The USA opened Bruce Arena
's second tenure as national team coach as it opened the first, with a 0-0 tie. There was certainly a lot more than attention to Sunday's 0-0 tie against a team of
mostly uncapped Serbian players than the scoreless draw with Australia in 1998.
There were more questions than answers coming out of Sunday's draw, not that it mattered Arena
"I'll be honest with you, if we won 5-0 today or lost 5-0, I'm not sure it would change our world for March," he said. "These games are important, especially for our domestic
players, but the games that are going to count are in March." 1. New-look attack breaks down.
The USA started well, but once the young Serbian team, led by playmaker
, found its rhythm after the first quarter of an hour, the USA struggled to mount consistent pressure and take advantage of its chances.
"We could be better
with our chances," said Arena. "I think we could have been a little bit cleaner in final third of the field, getting the final shot or being a little bit cleaner with our passing and combination
Besides giving starts to a host of new players -- only Michael Bradley
, Jermaine Jones
and Jozy Altidore
started in the November qualifiers against
Mexico and Costa Rica -- Arena introduced a lineup change, adopting a 4-2-3-1 in which the attack mostly played through Darlington Nagbe
and Sacha Kljestan
but often left Altidore
(celebrating his 100th cap) isolated.
For much of 2016, the USA played with two attackers -- Clint Dempsey
and Bobby Wood
, then Altidore and Wood -- in a 4-4-2 or
(infamously against Mexico in Columbus) 3-5-2 formation. Wood isn't a natural playmaker, but he often created havoc for defenses with his play in open spaces.
Since taking over for
, Arena has talked about finding a better passer in midfield who could help dictate better control of a match's tempo. If he doesn't take Bradley or Jones out of their roles as
dual central midfielders, Arena's only option, it appears, is to drop a second forward if he wants to add a playmaking midfielder like Kljestan played against Serbia. 2. Outside backs
remain a question mark.
No positions befuddled Klinsmann more than right back and left back. More often than not, Fabian Johnson
, when healthy, started at one of the outside
back positions though he has played in midfield at Borussia Moenchengladbach in recent years.
Arena experimented with Graham Zusi
at right back and gave Greg Garza
his first start for the national team at left in 19 months. Neither stamped their marks on the game offensively, though Arena was pleased with how they played.
"Graham was a little bit
more aggressive getting into the final third of the field," he said. "Greg was solid. Greg is coming back from a year and a half, two years of injuries. This is probably his first competitive game in
a while. I thought he did really well."
Arena praised the play of Jorge Villafana
, who debuted as a late sub at left back and could start on Friday against Jamaica.
3. Pressure mounts for Jamaica game.
Arena said Jones -- who'll be suspended for the Honduras qualifier on March 24 -- and Kljestan -- whose wife is expecting a child -- will
return to their MLS clubs, which will create two openings for Friday's game.
Arena could go back to a 4-4-2 against Jamaica, starting Jordan Morris
(or Juan Agudelo
front with Altidore in place of Kljestan. Jones' replacement will likely be Sebastian Lletget
, who made his international debut against Serbia and also earned praise from Arena.
The pressure will certainly be on Arena's group of MLS players -- all but Villafana are domestic-based -- in Chattanooga as he'll then throw them in with the mix with European- and Mexican-based
players from which he'll pick for the March qualifiers.
The good news on the international front is that Paul Arriola
is playing the best soccer of his career at Tijuana,
is off to a great start at Rangers -- and Johnson returned to action with 'Gladbach after missing most of winter training.