On a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Jose, California, the US men’s national team faced Serbia in the first of two winter friendlies this week. Known as “Camp Cupcake” reflecting its absolute joke and pointlessness of it. This one though, held more relevance than normal. It was the first game without Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm after the manager lost his job following USA’s losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifiers in November. Bruce Arena, former national team manager and long time reigning manager of the LA Galaxy, was reappointed.
Due to this camp falling outside the FIFA fixture window, only players who aren’t in season are eligible and that’s how you end up with a 35 man roster completely of MLS players. For me, it’s always exciting to see domestic players make up our national team. Most come out with a flair and drive to prove themselves and leads to a great camp. The camp also overlaps right into the first week of MLS preseason so even if they don’t make the final 23 man squad, players return right to their club teams.
This years 35 man initial squad included:
GOALKEEPERS (5): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (10): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (12): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (Unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (5): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
This was cutdown to a 23 man roster prior to the Serbia game, this included:
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Bruce opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation consisting of five midfielders who none of which were natural outside players forcing Nagbe and Bedoya to the “wide role”. This was the first meeting between Serbia and USA and as Bruce opted for, Serbia opted for an all domestic team too but only including one player from their iconic U20 gold medal winning team at the 2015 World Cup
The game ended in an abysmal 0-0 draw with very little bright spots. Darlington Nagbe was innovative and intricate in his movement and was absolutely deserving of that starting spot, something Jurgen held from us and him for so long. Jozy Altidore was granted his 100th cap but was subbed off with 15 minutes to go not celebrating the moment with a goal. Lletget, Pontius, and Villafana were granted their first caps. We also saw the long awaited Zusi experimented and well, it wasn’t a trainwreck and might prove to be a good thing.
Unlike Jurgen, Bruce doesn’t appear to be playing with wingers with the lack of wide options eligible to play that role. Kekuh Manneh, the pacy talented winger for the Vancouver Whitecaps has recently committed to the United States national team. Another opinion is Julian Green who was transferred to Stuttgart in search of more first team football looks to be revitalizing his young career. Then of course we have the prodigal son of Dortmund Christian Pulisic who is a natural outside midfielder but I think best plays in the ten role of the men’s national team based off his performance back in Columbus against Mexico. Then Graham Zusi who for Sporting Kansas City may be one of the best wide players in the league. But we won’t know anything until Bruce’s first qualifier roster and that’s when we can start being critical.
All we can hope for is to qualify. I don’t think we should have our eyes any farther than that. If Bruce could win the Gold Cup this summer, it would be a bonus. Mexico looks stronger than ever and will be a hard hill to overcome but for now our sights are on Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday night. Despite it being a friendly without a full selection pool, we can’t afford anymore losses and early criticism of Bruce. We know how USA fans can get.
By Jonathan Molik, US Correspondent on 31/01/2017 at 11:27
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanMolik