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Arena, USMNT looking ahead to second half of 2017

Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports

We’re halfway through the 2017 calendar year, and it’s already been a big one for the U.S. Men’s National Team. The World Cup qualification campaign got back on track with four positive results under new head coach Bruce Arena. New players were brought into the fold and the process even began for a push to host the 2026 World Cup.

But, before the U.S. can look ahead to the 2026 tournament, or even the 2018 one for that matter, there’s work to be done. It’s going to be a busy summer, and head coach Bruce Arena is looking ahead.

Arena says the U.S., obviously, still has two primary goals. The first is to seal World Cup qualification, and the push for that goal became much, much clearer with a four-point June. A win over Trinidad & Tobago paired with a tie against Mexico pushed the U.S. into third place as qualifiers take a break until September.

The other? The Gold Cup, which is suddenly under a month away. Arena expects experimentation and several new faces but the USMNT head coach is also expecting the same thing he does from the first team: results.

“I think I said it would be a great year to do those two things, and that’s a pretty tall order,” Arena said. “I think we will have a good group of players coming in with a nice blend of some experienced players and some less experienced. They’re going to have an opportunity to show what they’re about, and I think that part is exciting.

“Anytime you’re in the midst of World Cup qualifying and very close to not only qualifying, but being at a World Cup a year later, you have to have a competitive environment, and these players will push to positions themselves to be a big part of things moving forward.”

Several players made that case in June. It was a month that featured plenty of preparation and, ultimately, plenty of success.

From sleeping in hyperbolic chambers to adjust to the attitude to Arena’s tactical outdueling of Juan Carlos Osorio, the USMNT’s two-week preparation paid off in a big way. Several players stepped up to the challenge, including Michael Bradley, who Arena says was “very good” for the group both on and off the field.

Still, the big winners of the recent camp were several young faces. Christian Pulisic shined against T&T, firing two goals to seal the points. Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta, meanwhile, stepped in to the lineup against Mexico, putting in strong defensive shifts while frustrating the El Tri attack.

“I think with Christian we saw the effects of the altitude,” Arena said. “He played three full games for us when you include the Venezuela game, and he was really physically done near the 60-minute mark in Mexico and hung in there. That was good, but it also validated the fact that we did need to make changes when you see our fittest player struggling so much.

“I thought Paul Arriola did an excellent job on the right side of the field, and with a little bit more experience he’ll be a little bit better in passing and having more composure. It’s the same thing with Kellyn. His work rate was outstanding. He could be a little better passer of the ball, but I think the experience for him was outstanding as well.”

While Pulisic’s place with the team is little doubt these days, Arriola and Acosta’s efforts certainly furthered their case. We’re less than a year away from the World Cup, after all, and each and every performance matters for a pair of young players hoping to be on the 23-man roster next summer.

The same could be said for the entire 40-man group selected for the preliminary Gold Cup squad. Arena still has decisions to make before the roster is officially unveiled later this month, but the tournament provides several players with a first chance to impress on the international level.

Newly-recruited dual nationals like Jesse Gonzalez, Dom Dwyer and Kenny Saeif could get a chance to prove themselves with the USMNT for the first time. Up-and-comers liked Steve Birnbaum, Matt Miazga and Cristian Roldan could seize the opportunity if selected. Veterans like Gyasi Zardes, Matt Hedges and Greg Garza could show they should be pushing for time with the U.S.

Regardless, with less than 365 days until the World Cup, Arena has a lot to break down. The end goal is still to officially get to Russia, but the journey along the way will be an interesting one.

“There’s a little bit more (breathing room), but there’s not a whole lot,” Arena said. “It’s a pretty tight race at this point, and I don’t think we have any interest in finishing fourth. Our goal is second or third place, because I think Mexico is far ahead and it’s unlikely we can catch them. We can be second or third and I don’t really care which way we end up, but we certainly don’t want to be in fourth.

“Stepping away from this camp, we recognize the home game against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 is critically important to making sure we finish in the top three.”


  1. Demsey, Bedoya, Bradley, Howard, Altidore, Jones focus MLS teams. While, Zusi, Besler, Wondo & Beasley should be retire from USNT.

    Try some youth players vs Nicaragua like: CCV, EPB, Sargent, Wright, some Dutch kids or Argie kids, new keeper, & Gooch.

    • Every player you named with exception of Sargent will be with their clubs trying to earn first team minutes and Dutch and Argentine kids are not eligible to play for the US.

  2. “Arena, USMNT looking ahead to second half of 2017”
    OR “Arena to drop some regulars from the first team”
    OR “Arena to change the entire USMNT line-up”

    At this point it doesn’t matter, NO LOSS in 7 games…..he is doing something right.

  3. “Veterans like Gyasi Zardes, Matt Hedges and Greg Garza could show they should be pushing for time with the U.S.”….Veterans really. Zardes has 31 Caps, Garza has 10 Caps (618 minutes), Hedges has 2 Caps (53 minutes)…and have only been associated to the national team for 2 yrs. I’d hardly consider any of the 3 Veterans. Hell the “newcomers”, Birnbaum, Pulisic, & Arriola have more Games/Minutes than Garza and Hedges. There is a huge difference between being Veteran Club players, and being Veterans at the international level.
    If you take out the guys who aren’t likely to participate until after the group phase (Howard, Dempsey, Guzan, Jozy & Bradley)….the 35 remaining players from the roster have an average of 13 Caps, and the bulk of those caps are with 7 players (Zusi-46, Bedoya-60, Besler-39, Spector-36, Gonzalez-38, Zardes-31 & Wondo-35)….half of which this should not have been called into the team due to being done at this level; and hopefully will not step foot on the field during the GC.

      • Following with Arena’s format of leaving European guys with their clubs these are the changes to the 40….
        Wondo – pick anyone.
        Spector – Zimmerman (if he’d been healthy), Parker, Dean, Glad, EPB
        Zusi – Rosenberry or Saad,

        If he would have included European players….
        Gooch for Bedoya
        Williams for McCarty
        Payne for Zusi
        CCV for Gonzalez

      • That’s the problem with Wondo people say pick anyone but when they try to find someone they can’t. Zimmerman is injured, Saad is cap tied to Lebanon and a forward not a fullback which is Zusi position. EPB is headed to Europe any day which is why he isn’t playing for SKC, Glad just played his first MLS match of the year this week so to take for another month would be hard on his club situation even in MLS, Parker is rated lower than the players you want replaced so his only reason would be being younger, Dean has played 12 MLS matches over four seasons. Your recommendation seems to be play to tryout any American player and see if they stick paying absolutely no attention to there experience or ability.

      • JohnnyRazor… “That’s the problem with Wondo people say pick anyone but when they try to find someone they can’t.” I would just go with 39 players if I have to bring Wondo to fill out a 40 player roster.

      • Ha that response actually makes more sense than some of the guys with no track record others have suggested. Wondo has double digits goals in each of the last seven seasons in MLS and has eleven international goals granted half of those came in eight days in 2013.

  4. I’ll be surprised if Pep Arena is not coaching in Europe before the next qualifiers roll around. Probably the EPL or La Liga.


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