Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re probably thinking. Seventy-five percent of you who opened up this article did so to internally scream, “But they might not even qualify for the World Cup!” And those of you who did … well, you’re right.
So we’re still operating as if they will, and that means roster projections.
But after an international break that had the American soccer public foaming at the mouth, searching for targets for its collective anger, more than anything these projections serve to take stock of what we just witnessed. Who were the main culprits of the USMNT’s demise? Did anybody actually acquit themselves well?
A roster projection allows us to answer those questions – and mix in some hot takes here and there as well.
As with our first set of projections, the following 1-23 ranking is based on confidence of inclusion in the squad next May, if there is such a squad. We’ll then fill out the rankings through 40, and include a positional breakdown at the end.
Let’s get to it …
1. Michael Bradley | Central Midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 1
On the balance of 180 minutes in New Jersey and San Pedro Sula, Bradley might have been the USA’s best player, in part because he was the only one who went the full 180. Bruce Arena didn’t help him with the team selection against Costa Rica, drafting the defensively absent Darlington Nagbe into a midfield two alongside him. But the U.S. captain coped well, and was fine against Honduras.
2. Christian Pulisic | Winger/Attacking midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 2
Perhaps a bit of a reality check for the 18-year-old. Pulisic had his moments in each game but was slightly inconsistent, and occasionally let his frustration turn into petulance. He was battered by both opponents, and was the focal point of Costa Rica’s defensive gameplan. That type of attention is foreign to him at Dortmund, but it’s something he’ll have to get used to whenever he pulls on a national team kit. That’s the next stage of his development.
3. Geoff Cameron | Defender | Aug. 30 ranking: 3
Cameron had a shocker against Costa Rica. There’s no hiding that. But benching him for the Honduras game was a mistake. He was strong when he replaced Zusi after 63 minutes, and remains the Yanks’ best defender. He just had one oddly terrible outing.
4. Jozy Altidore | Striker | Aug. 30 ranking: 5
It’s probably safe to assume Altidore would have started the Honduras game if not for the silly yellow card suspension. It’s also still safe to say he’s the USA’s best striker, despite a non-existent goal-scoring record in the Hex. The U.S. missed his combination of strength and technical ability in Honduras.
5. Tim Howard | Goalkeeper | Aug. 30 ranking: 4
Howard’s kicking is a genuine concern. Not only did he make a poor decision with the ball at his feet that led to Costa Rica’s first goal, but the kick itself was weak. Arena has hinted at the concern before, pointing out that Howard is still recovering from serious groin surgery. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the Americans were so intent on playing out of the back at home, and one of the reasons Brad Guzan started on the road. Howard is still the U.S. No. 1, and is a few months away from a full offseason that should allow him to get back to 100 percent. But just keep that Costa Rica game in the back of your mind when you assess Howard’s play going forward.
6. Clint Dempsey | Forward | Aug. 30 ranking: 6
In hindsight, Dempsey shouldn’t have started the Honduras game. He offered nothing defensively in front of Bradley and Kellyn Acosta, and that defensive invisibility was actually one of the issues that led to the Honduras goal. Dempsey is still extremely valuable, but he’s best used off the bench.
7. John Brooks | Center back | Aug. 30 ranking: 7
In a weird way, the injured Brooks’ stock might have risen more than anybody else’s over the past week.
8. Darlington Nagbe | Midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 8
Arena played Nagbe out of position in Harrison, then played him in a game that didn’t suit his style in Honduras. The latter point isn’t an indictment of anybody, it’s just that there isn’t much to take away from Nagbe’s performances. He was pretty good on the offensive side of the ball against Costa Rica.
9. DeAndre Yedlin | Right back | Aug. 30 ranking: 9
Yedlin, like Brooks, shored up his starting spot simply by watching from home. He’s the undisputed No. 1 right back when healthy. More on his replacements later.
10. Bobby Wood | Forward | Aug. 30 ranking: 12
Wood is simultaneously exciting, useful and frustrating. He’s an industrious and willing runner, and a solid finisher, but he misplaced a few simple passes in the Costa Rica game that fractured the USA’s attacking rhythm. In a team full of forwards and midfielders that like to link up with one another, he doesn’t necessarily fit. But his work rate and poaching ability were on display, and are both extremely valuable attributes.
11. Brad Guzan | Goalkeeper | Aug. 30 ranking: 13
Guzan was solid in Honduras. No spectacular saves. No mistakes. More telling than anything, though, was Arena’s confidence to hand him another start away from home. He’s the clear No. 2.
12. Jorge Villafaña | Left back | Aug. 30 ranking: 10
Villafaña wasn’t great against Costa Rica. DaMarcus Beasley was worse against Honduras. But the fact that Arena went to Beasley, despite Villafaña only playing 65 minutes on Friday, is perhaps a hint that the left back position is still up for grabs. That’s not to say Villafaña is in any danger of losing it to Beasley, but if somebody else emerges, the Santos Laguna defender might have a fight on his hands.
13. Kellyn Acosta | Central midfielder/fullback | Aug. 30 ranking: 15
A few rushed passes aside, Acosta held his own in Honduras. And his free kick that led to the goal was majestic. He certainly helped himself after a spotty Gold Cup.
14. Fabian Johnson | Wide midfielder/fullback | Aug. 30 ranking: 11
Johnson was a complete non-factor against Costa Rica, and clearly wasn’t 100 percent fit. If and when he is fit, he’s a shoo-in for the 23, but what if he picks up a knock in March or April and is still trying to shake it when World Cup camp rolls around?
15. Paul Arriola | Winger | Aug. 30 ranking: 16
Arriola is going to have a place in the 23 as long as he can come off the bench, run like mad for 30 minutes, and be competent going forward. That’s exactly what he did in Honduras.
16. Omar Gonzalez | Center back | Aug. 30 ranking: 14
Yes, he was at fault on the goal. Yes, every replay of it is excruciating. But one mistake doesn’t ruin a career, nor does it permanently damage his national team status. He was solid in the second half, even if fortunate on occasion. If he’s starting at a World Cup, that’s a problem, but he’s still a fine backup, and still third in the center back pecking order.
17. Jordan Morris | Forward | Aug. 30 ranking: 17
Morris got a surprising call for the Honduras game, and didn’t exactly impress, but didn’t look totally in over his head. He had some bright moments that were ultimately done in by a lack of final-third precision. The biggest positive as far as his USMNT status is concerned is that Arena gave him that call.
18. Nick Rimando | Goalkeeper | Aug. 30 ranking: 22
Not a single fringe player gave a good account of himself, so … what the heck. Rimando is GK3 until further notice.
19. Tim Ream | Defender | Aug. 30 ranking: 18
Ream was excellent in the second half against Costa Rica. There, I said it. And he wasn’t really at fault on the first goal either. Sure, he looked shaky early on, and Matt Besler was strong in Honduras, but since Ream got the call to start the first game, we’ll keep him a tiny notch ahead of Besler.
20. Alejandro Bedoya | Midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 20
Didn’t play in either game. Not a good sign, but probably not a bad one either?
21. DaMarcus Beasley | Left back | Aug. 30 ranking: 19
Beasley looked like a 36-year-old up against a 21-year-old. It’s that simple. The Honduras game was a blow to his chances to actually see the field in Russia. But his on-field performance is only a part of why he’d be in the 23. He could go to the World Cup as a “locker room guy” and nominal backup, but Arena could always opt for Fabian Johnson or Ream/Besler in the event of a Villafaña injury.
22. Sebastian Lletget | Midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 23
One of the takeaways from the Costa Rica game was the U.S.’s need for a second two-way midfielder. Get well soon, Sebastian.
23. Graham Zusi | Right back | Aug. 30 ranking: 22
On the plus side, Zusi was the only defender on Arena’s team sheet twice. And … well, that’s about it. He was so-so against Costa Rica and completely overmatched against Honduras. But apparently he’s better than both Eric Lichaj and Timmy Chandler, so …
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
24. Matt Besler | Center back | Aug. 30 ranking: 24 — He played well enough to jump into the top 23, but assuming Brooks is healthy, there’s only one spot for Besler and Ream.
25. Timmy Chandler | Fullback/Wide midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 28 — After what we saw on Tuesday, Chandler has to get another look, right?
26. Eric Lichaj | Fullback | Aug. 30 ranking: 25 — If Arena could do it over again, would he have given Lichaj a chance in one of the two games? Probably.
27. Jermaine Jones | Central midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 27 — Maybe Jones ends up resurrecting his national team career and returns as the two-way midfielder we want and need Lletget to be.
28. Dax McCarty | Defensive midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 26 — McCarty, as wonderful an MLS player as he is, isn’t really that guy. And he’s 30 years old.
29. Christian Roldan | Midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 32 — Roldan is younger, and is another option for that midfield role …
30. Weston McKennie | Central midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 31 — … as is McKennie, 19. But both are inexperienced.
31. Ethan Horvath | Goalkeeper | Aug. 30 ranking: 29
32. Bill Hamid | Goalkeeper | Aug. 30 ranking: 30
33. Tyler Adams | Fullback/Central midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 36 — The more the current fullbacks struggle, the more realistic an option Adams becomes. Hopefully he’ll get a January call-up.
34. Matt Hedges | Center back | Aug. 30 ranking: 33 — Don’t let mistakes by center backs fool you into thinking Hedges could creep into the conversation for an October or November start.
35. Gyasi Zardes | Forward/Wide midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 34 — Jordan Morris essentially has the Zardes role locked up at the moment.
36. Danny Williams | Defensive midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 35
37. Jesse Gonzalez | Goalkeeper | Aug. 30 ranking: 37
38. Matt Miazga | Center back | Aug. 30 ranking: 39
39. Lynden Gooch | Midfielder | Aug. 30 ranking: 38
40. Chris Wondolowski | Striker | Aug. 30 ranking: 40
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard (5), Brad Guzan (11), Nick Rimando (18), Ethan Horvath (31), Bill Hamid (32), Jesse Gonzalez (37)
DEFENDERS: Geoff Cameron (3), John Brooks (7), DeAndre Yedlin (9), Jorge Villafaña (12), Omar Gonzalez (16), Tim Ream (19), DeMarcus Beasley (21), Graham Zusi (23), Matt Besler (24), Timmy Chandler (25), Eric Lichaj (26), Tyler Adams (33), Matt Hedges (34), Matt Miazga (38)
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley (1), Christian Pulisic (2), Darlington Nagbe (8), Kellyn Acosta (13), Fabian Johnson (14), Paul Arriola (15), Alejandro Bedoya (20), Sebastian Lletget (22), Jermaine Jones (27), Dax McCarty (28), Christian Roldan (29) Weston McKennie (30), Danny Williams (36), Lynden Gooch (39)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (4), Clint Dempsey (6), Bobby Wood (10), Jordan Morris (17), Gyasi Zardes (35), Chris Wondolowski (40)
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.