Bruce Arena’s second stint as US national team manager began with a 0-0 draw with Serbia on Sunday afternoon in San Diego. After being brought back into the head coaching position to replace Jurgen Klinsmann in November, Arena and the USMNT are looking forward to resuming 2018 World Cup qualifying in March.
A unique tradition for the US as compared to other nations, the January friendlies feature an emphasis on fitness, preparation, and fresh ideas. The matches are not on the FIFA calendar and will usually see the opposition at less than full strength, as Serbia was on Sunday.
Affectionately referred to as “Camp Cupcake”, the January sessions normally see fringe players earn a chance to make an impression. With the change from Klinsmann to Arena, there was also a feeling that some would get another chance to shine after not receiving call-ups recently.
One such beneficiary was Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Deployed mostly on the left-wing in Arena’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the 26-year old turned in a fine performance. Displaying excellent pace and sharp movement, Nagbe’s afternoon was certainly a highlight.
Each side struggled to create quality chances but did begin to find a rhythm as the game wore on. The US finished with 12 shots to Serbia’s eight, however, only one effort for the Stars and Stripes was on target.
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando made an important save in the dying minutes to preserve a result, and Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Jermaine Jones showed great efficiency when getting forward in the attack. Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore earned his 100th cap for the USMNT but was unable to open the scoring.
MLS line-up gets the start
With a lack of European-based US players made available by their club teams during the January matches, MLS normally leads the way and was the focal point for Arena on Sunday. The starting line-up featured 11 players from Major League Soccer.
After the 2016 regular season ended in October and with the MLS Cup final being played at the beginning of last month, the January camp and friendlies serve as an important element of fitness to begin the year for those plying their trade in the United States.
MLS pre-season has begun for many sides, and the players involved on Sunday will continue to improve their form heading towards World Cup qualifiers.
A new position for Zusi
One noteworthy change from Bruce Arena was the use of Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi on the defensive back-line.
Zusi started as the side’s right-back, and it will be interesting to see how much this choice is made moving forward.
Position changes can come up often for players later in their careers, especially for the national team. At 30 years old, Graham Zusi’s role could be evolving for the USA.
Friday’s upcoming match
After the draw against Serbia, the US will host Jamaica on Friday evening in Tennessee (7 PM EST – FS1/Unimas).
Bruce Arena has already released several players back to their clubs and should see a reshuffled line-up against the Reggae Boyz.
2018 World Cup qualifying resumes for the USMNT on March 24th against Honduras.