U.S. men’s national team manager Bruce Arena has named a 25-man roster for his team’s pivotal World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, and there is one surprising omission: Fabian Johnson.
The Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder was left out, while the likes of Juan Agudelo and Benny Feilhaber were called in to an experienced squad. Agudelo has never appeared in a World Cup qualifier; Feilhaber hasn’t been part of a USMNT qualifying camp since 2009.
Overall, Arena has made five changes to the roster that lost to Costa Rica and drew with Honduras in September. DeAndre Yedlin is back after a month-long injury absence, and Geoff Cameron has recovered from a hamstring strain to make the squad.
“Yedlin has been playing now over the past couple of weeks [for Newcastle], and Cameron played 90 minutes this weekend, which is a good sign,” Arena said in conjunction with the roster release. “We’ll see what they look like when they come into camp.”
John Brooks remains out with a long-term injury. The only other notable absentee is Jordan Morris, who started in Honduras, but suffered a hamstring injury less than a week later playing for the Seattle Sounders.
Here’s the full squad for the final two games of the Hex:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Gyasi Zardes was initially named to what was originally a 26-man squad, but the 26-year-old winger was forced to withdraw after suffering a groin injury late Saturday night while playing for the Los Angles Galaxy. He will not be replaced.
Yedlin’s return has bumped Eric Lichaj below the roster cut line. Michael Orozco replaces Matt Hedges as the fifth center back. Christian Roldan is the other member of September’s 26-man roster to miss out.
Arena has opted for what he knows. Promising teenagers such as New York Red Bulls midfielder/fullback Tyler Adams and FC Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie were overlooked in favor of MLS veterans. Seventeen of the 25 players ply their trade in MLS.
“This is not experimental time,” Arena said earlier in the week. “We pretty much have to go with who we have.”
But none of that explains the exclusion of Johnson, who played 79 minutes for Monchengladbach in a 2-1 win on Saturday. The German-American has been a regular for the U.S. when fit for over four years.
The 29-year-old still has not gone a full 90 minutes for his club this season. But if fitness is the concern, that makes Arena’s choice to start Johnson at home against Costa Rica a month ago all the more puzzling. Johnson appeared to lack match sharpness on that night in New Jersey, and his performance likely influenced Arena’s decision.
With Johnson out of the frame, any of Kellyn Acosta, Clint Dempsey or Paul Arriola could be in contention to start Friday’s showdown with Panama alongside Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic. Feilhaber could even be a dark horse candidate to see significant time in one of the two games.
At the back, Arena has three of his first-choice four healthy, but will need to pick a center back partner for Geoff Cameron from the threesome of Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Tim Ream.
In goal, Tim Howard will be expected to start against Panama. Whether Brad Guzan takes Howard’s place for the road qualifier – as he has the past two international breaks – remains to be seen.
No U.S. players are suspended for the Panama clash, but nine would miss the Hex finale, Tuesday in Trinidad, if they were to pick up a yellow card against the Panamanians. Those players are Acosta, Arriola, DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Besler, Michael Bradley, Cameron, Dempsey and Yedlin.
The U.S. currently sits in fourth place in the Hex, one point behind Panama, and ahead of Honduras on goal differential. Mexico and Costa Rica have already qualified. One more nation can qualify directly in third place, while the fourth-place finisher can qualify by beating either Australia or Syria in an intercontinental playoff in November.
Here’s what the table looks like heading into the final two rounds of fixtures:
Mexico — 18 (+8)
Costa Rica — 15 (+7)
Panama — 10 (+2)
United States — 9 (+1)
Honduras — 9 (-7)
Trinidad & Tobago — 3 (-11)
Friday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET in Orlando on ESPN2. Tuesday’s game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET in Couva, Trinidad on beIN Sports and the go90 app.
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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.