Bruce Arena’s first game will be all about answers. Who has impressed in camp these past few weeks? What has Bruce Arena’s influence done to this group, a healthy chunk of which made up Jurgen Klinsmann’s last couple World Cup Qualifying rosters? And should we, as fans, have reason for hope of some better results as the Hex resumes in March?
Serbia should prove a relatively easy opponent to test out some new thoughts and hopefully provide some of these answers. None of the players they’re bringing to Southern California have more than 1 senior cap to their name, and all play their club ball in Serbia, which is not the pinnacle of European football despite the rabid fanbases that support their teams. It’s a prototypical Camp Cupcake opponent, but it’s also hopefully full of players on the other side who will also be interested in proving themselves. Expect this game to be high on energy if a little low in cohesion at times.
L (0-4) - Costa Rica - WCQ
L (1-2) - Mexico - WCQ
D (1-1) - New Zealand - Friendly
W (2-0) - Cuba - Friendly
W (4-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
L (0-2) - Ukraine - Friendly
D (1-1) - Wales - WCQ
W (3-2) - Austria - WCQ
W (3-0) - Moldova - WCQ
D (2-2) - Ireland - WCQ
What to Watch For:
Dominate - Serbia has seen success so far in European World Cup Qualification, but make no mistake: this squad is not remotely the same team that is beating Austria and drawing Wales away from home. This is an inexperienced squad, both internationally and at the club level. With so many first team regulars in camp for the U.S., a resounding victory is going to be the measure of success for this team. I expect there to be moments of confusion and a possible dip in quality due to the team learning a new system and new players being introduced to the group, but even a tight victory in this game isn’t going to be much of a success. Want an indicator of whether this team is ready to compete? Dominate a green Serbian side. That has to be priority number 1.
Come and Go - It’s always interesting to see the cuts a coach make, and Bruce Arena’s cuts are no different. Keegan Rosenberry, Taylor Kemp, and Wil Trapp will all be sorely disappointed they weren’t able to make their mark, while Chris Wondolowski’s cut could be the end of his tenure, or could simply be a sign that Arena knows exactly what he’ll get out of the striker. With Gyasi Zardes staying in LA to nurse a bruise, the cuts and drops represent some big opportunities for players that are staying. Darlington Nagbe and Alejandro Bedoya are now the only players in the group who’ve extensively played on the wing in their careers, while Chris Pontius, Sebastian Lletget, and even Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris can also play the position. Graham Zusi will almost undoubtedly be getting a big shot at right back with Kemp and Rosenberry out, and Dax McCarty also looks like he could snag some coveted time in the defensive midfield with Trapp out. Add in Jorge Villafaña’s last-second inclusion, and you’ve got plenty of final changes to add to the lineup intrigue going into Sunday.
Talking Tactics - Bruce has said it. The players have said it. The fans have said it: Arena is going to bring a central identity to the squad, something they’ve been lacking in the last couple years under Jurgen Klinsmann. But what will that look like? And how does that effect the formation and player selection that Bruce puts into play? We’ll see on Sunday.
Arena’s been very focused on words like “balance” and “playing as a unit.” That, along with the cuts he’s made to the player pool and the fact that he has so many players that can play in the center of the midfield, leads me to believe he might shirk the 4-4-2 in favor of a formation that gives the defense more cover and allows the U.S. to control the midfield. Of course, it sacrifices the ability to see more than one striker at a time, but Morris or Agudelo could very easily take Nagbe or Bedoya’s spots on the wing as well. I feel comfortable starting any of the available left backs, but Jorge Villafaña isn’t in this group to not see any playing time. Why Robles in goal? I don’t really know, in fact. I suppose Rimando is a solid option with tons of experience, while David Bingham has more recent USMNT showings where he hasn’t impressed very much. Robles is a solid keeper, but hasn’t seen much international time. Goalkeeper is a toss-up in my opinion, so I took a shot in the dark.
Think the lineup on Sunday will look different? Got a player to watch? Let us know in the comments!