USMNT: What Bruce Arena needs to address

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, who 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 and Guzan.

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 Besler 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 DeAndre Yedlin 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 and Sebastian Lletget 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 18-year-old Pulisic.
19 comments about "USMNT: What Bruce Arena needs to address".
  1. Kevin Sims, November 30, 2016 at 8:32 a.m.

    Bruce puts together puzzles well. He brings out the best in players. These two strengths of his define his career at every level. It should be interesting. The backline issue seems to be a relatively simple matter of consistent commitment to the basic concepts of pressure, cover and balance ... and the heart and determination to run into positions in transition or when there is a singular lapse. Defenders need to constantly be prepared to cope with the worst case scenario from moment to moment. It has been surprising and disappointing how often players are caught watching the paint dry when their presence in defense is required.

  2. Scott Snyder, November 30, 2016 at 9:27 a.m.

    Kevin - agreed on all levels. Basic defensive principles have been lacking, and a return to them (along with a consistent lineup) will pay off for the U.S.

  3. Casey G, November 30, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.

    Am I the only one that thinks that the sun does not rise and set on Michael Bradley? He keeps being touted as this critical component to the team and I have yet to really see him as that. We have no other midfield options? On a good day, he's there and not making huge mistakes. On a bad day, he's giving away balls, not connecting passes, lacking on defense. There isn't someone better?

  4. Karl Schreiber replied, November 30, 2016 at 10:18 a.m.

    Casey - My sentiments exactly.

  5. Aldo Baietti replied, November 30, 2016 at 10:23 a.m.

    Casey, totally agree.

  6. Dennis Mueller replied, November 30, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    In Bradley's defense, no other US player so consistently presents himself open for a pass. Whenever a teammate wins the ball, or is in trouble, there is Bradley with a clear pass option to him available. You can contrast that with Kitchen, who,in his last USMNT appearance seemed to be hiding from the ball most of the time or Jones who seems unable to pair with his US teammates very well. Only Sasha seems to come close in that regard.

  7. Wooden Ships replied, November 30, 2016 at 10:54 a.m.

    Concur Casey, MB has been on decline since South Africa. And, as I w intimated, he isn't an effective on field Captain. Looks like we might not see any real player changes anytime soon. I like Horvath in the nets going forward along with Howard if healthy. Guzan doesn't inspire confidence for our defenders. I'd like to see Benny and Darlington central, leave MB on the bench. CP and FJ wide. Not sure who to pair Wood with, but I've been waiting to see our more skilled players get on the field. Cameron is probably our best field Captain.

  8. Kevin Sims replied, December 2, 2016 at 8:40 a.m.

    MB has not been his best self for some time ... but I think Bruce will guide him in a shrewd fashion, lay out expectations that suit his skill set, and the team will benefit ... or Bruce will determine MB's best is no longer of value and move on. Bruce's claim the team needs a passer in MF is obviously spot on & it will be interesting to see if he can find the right guy

  9. beautiful game, November 30, 2016 at 9:42 a.m.

    Who and where is the leader of this team.

  10. ROBERT BOND, November 30, 2016 at 11:01 a.m.

    get Tarbell

  11. Kent James, November 30, 2016 at 11:46 a.m.

    I think Arena is trying to fix the right problems. MB has been the heart of this team for a long time, but, as Arena says, he has to get him at his best (and he's struggled the last 2 years, though I think it's too early to right him off; I think he can play the role Jones has been playing, if he's paired with a more technical player, like Feilhaber). Pulisic has been excellent, but for JK to build a whole formation around him in a game against our toughest opponent in an important game, that's a bit loony....

  12. Wooden Ships replied, November 30, 2016 at 2:12 p.m.

    That was way looney. He started off with CP needs to slowly transition into the team, to building a game plan around him. All in a matter of months. The second coming doesn't even get that in Argentina or Barca. If Bruce is wed to MB like JK was and we don't get wins in the next two, he will have jeopardized his legacy.

  13. Lewie Stevens, November 30, 2016 at 12:10 p.m.

    Nagbe was a sparkplug for the national team every time he stepped on to the field. He brought energy to the midfield. I would love to see him return in a meaningful role.

  14. Bob Ashpole, November 30, 2016 at 1:08 p.m.

    Good article. Picking a keeper is problem no. 1. Best wishes to Howard for a full and speedy recovery, but it is not something to base a plan on. Strange how his absence defines his contribution so well.

  15. beautiful game, November 30, 2016 at 1:23 p.m.

    Problem #1 is Team COHESION & individual consistency.

  16. aaron dutch, November 30, 2016 at 2:01 p.m.

    Am I missing something here aren't these the same problems that JK had. And if there was all this talent wouldn't it form up a little on the field. We have a structural quality problem. Every nation goes thru this when it's best generation runs out and a new one needs to be developed. Italy wasted another cup trying to make legends play another cycle and failed. We might have to come to a conclusion that just making the world cup at all cost while wasting time not developing players for another great generation is not worth it. I know everyone will say making it and losing is better then not making it (I don't believe that) we need a wholesale rebuilding of the team. The legacy top 6 players are shells of themselves. All of them were on good paths in Europe and then stopped collected checks in MLS and collapsed in quality and we have not recovered since, Thinking we can take ok players from Europe & ok players from MLS and fuse into a good team is delusional. Mexico & Costa Rica where a benchmark test which showed how far away we are from even good form much less world cup level. Does either Mexico or Costa Rica make the quarters in Russia. No they don't so we are able to beat 2 teams in top 10-20 rankings that says were we are. We can go out and blast a few hex teams and pray we don't lose or draw the next 8 matches (delusional again) but that won't change the fact we are sliding as a 20-30 ranked team and risk dropping into the 30-40 zone with old players & below avg. young players who don't play top competitive football.

  17. Wooden Ships replied, November 30, 2016 at 4:28 p.m.

    Aaron, you dropped the mic.

  18. don Lamb replied, December 1, 2016 at 12:14 a.m.

    Um, yeah these are the very problems that Klinsmann showed that he was incapable of solving. Some of them he created, some were not his fault, and some were problems for a while and he made worse. At some point (if anything, we went PAST that point), you have to cut your losses and choose the best way to accomplish the next goal in front of you.

  19. Bret Newman, December 1, 2016 at 7:15 a.m.

    I see the glass half full. We played good in the Copa, and even better after that, but Klinsy got to cute again. Always tinkering! The good new is, we got a lot of goal scorers. Now we just need players to get them the ball. I think Benny will be a pleasant surprise. I think Bruce will get our back line organized. It all starts from there. Brooks and Bradley really sucked. We got to find a replacement for Bradley. He looks old already.

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