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Bruce Arena’s USMNT: Analytics his way, teamwork, and a whole lot of players

It’s Arena’s USMNT, and we’re all just living in it. And by in it, I mean around it. On the internet. Thousands of miles away.

MLS: Playoffs-Los Angeles Galaxy at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Much like Jurgen Klinsmann, Bruce Arena set some time aside at the very beginning of his new USMNT tenure to provide a vision for what he wanted from the USMNT and how he would be running things in the first few months on the job. Similarly to Klinsmann, Arena thinks the U.S. should be able to consistently compete with and even beat the best teams in the world. Not incredibly surprising, but the paths the coaches take to that goal will be different.

Curmudgeon Analytics

Bruce Arena is a grumpy grandpa figure in U.S. Soccer at this point, and advanced analytics have become one of his favorite punching bags over the past few years. The New York Times notes Klinsmann’s devotion to advanced analytics when it came to individual players, and how U.S. Soccer’s analytics program was basically created because of the German coach. Bruce? Bruce has a slightly different take on things.

Bruce made it clear that he doesn’t dismiss advanced analytics wholesale in his discussion with reporters, but he also made it clear that he would be the one that determines their worth in the U.S. set up, and that he doesn’t dig too deep into them. Personally, I think there are plenty of worthwhile advanced soccer analytics and disagree with Bruce here, but (personally) I also don’t have a professional record of 304-168-117 over professional and International games. So.

Bruce Arena is a grouchy man who doesn’t put a ton of stock in analytics, and has succeeded in spite of that. We’ll see how that works out for him this time around.

Chemistry 101

One of the things Arena does pride himself in and wants to engender in the U.S. is a better sense of chemistry and a game plan the entire team can work towards.

For whatever reason, the game against Mexico — Mexico came out and took control of the game early. I don’t think that should happen at home. The game against Costa Rica was not good from start to finish. In general, in both games, our back line played poorly. And I don’t think they’re poor players. We’ve got to get them organized. We’ve got to get them playing better as a unit.

Big takeaway here: he doesn’t discount the talent of any of the players put on the field over the first two qualifying games, but they looked like a mess on the field. Organization and having more explicit in-game tactics will be key.

Dual-Nationals Welcome

Bruce is amused, but tired, of hearing his dual-national comments come up again and again. He’s said he’s now refusing to use the term “foreign nationals” and that his comments were focused on development. Fair enough. Doesn’t make the original comments not poorly-stated at the very best, but at least he feels enough pressure to try to clarify at length his intentions. It indicates that he both A) is fine with dual-national players, and B) knows he needs them, as well, and he knows he needs to mend the bridge he damaged already.

Roles for Bradley & Jones

A smaller bit that Doug McIntyre picked up on from the presser was Arena’s views on Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, two of the most important players for the U.S. over the past four years or so, for better or worse. For Arena’s money, Michael Bradley is a #6, or a true defensive midfielder. Whether that means Arena plans on shifting the U.S. formation to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, formations where true 6s usually ply their trade, or he wants to keep the team in the 4-4-2 that up until the Costa Rica match had served the U.S. pretty well remains to be seen.

As for Jones, Arena says he still thinks Jermaine has an important role to play for the U.S., but what the role is still a bit unclear. Arena will be taking the next several weeks to evaluate the players in the pool, and so it seems like Jones will be a bit more in the fire than Bradley on that end of the scale. His days as a starter may well be numbered.

The Player Pool Looks More Like a Lake

Arena also laid out his plan for a January camp and scouting trips in the future, and it is extensive to say the least. He’ll be taking a trip to Germany to evaluate his Bundesliga players and calling every player in the pool before January camp—which he says will be 50-60 house calls before calling 30 players into camp.

30 players is a huge camp. 30 players might have been the realistic size of Jurgen Klinsmann’s full player pool by the time of his firing. Bruce Arena’s player pool is double that at the moment. The message is clear: it’s open season for spots on this team, and Arena is willing to turn over every rock before a very, very important qualifying game against Honduras in March. There are spots to be addressed (Arena wants a better passer in the midfield, and that pesky left back position still hasn’t been resolved in a very meaningful manner). Old players who haven’t gotten a look in a while will get looks. Brek Shea? Robbie Rogers? Benny Feilhaber? Probably yes. Second looks for Darlington and Sacha? Most likely. Christian Pulisic? The only reason he wouldn’t be around would be because he’s too important to Dortmund’s first team and Arena wants to see players who haven’t gotten a shot yet, which is a good problem to have.

This is the first time since the beginning of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure that the player pool has been so open. Seeing as he only has a few months before the U.S. stares down some do-or-die Hex fixtures, that makes sense, and Arena isn’t standing on pretense over here. Whatever happens over the next two months, it will definitely be interesting.

Do you like the direction Bruce Arena is taking the USMNT? Let is know in the comments section!