some new blood. Hamid is the best goalkeeper in MLS, although Klinsmann never recognized it, and Bingham had a fairly good season in San Jose. Horvath was the clear third keeper under Klinsmann with Yarbrough in the mix. Expect to see at least Hamid and Bingham (if not Horvath) in the January camp.
Up-and-comers: Paul Arriola, Fafa Picault, Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Lynden Gooch
These six players are the Americans abroad who are likeliest to gain a more significant role with the national team in the future. Arriola, playing for Tijuana in Liga MX, has looked promising in limited previous appearances, making him the top player in this group. Hyndman, Carter-Vickers, and Lynden Gooch play in the Premier League, while Picault plays in the 2. Bundesliga and Rubin is in the Eredivisie. There are others that could be considered here that I will list later.
MLS contenders: Kellyn Acosta, Ethan Finlay, Kelyn Rowe, Keegan Rosenberry, Walker Zimmerman
Four of these players never received opportunities from Klinsmann, and one (Acosta) was criminally played out of position. FC Dallas’s Acosta is a stout No. 6 or No. 8, not a full back, and Columbus’s Ethan Finlay is a quality goal-scoring winger. The Revolution’s Rowe is versatile in attack, making him a viable option off the bench if he can pick it up in New England next season. Philadelphia's Rosenberry almost won ROTY after starring at right back, playing every minute of the regular season; and FCD’s Zimmerman partnered with Hedges in central defense and was a Defender of the Year contender. At least a few of these will be at the January camp.
The others: Robbie Rogers, Danny Williams, Perry Kitchen, Wil Trapp, Tommy McNamara
We’ve got leftovers. After going through the 10 other categories, I had five extra players who I decided couldn’t be excluded. Rogers is a USMNT veteran at a weak position, so despite his lack of recent call-ups, he adds to the core of full-backs. Williams and Kitchen are two defensive midfielders playing in MLS-level or below leagues in the UK (Williams in the Championship, Kitchen in the Scottish Premiership). Trapp, the captain of the U-23s, is a good passer and stout d-mid who should get an opportunity in January to prove himself after recent youth national team struggles. McNamara has been a cult hero this year for NYCFC.
The full player pool:
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FK), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), William Yarbrough (Leon)
Full-backs: DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Michael Orozco (Tijuana), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Robbie Rogers (LA Galaxy)
Center-backs: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Matt Miazga (Vitesse Arnhem, on-loan from Chelsea), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
Defensive midfielders: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Danny Williams (Reading), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
Center midfielders: Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)
Attacking midfielders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution)
Wingers: Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), Paul Arriola (Tijuana), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew), Tommy McNamara (NYCFC)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Bobby Wood (Hamburg), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Aron Johannsson (Hertha Berlin), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Rubio Rubin (Utretcht), Fafa Picault (St. Pauli)
A few notes about this complete 55-player list:
— Besler, Orozco, Agudelo, Johnson, Yedlin, Rowe, Gooch, Pulisic, Zardes, Zusi, Wood, Morris, Bradley, Kitchen, McNamara, and Cameron are among the players who I have seen play different positions than the one they are listed as above.
— 30 MLS players made this list, or 54%. Four players based in the Football Championship, Liga MX, and the English Premier League each, with seven in the Bundesliga and one in the 2. Bundesliga. Other leagues included the Norwegian league (Horvath), Eredivisie (Miazga and Rubin), and Scottish Premiership (Kitchen).
— There are a ton more players. Here are some I missed:
- Clint Dempsey remains out with his heart condition. I hope he can eventually come back.
- Terrence Boyd, Tim Parker, Caleb Stanko, Amando Moreno, Alfredo Morales, Tim Ream, Zack Steffen, and Edgar Castillo have all been named to one roster or another since May. None of them have really broken out with their club team.
- Remember Mix Diskerud?
- Brad Evans and Nick Rimando are veterans that just missed out.
- DaMarcus Beasley had a good season for the Dynamo, but he’s 34 and supposed to be retired from international duty. Let Keegan Rosenberry have a turn.
- Ventura Alvarado played a lot at the 2015 Gold Cup, but hasn’t done much since.
- MLS players of note: Khiry Shelton, Fatai Alashe, Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent, Luis Robles, Eric Miller, C.J. Sapong, Sean Johnson, and Brek Shea.
- I hope Alex Muyl keeps going with the Red Bulls next year. He could be a nice addition to this list, as could Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Eriq Zavaleta, and Aaron Maund.
- Jerome Kiesewetter made the 2016 January camp roster, but hasn’t played enough in the 2. Bundesliga to jumpstart his international career.
- Tony Tchani now plays for Cameroon after being capped in a January friendly; he is ineligible to play for the US.
- 18-year old Josh Perez made his first appearance for Serie A side Fiorentina recently, and Gedion Zealem is on the roster at Arsenal. Atlanta United signing Andrew Carleton has been pretty good for the U-17s.
- I thought about Alan Gordon, but I decided against it. Still possible he is called up in March, though, if they’re desperate.
I’ve just listed 87 players who are either in the player pool or are just outside of it. There are plenty more, as well.
Arena will choose 30 or so MLS or Scandinavian players in January, and then 23-26 of his top players for the March qualifiers. It’s hard to tell who will make those rosters at this point, but we have to have a starting point.