USMNT: What lies ahead for Bruce Arena

What were some of the issues U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and Jurgen Klinsmann's successor, Bruce Arena, were hashing over?

The USA got off to a fast start in both Hexagonals under Arena, taking 13 of its first 15 points in 2001 and 12 of 15 in 2005 and qualifying both times with games to spare, but it will be playing catchup in 2017. Here's what Arena will have to consider as he plots the schedule.

First and foremost, Arena will likely need to head to Europe before the winter break to meet current national team players and talk with their club coaches. That's particularly true of the German-based players at clubs where Andi Herzog, Klinsmann's assistant, and Klinsmann have ties.

JANUARY 2017. Jurgen Klinsmann, who always seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the idea of a January camp and used the last two camps as combo senior/under-23 camps, said the USA would play friendlies at the end of January and early February like it did this winter when it beat Iceland and Canada.

A January 2017 camp would give Arena a chance to get acquainted current national team players and bring in new (or former) players.

MARCH 2017. USA returns to action in March for potentially make-or-break games against Honduras (three points after two games) and Panama (four points). With anything less than a split against them, the USA's chances of finishing in the top four will diminish greatly.

The USA beat Honduras, 1-0, in June 2013 at Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake's home, and the Honduran federation expects to return to Utah, where the Catrachos might face wintry conditions.

Four days later, the USA will play at Panama City's Estadio Rommel Fernandez. With Arena in charge, the USA's 3-0 win in Panama City in the 2005 Hexagonal is the best World Cup qualifying result the USA has ever earned in Central America. At least a draw will be essential if the USA wants to overtake Panama for third place.

Matchday 3 (March 24, 2017)
USA vs. Honduras
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Panama
Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Matchday 4 (March 28, 2017)
Panama vs. USA
Honduras vs. Costa Rica
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Mexico

JUNE 2017. In 2013, Klinsmann turned the national team around in June with a string of four wins in 16 days -- 4-3 win over a German "B" team and Hex wins over Jamaica, Panama and Honduras -- that started it on record streak of 12 straight wins. In 2017, FIFA only allotted two dates for June fixtures and like the rest of the five Hexagonal double dates.

Three points against T&T, which is also winless in two games and reported to be on the verge of making a coaching change of its own, should be no problem -- the USA has seven wins and one tie in eight home qualifiers against the Soca Warriors -- but the second half of the Hexagonal begins with the second test against Mexico.

Under Arena, the USA lost all three meetings against El Tri in Mexico City -- 1-0 in overtime in the 1999 Confederations Cup semifinals, 1-0 in the 2001 Hexagonal, Javier Aguirre's first game in charge, and 2-1 in the 2005 Hexagonal, a defeat that ended the USA's 14-game unbeaten streak.

Arena was quite vocal about how difficult it was play at Azteca Stadium and he'll debate how to approach the Mexico. Perhaps with a camp in altitude followed by T&T game in Colorado, where his coaching career with the Galaxy ended? One issue he'll have to address: bringing in European-based players whose seasons ended more than two weeks earlier.

Finally, Mexico's participation in the Confederations Cup in Russia means that the dates of Concacaf's June qualifiers have been moved up. Expect the USA to play on Wednesday and Sunday instead of Friday and Tuesday now the norm in Concacaf.

Match day 5 (June 7 or 8, 2017)
USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Costa Rica vs. Panama
Mexico vs. Honduras
Matchday 6 (June 11 or 12, 2017)
Mexico vs. USA
Panama vs. Honduras
Costa Rica vs. Trinidad & Tobago

JULY 2017. In the middle of Arena's second tenure, he'll have to deal with another Gold Cup. He won Gold Cups in 2002 and 2005, the latter in similar circumstances to what he'll face this summer. The 2005 Hexagonal was interrupted by the Gold Cup, which the USA won on penalty kicks over Panama in the final.

FIFA recently approved the shortening of the 2017 Gold Cup by two days, from July 9-30 to July 7-26. That will get players back to their clubs -- if preparing for their European seasons -- four days earlier. It will also allow MLS to resume the weekend of July 29-30 without the conflict of the Gold Cup final.

SEPTEMBER 2017. In 2001, the USA lost both September games to give it three losses in a row, but it had built up such a cushion thanks to its fast start that it ended up qualifying on Matchday 9 with a 2-1 win over Jamaica (overshadowed by the NATO invasion of Afghanistan).

In 2005, the USA was cruising to the World Cup, opening with five wins in six games and qualifying with its second Dos a Cero over Mexico after only seven games, marking the height of the Arena era.

In 2017, the USA will host Costa Rica against which it has six wins and two ties in qualifying since the infamous 1-0 loss in Torrance, California, in 1985. One of the ties was a scoreless draw with the Ticos in 2000 that required the USA to go to Barbados and beat the Bajan Rockets to stay reach the Hexagonal. The USA won, 4-0, in Tab Ramos' last appearance for the USA.

The second match will be at Honduras, where the USA won, 2-1, in Arena's only trip to San Pedro Sula, on goals by Earnie Stewart and Clint Mathis. Panama's 1-0 win in San Pedro Sula in the 2017 Hexagonal opener puts the USA in the position of needing a win if it matches to match the Canaleros' result at Honduras.

Matchday 7 (September 1, 2017)
USA vs. Costa Rica
Mexico vs. Panama
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Honduras
Matchday 8 (September 5, 2017)
Honduras vs. USA
Panama vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Costa Rica vs. Mexico

OCTOBER 2017. The Hexagonal concludes with the fifth double date. Like al other dates, the USA is scheduled to open at home and then play the second game away four days later.

The first game will be against Panama, which the USA has beaten in all three home qualifiers; the second and final game will take the USA to Trinidad & Tobago, which will conjure up memories of 1989 and the USA's qualification for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.

The circumstances of next year's trip to Port of Spain could be different. By then, T&T could have already been eliminated. In 1989, it only needed a tie to qualify and eliminate the USA.

The USA could be playing for a top-three berth and a ticket to Russia or fourth place for a spot in the intercontinental playoffs. A result might be the difference between qualifying straight away and going into the playoffs.

Matchday 9 (October 6, 2017)
USA vs. Panama
Costa Rica vs. Honduras
Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Matchday 10 (*October 10, 2017)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA
Panama vs. Costa Rica
Honduras vs. Mexico
*Simultaneous kickoff.

NOVEMBER 2017. Within 12 months, we'll know the USA's fate: It will have either qualified for Russia 2018 and is seeking quality opponents for the first meaningful friendly games on the FIFA calendar in more than a year, entered the intercontinental playoffs or -- the unthinkable -- already been eliminated from the World Cup.

If the USA entered the intercontinental playoffs, it would face Asia's No. 5 team in a two-leg playoff. Asia's No. 5 team would be decided in an earlier playoff between the third-place teams in Asia's two groups, currently Uzbekistan and Australia.

With everything potentially on the line for the USA, the November dates -- always a thorny issue for MLS's playoff schedulers -- could create special problems. Would Arena ask to pull his U.S. players still involved in the playoffs to prepare for the intercontinental playoffs?

8 comments about "USMNT: What lies ahead for Bruce Arena".
  1. Delroy Wallace, November 22, 2016 at 7:42 a.m.

    Now the decision is made. Good Luck to the program.

  2. David V, November 22, 2016 at 7:53 a.m.

    ARENA, Boooooo! - NIGEL DeJONG

  3. Andy Cap, November 22, 2016 at 9:23 a.m.

    Bruce will figure it out.
    He is a smart man and in my opinion
    the best American tactician.

  4. Mike Calcaterra, November 22, 2016 at 10:34 a.m.

    Good luck to Mr. Klinsmann. I had the honor to meet Mr. Arena and he is, in my opinion, the real thing. Respectful, compassionate and he connects well with players, I wish him, our men and their former coach only the very best. US Soccer needs to now carefully examine the decisions of made by Sunil Gulati with the same deliberation and goals with which the deliberated this change.

  5. Walt Pericciuoli, November 22, 2016 at 10:34 a.m.

    Can Landon be far behind?

  6. Brian McLindsay replied, November 22, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

    I know Landon has been doing some coaching, but I hope are are not talking about him back on the team as a player. I think he has been a great player, but any position he would take on the team, should be for a younger generation player to develop within. Although Landon may help use win a few games, he is not a player for the future. It shouldn't come down to an either or choice of him or Pulisic, but if it does, the young guy should get the vote as a player.

    That's the concern in general, although Arena might be the right replacement, calling for Landon just makes it feel like we are backing up to the past, which ends in tears at the world cup level. Are you going to next call for Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra?

  7. Ric Fonseca, November 22, 2016 at 3:08 p.m.

    Wow folks, everyone is talking about Bruce this, did that then, is available now, etc, as if he is capable of walking on water, yada-yada. But how about others, more significantly Sigi Schmid, whose name I heard being mentioned on a Spanish Univision program, as being the most cognizant of that country's players, or is it because of his relationship with JK? If so, then this is nearsighted! Just sayin'

  8. Andrew Kear, November 22, 2016 at 9:03 p.m.

    In the era before Klinsmann the US would be a sure thing against teams like Honduras and Panama. I don't think people realize the diminished expectation under Klinsmann. We can now lose to anyone. Fortunately, Klinsmann was fired before the cancer could spread. The US must regain its self confidence. Klinsmann has taken away the swagger and joy of US soccer. Hopefully, it will come back.

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