SANFORD, Fla. — When Bruce Arena said last week that he didn't plan on calling in any new faces, what he didn't say was that there still might be a few surprises in the squad he named ahead of October's all-important World Cup qualifiers.
Benny Feilhaber's return to the national team fold qualified as the most surprising of inclusions, while Fabian Johnson's absence served as the biggest head-scratcher of the omissions, though the word out of the U.S. camp was that fitness was a concern for the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder ahead of what will likely be a pair of qualifiers played in very warm environments.
Arena gave some veterans a reprieve despite their September struggles, with DaMarcus Beasley getting the nod again despite having been torched against Honduras. He also called on Juan Agudelo to try and give the team something different at forward in Jordan Morris' absence, which surely left hometown fans disappointed that Orlando City striker Dom Dwyer didn't get the invite to face Panama in Orlando.
Here is a closer look at some of those decisions and other key topics surrounding the squad Arena has chosen for the upcoming qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.
Just when you thought we had seen the last of Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber as a national team option, Arena has brought him back in to help give the midfield pool some much-needed creativity.
With the U.S. likely to face two defensive-minded opponents looking to bunker in and keep the score down, Arena knew he needed some more creativity in midfield in order to help break down those defenses.
"He's a good passer, and in the final third of the field he has some qualities that I think were lacking," Arena said on Monday.
The U.S. had been leaning heavily on Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe to provide the creative element in midfield, but with both players also among the best U.S. options on the wings, having Feilhaber around gives Arena another central option.
So why Feilhaber over the likes of Sacha Kljestan and the in-form Lee Nguyen? Feilhaber has really improved the defensive aspect of his game, making him a more well-rounded midfielder who also has experience in big matches and won't be fazed if Arena calls on him to start.
BEASLEY BACK IN THE MIX
When we watched Honduras repeatedly abuse DaMarcus Beasley in the September qualifier in San Pedro Sula, it looked very much like the brutal finale of a storied national team career. We probably should have known Arena wasn't going to give up on a player he gave his national team debut so many years ago.
Is Arena being a bit too nostalgic in trying to stick with the 35-year-old World Cup veteran? Perhaps the better question is whether Arena is passing over better left-back options at the moment. Justin Morrow's hat-trick for Toronto FC on Saturday didn't exactly hurt his case for consideration, but he also doesn't have experience in World Cup qualifying, which may have been what cost him this time around.
Something else to consider before writing the obituary to Beasley's national team career is that Honduras duo Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto are one of the best sets of wingers in CONCACAF, and Beasley isn't the first fullback to be embarrassed by them.
That being said, Jorge Villafana looks like the safer bet to face Panama, having started against the Canaleros in the March qualifying draw in Panama City, and more recently in the 1-1 group-stage draw in July's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
WHY AGUDELO OVER DWYER?
The stage seemed set for a Dom Dwyer national team return, with Friday's crucial qualifier taking place in the stadium he now calls home. Unfortunately for Dwyer, none of that really mattered when it came time to find a replacement for injured forward Jordan Morris.
Arena needed to find a player who could offer similar characteristics to Morris, and though Agudelo doesn't boast Morris' pure speed, he does provide the kind of versatility and ability to put defenders on their heels that Morris can provide.
"He's a good player, a good young player, a good attacking player," Arena said of Agudelo. "He can create good goal-scoring opportunities for himself and others."
Dwyer makes more sense as a replacement for a Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood if either had been unavailable. Some would argue Dwyer should have been called instead of the popular USMNT fan whipping boy Chris Wondolowski, but Wondolowski has the experience edge, not to mention he's having a better season in MLS than Dwyer.
WHY THE 3-5-2 MAY HAVE COST MIAZGA A LOOK
For me, the two biggest surprises in the omissions department were Fabian Johnson and Matt Miazga. While Johnson's was apparently fitness related, Miazga's omission just came down to Arena calling on more experienced options.
That's a fair enough reason to leave out the young defender, but when you consider how well he is playing in the Dutch league, how well he played in his first national team start, in the Gold Cup, and how many big mistakes U.S. central defenders made in September, it seemed like a good spot to bring on the promising prospect.
Much like Beasley, Tim Ream can count himself lucky to have earned a return ticket to the national team after his showing against Costa Rica in September. Arena clearly hadn't forgotten that Ream showed well against Mexico in June. He's also a naturally left-footed player, which probably gives him an edge over Miazga as a left center-back option, even if Miazga is pretty good with both feet.
Michael Orozco's national team experience gave him the edge over Miazga this time around, but his versatility also likely played a part. There is a good chance we will see the U.S. deploy a 3-5-2 in one or both of the upcoming qualifiers, and Orozco has spent plenty of time playing in that very system while at Club Tijuana, where Miguel Herrera implemented it when he was manager.
Ream also has experience playing in a three-man defense, having showed well there for the U.S. against Mexico in June. The fact Arena called on both Orozco and Ream suggests we very well could see a lot of the 3-5-2 this month.
IT WASN'T TIME FOR MCKENNIE
One player plenty of U.S. fans were hoping to see Bruce Arena make an exception for in his "No New Faces" policy was Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, who has settled into a starting role with the Bundesliga side and has become the young player many see as the next young American breakout star. As impressive as he has been, it was never realistic to expect Arena to call McKennie in.
It would be different for an attacking player, like a speedy forward or winger, to be brought in and used as a change-of-pace option. For McKennie, a defensive midfielder who has never been in a senior national team camp, it would have been a lot to ask him to come in and develop the kind of understanding and feel for the role and his teammates in what amounts to four days of training camp.
McKennie's time with the national team will come, and it could be as early as November if the U.S. qualifies for the World Cup this month, but Arena was wise to leave McKennie out this time around.