Arena looking for right mix for key World Cup qualifiers

United States of America v Costa Rica 2006 World Cup Qualifier North/Central American & Caribbean Zone

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Football - United States of America v Costa Rica - 2006 World Cup Qualifier North/Central American & …

(Reuters) - United States men's national team manager Bruce Arena will have to decide between in-form and well-rested players when he assembles his squad for crucial World Cup qualifiers next month against Honduras and Panama.

Arena, who takes over from Juergen Klinsmann who was fired in November in the wake of consecutive losses during the qualifying campaign, said in a conference call on Thursday that he would look into both domestic and international leagues to find the right mix to get the U.S. World Cup bid back on track.

"We're going to follow every player, both in Europe and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada and decide on who we think are the best group of players to help us get some results," Arena said. "It doesn't matter where they come from.

"We're sitting here with a pretty strong pool of players, we just need to narrow some things down."

While European-based players will be closing in on the end of their seasons, Major League Soccer kicks off a new season on March 3, with World Cup qualifiers against Honduras in San Diego on March 24 and four days later an away fixture against Panama.

Currently the U.S. sits at the bottom of the six-team group that will see the top three countries qualify for the 2018 World Cup while the fourth-place team plays in a two-game playoff.

"We have to win games right now, we're a little behind the eight ball in World Cup qualifying," conceded Arena, who is starting his second stint as U.S. team manager.

One of the big question marks facing Arena is in goal with stalwart keeper Tim Howard recovering from a groin injury while Middlesbrough's Brad Guzan has fallen out of favour at the Premier League side and relegated to the bench.

"First of all, Brad is a very experienced goalkeeper, and as we saw in the case of Nick Rimando in the January camp, that experience means a lot," said Arena. "Because they're not getting games on a consistent basis doesn't mean you can rule them out.

"In the case of Tim Howard, he is moving along pretty well. I believe he is 12 weeks out of surgery, the expectation is a full recovery between 12 and 16 weeks so he is on schedule to start the first week of the Major League Soccer season."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Larry Fine)

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