Losing Bobby Wood, who was the breakout player for the USMNT in 2016, and has scored big goals for club and country, and has been very good in the Bundesliga and is drawing interest from EPL teams and is the most relentless field-stretching forward in the pool, is not good. He was a sure-thing starter for the upcoming games against Honduras on Friday (a must-win) and Panama a few days after that (a must-result).
Coupled with a biblical rash of injuries at right back, it feels like a legitimate crisis. DeAndre Yedlin, the first choice? He’s out until at least April. Eric Lichaj is, I think, the second choice, and he’s out too. Is Timmy Chandler the third choice? I think so, but he’s suspended for the Honduras game, has recently lost his starting job – he’s played RB just once in the last six as Eintracht Frankfurt have gone 0-5-1 – after a disastrous run of form and never plays well in heat (which means he’d be a liability in Panama), so Bruce Arena didn’t call him. Justifiably.
I think Fabian Johnson would’ve been the starter at right back. He got hurt this weekend.
That means we’re down to our fifth choice at that spot, which is not optimal. But our fifth choice is Michael Orozco, who has been a starter in Liga MX for the better part of a decade, and over the past several years has done so for/with a very good Tijuana side. They’re currently fourth in the Clausura, and they finished top of the Apertura, and Orozco was a part of that.
Granted, he’s playing in either a back three or a back five, but he’s played RB in a back four plenty of times in his career. He is not a stranger to the spot, nor is Geoff Cameron, and nor is Graham Zusi (who’s played every minute for an MLS defense that’s conceded once in three games this season).
This is unprecedented depth for the US. Let’s take a step back and draw some deep breaths, ok?
Back up top, Wood is out but Jozy Altidore is 100% fit, and has two goals and an assist in his last two games. He’s doing it against CONCACAF defenders:
Jozy Altidore just loves BC Place. #TFCLive pic.twitter.com/eNijmg3EJK
— Toronto FC (@torontofc) March 18, 2017
That’s Costa Rica’s Kendall Waston – who manhandled the US in November – that Jozy spun like a top. Clint Dempsey is back and healthy and playing 90 for Seattle. Altidore is the all-time leading scorer for the US in qualifiers, with 16 goals. Dempsey is third all-time with 13. This is fine.
This also makes Jordan Morris the third forward, and while he’s not as polished or proven as Wood, this is also fine. He stretches the field, has a developing chemistry with Dempsey, and does not play scared in big moments. Maybe he starts and Dempsey comes off the bench. Clint Dempsey, super-sub!
The US, for the first time in the history of the program, has the depth to weather this kind of roster crisis.
I wish we still had Wood. But even without him, and without Johnson, Yedlin and Lichaj, and with Chandler and Jermaine Jones suspended against Honduras, and Brad Guzan awaiting the birth of his second child, this US team should still absolutely be expected to take at least four points from the next two games. There can be no excuses.
Just look at this XI and calm yourself:
GK: Tim Howard
RB: Michael Orozco
CB: Geoff Cameron
CB: John Brooks
LB: Jorge Villafaña
RM: Christian Pulisic
CM: Alejandro Bedoya
DM: Michael Bradley
LM: Darlington Nagbe
ST: Clint Dempsey
FW: Jozy Altidore
Move Cameron to right back and bring Omar Gonzalez – who marshals the best defense in Liga MX – into the XI if you want. Sit Nagbe, shift Bedoya to the right and bring in Dax McCarty for more defensive bite in central midfield if you’re feeling conservative. Or Sacha Kljestan if you’re feeling aggressive. Or Kellyn Acosta if your metric is “form matters above all else!”
Go to a 4-2-3-1 with Kljestan as the No. 10 underneath Altidore, or a 4-3-3 with Pulisic on the right and Morris on the left. Go to a 5-3-2 with Zusi as one wingback and Villafaña as the other (actually please don’t do that), and it’s an absolutely plausible and balanced lineup to throw out there. Stick with the 4-4-2. Make it a 4-1-3-2, or a 4-3-1-2 with Pulisic sitting behind two forwards.
It all works if there’s clarity of roles, because the talent in this group is undeniable.
The US has the depth to weather this, to come out on the other side with the required results to get back onto the path toward World Cup qualification. It would’ve been easier with Wood and Johnson and Yedlin, but those are the breaks and that’s the reality of qualifying. You don’t get to the World Cup with 11 guys, or 18 or 23, You really need about 30, and despite the injuries and absences the US have the numbers and quality to get it done over the next 180 minutes.
If they don’t? That’s when you can go ahead and panic. I’ll be right there with you.
David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes)
Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/Atlanta United)
Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
John Brooks (Hertha Berlin)
DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo)
Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)
Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca)
Michael Orozco (Tijuana)
Tim Ream (Fulham)
Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna)
Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas)
Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls)
Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy)
Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)