MILLBRAE, Calif. -- United States manager Bruce Arena said he will take a cautious approach when it comes to calling in players like Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard, and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron.
Speaking with reporters ahead of Tuesday's announcement of the groups for this summer's Gold Cup, Arena indicated that he was looking at all of his options ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Honduras on March 24, and Panama four days later.
"I think [the preparation] has gone as well as it can go," Arena said. "It's a lot of legwork, and it's a really interesting exercise to try to piece together a team in a short period of time in March, and evaluate the whole pool. Between now and when the players report, there's going to be a lot of issues, so we have a Plan A, B, and C. In a lot of cases we're probably going to go to Plan C."
But Arena added that he was encouraged by the recent progress made by Dempsey, Howard and Cameron. Last weekend, Dempsey played his first competitive match since August after suffering from an irregular heartbeat. Not only did he score Seattle's lone goal in a 2-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo, but he lasted the entire 90 minutes.
"I think it's great that [Dempsey] is back and playing again," Arena said. "I think we need to be smart and evaluate where he's at over the next two weekends. Again, I think in his case, we need to be very cautious."
Howard sustained a groin injury during the U.S. team's World Cup qualifying defeat to Mexico in November, and had surgery shortly thereafter. Howard reportedly experienced some pain last week, and was not in the Colorado squad that beat the New England Revolution 1-0 last Saturday. But Arena indicated that he felt Howard was moving forward in his recovery again, though in his case as well as Dempsey's, he said he would follow the lead of the respective team medical staffs.
"I'm aware of the fact that [Howard] trained pretty hard yesterday," he said. "So I think when you come back from those kind of injuries, you always have some kind of minor little setback. You get a strain or a little bit of fatigue ... I think that's normal."
As for Cameron, the 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough marked his first league appearance since October, though in this instance he played in midfield. Arena indicated that he spoke with Cameron on Monday, and that the player was doing fine.
"[Cameron] is a little sore, naturally," he said. "It was his first game in a long time, so we'll just follow him through the week."
He later added: "We'd like to have them all [available]. But the reality of the situation is that's not likely."
A U.S. soccer spokesman stated that Arena will announce the roster for the two World Cup qualifiers on March 15, with the team meeting in San Jose, California for training camp on March 20. He added that he expects to call in between 23 and 25 players, with half of that number comprised of MLS players.
Arena also said that U.S. players with foreign clubs might have an edge over their MLS counterparts given that MLS is just starting their regular season.
"The players abroad are certainly match fit and a little bit sharper," said Arena. "You could see the MLS games this weekend, the teams aren't fit yet, not a whole lot of combination play. They're just starting, it takes time. That's what the Premiership looks like in August as well. It's no different.
"I think all things being equal, I would think we would lean towards a player who have been playing on a regular basis or training on a regular basis."