Arena adopts a bunker men­tal­ity

U.S. coach will pre­pare ros­ter for World Cup qual­i­fiers with­out an ex­tended camp

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - BY STEVEN GOFF steven.goff@wash­post.com Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/ soc­cerin­sider

In his new role as U.S. men’s na­tional team coach, Bruce Arena has six weeks to build the squad and for­mu­late strat­egy for a pair of World Cup qual­i­fiers. But be­cause he will not be able to as­sem­ble his play­ers un­til four days be­fore the first match, Arena and his staff will have to lay the ground­work from a bunker at StubHub Cen­ter in Car­son, Calif.

The aim is to en­sure that all 25 or so in­vi­tees un­der­stand their roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties when they re­port to train­ing camp in the Bay Area ahead of the March 24 en­counter against Hon­duras at Avaya Sta­dium.

The re­cent win­ter gath­er­ing helped iden­tify MLS can­di­dates (plus one Mex­ico-based call-up) and forge bonds be­tween Arena and the play­ers. All of the play­ers re­joined their clubs this week, and with no FIFA win­dows un­til the March qual­i­fiers, the U.S. staff will have to cre­ate a team with­out the ben­e­fit of an ex­tended train­ing camp.

Arena said dur­ing a me­dia tele­con­fer­ence Thurs­day that he will “make sure the play­ers un­der­stand what we are try­ing to do be­fore they even get here.”

To ac­com­plish that, he and his as­sis­tants will travel ex­ten­sively, here and abroad, in the com­ing weeks to watch club per­for­mances and meet with play­ers in­di­vid­u­ally.

Arena al­ready has vis­ited Ger­man­based play­ers this win­ter and will head back to Europe soon. He spec­i­fied Ger­many, Eng­land and Mex­ico, as well as U.S. and Cana­dian des­ti­na­tions as the MLS sea­son com­mences March 3-5.

There has been reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion via email and phone with al­most ev­ery­one in the pool of March can­di­dates, Arena said. “That’s a start­ing point,” he added. “We’re go­ing to be vis­it­ing play­ers ev­ery­where over the next three weeks.”

Aside from ob­serv­ing reg­u­lars sta­tioned in Europe, such as Fabian John­son, Chris­tian Pulisic and John Brooks, Arena said they “are go­ing to look at some play­ers who have been a lit­tle bit out­side the pool as of late.”

He cited Not­ting­ham For­est out­side back Eric Lichaj and Ti­juana at­tacker Paul Ar­riola as play­ers who will re­ceive strong con­sid­er­a­tion.

For the most part, though, the ma­jor­ity of the squad for the March matches is set. Arena has said sev­eral times that, with no room for er­ror and no time to ex­per­i­ment, he will rely largely on the group that worked un­der Jur­gen Klins­mann for the past year.

Arena said he was happy with the nearly month-long camp that ended Feb. 3 with a 1-0 vic­tory over Ja­maica in a friendly in Chat­tanooga, Tenn.

“I was re­ally pleased with the re­ac­tion of the play­ers. It was crit­i­cally im­por­tant that we got to know these play­ers a lit­tle bit bet­ter and un­der­stood their qual­i­ties a lit­tle bit bet­ter as we pre­pare for a ros­ter in March,” he said. “. . . Now the goal is to merge our play­ers abroad with our do­mes­tic play­ers and come up with the best ros­ter. We’re work­ing with a pool of ap­prox­i­mately 40 play­ers. We need to break it down to around 25.”

Asked whether play­ers abroad who are deep into their club cam­paigns have an ad­van­tage over MLS play­ers who have yet to start their sea­sons, Arena said: “We’re go­ing to fol­low ev­ery player in Europe, Mex­ico, the United States and Canada and de­cide who are the best group of play­ers to get some results. It doesn’t mat­ter where they come from. We have play­ers in Europe who aren’t play­ing. We have play­ers in Europe play­ing a lot.”

Be­fore the win­ter camp, Arena stressed the im­por­tance of iden­ti­fy­ing bet­ter passers and at­tack­ers who can pro­vide the right ball in the fi­nal third. Sacha Kl­jes­tan and Benny Feil­haber per­formed well in the play­mak­ing slot dur­ing the friendlies against Ser­bia and Ja­maica, re­spec­tively. Dar­ling­ton Nagbe and Se­bas­tian Llet­get showed prom­ise on the left wing, though Llet­get is most com­fort­able in deep cen­tral mid­field.

“Those play­ers are all op­tions,” Arena said. “For the most part, they showed enough that we have to give them strong con­sid­er­a­tion.”

With Kl­jes­tan or Feil­haber in at­tack­ing cen­tral mid­field, cap­tain Michael Bradley would fill the pri­mary de­fen­sive mid­field role. Jer­maine Jones is sus­pended for the Hon­duras game but will re­turn for the Panama visit March 28, when he could once again part­ner with Bradley. Pulisic and John­son are the top can­di­dates for the wide mid­field po­si­tions — if Arena feels con­fi­dent enough to use Jorge Vil­lafaña at left back, which would al­low John­son to play in an ad­vanced role. On other sub­jects, Arena said:

De­fender Ge­off Cameron, side­lined since Oc­to­ber with a knee in­jury, is “making progress and will be back at full train­ing shortly” with Stoke City. Last week, Arena said he would not con­sider Cameron for the March matches un­less he has played in mul­ti­ple Premier League matches.

Arena has no prob­lem start­ing Brad Guzan, even though the vet­eran goal­keeper has made just five ap­pear­ances across all com­pe­ti­tions this sea­son for Mid­dles­brough. “Be­cause [goal­keep­ers] are not get­ting games on a con­sis­tent ba­sis doesn’t mean you can rule them out,” Arena said.

Tim Howard is close to com­plet­ing his re­cov­ery from groin surgery, and should he re­turn to ac­tive duty with the Colorado Rapids for the start of the MLS sea­son, he will re-en­ter the U.S. con­ver­sa­tion.

KENT HORNER/GETTY IMAGES

Bruce Arena, above, said he will “make sure the play­ers un­der­stand what we are try­ing to do be­fore they even get here.”

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