USA-Serbia: Arena gets U.S. roster down to 23

Bruce Arena's first tenure as U.S. national team coach in 1998 began with an entirely forgettable 0-0 tie with Australia just 10 days after he was named as Steve Sampson's successor. He's had plenty of time to prepare for his first game as Jurgen Klinsmann's successor Sunday against Serbia in San Diego. But it will take place in entirely different circumstances.

The Australia game in San Jose came between MLS Cup 1998, where Arena's D.C. United was upset by Bob Bradley's Chicago Fire, and the Inter-American Cup, where Arena -- working double duty -- led D.C. United to its greatest achievement, the two-leg victory over Brazil's Vasco da Gama.

Arena had plenty of time to prepare the USA for the start of 2002 World Cup qualifying 20 months later -- with the 1999 Confederations Cup and 2000 Gold Cup thrown in for competitive seasoning -- but he is in rescue mode this time around, called in to qualify the USA for the 2018 World Cup after it opened with two losses in the Hexagonal.

It's been more than six weeks since U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati brought Arena back. Arena has been to Germany to meet with key national team players and he brought 34 players into January Camp.

UPDATE: Arena will take 23 players to San Diego. Taylor Kemp, Keegan Rosenberry, Brian RoweWill Trapp and Chris Wondolowski will return to their clubs, while Gyasi Zardes is injured.

1. Good feeling needs to be converted to a solid performance.

To a man, players have talked about the new atmosphere in camp, the confidence and consistency Arena is instilling in the team. That will mean nothing if the USA doesn't get a win against Honduras and at least a tie at Panama in its next two Hexagonal matches in March.

A result won't be as important against Serbia as a solid performance: consistent attacking and a coordinated defense (a huge issue in the November losses to Mexico and Costa Rica).

2. Established MLS stars need to lead.

Arena has said he doesn't expect to make sweeping changes in player personnel -- he simply doesn't have the time even if he wanted to -- and he is counting on big games from Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore, all established stars whose play in January camp he praised.

Brad Guzan, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson (if healthy), Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood -- all starters against Costa Rica in November -- are foreign-based players who should get first crack at starting spots for the March qualifiers along with Bradley and Altidore. (Timmy Chandler and Jones are suspended for the Honduras game on March 24.)

3. Jobs open at outside back and in midfield.

Both outside back positions -- where Chandler and Matt Besler started in November -- are up for grabs, though only two of the 10 defenders Arena has in camp started at outside back for Klinsmann in 2016: Brad Evans and Steve Birnbaum for the first two games of the year at right back.

The Serbia game could be Graham Zusi's big chance to show he can make the move to right back. On the left side, DaMarcus Beasley, who goes back with Arena to 2001, is making a second international comeback.

In midfield, veterans Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber and Dax McCarty, ignored for all or most of the Klinsmann era, will get another look. Player to watch: Arena has praised the play of uncapped Sebastian Lletget, who played two seasons for him at the Galaxy.

U.S. Roster: 
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls).
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Jorge Villafana (Santos, MEX) Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
MIDFIELDERS (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union).
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders).

What They're Saying:
“I have been extremely pleased with the effort and progress we have seen throughout the January Camp, The entire pool of players have performed well and has made our roster decisions very difficult. We are excited to take the next step and look forward to the game against Serbia in San Diego.”
-- Arena after cutting roster down to 23 players.

Serbia Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Ognjen Cancarevic (Radnik Surdulica), Filip Manojlovic (Red Star).
DEFENDERS (6): Nemanja Calasan (Spartak Subotica), Nikola Cirkovic (Vozdovac), Marko Klisura (Backa Panaka), Vladimir Kovacevic (Vojvodina), Nikola Maras (Rad), Nemanja Miletic (Partizan).
MIDFIELDERS (6): Enver Alivodic (Novi Pazar), Jovan Djokic (Atyrau, KAZ), Marko Gobeljic (Napredak Krusevac), Marko Javtovic (Partizan), Stefan Panic (Metalac), Srdjan Plavsic (Red Star).
FORWARDS (4): Lazar Jovanovic (Borac Cacak), Sasa Jovanovic (Mladost Lucani), Marko Mrkic (Radnicki Nis), Aleksandar Palocev (Vojvodina).

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