Bruce Arena isn’t panicking about the U.S. national team’s current standing in 2018 World Cup qualifying — not yet, at least.
In truth, why should the newly re-appointed USMNT boss be worried? He was only brought into the job in November, and won’t take charge of his (second) first game until Sunday (4 p.m. ET, versus Serbia), so while the present predicament is now his problem, it’s also 100 percent not his fault. In a sense, Arena’s playing with house money — if the Yanks qualify for the World Cup, he’s the hero who swooped in a saved the day; if they don’t, zero points from two games to begin the Hex was just too deep of a hole to climb out of:
“I think there will be pressure on the teams. I think there’s pressure on all six teams in the competition right now, because even Costa Rica, because any kind of slip-up from them, everyone’s back in the hunt again. It’s still early in the campaign, and I think a win [for the USMNT] changes a lot of things — three, four, or six points in the first two games would get us right back in the thick of things.”
Along with the obviously — qualifying for Russia 2018 — Arena has one eye squarely focused on this summer’s Gold Cup, which will not only give a number of youngsters their first competitive crack at the USMNT, but move the program that much closer to qualifying for the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar, the year prior to the 2022 World Cup:
“We brought in some young guys that I’m more or less looking at for the Gold Cup. I would say that would be the case with [Taylor] Kemp and [Keegan] Rosenberry, for example. Even [Walker] Zimmerman, I think they’re all candidates for the Gold Cup, so we wanted to have an opportunity to see them here, then we’re going to follow them during their MLS seasons before we make those decisions.”
“Exceeded expectations — I would say Walker Zimmerman impresses me every day, and Matt Hedges did as well. They are two good center backs at [FC] Dallas, and it’s unfortunate that Matt got nicked up a little bit, but we really feel responsible to the MLS clubs in these kind of settings, where if there’s any damage or injury to a player, we’re going to be responsible and send them back, so they’re ready for their seasons. We’ve done that in this case. We could have kept those guys around, but we felt that that’s the more responsible thing to do.
“So, Zimmerman has done well; I think [Sebastian] Lletget has done well; I think some of the veteran guys continue to demonstrate why they’ve been leaders with the team. I would say [Michael] Bradley, [Jozy] Altidore, [Jermaine] Jones, they’re really impressive individuals on a daily basis, and they bring a lot of character and experience to the team.”