A normal U.S. Men’s National Team camp contains around 25 players, a solid number for extended training sessions and, ultimately, a set of friendlies. However, for his first gathering in charge, Bruce Arena expanded the list of players to 32 because he wanted to reward the contingent of Major League Soccer stars for their terrific domestic campaigns.
“Thirty-two is a big number for sure,” Arena said in a Facebook video conference on Thursday. “Typically in camps you’d be in the twenties. As we evaluated the players in Major League Soccer, I thought there were a number of players that needed to be rewarded and that’s why we’ve invited this large number in the camp. We think these are the players that should be rewarded for the seasons they had in Major League Soccer.”
One of the positions Arena would like to get more answers at is left back, where the USMNT has struggled in the last year or two. There are three options for Arena to choose from for the friendlies against Serbia on January 29 and Jamaica on Feb. 3.
On the other side of the defense, Arena will experiment with Graham Zusi at right back. Zusi played one game on the right side of defense for Sporting Kansas City during the 2016 season.
“I think that’s a real competitive position and a position we need some answers for,” Arena said. “We’ve invited DaMarcus Beasley, Taylor Kemp and Greg Garza and we’re hopeful they answer some of the questions that we do have at that position.
“We have a talented group in midfield and Graham can still help our team as a right back and we’re going to give it a shot in January,” Arena added. “He’s talented and we think he’s a player that can adapt to that position and help our team.”
Although there are plenty of new faces in the January camp, Arena noted not many of them will break into the 23-man squad for the March CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches against Panama and Honduras.
“At any time you want to look at new faces, we’re looking at some in this camp,” Arena said. “However, when we get to March and the qualifiers there, we’re not going to be experimenting and looking at many new players.
“If there’s an option in 2017 to look at some new young players, it would be in January camp and perhaps in July for the Gold Cup,” Arena said. “Our team is fairly set. There’s going to be some new faces along the way, but I don’t think too many radical changes.”
A few players in the January camp who are expected to be in the 23-man squad in March are Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris. Arena plans to use both in similar ways with the depth chart becoming crowded at forward.
Regardless of who Arena starts in 2017, he made it clear what his goal is and what style he wants the Yanks to play as they rebound from a disappointing 2016 campaign that ended with two losses in the Hex to Mexico and Costa Rica.
“My goal is very clear: it’s to qualify our team for Russia 2018,” Arena said. “If we can do more in terms of developing some more talent, we want to do that during 2017 as well. But the primary goal is to get this team qualified for Russia.
“We want to be aggressive,” Arena added. “When we have the ball, we want to be aggressive moving forward. When our opponents have the ball, we want to get around it real quick and try to get it back. We lost some of that aggressiveness in the qualifying games and want to build on that as we begin the camp.”