The thing about Bruce Arena being early into his stint as the new U.S. national team coach is that every player is getting a chance to break into the USMNT picture right now. Unlike Jurgen Klinsmann, who was pretty set in his ways after a while, Arena seems very open-minded about his player pool.
As such, there is a batch of players who could make a huge leap up the USMNT’s depth chart this month if they play well in the UMSNT’s upcoming matches. Here is a look at the players with the most to gain:
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Perhaps no player stands to gain more from this month’s USMNT fixtures than Acosta. It’s not just that Acosta has never had a big starting role for the USMNT, it’s that he is easily talented enough to take on such a role. Bruce Arena has offered praise for the way Acosta has been playing as a box-to-box midfielder with FC Dallas, and the 21-year-old is a player who can be groomed to be a fixture in the central midfield.
He is a different type of player than others Arena has looked at in the midfield — he’s not a marauding enforcer like Jones and he’s not a No. 10 playmaker. But he does increasingly have elements of both types of players in his game. That could make him a good option.
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His stock seemed to instantly rise the moment Bruce Arena was named the new USMNT head coach in November. But when he started for the USMNT in March qualifiers, it seemed mostly due to injuries and a thin roster. The next step for Nagbe is to prove he can be the best first choice somewhere on the roster, even when Arena has his pick of the bunch.
That probably means Nagbe will be fighting Fabian Johnson for the left wing spot, but he could just as easily push to take a spot on the right wing or in the central midfield, where Arena has options like Christian Pulisic and Alejandro Bedoya. He’s a versatile midfielder, which makes him an attractive depth piece, but it’s up to him if he becomes more than that.
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Bruce Arena tried to get a look at Hedges in the manager’s first matches since taking over, but Hedges had to leave camp with an injury. Now, he is healthy and playing well for FC Dallas. In his third call-up for the USMNT, Hedges could establish himself as a clear No. 2 at center back.
It’s unlikely to see Geoff Cameron or John Brooks lose their starting jobs without any injury or suspension, but Hedges can beat out players like Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream to be next in line.
It looks like the left back role is Jorge Villafana’s to lose, but he can put to rest any sort of questions about the future of the role this month. In March, he ostensibly started at left back because Fabian Johnson, who consistently started there under Jurgen Klinsmann, was injured. But with both Johnson and Villafana healthy, this is a chance for Villafana to establish himself so Johnson can move up to a winger role, where Bruce Arena has hinted he prefers him.
The lack of depth at the position gives Villafana a clear path to become the starting left back. That Arena called in DaMarcus Beasley, who is 35, suggests it’s really down to Villafana taking the job from Johnson.
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The Tijuana wingback doesn’t figure to be fighting for a starting spot, but he could impress enough to become a go-to backup and make Bruce Arena’s choices more difficult. Players who seem to be ahead of the usual right-sided flank player include Christian Pulisic, Alejandro Bedoya and even Darlington Nagbe. But all of those players can occupy other spots around the midfield, which may give Arriola an opening.
What works in Arriola’s favor may also work against him in some ways: He is one of the few true, natural wide players on the roster, but that lack of versatility also limits his options.
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He’s never quite moved beyond being a depth piece for the USMNT. It doesn’t look like he’ll be anything more than that this month either. But sometimes a player is one roster injury or suspension away from getting an opportunity and running with it. It’s no secret that Morris hasn’t been having the best MLS season so far — no doubt a symptom of the Seattle Sounders’ larger problems — but a chance with the USMNT this month could give the young striker a jumpstart back into form.
Given the increasing depth of the USMNT striker pool — (there’s a bunch of American MLS strikers we rank above Morris) — Morris will have to fight to keep his spot in the USMNT ranks. He can cement himself as a depth piece on the forward chart if he manages to do well.
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No, the Club Brugge goalkeeper is not going to see any minutes this month for the USMNT, barring some horrible circumstances hitting the goalkeeper pool. But the goalkeeper depth chart for the USMNT is a concern looking ahead toward the World Cup and beyond. Bruce Arena and his staff may need to confront the task of a succession plan behind Tim Howard sooner rather than later.
With Horvath’s time in camp, he can show he has the promise to become a real option by the time Tim Howard is no longer the USMNT’s best starting option.