USMNT roster: Bruce Arena without two key defenders for pivotal World Cup qualifiers

Bruce Arena has made his selections for World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras. (Getty Images)

Bruce Arena has named a 26-man squad for the U.S. men’s national team’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras, and there are a few notable, though expected, absences. Both DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks have been excluded due to injury, meaning Arena must shuffle his back line to adjust.

Brooks is out for three months, and Yedlin was always a doubt, but other questions of fitness have been answered positively. Fabian Johnson recovered from a minor injury in time to play 10 minutes off the bench for Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday, and is included in Arena’s 26. Omar Gonzalez played a full 90 for Pachuca on Friday night after two weeks out, and could be Brooks’ replacement in the starting 11 at center back.

Elsewhere, the American squad is healthy and strong, and will be favored in the Sept. 1 match vs. Costa Rica in Harrison, N.J.

Here is the full roster, which includes no first-time call-ups and 18 players that participated in the Gold Cup this past summer:

U.S. national team squad for September World Cup qualifiers

GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

DEFENDERS: Graham Zusi, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Jorge Villafana, DeMarcus Beasley, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj

MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Darlington Nagbe, Dax McCarty, Alejandro Bedoya, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola, Fabian Johnson, Christian Roldan

FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, Chris Wondolowski

The surprise choices are Christian Roldan and Chris Wondolowski. Roldan made the initial Gold Cup squad, but was one of six players sent home before the knockout stages. The Seattle Sounders midfielder’s versatility, however, makes him an asset; he can play multiple midfield positions as well as right back. Wondolowski is a national team veteran, but did not make the Gold Cup squad.

Notable non-injury absentees are fullback Timmy Chandler and defensive midfielder Danny Williams. Other injury casualties are center back Michael Orozco and central midfielder Jermaine Jones, though neither was guaranteed inclusion even if fit.

With Yedlin out and Chandler not in the 26, Arena’s options at right back include Graham Zusi, Eric Lichaj and Fabian Johnson. With Brooks out, one of Gonzalez, Tim Ream and Matt Besler will presumably take his spot in the center of defense.

Arena will have a complete first-choice attack at his disposal on Friday. Altidore and Pulisic are all but guaranteed places in that attack, with Michael Bradley and probably Darlington Nagbe playing behind them somewhere in midfield.

The most intriguing decision facing the U.S. boss is whether to name a second forward to partner Altidore. And if he does go with two up top, is that partner Dempsey? Or Bobby Wood?

Dempsey came off the bench in the Gold Cup semifinal and final, and Arena called his performance in the supersub role “fantastic.” Arena was reluctant to use the 34-year-old for 90 minutes, and preferred the final 30 to the first 60.

It seems likely he’ll adopt the same stance for the upcoming qualifiers, especially given the short turnaround. After Costa Rica comes to New Jersey on Friday, the squad travels to San Pedro Sula, Honduras for its third-to-last qualifier the following Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Both Costa Rica and Honduras have already named their squads for the qualifiers. The most notable absence is Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell, who suffered a serious knee injury at the Gold Cup, but the Ticos‘ 24-man roster is otherwise strong. The Hondruas squad includes 35-year-old Carlo Costly for the first time in nearly 18 months.

Neither game is a must-win for the U.S., but the Yanks must continue to accrue points. They currently sit in third place in the six-team Hex, the last of three guaranteed World Cup places. With four games remaining, here’s how the table looks (goal differential in parentheses):

Mexico — 14 (+7)
Costa Rica — 11 (+5)
United States — 8 (+3)
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Panama — 7 (0)
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Honduras — 5 (-8)
Trinidad & Tobago — 3 (-7)

The top three teams at the end of the 10-game double-round-robin qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The fourth-placed team heads to an intercontinental playoff with the fifth-placed team from Asia.

The U.S. lost its away game against Costa Rica 4-0 last November, but won its home games against Honduras 6-0 in March. Winning one of the two upcoming games would put the Americans in very good position.

They conclude the Hex with two games in early October, the first against Panama in Orlando and the second at Trinidad & Tobago.

Friday’s game against Costa Rica kicks off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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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 henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.