Who should Arena start when the U.S. resumes World Cup qualifying?
Now that the January camp is over for the U.S. men's national team, attention is firmly focused on the World Cup qualifiers next month, at home versus Honduras on March 24 and in Panama four days later.
We asked our writers to name the lineup they would like to see coach Bruce Arena select the next time the national team takes the field (suspended and long-term injured players were not considered).
With Tim Howard unlikely to be fit, Arena really has no other choice than to go with the experienced Brad Guzan, even if he hasn't been playing at club level. The back four reprises the group that performed so well at Copa America (if Geoff Cameron can't go, Steve Birnbaum could slot in). In midfield, Jermaine Jones' suspension means a start for Sacha Kljestan. The big question is on the right. Gyasi Zardes would provide more speed, but the onus will be on breaking Honduras down, which suits the craftier traits of Darlington Nagbe or Alejandro Bedoya. Clint Dempsey is unlikely to be back, so Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood play up front.
It's hard to see Howard being ready, but Cameron, who has been out since October with a knee injury, is close to returning for Stoke and should be match-fit by March. Jones' absence through suspension actually helps Arena select a more balanced lineup; Bradley is the ball winner, with playmaker Kljestan behind the two strikers, while speedsters Christian Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes (whose hard running defensively will be key) are on the wings. That said, it wouldn't be a shock me to see Bedoya on the right.
Goals are needed against Honduras, and since Altidore is most effective with a strike partner, Wood is the obvious choice to play alongside. In midfield, there are obvious questions of balance; Kljestan provides better defense (to go with his playmaking) than Benny Feilhaber. Nagbe, thanks to his ability on the ball, gets the call opposite Pulisic. Lack of full-back options means Fabian Johnson plays in defence and Omar Gonzalez fills in for the injured Cameron. The only keeper getting club playing time, Nick Rimando, starts in goal.
The U.S. plays better with two forwards and, right now, Altidore and Wood are the best options. Meanwhile, Kljestan is disciplined and covers plenty of ground and should be Bradley's partner. (Yes, Bradley should start and continue to do so.) Run the attack through Pulisic, who's shown in limited time that he's the most creative and dynamic player on the field. Assuming Cameron is fit, he's a sure starter along with John Brooks. While DaMarcus Beasley is a bit of a stretch at left-back, he knows the position and has the experience of playing in big games.
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.