If Bruce Arena
is anything, he is pragmatic. In a roundtable with a group of reporters on Tuesday in New York, the new U.S. national team coach said his priority was "getting through 2017,"
which means getting through World Cup 2018 qualifying and advancing to the finals. With less than four months before his first Hexagonal match, he reiterated that there's not a time for experimenting
and any experimenting will have to be done at the January camp. Here are some key issues he'll need to address. 1. Find a starting goalkeeper. Tim Howard
started the opening game of the Hexagonal against Mexico, is expected to be out four months after undergoing surgery on his upper groin. Brad Guzan
, the starter, is a backup at
English club Middlesbrough and Ethan Horvath
(on the radar of Belgium's Club Brugge) has finished his season at Norwegian club Molde, leaving William Yarbrough
, whose Mexican club Leon
has advanced to the Liguilla semifinals, as the only keeper from the original four brought in for the November qualifiers who is playing.
Among the names he cited as possible competition
are MLS keepers Nick Rimando
and David Bingham
. Whether Arena sticks with Guzan, which started against Costa Rica, he'll have to take a serious look at a long-term successor for Howard
2. Get the backline on the same page.
If you give up six goals in back-to-back games -- like the USA did in the losses Mexico and Costa Rica -- there
is a problem. It was the fifth time the USA had allowed six or more goals in two games in the last three years, but the first time it happened in two straight official matches since the opening two
games of the 2009 Confederations Cup (after which the USA recovered and reached the final).
"In general," Arena said, "the theme of both games was our back line played poorly, and I
don’t think they are poor players. I think they can play better."
He won't get any time to work with the backline. Of the six defenders who played in the two games, only Matt
is based in MLS and therefore available for the January camp. John Brooks
and Timmy Chandler
are in Germany, Omar Gonzalez
and Michael Orozco
are in Mexico and
is in England. 3. Find a midfield partner for Michael Bradley.
Arena termed U.S. captain Michael Bradley
a "key player" but "we’ve
got to get him at his best." Bradley played as a No. 6 in both the Mexico and Costa Rica games but did not play well.
Arena's priority in midfield is to find "a better passer in the
midfield than we have.” Though he added, "Who that is remains to be seen.”
He didn't rule out Jermaine Jones
, who had a strong MLS season with the Colorado Rapids but
is out of contract and suspended for the Honduras game to boot.
Players Arena might look at include MLS players Lee Nguyen
, Benny Feilhaber
, Sacha Kljestan
whom he had at the LA Galaxy. 4. Figure how to best use Christin Pulisic. Jurgen Klinsmann
says he built the U.S. formation against
Mexico around Christian Pulisic
, putting him in a central role that he thought would allow him to roam freely. The USA's 3-4-1-2 formation lasted all of 25 minutes before it was abandoned for a
traditional 4-4-2 with Pulisic moved into a position on the wing he plays at Borussia Dortmund.
Arena expressed some reservation about moving Pulisic along too quickly -- in different
circumstances, he waited until the seventh game of the 2001 Hexagonal to play 19-year-old Landon Donovan
-- though he added that Pulisic, who is much farther along in his development at the
club level, deserved to be with the national team..
A lot of questions about how to align the U.S. attack -- in a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 -- will depend on how Arena decides to use the