On Sunday, for the first time in decade, Bruce Arena will submit a U.S. Men’s National Team lineup, and he has a few decisions to make as his team prepares for the first friendly of the new era.
Arena and the U.S. take on Serbia on Sunday, signaling the first match of Arena’s tenure and the first friendly of January camp. The annual friendlies are generally seen as a chance for newcomers to break into the main group, and that remains the case to some extent, but there’s an added level of pressure knowing what’s to come.
March qualifiers loom, and Arena has just over a month-and-a-half to find answers as to how to navigate the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying hole. From the moment he was hired, Arena has targeted success in those matches, and Sunday’s match will likely offer several answers as the USMNT pushes on to a pair of monumental games.
Here’s a look at a potential USMNT lineup for Sunday:
While the idea of introducing new faces remains a key part of January camp, Arena could also use the upcoming match against Serbia as a way to develop chemistry between players familiar to the USMNT setup. \
Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris have limited minutes together, and the two join Bobby Wood as the USMNT’s premier forward options. It would be wise to play the two next to each other at some point, even if it isn’t necessarily in the opening game. The U.S. will hoping Altidore will continue his hot form from the end of last season as he remains teh team’s go-to forward heading towards March.
The wings are a weak spot considering the notable absences but with the lineup listed above, there are options. Gyasi Zardes is likely to start out wide, and Darlington Nagbe could start on the other side of him in a position Caleb Porter says is Nagbe’s best. Alejandro Bedoya is also an option, while someone like Jordan Morris could swap in on the outside like he did with the Sounders early in the MLS season.
Michael Bradley remains the mainstay in the middle and Arena is much more likely to play Bradley in that deeper role that has become his go-to position. Bradley has shown chemistry with Sacha Kljestan since the New York Red Bulls midfielder’s reintroduction to the national team, but there’s always room for more reps with big games looming.
Jermaine Jones has had a strong camp in Arena’s eyes and is more than likely set to be a major part of the team as things continue. With Bradley sitting deeper, Kljestan and Jones can do their thing going forward, giving the U.S. a dynamic attacking presence from the midfield. Someone like Benny Feilhaber should be tested alongside Bradley at some point as well, giving him a chance to prove himself as a legitimate contributor going forward.
Defensively, the U.S. is far from full strength, and it will be interesting to see how Arena navigates several positions of interest. First, there’s the left back position, one that is a point of contention heading towards March. Greg Garza, DaMarcus Beasley, Taylor Kemp and Jorge Villafana are all in the mix, although the latter is unlikely to feature in the first match after joining camp so late. Generally, the U.S. knows what it has in Beasley, so it would be wide to get looks at a recovered Garza and a new face in Kemp as soon as possible.
That leaves right back. Arena says Graham Zusi will get a look there, as the Sporting KC star plays in defense after featuring their briefly on the club level. It’s an interesting experiment, but not one that should last too long with Keegan Rosenberry waiting in the wings. They may split time, but expect Zusi and Rosenberry to both get lengthy looks during the two friendlies.
Overall, the U.S. features a roster with a unique of familiar faces, newcomers and players back after an extended period in the wilderness. The task is now blending it all together in the best way possible while analyzing one or two new wrinkles that could be added come March.