It appears that Jermaine Jones is still very much considered a starter for the U.S. men's national team. There's only one problem: He is suspended for Friday's match vs. Honduras (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1) because of yellow card accumulation. Typically, the USMNT has been anchored in the central midfield by the pairing of Jones alongside Michael Bradley, but that can’t happen on Friday.
So who are Arena's options take the place of Jones?
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A few months ago, Lletget wouldn't even be a possibility, let alone a preferred choice, but the LA Galaxy midfielder has boosted his stock quickly. He impressed in the USMNT's January camp and friendlies, with many players picking him as the new guy who impressed them the most. He plays a similar game to Jones, in that he is good at roaming in a free role and being everywhere. Arena knows Lletget well from their time together at the Galaxy, too.
The only concern, of course, is that 24-year-old Lletget has never played in a World Cup qualifier – heck, he has barely played with the USMNT at all. Friday's match is not exactly a cupcake qualifier – the USMNT are last in the qualifying group and are feeling heavy pressure to win.
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He's not exactly a Jones-type player – he won’t offer as much going forward and he won't take the shots that Jones does – but he does offer a lot of defensive stability. McCarty is a solid presence that can break up opposing attacks, force turnovers and spark a counterattack, which is what makes Jones an appealing player too.
McCarty has also never featured in a World Cup qualifier for the USMNT, but the 29-year-old is the most veteran of the options Arena has to replace Jones.
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He's just 21 years old and he has precious few caps with the USMNT, but it's hard to deny his form lately. He's been playing excellent soccer for FC Dallas this year, both in MLS and in the CONCACAF Champions League. He's young, sure, but he may be the best two-way midfielder in the USMNT pool at this point. He’s surely the most exciting.
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He’s long carved out a spot on the right wing for the USMNT – that’s where previous coach Jurgen Klinsmann played him and that’s where Arena put him in January friendlies. But for club, Bedoya typically plays in a central attacking midfield role, which could make him an option to consider for the USMNT vs. Honduras.
The thing is, Bedoya's usual central midfield role is not really the role that Jones is leaving vacant. The closest Bedoya ever got to it was in a 2015 friendly vs. Brazil, which went so poorly that Jurgen Klinsmann yanked him off at the half. Arena could do some maneuvering in the midfield to get Bedoya in there somehow, but it probably wouldn't make much sense, at least not in Jones' role. Still, Bedoya is the most experienced option with six World Cup qualifiers under his belt and Arena seems to value that.
The Portland Timbers midfielder has stumped many coaches because his best role is a bit difficult to define. Lately, Caleb Porter has determined Nagbe belongs on the left wing in Portland, and Arena seemed to agree during January’s camp and friendlies. But Nagbe has plenty of experience in the central midfield – just not in the deep role with serious defensive responsibilities that Jones usually plays.
Nagbe could conceivably replace Jones here, but it would be asking him to do a job he hasn't really been asked to do and asking him to play in a way he doesn't play. Regardless of his role, he doesn’t bring the same enforcer-type presence as Jones. Nagbe is perfectly capable on either wing, where he’s probably needed more, so this one looks unlikely.
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The New York Red Bulls midfielder broke into the USMNT again last year based on his playmaking ability in the central midfield, but Kljestan actually started his career in a deeper, defensive central midfield role in Belgium and in his early USMNT days. So, it's not impossible that Arena would ask Kljestan to reprise his former position – but it looks very unlikely.
Kljestan didn't make Arena's 24-man roster for Friday's qualifier until striker Bobby Wood had to be removed due to injury on Sunday. That suggests that Arena is looking at playing Kljestan in a playmaking role tucked under a striker in lieu of using a Wood-Jozy Altidore pairing in a two-front.
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While Geoff Cameron's primary position for the USMNT and Stoke City is at centerback and sometimes he plays at fullback, Cameron can and has played a defensive role in the central midfield. Putting Cameron there could be a safer defensive solution in the absence of Jones.
But the American back line is looking rather thin at the moment with injuries to DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson and Eric Lichaj and a suspension to Timmy Chandler. Based on depth, it seems like a good bet Arena will need Cameron somewhere along the back line. Not to mention, Cameron only recently made a return from injury and if he's not at 100 percent fitness, putting him in a role as physically demanding as the one Jones occupies might not make sense either. This is an option, but not likely.
Our pick? Sebastian Lletget
Jones is 35 years and not getting any younger. The heir to Jones’ role needs to be groomed and Lletget just might be the best, most like-for-like choice. His approach is similar to Jones’ – both look comfortable roaming wherever they can to create or take chances and break up incoming attacks. It’s early in Lletget’s national team career, but he looks plenty capable for a high-stakes opportunity. He may not have the athleticism that Jones has – which is a big thing that makes Jones so good – but he has the skill and, most importantly, vision to play like Jones.
Arena seems to agree. He was complimentary toward Lletget after the January camp and has continued to mention Lletget as an option in the weeks leading up to these qualifiers. Plus, Arena has plenty of experience working with Lletget in LA so his lack of USMNT experience shouldn't be too much of a barrier.
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