So, here we are. Jurgen Klinsmann is gone, but hardly forgotten, and now we get a new coach, and a new outlook. Well, a new old coach with a new old outlook, anyway. Bruce Arena has taken over, after a ten year absence and it’s fair to say that, while most fans are excited for the change, there are mixed feelings about bringing Arena back. He lost the job fair and square back in 2006, so what evidence do we have that he’ll be able to do better this time around?
Well, just doing as well as he did back then would be pretty great, if we’re being honest. But the game and the US team have changed since the halcyon days of 2002 and making the World Cup quarterfinals. Arena hasn’t been sitting still, of course, leading LA Galaxy to multiple MLS Cups, but is it enough?
We won’t have definitive answers to that question for months, but we get our first glimpse at what the Arena Effect can do on Sunday when the US takes on Serbia (4 pm: ESPN, UniMas, UDN), following the annual January training camp.
January camp is generally a time for the MLS-based (and other non–European league) players in the US pool to get a look-in with the National Team coaches, and this year was no different, but it felt more important this time around, given Klinsmann’s somewhat unenthusiastic feelings about the US domestic league. Arena has no such reservations about MLS, and so the US-based player pool is extra motivated to impress, because they know it will truly matter.
You can see the full roster below, which includes the late addition of Jorge Villafana, the left back formerly of Portland Timbers who now plays for Santos Laguna in Liga MX. It is Villafana’s first senior call-up, and one many onlookers would say is long overdue.
Of interest to Union fans, of course, are the trio of Keegan Rosenberry, Chris Pontius, and Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya has long been a mainstay of the NT, but Pontius is making a long-awaited return, and Rosenberry is hoping this is the first of many calls. Not only that, but all three look likely to play.* If you read the transcript from the first day of Union training, coach Jim Curtin said, when asked if Pontius and Rosenberry would see the field in the games,
Yeah, we’ve texted. We’ve gotten feedback from Bruce, we’ve gotten feedback from the different assistant coaches there. The hope is they’ll play. You see little things like a couple injuries that happened in the camp, and that always helps the possibility just numbers-wise. The feedback that we’ve gotten is good. Keegan’s first time going through it, Chris is Chris, he’s a great professional, I’m sure he’s showing well, and that’s the feedback we’ve gotten.
With DeAndre Yedlin not in camp while he plays in Europe, Rosenberry’s main competition for the right back position is actually Graham Zusi, who has made his living as a winger. Arena is seeing if he can make the shift back to increase the options in that position. Right back hasn’t truly been a strength for the NT since the retirement of Steve Cherundolo, so Rosenberry has a real opportunity to make a mark and become a mainstay of the national team setup.
One final note on someone who isn’t here, but who thankfully looks like they will be again: Clint Dempsey. After cutting short his MLS season in 2016 due to an irregular heartbeat that looked as if it might threaten to end his career, Dempsey is now back in full training with the Seattle Sounders, even competing in the reviled beep test this week. This US fan cannot wait to see him healthy and firing.
What will happen in the game?
You’ll note a distinct lack of analysis in the previous paragraphs, and no mention of the opponent, Serbia. That’s because with a new coach, new players, and not much in the way of news out of camp itself — the final 23-player roster for Sunday’s game and next Friday’s friendly against Jamaica has not been released as of this writing — so there’s little we can guess about how the US team will play. We’ll know a lot more on Sunday night.
What we can expect, however, is a team fired up and raring to go. If they aren’t, then there’s no point to any of this. The players need to impress the coach, and the coach needs to get the team off to a good start. The Serbians are okay, though the US would generally be expected to beat them. I think they will, too, based on nothing so much as gut, 2–0.
*UPDATE: US Soccer released the 23-man roster for the match against Serbia. Although both Pontius and Bedoya made the cut, Rosenberry returns to the Union (though Arena made clear the right back will have every opportunity to prove himself worthy of a Gold Cup call-up).
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, MEX), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)