The U.S. Men’s National Team has a crucial week ahead. After losing its first two CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in November, it needs to make up ground in the standings. Its first opportunity comes against Honduras tonight in San Jose. The team will then travel to Panama for a match next Tuesday, March 28th.
New manager Bruce Arena has selected 24 players to make up his player pool for the two games. As a result of recent injuries to DeAndre Yedlin, Bobby Wood, and Fabian Johnson, some relatively inexperienced players on the USMNT will need to step up and deliver strong performances.
Here’s a look at six players who Arena might call on over the next few days:
Pulisic earned high praise for his recent performance in the Champions League, which included his first career UCL goal and two assists in the second leg of Dortmund’s Round of 16 victory over Benfica.
At just 18 Pulisic leads the next generation of USMNT talent, but now he needs to perform even earlier than expected. Look for the attacking midfielder to play either wing behind Jozy Altidore up top.
Often overlooked by Jurgen Klinsmann, Nagbe will likely have a chance to impress his new manager soon. With Fabian Johnson ruled out with a hamstring injury, Arena might replace him at left-wing with Nagbe.
Nagbe has spent his entire MLS career in Portland, highlighted by his vital role in the Timbers’ 2015 MLS Cup victory. Last season his 92.4 percent pass success rate ranked second in the MLS, and he has gotten off to a fast start this season with two assists in three games, including this sensational pass.
The 21-year-old FC Dallas midfielder continues to improve, as evidenced by an uncharacteristic scoring surge over the past month. Acosta netted three superb goals in CONCACAF Champions League games in addition to a goal in FC Dallas’ MLS opener against the Galaxy.
With just five goals over the course of his past two full MLS seasons, Acosta contributes most to his team as a sound tackler and box to box midfielder. If he can sustain some of his offensive performance, however, Acosta will have a role with the USMNT for years to come. Regardless, Arena might select him as a midfielder alongside Michael Bradley for one of the two upcoming matches.
Another compelling option for Arena in the midfield, Lletget has possibly benefited the most from the USMNT’s managerial change. Once buried in the depth chart at West Ham, Lletget’s career revival started when Arena gave Lletget a chance with the Galaxy in 2015. In his first two full MLS seasons, Lletget scored eight goals in 40 starts, and last year his 87.6 percent pass success rate ranked ninth in the league.
After a strong January Camp and debut match against Serbia, Lletget’s foray with the National Team could lead to a starting role in San Jose tonight, just an hour from his hometown of San Francisco.
Similar to Lletget, Villafana has also made his first two appearances with the senior team under Arena. The 27-year-old left back is now in his second season with Santos Laguna, where he has recently struggled to find playing time in Liga MX games. Nonetheless, Villafana has championship experience, most notably as Nagbe’s teammate with the Timbers in 2015.
Arena’s selection of a starting left back will likely come down to DeMarcus Beasley and Villafana. He might give each one start, as he seems to view both favorably.
If Arena elects to go with a 4-4-2 and bring Clint Dempsey on as a substitute, Morris may slot in to a starting role (if he is in fact available to play, that is). Bobby Wood’s absence effectively leaves a void that Morris might have to fill himself. The Stanford product and Seattle native has made strides with the Sounders over the past two seasons, with 13 goals in 35 starts.
Morris has top line speed and strength on the ball, so Arena’s best offensive option could be starting him alongside Jozy Altidore. Of course it’s possible that Arena starts Dempsey or places Pulisic in a more attacking role, reducing Morris’ workload.