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
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
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
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
, 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