Whether you’re just happy with Jurgen Klinsmann’s exit (which seems fairly likely judging by a lot of responses), you’re excited to see what Bruce Arena can do with the team (seems a bit less likely), or you hate everything that’s happened over the past 48 hours (quite possible), the fact remains that a significant regime change is happening in the USMNT set-up for the first time in five years, and status quos are about to shift within the team. With a new coach comes new systems, new advisors and trainers, and new favorite players.
Jurgen Klinsmann, like nearly all coaches, had favorite players that escaped the understanding of his team’s supporters, and caused a bit of consternation. Sure, the U.S. had to deal with Michael Orozco and Chris Wondolowski ad nauseum, but that’s not to say no one else has ever had their “safety blanket” players. Look at Bob Bradley and Rico Clark. Jogi Low dragging Bastian Schweinsteiger about two years past his expiration date. Anyone who has coached Wayne Rooney over the past three to four years. It just happens.
Bruce Arena’s appointment will undoubtedly come with a new set of favorites, new positions and tasks for some, and possible call-ups that may or may not have materialized under Jurgen Klinsmann, while some sure-fire bets stay at home the next time the team convenes. Here are six players who stand to gain the most from Arena’s appointment.
Let’s get this out of the way: there’s no way Bill Hamid is actually the seventh-best goalkeeper in the U.S. pool right now. That’s where he stood in Jurgen Klinsmann’s mind, but I honestly think that the second Tim Howard went down against Mexico, Hamid should’ve been the person to take his place. He’s been that good for a DC United side that over the past several years has frequently rode his brilliance to playoff positions despite fielding teams with more holes than RFK’s pitch. He has proven himself to be a consistently great shot-stopper. I think Bruce Arena recognizes that and puts Hamid back into the regular U.S. Keeper rotation.
Lletget is an interesting player in that he’s been very productive for the Galaxy, when initially many thought he would mainly serve in a back-up role, and that he can play as a #10, on the wing, or even as a withdrawn forward. More than a few were a bit surprised when he didn’t receive a call-up to last year’s January camp while several guaranteed U.S. first-teamers did, which was a bit irregular since January has usually been a time that lesser-known players can take a crack at the international set-up. With his head coach from the past two years now taking the reins of the U.S. job, I think it’s a safe bet that Lletget gets a call to train with the U.S. this January.
Nagbe’s relationship with Klinsmann is still a little murky. Just this week Klinsmann said that Nagbe would be back with the National Team, despite serious suggestions from several reliable sources that there was something of a falling out between Nagbe and the U.S. staff and Klinsmann’s seeming-propensity to hold grudges. I do think that a fresh slate is probably what’s best for him, though, and especially for someone who is where Nagbe is in his career: at 26 years old, he has one, maybe two World Cup cycles in which he will be in his athletic prime. If he is to make any mark at the international level, he needs to be in the team right now. With a long lay-off more than possible under Klinsmann, a change at the top is just what the doctor ordered for Nagbe. Plus, Bruce has had plenty of opportunity to see what Darlington Nagbe can do when he’s given a shot.
This might seem like a strange inclusion, but of the players that have been heavily involved in the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann, Yedlin has a lot to gain from the coaching switch. Yedlin’s position under Klinsmann for the past two years has been volatile, both in terms of playing time and positioning. Even when it seemed like Klinsmann had settled on Yedlin as his right back, the position he’s played for the overwhelming majority of his career and the role he has impressed the most in for the U.S., Klinsmann suddenly relegated Yedlin to the bench in favor of Timmy Chandler, and started using him as a winger again when he subbed him on. While Yedlin is incredibly fast, his touch and movement do not suit themselves to be so heavily involved in the attack. I think Bruce will cut the nonsense and play Yedlin in defense, his best position.
Zardes has been out for quite some time now, but his experience with Arena will be invaluable to getting himself back into the national team once he’s healthy again. Zardes emerged as a Klinsmann favorite in 2015, and while his touch eluded him plenty of times in his national team career, the Copa America really seemed to be a turning point for him, showing well against Colombia, Ecuador, and being a very lonely bright-ish spot against Argentina. That came tumbling down with a broken bone soon after, and a switch to a different coach might have really hurt Zardes’s status with the national team, but Bruce gives him a very good shot and making it right back into camp once he’s fully fit.
Sure, maybe Benny’s best days are behind him. He might not have what it takes to contribute much to the national team anymore. But Klinsmann’s firing certainly seems to have helped his humor, and a coaching switch certainly can’t hurt his chances, can it?
— Benny Feilhaber (@b_feilhaber22) November 21, 2016