Bruce Arena and big picture: 'We need to get much better'

You could not have asked for a better summer for the U.S. national team, winner of the Gold Cup for the sixth time and now unbeaten in 14 games under Bruce Arena.

Even the supremely confident national team coach says the team is farther along than he thought possible when he took the job eight months ago.

“If you had asked me in November if this was where we’d be with the program," he said after the 2-1 win over Jamaica on Wednesday night. "I’d probably say, 'I don’t think so.'"

USMNT in 2017 (9-0-5):
World Cup Qualifying: 2-0-2
Concacaf Gold Cup: 5-0-1
International Friendlies: 2-0-2

The 14-game unbeaten streak followed back-to-back losses to Mexico and Costa Rica that left the USA in last place in the Hexagonal and cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

It only got the USA back to slightly better than even -- one point ahead of fourth-place Panama with four games to play in the Hexagonal -- but the 2017 Gold Cup run has served a couple of very important purposes.

Confidence. As U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati pointed out after the final, you can't overstate what the championship means to the confidence of Arena's players.

The USA will has only five weeks before its next World Cup qualifier, arguably the most important of the four remaining games, against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena. It will take the momentum of the summer run that included a 2-0 win over the Ticos in the semifinals of the Gold Cup into the match in Harrison.

Experience. Arena got to start 27 different players at the Gold Cup, and he says he purposely started five players -- Kellyn Acosta, Darlington Nagbe, Paul Arriola, Jorge Villafana and Jordan Morris, the hero -- in the final who have limited international experience.

"They are players with not that much experience at the international level, not that many caps," he said, "and to put them in the fire tonight was good. I think they walked away with passing grades. That's encouraging."

Villafana and Nagbe, both 27, are sure starters; Acosta, Arriola and Morris, all 22, continue make cases for starting roles.

"My focus is on, 'Are we getting better?'" he said. "We're getting better. We need to get much better than we are right now. But it's a credit to these players -- they've done an outstanding job."

He's still searching for the right blend of youth and experience, players based in MLS and at clubs abroad, players based in Europe and others in Mexico.

"We're a long way from qualifying for the World Cup," he said, "and that's the objective, for sure. So we've got to evaluate this performance in July and the next couple of weeks I have to select a roster for our World Cup qualifying. Then we have to win some games in September and October."
9 comments about "Bruce Arena and big picture: 'We need to get much better'".
  1. Andrew Kear, July 27, 2017 at 1:26 p.m.

    The US won't lose a game in 2017.

  2. Terry Lynch, July 27, 2017 at 2:20 p.m.

    I really like the way Arena is merging the young guys into the group. As much as they've done for the national program, I really hope we have seen the last of Jermanine Jones, D. Beasley, Wondo, et al. They've been great but it is time to move on.

  3. Charles Stamos, July 27, 2017 at 3:40 p.m.

    Bruce - where are the diagonal runs and creative passes on offense? Only Nagbe has shown a consistent ability to break down the defense. The midfield and defense need time together to be cohesive defending and going forward. No worries at GK - Howard is still world class. Get a core 14 - 16 players together for the next four qualifiers and kick some butt. We'll need and can be much better in Russia.

  4. Nick Daverese replied, July 28, 2017 at 6:13 p.m.

    Funny thing about diagonal runs. Even when you see them. The pass is man to the man who made the first one 99 percent of the time. You never see a second or a third run. The reason is the player with the ball is not in a good position to hit those runs. The guys who make those passes are you usually the support players for the dribbler. Hardly any team make those multiple runs unfortunately. I also would love to see horizontal takeover instead of just verticle tackovers. Do a horizontal takeover you can pass or you can shoot against the grain. Any misdirection play you can shoot off can work. One player can even do it off the cryuff move. When Donadoni first came to the Metrostars. He did it in a friendly game against us we lost 1-2 on that shot.

  5. Bob Ashpole, July 27, 2017 at 3:43 p.m.

    Here is the key: "My focus is on, 'Are we getting better?'" he said. "We're getting better. We need to get much better than we are right now. But it's a credit to these players -- they've done an outstanding job." Arena's objective is to qualify. No doubt about it. But the way he coaches focuses on making the team play better. Wouldn't it be ironic if the byproduct of Arena's coaching is the MNT taking their play to the next level? That was the last coach's mission and the MNT made little if any progress in that direction for 5 years. Pershaps attention to the little things is what makes progress toward the larger objective.

  6. Ginger Peeler, July 27, 2017 at 7:25 p.m.

    I do think JK found and brought in new and legitimate talent while ignoring some that we fans felt should be a included (i.e.: Feilhaber). And he had problems with the manner in which some players required "personal time". His decisions sometimes seemed to be based on his personal ideology, rather than the talent those players exhibited and provided. Of course, that was to the detriment of the team. Then he placed many of the players in positions new to them and difficult for them to handle, trying to play those positions, sometimes for the first time, in a game. The beauty of Arena is that he uses the players' existing strengths, and then he wants those players to build on their abilities. He's playing to our strengths as opposed to a playing to our weaknesses. Bravo!!!

  7. Brian Kraft replied, July 29, 2017 at 9:56 a.m.

    Spot on. I get a kick hearing the final vestiges of Colonel Klink's support: "He really did bring in some good new players." A successful national team player's run might be 10 years, so if you are the coach for 5 you HAVE to bring in about half your players. In a sense, it's a process you can really only eff up. And he did just that in his own kooky way. Klink didn't just punish us by punishing Landon, he dropped Nagbe after Nagbe refused a call-up for personal reasons. Who knows what other petty nonsense he engaged in that blew the team apart. As a fan with allegiance to only one nation, I felt tortured by the Colonel for years. Arena has maturity, wisdom, and perspective. He is a great communicator and every worker needs that from their boss. In 1996 I'd never watched a soccer game, but I live in DC and got hooked watching United. We had some fine players, but it quickly became clear to me that Bruce Arena has the wherewithal to turn average players into champions. Bruce would be a successful manager in any discipline or environment.

  8. Jim Elmore, July 27, 2017 at 7:46 p.m.

    Altidore behind the forwards … nice to see him involved. Nagbe, Morris, Dempsey, Arriola … playing into the middle instead of outside almost looked like Messi, Neymar and Suarez.

  9. Nick Daverese, July 28, 2017 at 6:16 p.m.

    Jim almost looked like Messi, Neymar and Suarez really :) hey lets trade are three for there three.

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