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Arena has US looking to a bright future

By: Ryan Callinan

What has gotten into the US men’s national soccer team? It was only eight months ago under the tutelage of Jurgen Klinsmann that an ugly 4-0 World Cup Qualifying defeat to Costa Rica put the country in serious jeopardy of missing next summer’s World Cup in Russia. But since then, Bruce Arena has taken over as the head coach of the national team for a second time, and now they are on a 14-game unbeaten streak (9-0-5) and have nearly solidified their ticket to Russia.

Most recently, the USMNT just beat Jamaica 2-1 to win their sixth CONCACAF Gold Cup. What is even more impressive about that victory is that the squad featured mostly younger players and served as a place for guys like Jordan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola to prove themselves in high-pressure games. Morris was the one who scored the game-winner in the 89th minute of that finals. He certainly stepped up in the opportunity he was given.

By giving Jordan Morris an opportunity to shine on a bag stage, the USMNT now know he will be up to the task in Russia, which is tremendous to know.

It is easy and obvious to mark the return of Arena as the manager for why things are so much better for the Yanks right now. Klinsmann was a good coach and even better player, but it was evident from his US team’s performances that something was missing: lack of motivation, tactical awareness, understanding and respect between players and coach. However you look at it, the players just weren’t responding to Klinsmann’s methods. But since Arena has taken over a transformation has clearly evolved.

Shown by the young squad he went with for the Gold Cup, Arena has proven that he is not afraid to take chances with young talent in pivotal games. Constantly tinkering with lineups based on form and rest, the US coach has made some bold moves that have paid off, none of which were more important than incorporating Acosta into the midfield to compliment veteran Michael Bradley.

There was always a question of whether Jermaine Jones had another World Cup in him, and while fans and media alike feared the 35-year-old’s fitness would be an issue, no one seemed to be emerging as a suitable replacement. That is until Arena gave the 21-year-old Acosta a real shot at running the midfield alongside Bradley, and it looks to have paid off. Although still young and growing, Acosta has proven he has the confidence and poise to general the middle of the field. Give him a year to prepare for the World Cup, and other teams will finally have to worry about the U.S. midfield instead of the other way around.

Morris is another major talent whose playing time has increased since Arena took over as head coach. With Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic left off the Gold Cup roster so they could rest, Morris found himself playing in every game, starting in three of the six games, including the semifinals against Costa Rica and finals versus Jamaica. He netted three goals in the six games, one of which was the game-winner in the championship against Jamaica. Look for Morris to not only make the 23-man World Cup roster but also make an impact either coming off the bench or possibly as a starter if Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood’s form were to fall off the slightest bit.

Another crucial piece to the puzzle that Arena looks to have solidified is the left-back position. While DaMarcus Beasley has been a great asset over the last 15 years to the USMNT, the 35-year-old couldn’t have possibly been a reliable option for a rigorous tournament like the World Cup. But fortunate for the team, Jorge Villafana has emerged as a dependable left back, giving the US two strong outside backs with him and DeAndre Yedlin. So many of the great team’s attacks come from these positions while the US has always struggled to find production, but these two young talented backs will give teams fits with their speed and service.

Pulisic has garnered most of the headlines as the next big star in not just the United States but the world, and rightly so, but it would be doing Nagbe a great disservice if he didn’t get the praise he deserves too. Nagbe seems to be gaining confidence with each start, and Arena will be hard-pressed to keep the 27-year-old winger out of the starting lineup come next summer. His technical ability now coupled with brewing confidence makes him a dangerous man for opponents. An attack that features Nagbe, Pulisic, Wood, and Altidore will be a handful for any defense in the world to contend with.

It’s clear that Arena has earned the respect of his players. They all play hard with passion and intensity. Of course, much of the reason they do this is in vying for a spot on that coveted 23-man roster, but unfortunately, there will be some good players who will be left off the team heading to Russia. The World Cup is a year away, and a lot can happen regarding injuries, form, and other unforeseen circumstances that sometimes arise, but if Arena had to make decisions today, this is the 23 men we think he would take with him:

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Jesse Gonzalez
Defenders: Jorge Villafana, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Timothy Chandler (if healthy)
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola

Guys who won’t make the cut:

Goalkeepers: Ethan Horvath, Nick Rimando
Defenders: Steve Birnbaum, Tim Ream, Matt Hedges, Matt Miazga, Eric Lichaj, Greg Garza, DeMarcus Beasley, Justin Morrow, Matt Polster,
Midfielders: Joe Corona, Gyasi Zardes, Cristian Roldan (likely between him and Jermaine Jones)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer

Arena has some tough decisions to make before next summer, but that’s a very good problem to have as a head coach of a national team. The competition is steep, and it’s bringing out the best in his players, especially the young emerging talents who want a taste of playing in a World Cup. Arena has been making all the right calls so far. Hopefully, it continues into next summer, and the US can turn some heads in Russia in 2018.

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Ryan Callinan

Staff Writer
Ryan Callinan was born with a passion for sports. He grew up playing soccer, basketball, and baseball; all sports he enjoyed, but it was soccer that he excelled at the most. HIs talent in soccer earned him a scholarship to Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore, Maryland, where he made varsity all four years and won two MIAA Championship. Then he earned a scholarship to play at UMBC for coach Peter Caringi. Two unfortunate knee injuries cut his soccer career short, but that’s when he found a love for writing. He ended up transferring to Towson University, graduated with a degree in English and worked his way to becoming a sports writer. After joining So Much Sports he was inspired to further pursue his graduate degree in journalism at Towson University. So while maybe his dream of becoming a pro soccer player won’t be realized, his might still be able to cover pro soccer teams. The sport it still his true love.

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