Projecting the U.S. roster for September's World Cup qualifiers

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A pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers await the U.S. national team in September and injuries could leave Bruce Arena with some decisions to make.

It wasn't that long ago since Bruce Arena and his U.S. national team were sipping champagne after lifting this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, but it probably feels like a distant memory now given just what lies ahead for them in the coming weeks.

The U.S. should head into September's World Cup qualifiers feeling very confident, but a rash of injuries to key defenders could force Arena to trot out a patchwork defense against Costa Rica and Honduras. John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez and DeAndre Yedlin have all been sidelined by injuries, while other defensive options (Matt Miazga, Jorge Villafana and Eric Lichaj) have been struggling for playing time early in their club seasons.

The good news? Christian Pulisic has gotten off to a red-hot start with Borussia Dortmund, Clint Dempsey has been lights-out for the Seattle Sounders in recent weeks and Geoff Cameron has begun his Premier League season campaign in strong fashion.

Attacking options won't be an issue for Arena when he puts his team together next week, but what options he goes with defensively should give us a good idea of what his defender depth chart looks like after a busy summer.

Will we see surprises when the head coach names his squad next weekend? Don't bet on it. Not with the U.S. still trying to secure a firm hold on one of the top three spots in the hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying.

Here is a look at what the U.S. World Cup qualifying roster should look like in September:


GOALKEEPERS


Tim Howard USA Gold Cup 07262017

SELECTIONS: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid

MISSED THE CUT: Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson, Jesse Gonzalez

Howard and Guzan are clear-cut selections, with Guzan settled in as Atlanta United's starter after his summer move and Howard's continued excellent form for the Colorado Rapids. The third goalkeeper slot is a bit trickier. Hamid has been outstanding for D.C. United and also showed well in the Gold Cup, but Horvath has settled in as Club Brugge's starting goalkeeper and you wonder if Arena wants to have a look at the 22-year-old.


DEFENDERS


Matt Besler USA Gold Cup 07262017

SELECTIONS: Graham Zusi, Tim Chandler, Geoff Cameron, Matt Miazga, Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafana

INJURED: John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez

MISSED THE CUT: Eric Lichaj, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Greg Garza, DaMarcus Beasley

Losing Brooks was a big blow, but also having Gonzalez go down injured complicates things even further at center back. Cameron is one lock starter while Besler and Ream are in competition to start alongside him. Could Arena trot out the 3-5-2 we saw against Mexico? If so, then a Cameron-Ream-Besler trio could be a solid option.

The center-back depth Arena enjoyed this summer is suddenly tenuous, with Miazga not starting at Vitesse and Hedges coming off a rough Gold Cup. It could come down to those two for the fourth center-back spot on the squad.

At right back, Yedlin doesn't appear likely to be recovered from his recent injury in time to factor into the qualifiers, leaving Zusi as the leading candidate to start. Zusi has come along well since his position change, earning Best XI honors at the Gold Cup. Chandler continues to be an enigma in that he plays well in the Bundesliga but struggles with the national team. He has yet to play for Arena though and Arena has stated his intention to have Chandler be a part of the squad.

Left back might seem like a vulnerable spot as well, with Villafana not starting regularly for Santos Laguna in the early part of the Liga MX season. He did just start for Santos Laguna in this past weekend's loss to Club Tijuana, so his fortunes could be changing. What should also be remembered is that Arena has given Villafana looks before despite him not playing for his club regularly, so he isn't likely to be dropped. A big question is whether Toronto FC's Justin Morrow might be able to snag a starting role in the upcoming qualifiers as he continues to play extremely well for TFC.


MIDFIELDERS


Darlington Nagbe USA Gold Cup 07262017

SELECTIONS: Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta, Dax McCarty, Gyasi Zardes, Alejandro Bedoya

INJURED: Fabian Johnson, Kenny Saief, Kelyn Rowe

MISSED THE CUT: Cristian Roldan, Sacha Kljestan, Chris Pontius, Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber

A back injury has sidelined Johnson in recent weeks, leaving him as an unlikely participant for the September qualifiers, which is a big blow to Arena's hopes of being able to trot out a full-strength attack. Johnson's absence could give Arriola another opportunity in the starting lineup. Arriola's recent move to D.C. United has helped him settle into a regular starting role and Arena has already shown on multiple occasions a willingness to start Arriola in big matches.

The big issue for Arena is finding viable wing options. Pulisic and Arriola look like his preferred options, while Zardes is another possibility even though his MLS form hasn't been that great. Nagbe can play wide as well, but his effectiveness in a central role for the U.S. has been clear to see. Bedoya can handle a wide role if necessary, and Arena values his experience.

Rowe had a good showing at the Gold Cup, but picked up a knee injury on Sunday and may not be an option for qualifiers. Pontius impressed Arena at the Gold Cup and could be called upon if any of the other wing options aren't available.

Centrally, Acosta and McCarty continue to be the top reserve options, though you can definitely argue that Roldan is playing some of the best soccer in MLS these days. Kljestan has also been on a good run of form and could earn a call up after being left out in recent months.


FORWARDS


lint Dempsey Jozy Altidore USA Gold Cup 07262017

SELECTIONS: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris

MISSED THE CUT: Dom Dwyer, Chris Wondolowski

Arena will keep his fingers crossed this week that his top four forward options can stay healthy. He hasn't been able to bring in all four yet since returning as U.S. coach because of injuries, but as things stand, Altidore, Dempsey, Wood and Morris are all healthy and playing regularly.

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Dempsey is on a roll, and it will be tough to keep him out of the lineup, with a Dempsey-Altidore partnership looking like a good shout for the showdown against Costa Rica. Wood is very much a factor to start, and could even lead Arena to ponder a three-forward setup, or even deploying Dempsey deeper, behind an Altidore-Wood tandem.

Morris comes in off his good Gold Cup showing, and could give Arena a wide midfield option in order to get his speed on the field. He also offers a good threat off the bench.

As for Dwyer, he is probably the odd man out barring any injuries in the coming week. He showed enough in the Gold Cup to merit a look.

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