Bruce Arena was surrounded by new faces, but there was a certain familiarity to Wednesday’s proceedings on the practice fields of the StubHub Center. As Arena marauded the sidelines of his second first U.S. Men’s National Team camp, he felt accustomed, not uncomfortable, with both the job and the California sun as he pushes on towards what he hopes will be his third World Cup.
“I’m having the time of my life. I haven’t had to move,” Arena said. “The hotel is a five minute drive from my house. I’ve been coming here for the last eight years. I had to move 30 yards from my past office, so life could be worse.
“I look forward to it,” he added. “I call it my third chance, and hopefully three strikes and you’re out is not the case. I think it’s a great opportunity for me personally but it’s an important time for this team. Our goal is pretty clear: we need to qualify for Russia 2018.”
Arena is fully aware there’s work to be done. With over 30 players in tow, Arena begins his return to the USMNT with plenty on his plate. Players like Sebastian Lletget and Gyasi Zardes are obviously familiar after years with the LA Galaxy, while old-timer DaMarcus Beasley remains a favorite of Arena’s more than 15 years after the two first crossed paths with the national team. Michael Bradley? Arena jokingly said he remembers him as a “little baby”. Other than that, though, there are a whole lot of new players to meet and sessions to analyze as Arena looks to nail down players that could be vital in the years to come.
That process began on Wednesday, just two months away from a pair of vital World Cup qualifiers. Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica doomed Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT tenure, while leaving Arena with a bit of a mess to clean up as the Hexagonal continues.
Several noted that Wednesday’s session was just a bit different. Under a new regime, a new manager, slates are clean, spots are left to be won. However, Arena understands that he doesn’t have time to reinvent the wheel, especially with vital games already on the horizon.
“I told them before training that I don’t think anyone is winning a starting position in today’s training session,” Arena said, “But, as far as I’m concerned, I have an open mind about how we’re going to look at this group and the other players in this pool as well.
“I think we get to see them and see what kind of quality they have and see if they’re players for the future,” he added. “Even if it’s not in the short term, perhaps even in the summer with the Gold Cup, maybe one makes a point to get strong consideration at some point this year.”
That idea makes the next month or so vital, even if it’s a bit different than Arena remembers. Back in what Arena jokingly called “the old days”, the Gold Cup was held in January, making the annual winter camp a time for intense preparation. That idea remains the same, even if playing a pair of friendlies is a bit different than tackling CONCACAF’s elite.
Still, Arena expects similar mentalities. There are games to be played against Serbia and Jamaica, two nations that should push the U.S. with March qualifiers looming. This month, then, is about preparing for both the immediate and long-term future.
“All January camps have games attached to them at some point,” Arena said. ”
However, I think with the urgency we have in March, close to the end of the month, it’s really pushing the group very hard and making the right evaluations necessary to get a good look at all of the players and try to evaluate who can help us in March, so this is important.”