SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s World Cup qualifying gameday for the U.S., and this one feels more tense than most. The U.S. is in real need of a win at home against Honduras (FS1, pregame 9:30 p.m. ET, kickoff 10:55 p.m.) after losing the first two games of the Hex in November and falling into last place in the six-team, 10-game CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
A rash of injuries and suspensions have taken away a number of lineup permutations for manager Bruce Arena, leaving him with a 26-man squad and a number of questions to answer.
Here are three pressing ones heading into the game:
Who will play up top for the U.S.?
Jozy Altidore would seem to be a lock to start, but who will join him? Bobby Wood is out injured, and Jordan Morris is “day to day” with an ankle knock, Arena said on Thursday, adding “We’ll make a conclusion [on Friday] as to his status in the game.”
If Morris can’t go, that may open the door to seeing Clint Dempsey start from the opening whistle. Dempsey has recovered enough from his irregular heartbeat issue that he has been starting games for Seattle, but this is a different level. That said, Dempsey has been here plenty of times before and will no doubt be ready to answer the call if it comes his way.
Where will Geoff Cameron play?
Cameron’s absence was felt acutely in the November losses, but he’s healthy again and a lock to start somewhere on Friday night. The question is where. Despite Cameron’s versatility—he can play anywhere from center back to right back to defensive midfielder—I’m of the opinion that Cameron should always be in the center with John Brooks if both are healthy. Cameron is the vocal leader of that back line, and center back is his best spot.
That said, with DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson injured, Timmy Chandler suspended and no obvious, first-choice right back at Arena's disposal, we could also see Cameron on the right with Omar González–a fixture and star under Arena with the LA Galaxy–potentially coming into the mix at center back.
Where does Arena line up Christian Pulisic?
I have already written that I would love to see Pulisic starting from a central attacking midfield position as opposed to starting out wide. He’s been playing more centrally for Dortmund, where he has been in great form, and handing Pulisic the keys and not requiring him to do too much defending would be a bold move that could pay off big.
Pulisic may be only 18, but he is the U.S.’s best player, and playing him out wide doesn’t seem like a full use of his talents. And yes, I know that Jurgen Klinsmann erred in his lineup against Mexico, which included Pulisic in a central role, but the problem in that game wasn’t Pulisic, but rather the three-man back line and the overall defending behind Pulisic.
You can be pretty certain that Arena will go with a four-man back line on Friday in what is the closest thing the U.S. has had to a must-win World Cup qualifier in a long, long time.