The Bruce Arena era of the US Men’s National Team is back for a second round. This time, his first - probably, only - task is to retrieve USMNT’s bid to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia 2018. And, hopefully, to guide the team to some positive and memorable results once it gets there.
US Soccer fired Jurgen Klinsmann after the USA opened the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with back-to-back losses: a humbling home loss to Mexico and a humiliating trouncing on the road in Costa Rica. Sunil Gulati shut the door on Klinsi’s incessant tactical tinkering and brought Arena back in the hope of a quick fix to a situation that is not irretrievable, but could become so if a couple more games go against USMNT.
Arena is getting on with the business of fixing the Nats’ fortunes. He has scheduled a friendly against Serbia for January 29 in San Diego. Next, he needs to put a squad together for the preceding training camp.
In a Facebook Live chat on Friday, December 16, Arena revealed some of the players he expects to see up close in January. One of them is New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty.
Bruce Arena says Dax McCarty, Chris Pontius, Matt Hedges and Walker Zimmerman will be among the invitees for January camp. #usmnt— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) December 16, 2016
This is great news. RBNY’s Ginger Ninja will get the chance to work his way into Arena’s plans for USMNT’s eight remaining World Cup Qualifiers - the first of which is against Honduras on Friday, March 24th at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
McCarty can expect to be joined by RBNY teammate Sacha Kljestan in the USMNT’s January training camp - and he can hope for a less puzzling experience auditioning for Arena’s team than Kljestan had when working his way back into favor with Jurgen Klinsmann.
RBNY’s playmaker had a very good 2015 in MLS, and followed that with an even more productive 2016, but it took Klinsi a long time to warm up to the idea of recalling Kljestan to a national team squad. It took an injury to center back John Brooks for the midfielder to win a return to Klinsmann’s roster, called up for the World Cup qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
Kljestan seized his chance, showing immediate chemistry with Christian Pulisic and delivering two goals and two assists over the two games. But once USMNT hit the Hex - CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying - Klinsmann seemed to go cold on the Kljestan-Pulisic partnership he’d discovered in the preceding games. Sacha sat for the USA’s loss to Mexico, and was called into the match against Costa Rica only after momentum seemed to have conclusively shifted away from USMNT.
Bruce Arena should prove more consistent in his evaluation and deployment of the talent in the player pool. McCarty can expect a fair assessment of his ability in January’s training camp, and clear instruction on his role in the team.
Some have suggested Arena’s emergency appointment is a regressive step, and that the new head coach simply isn’t as familiar with the player pool as he was the last time he was in charge of USMNT.
I absolutely disagree. Since taking charge of LA Galaxy, Arena has been one of the most successful coaches in MLS. His first stint with USMNT was on the back of success in coaching D.C. United; his three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields with LA surely qualifies him for another stint with the national team.
Arena knows US soccer as well as anyone, knows how to get results in the most remote corners of CONCACAF, and - thanks to the Galaxy’s galacticos transfer policies - he has worked with some world’s best and best-known players for several years.
Arena’s challenge is to quickly identify a squad that can get results right now, and that will be at the peak of its powers by the time the World Cup starts in 2018. He knows the level of play required to be competitive at the international level: it’s the level of play he hoped for from every one of LA’s big-name acquisitions. And he’s worked long enough within the constraints of the MLS system to know how to put a squad together with a slightly uneven distribution of talent: stars in some positions, journeymen in others - combined to make an effective team.
It’s likely most of the MLS-ers called up for the January camp won’t make the squad for World Cup qualifying in March, but those who attend - like Dax McCarty - can be assured they’ll get a fair shake. And it they look the part in January, they will get their chance to help their national team in World Cup qualifying. Arena doesn’t have much choice: he needs the players best able to advance USMNT right now. Developing a new generation of talent will be the job of the next coach, and that job will hopefully have to wait until the latter months of 2018.