Teen phenom Christian Pulisic is coming back from the Bundesliga to help lead the U.S. as coach Bruce Arena goes with depth at every position in choosing his roster for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches, naming 26 players Sunday who all have been part of the national team at some point this year.
Defenders DaMarcus Beasley, the only American to appear in four World Cups, and Eric Lichaj made the roster for depth in the absence of injured John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin.
The 18-year-old Pulisic, who had a goal and three assists in a 6-0 qualifying victory over Honduras on March 24 then another assist on Clint Dempsey’s 56th career U.S. goal in a 1-1 draw at Panama four days later, scored Dortmund’s first Bundesliga goal of the season in the 22nd minute of a 3-0 win against Wolfsburg on Aug. 19.
The Americans will play Costa Rica on Friday — a rematch of the Gold Cup semifinal — in Harrison, New Jersey, where players began reporting Sunday for training camp. Then the U.S. is at Honduras four days later. The hex concludes against Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando, Florida, and at Trinidad and Tobago four days after.
“The decisions are simply based on the fact that we need our best roster possible in order to achieve what we want to achieve here, and that’s to earn points in both games,” Arena said. “I think we’re strong in the goal, up top very strong, and I like our midfield combinations. Our back line has had some injuries over the past month that will hurt us a little bit, but I think if everyone comes into camp healthy, we have good options in our back line and good depth.”
Dempsey has 57 international goals, tied with Landon Donovan for most all-time.
U.S. forward Jozy Altidore scored his 11th goal of the season for Toronto FC in a win Sunday against Montreal, while World Cup veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard is among an experienced threesome at the position along with Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando. Howard was in goal for the U.S. during its run to last month’s Gold Cup championship in Santa Clara, California, the Americans’ sixth and first since 2013.
That extended the U.S. unbeaten streak to 14 games (9-0-5) under Arena, who became the first coach to win three Gold Cup titles.
Part of Arena’s thinking to have so many options at every spot is six players face cautions going into the next match, meaning they will draw a one-game suspension with another yellow card: Altidore, midfielder Paul Arriola, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, defender Matt Besler, midfielder Michael Bradley and defender Geoff Cameron.
On the roster, 15 players have made five or more appearances this year for Arena, including three of the top four being defenders.
Arena, a member of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame who turns 66 next month, has brought momentum back to the U.S. program since he returned last November for a second stint as coach to replace Jurgen Klinsmann after the Americans’ first 0-2 start in the final round of qualifying in the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
“When I came in, we were behind the eight ball and we didn’t have a whole lot of room to experiment, especially in World Cup qualifying. Everyone here is experienced inside the group, they know what needs to be done, what’s expected of them, our style of play, and how we go about doing things,” Arena said. “I think since everyone’s been with us now in 2017, it’ll make what is a really difficult week a little bit easier.”
Brooks is expected to be sidelined for at least three months with a torn tendon in his right thigh he suffered during his Aug. 12 debut for Wolfsburg. He was hurt in a German Cup win over fourth-tier club Eintracht Norderstedt.
Cameron, Besler and Omar Gonzalez are the likely options in central defense, while Graham Zusi could play right back after Yedlin was ruled out because of a hamstring injury that has delayed his Premier League season start with Newcastle.
Beasley would be the probable backup for Jorge Villafana at left back. Lichaj and Matt Hedges provide depth at center back.
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, England), Tim Ream (Fulham, England), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (DC United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg, Germany)