But Arena has another goal for this year's Gold
Cup that a long run in the tournament will accomplish -- seasoning some of his young players for the next 12 months that will include four World Cup qualifiers and hopefully the 2018 World Cup in
"Clearly, you look and project out on it," he says. "There are players here who can continue on with the full team in and help us in World Cup qualifying in 2017 and hopefully compete for a position in the World Cup squad in 2018."
Arena has selected the youngest team the USA has sent to a summer Gold Cup held the year before the World Cup with five players under 23 -- Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Cristian Roldan, Jordan Morris and Matt Miazga -- and six other players with three or fewer caps -- Dom Dwyer, Bill Hamid, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Chris Pontius and Kelyn Rowe.
Assuming, of course, the USA qualifies, roughly 15 players are basically guaranteed tickets to Russia if their form holds. Only goalkeeper Brad Guzan, defenders Omar Gonzalez and Jorge Villafana and Acosta are in Arena's squad of 23 for the Gold Cup. Others like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore could be called up for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup.
But the point is, those players who begin the Gold Cup Saturday against Panama in Nashville will have a lot to play. They might not be starting jobs but lots of backup positions are up for grabs:
Third goalkeeper (behind Tim Howard and Guzan). Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson, if they play, will get a crack with Nick Rimando back at Real Salt Lake and Ethan Horvath at Club Brugge preparing for the start of the UEFA Champions League.
Backup outside backs (behind DeAndre Yedlin and Villafana). Graham Zusi continues to get work at right back, while Eric Lichaj has the advantage of being able to play on both sides. Morrow at 29 is getting his first look on the national team since early 2013. Not on the 40: Timmy Chandler, who's yet to play for Arena, and old reliable DaMarcus Beasley, who's played in five World Cup qualifying cycles and at four World Cups.
Fourth center back (behind Geoff Cameron, John Brooks and Gonzalez). Matt Besler, who started last Saturday against Ghana, his first action under Arena, helped his case for a spot on the 2014 World Cup with his play at the 2013 Gold Cup. The competition in 2018 will be tougher with Hedges and Miazga getting serious looks. Not in the 40: Tim Ream, whom Arena has started in both away qualifiers and is back at Fulham preparing for the 2017-18 season.
Backup central midfielder (behind Bradley and Acosta). Dax McCarty, 30, had a big game against Ghana and could get himself in the mix for Russia with a big tournament. On the young side is 22-year-old Roldan, the only uncapped player left in the Gold Cup squad after debuts for Rowe, Dwyer and Kenny Saief last Saturday. The big unknown: the future for Jermaine Jones, who played for the USA against Panama in March but hasn't played for the Galaxy in almost two months. (A big second half of the MLS season might get the Red Bulls' Tyler Adams, the U-20 star, a serious look in January.)
Backup outside midfielders (behind Fabian Johnson and Darlington Nagbe). Arriola, another player who has quickly become an Arena favorite, and Rowe started against Ghana and should see a lot of action at the Gold Cup. Alejandro Bedoya and Gyasi Zardes, both starters a year ago at the Copa Centenario, are still in contention. Chris Pontius was a late call-up, replacing the injured Saief.
Backup attacking midfielder (behind Christian Pulisic). Arena may have to choose between a backup for Pulisic and a fourth forward to fill out his 23. Joe Corona started in the 2013 Gold Cup final when the USA beat Panama, 1-0, but didn't make the World Cup 2014 squad. He'll strengthen his case for 2018 with the kind of game he had last Saturday against Ghana, though he'll probably need to keep his job at Tijuana to stay in contention. Sebastian Lletget's future depends on how he recovers from the Lisfranc fracture he suffered against Honduras in March. Long shots: Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan, neither of whom was in the Gold Cup 40.
Fourth forward (behind Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Altidore). Dwyer has a leg up after scoring early in his debut against Ghana, but Juan Agudelo and Morris should get shots during the Gold Cup. Like Beasley, Chris Wondolowski can't be counted out yet. (Josh Sargent is only 17 and therefore without a club to play for until next year if he wants to move to Europe but it will be hard not to consider him if he replicates his U-20 World Cup performance -- Silver Boot -- with the U-17s in October.)
U.S. Gold Cup Roster (Club; Caps/Goals)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United; 55/0), Bill Hamid (D.C. United; 2/0), Sean Johnson (NYCFC; 5/0).
DEFENDERS (8): Matt Besler (Sporting KC; 40/1), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 40/1), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas; 3/0), Eric Lichaj (Nott. Forest/ENG; 11/0), Matt Miazga (Chelsea/ENG; 2/0), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC; 1/0), Jorge Villafana (Santos, MEX; 7/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC; 49/5).
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 9/1), Paul Arriola (Tijuana/MEX; 6/2), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 61/2), Joe Corona (Tijuana/MEX; 18/2), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 7/0), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union; 2/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 0/0), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution; 1/0), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 32/6).
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution; 23/3), Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC; 1/1), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 16/2).