Bruce Arena has issued a warning to his 26-man U.S. national team squad ahead of their crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF region over the next week.
[ MORE: Arena names roster for WCQ’s ]
The U.S. host Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena this Friday, Sept. 1, and then travel to Honduras on Sept. 5 as two wins from those games could see them qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer.
Given the fact Arena led the U.S. to Gold Cup success this summer, plus is currently on a 14-game unbeaten run since he took charge last November, life has been good for the USMNT in 2017. That doesn’t mean anything heading into this week.
Arena is not a man who beats about the bush and he is certainly not getting overconfident despite an impressive unbeaten run to begin his second-stint in charge of the USMNT.
“We’re far from being in Russia,” Arena told USSoccer.com. “I think one country is a little bit comfortable in this competition right now, which is Mexico with 14 points. Costa Rica is in pretty good shape with 11 points, then you have the U.S. with eight, Panama with seven, Honduras with five and Trinidad with three, so things can change real quickly over these next two games. We have to make sure we’re the team that secures points at home and hopefully get some points on the road. If we do that, we’re getting a lot closer to Russia. No one is safe, at this point and a lot of things are going to happen over this next weekend.”
Arena is right to be cautious.
The U.S. has a few issues to sort out defensively with both DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks out injured as Eric Lihaj and either Tim Ream or Matt Besler are expected to come into the back line.
It is true that Arena has worked wonders since taking charge from Jurgen Klinsmann back in November. He’s galvanized the squad and brought back a clear identity to the USMNT’s play following two-straight defeats against Mexico and Costa Rica to open up World Cup qualifying.
It is also true that anything less than four points against Costa Rica and Honduras will leave the U.S. in a tricky situation heading into the final two games of qualifying in the Hex in October against Panama at home and a trip to Trinidad & Tobago.
Bruce has rebuilt this team successfully. Now, it’s go time for the USMNT.