Like his team at the 2002 World Cup, Bruce Arena has assembled a U.S. national team mixed with youngsters and veterans that is still unbeaten after 14 games in 2017. A team featuring new stars like Christian Pulisic -- but also veterans who'll take any role that’s offered to them.
The 2002 team. The best
U.S. World Cup team of the modern era was Arena's 2002 team. It was also the most talented with players like Brad Friedel, Eddie Pope, Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien and
Brian McBride at the peak of their careers, plus youngsters like 20-year-olds Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley just starting out.
But it also included veterans
like Earnie Stewart, Cobi Jones and Joe-Max Moore, all in their 30s and third World Cups.
After some of the issues that arose during the three-and-out World Cup in
France four years earlier, Arena made sure to instill a strong family culture in his team, something that he has stressed going back to his days at the University of Virginia and with the Galaxy and
now with the national team.
Family time in Seoul. The USA was housed at J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown Seoul -- the security
was heavy less than a year after 9/11 -- but the players and coaches got to live with their families. It was an arrangement many other national team coaches would have barred, but it was a core
principle of Arena's national team.
"I've got other things to worry about," he said at the time when asked about keeping wives and girlfriends away.
What this culture that
Arena developed allowed was for him to get the most out of every player. When the USA beat Mexico, 2-0, in Jeonju in 2002, he gave three players -- Gregg Berhalter, Eddie Lewis and
Josh Wolff -- their first World Cup starts and in Berhalter’s case, his first minutes in the World Cup.
June rotation. In June, Arena made seven lineup changes for the second
Hexagonal game, the match at Azteca Stadium against Mexico, and the USA came away with a 1-1 draw, that point earned being the edge over Panama and the three-point advantage over Honduras that looms
so large because of the 11-goal advantage the USA has on the first tiebreaker (goal difference).
The team Arena brought into camp in New Jersey ahead of the Costa Rica also includes a mix
or veterans and youngsters. Like Stewart, Jones and Moore before them, players like Beasley, Nick Rimando and Chris Wondolowski are in their 30s and aren't starters but still key parts
of the team.
'Everybody has to give a little bit.' Captain Michael Bradley, another of the 14 holdovers from the 2014 World
Cup team in the current squad, says that team-building is essential for a team's success.
“For me, the biggest thing is always the mentality of your group,” he said on Tuesday
in New York. “How the group of guys, with the staff and with the coaches, feel they’re in something together and it’s not just a bunch of guys who come in and who are looking to do
their own thing and who only care about themselves and what is good for them as individuals.
“The only chance you have is to have, again, a team full
of guys and people around you that understand that everybody has to give a little bit of what they are to make everybody around them better. You can create this mentality."
credited Arena and his staff for a doing a very good job of getting that part back to where he said it needed to be after slipping at the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
Credit goes to the veterans. Goalkeeper Tim Howard, the oldest player on the team at 38, thinks a lot of the credit goes to the
"We’ve got some guys who are superstar names who are getting older, who under Bruce’s tutelage have decided that they’ll take any role that’s
offered to them and help the team," he said. "I think with the national team, you don’t see that a lot. When you’re an older superstar, most guys will kind of throw their hands up and say,
‘I don’t need to travel, I don’t need the headache, I need to play every minute.’ That’s not what this group is about, so I think from top to bottom the team is
structured really well to not only be a good team, but compete.”