Since being named U.S. Men’s National Team manager, Bruce Arena has repeatedly stated that he is more than pleased with the current player pool. Featuring a mix of MLS options, Liga MX regulars and European-based contributors, the USMNT pool is as big as its ever been, giving Arena a wealth of options to choose from when he begins his second USMNT tenure.
However, Arena believes the U.S. is missing one vital piece: a true No. 10.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Arena cited the need for a playmaker to pull the strings for the USMNT. Arena isn’t necessarily looking for a specific player to step up and take the reigns; rather, he’s looking for several options to emerge from a variety of places, leading to a more crisp, consistent USMNT midfield.
“Generally in the world today there’s not that (many) real No. 10s,” Arena said on Tuesday, according to Goal USA. “Some countries have it, some don’t. We need a better passer in the midfield than we have. We need to have a player in the attacking half of the field that can deliver the right ball at the right time. Who that is remains to be seen.”
Arena certainly has several options. In the most recent November qualifiers, Christian Pulisic was deployed in a more central role, giving the Borussia Dortmund prospect room to roam in the center of the field. However, Arena went on to say that he likes “where Dortmund plays him”, hinting that Pulisic is viewed more as a winger than a central option.
Michael Bradley also certainly remains an option as his best position remains up for debate. Arena, meanwhile, sees it much more clearly, stating that he thinks Bradley would be “viewed as a number six”.
Another player that could remain vital to the USMNT midfield is Jermaine Jones, who has played as a No. 10 for the Rapids, but possesses a very different skillset than what Arena has outlined. Still, despite his advancing age, Jones has a place with the U.S., Arena says, as long as his club situation is handled properly.
“Hopefully he resolves his issues contractually and he’s going to be with a club next year — he’s certainly still has something to offer the U.S.” Arena said on Tuesday. “Depending on where he ends up, I will likely have him in camp in January.
“He’s got to play. He’ll have to have a contract at some point. I think that’s important. You always look at age, but I watched him the other day. He still has a big tank.”
There’s also the case of Clint Dempsey, who has thrived in a more withdrawn role. Arena says he has tried to contact Dempsey, but has been unsuccessful thus far. However, he hopes that the Seattle Sounders forward rejoins the picture, while adding that the USMNT medical staff will be in close contact with Dempsey’s club. Still, Arena admits, “I don’t know at this point”.
Finally, Arena could certainly assess plenty of MLS options. Benny Feilhaber is almost certainly back in the mix after years away from Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT pool, while the recently-returning Sacha Kljestan has made a No. 10 role his own with the New York Red Bulls. Darlington Nagbe could also be back in the fold for the U.S alongside a player like Lee Nguyen, who had all but fallen off of Klinsmann’s radar.
“There’s a couple of domestic players that are very good at that that we’ll look at in camp in January,” Arena said. “That, to me, is an area that we’ve got to identify, and that’ll help identify how we play. Do we play with one striker, two strikers, do we play with three? How do we define our midfield shape based on that.
“I’m 90 percent sure we’ll play with a back four, but at the same time be prepared to play with three when need be,” Arena added. “All those little things need to be fine-tuned, but we have to find someone in the center of midfield who can be a little bit more creative than I’ve seen.”