In other words, aside from a few minor surprises, Arena was quite predictable in selecting a tried-and-true group.
“Everyone here is experienced inside the group,” Arena said Sunday in remarks distributed by the U.S. Soccer Federation. “They know what needs to be done, what’s expected of them, our style of play and how we go about doing things.”
The Americans have earned eight points from four qualifiers since Arena’s arrival and, with a 2-2-2 record, stand third in CONCACAF’s six-nation race for three automatic berths in next summer’s tournament in Russia. A fourth team will enter an intercontinental playoff.
With victories over Costa Rica (3-1-2, 11 points) on Friday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., and at Honduras (1-3-2, five) on Sept. 5, they would all but secure a top-three slot. A victory and draw would serve their needs, to a lesser extent, before the last cluster of matches in October (vs. fourth-place Panama in Orlando and at last-place Trinidad and Tobago).
Although the outlook is promising, “We’re far from being in Russia,” Arena cautioned.
With the pressure rising, he turned to an experienced squad that, with few individual exceptions, has been exposed to demanding international competition.
The corps includes Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard and Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old sensation from German club Borussia Dortmund who is quickly becoming the U.S. program’s most influential player.
Arena did have to make adjustments because of injuries: Center back John Brooks and right back DeAndre Yedlin, both projected starters, are not available. FC Dallas’s Matt Hedges (five U.S. appearances) will join regulars Cameron, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler in the central corps.
Graham Zusi and Eric Lichaj, who split time during the Gold Cup, are the top options on the right corner.
At left back, Arena will choose from Jorge Villafaña, Tim Ream and DaMarcus Beasley, 35, who began his international career under Arena 16 years ago and has remained in the mix through four World Cups.
While many suspected Arena would name Beasley to the squad for left-side depth, two gained surprise spots to fill out an expanded roster: forward Chris Wondolowski, 34, and midfielder Cristian Roldan, 22, who made his U.S. debut at the Gold Cup. Neither is likely to see playing time.
Arena invited three more players than the number eligible to suit up in each game because of concerns over yellow cards and minor injuries ahead of the Honduras trip.
Gonzalez and midfielder-defender Fabian Johnson just returned to their respective clubs after recovering from minor ailments. On the card front, six players are carrying a yellow and, with another caution, would have to sit out the subsequent match. They are Altidore, Bradley, Cameron, Besler, Alejandro Bedoya and Paul Arriola.
One area where Arena will disappoint some fans was in his omission of a young goalkeeper for the third-string role: Instead of naming D.C. United’s Bill Hamid, 26, or Belgian-based Ethan Horvath, 22, he chose Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, 38, to back up Howard, 38, and Brad Guzan, who turns 33 next month. Hamid was the only keeper with the squad through the entirety of the Gold Cup.
“People from the outside don’t realize how difficult it is to bring in a team and players from literally all over the world and get them recovered from weekend [club] games and get them prepared for a critically important game,” Arena said. “It’s a real challenge, and to have a group that’s together now that has tasted some success in 2017 should allow it to be a smooth transition into this game Friday.”
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Moenchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders).
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg).