Bruce Arena had been clear in recent weeks and months about wanting to be cautious with Clint Dempsey's return to the US national team, but after watching the 34-year-old start two straight matches for the Seattle Sounders, the coach saw enough to believe the time is right to bring him back.
DaMarcus Beasley, who has played in World Cups since 2002, got the call ahead of Greg Garza to provide depth at left back.
Arena decided that was enough to include Dempsey in his squad for the March 24 match against Honduras (10:30pm ET; FS1, UniMas, UDN) and the Panama contest four days later (10pm ET; beINSPORTS, Telemundo, Universo). "We know there are some good days still ahead for Clint". In addition to Kljestan, Arena decided not to choose defender Timothy Chandler, who would have missed the Honduras match on a suspension; Kansas City veterans Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber; defender Steve Birnbaum; Julian Green; and DeAndre Yedlin, who is injured, as was Eric Lichaj, who was hurt last weekend playing for Nottingham Forest.
"The primary rationale is to help us be successful in these two games, but we're also looking down the road and bringing in some young players that we think have an opportunity to be an important part of the national team program as well".
"If you put pencil to paper here, we go nowhere unless we come out of these games with points, and by that I mean three points or more", Arena said Wednesday during a Facebook Live chat.
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The win left the Netherlands with a record of 1-1 in second- round play behind Pool E leaders Japan who won their opening game. Danielle Barta, Jerusalem director of the Israel Association of Baseball, said the players have become role models.
And these are the players Arena thinks can accomplish the mission.
Neither team will be a pushover: Honduras has qualified for the last two World Cups while Panama beat the U.S.in the third-place game of the 2015 Gold Cup. Michael Orozco and Geoff Cameron are also options, but Johnson is the more natural fit. That list included DaMarcus Beasley, who should be in contention for the starting left back role, and Tim Howard, who is expected to start in goal after a successful return from surgery that sidelined him for almost four months.
Also named to the team were Galaxy midfielders Jermaine Jones and Sebastian Lletget. With the USMNT already trailing Mexico and Panama by 4 points in the race for the automatic qualification spots, a win over los Catrachos and some kind of positive result against los Canaleros are viewed as more or less essential to American hopes. Geoff Cameron will also return from injury (MCL sprain) and make his first appearance for the United States since their 2-0 win over Cuba in October 2016.
"How they look in training will determine who starts in the goal", Arena said.