Sunday’s U.S. vs. Serbia friendly will present a welcome sight for many U.S. Men’s National Team fans, a manager other than Jurgen Klinsmann patrolling the American touchline. Bruce Arena will manage his first game as USMNT coach since he was fired in 2006. Klinsmann was axed after bombing two crucial November World Cup qualifiers and following years of massive failures. Bruce Arena now steps in to try and figure out how to get this team to the World Cup.
Arena used his January training camp to evaluate potential MLS roster call-ups for March World Cup qualifiers and the upcoming 2017 Gold Cup. He originally placed 32 MLS players on his roster (they are the only players available) but has since cut it down to 23, adding Mexican-based left back Jorge Villafaña.
Here’s what the roster will look like on Sunday:
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Five players were released back to their club teams on Friday — Taylor Kemp, Keegan Rosenberry, Wil Trapp, Brian Rowe, and Chris Wondolowski — because they were primarily being evaluated for the Gold Cup rather than the March qualifiers. In addition, Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges, and Gyasi Zardes went home injured, while Kekuta Manneh went to Wales with the Vancouver Whitecaps for an MLS preseason game.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei had previously left the camp injured, being replaced by Rowe.
The game will take place at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium (recently vacated by the Chargers) at 4pm ET on ESPN2. They will then fly across the country to face Jamaica on Feb. 3 in Chattanooga, Ten.
Here are a few things to look for on the Serbia game:
- Zusi at right back
Full back has always been a troublesome position for the U.S., so rather than randomly stick wingers, center backs, and defensive midfielders at the position, Arena has taken the more measured approach of gradually teaching a player who has played the position before how to play right back.
Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, who has mostly played on the wing or, occasionally in midfield, will have a shot to prove he can hack it as DeAndre Yedlin’s backup. Zusi played the position with Sporting a couple times during the MLS regular season, and has the skillset and the experience for a smooth transition.
The Serbia friendly could be our first look at him playing on the backline in USA colors. If he can show he is capable at the position, he could quickly become a valuable depth option.
Villafaña, meanwhile, can have the same applied to him, although he is a natural left back. Constantly overlooked by Klinsmann, the Santos Laguna starter finally has his shot.
- The return of the veterans
After time away from the international scene under Klinsmann, multiple veterans will get a shot to prove they belong in these two friendlies. Nick Rimando, Luis Robles, DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Evans, Greg Garza, Chad Marshall, Benny Feilhaber, and Dax McCarty have all been worthy players for some time now, but for most, Klinsmann never realized it.
The un-retired Beasley could make things interesting at left back, Garza and Evans will slot in anywhere across the backline, and Chad Marshall should prove a nice mentor for the Walker Zimmerman’s of the world. Robles and Rimando are two of the best goalkeepers in MLS, and will be a good push for David Bingham, Ethan Horvath, and any other MLS starter getting a shot (like Rowe or Frei).
Feilhaber, notoriously abhorred by Klinsmann for years, is arguably the best playmaker in the pool (alongside Sacha Kljestan). McCarty is 29, teammates with Kljestan, and one of the better pure No. 6s available.
Arena trusts domestic talent. That is a welcome change from the previous regime.
- Positional battles
A brief list of players competing for time:
- Goalkeepers Bingham, Robles, and Rimando are fighting for a roster spot come March, June, or July. Whether any of them one remains to be seen.
- Garza, Zusi, Beasley, and Villafaña, as was mentioned above, could see time at full back if one of them sticks out.
- With a good performance, the center back Zimmerman could put himself on the fast track to a Gold Cup roster spot. Steve Birnbaum is fighting for third on the CB depth chart, behind Geoff Cameron and John Brooks.
- If Jermaine Jones is still going strong at 35, he’s going to have to prove in the next week.
- Sebastian Lletget is in a similar position as Zimmerman.
- Chris Pontius will look to prove he belongs in his first international call-up since 2010.
- Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris will make their case for a spot on March’s 18-man roster, while Jozy Altidore solidifies a starting role.