U.S. Hot List: Clint Dempsey returns to action, Aron Johannsson struggling
With Bruce Arena expected to name his 23-to-25-man roster for this month's pivotal World Cup qualifiers in the middle of next week, the U.S. coach will have just one more round of games (in Europe, Mexico and the domestic league) to decide which players he will call up and put on the field in the matches against Honduras and Panama.
Which Americans are helping their cases the most, based on their recent club performances? Who might miss out because of injury or poor form (or both)? Here's where 12 of the most intriguing candidates stand.
Geoff Cameron, DF/MF, Stoke City (English Premier League)
Why he's here: The versatile 31-year-old made his long-awaited return from a knee injury last month. On Saturday, he earned his first start since October, going the distance in Stoke's 2-0 win against Middlesbrough.
What this means: In a roundtable discussion with reporters on Monday, Arena stopped short of guaranteeing that Cameron would be summoned, let alone in his lineup, later this month. The fact that he's back playing for Stoke sure makes it a lot more likely that he'll be part of the coach's plans.
Clint Dempsey, FW, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Why he's here: After being sidelined since August because of an irregular heartbeat, Dempsey was back in the Sounders lineup for their 2017 season opener in Houston. He played 90 minutes and scored a second-half goal in Seattle's 2-1 loss.
What this means: Arena recently ruled Dempsey out for this month's U.S. games. But on Monday, the coach appeared to leave the door open by saying he would "be very cautious" and "follow the lead" of Seattle's medical staff before making a decision. But if Dempsey can play another full game for next weekend with no setbacks, it might be difficult for Arena to leave the national team's active leading scorer at home.
Fabian Johnson, DF/MF, Borussia Monchengladbach (German Bundesliga)
Why he's here: The German-American scored twice in Gladbach's 4-2 win over Schalke on Saturday.
What this means: There's no question that Johnson will be on the field for the U.S if he's healthy. But where? He has been a left midfielder at club level this season and would prefer to play there with the national team. But with the Americans still paper-thin at left-back, the smart money is on the two-footed 29-year-old manning the corner instead.
Christian Pulisic, MF, Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga)
Why he's here: The 18-year-old came off the bench, scored a slick goal and added an assist in Saturday's 6-2 drubbing of Bayer Leverkusen.
What this means: Pulisic's timing is good. He has been used mostly as a sub for Dortmund of late after a run as a starter earlier this season. But even if he doesn't get back into Thomas Tuchel's XI for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Benfica or this weekend's trip to Hertha Berlin, it's hard to see him not make the field for the U.S. at home against Honduras.
Nick Rimando, GK, Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Why he's here: Rimando's brilliant penalty save on Saturday against Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, the 29th spot-kick stop of his MLS career, helped earn RSL a point against last year's MLS Cup runner-up.
What this means: With Tim Howard looking doubtful for the qualifiers (more on Howard below) and Brad Guzan still riding the bench in England, there's an outside chance that the 37-year-old gets the nod this month. Guzan is still the favorite, though.
Kellyn Acosta, M, FC Dallas (MLS)
Why he's here: The 21-year-old scored twice against Panama's Aribe Unido in CONCACAF Champions League play, then hit the winner in FCD's MLS curtain-raiser against the LA Galaxy.
What this means: Recent form, combined with Jermaine Jones' suspension for the Honduras match, could well get Acosta into the squad. That said, Arena is expected to call in a veteran-heavy group this month, so it wouldn't be a shock to see the talented and versatile Texan passed over this time around.
Bobby Wood, FW, Hamburg (German Bundesliga)
Why he's here: The Hawaii native scored a well-taken goal midweek in a German Cup loss versus 'Gladbach, then created HSV's late winner in Sunday's 1-0 triumph over Hertha.
What this means: The skillful, physical and hard-running Wood has been one of the few bright spots for relegation-threatened Hamburg this season. He has also emerged as the national team's most dangerous striker as the international break approaches.
Aron Johannsson, FW, Werder Bremen (German Bundesliga)
Why he's here: The Alabama-born, Iceland-raised striker couldn't nail down a regular place with his club after a pair of substitute appearances in early February.
What this means: Even with few proven options for the U.S. up top, Johannsson probably hasn't done enough lately to warrant an invite this month.
Tim Howard, GK, Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Why he's here: The longtime U.S. No. 1 is still recovering from November groin surgery and was unable to play in the Rapids' opener.
What this means: Arena didn't rule Howard out and said he had been told that the 38-year-old had trained well in recent days. Still, it's hard to think Howard will be ready to step right into a World Cup qualifier after being out for four months.
DeAndre Yedlin, DF, Newcastle United (English Championship)
Why he's here: Yedlin had started 10 consecutive games at right-back for the second-tier leaders before entering off the bench in last weekend's 3-1 win over Huddersfield. But he missed Tuesday's scoreless draw against Reading with a thigh injury that could rule him out of both qualifiers.
What this means: The two-week recovery time pushes right up against the Mar. 24 match against Honduras in San Jose, California. With Timmy Chandler also suspended for that game, Arena might be forced to use a third-string option -- Eric Lichaj, perhaps? -- in what he has called a "must-win" match if Yedlin isn't ready to go.
Ethan Horvath, GK, Club Brugge (Belgian Jupiler League)
Why he's here: A former starter at Norwegian club Molde, 21-year-old Horvath hasn't played a minute since he moved to Belgium in January.
What this means: Horvath was the U.S. No. 3 keeper at last summer's Copa America and for a pair of November qualifiers. But his lack of recent playing time might cost him that job for now.
Jorge Villafana, DF, Santos Laguna (Mexican Liga MX)
Why he's here: By all accounts, the ex-Portland Timber impressed during the January/February camp, and he helped Santos beat Club America in Cup action week. However, he has yet to appear in a league match this year. What this means: A call-up isn't out of the question, but it's highly unlikely that Arena would put a player with only a handful of recent minutes into games as important as the ones the national team is about to play.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.