Jermaine Jones

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Jones and Kljestan leave USMNT camp, opening door in midfield

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Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljesten were sent home from United States men’s national team camp following the team’s 0-0 draw against Serbia on Sunday.

Jones will not play in March’s World Cup qualifiers due to suspension, so Bruce Arena sent him home to get used to his new LA Galaxy teammates.

And Kljestan’s wife is giving birth, meaning he won’t play against Jamaica.

That opens up the midfield for several U.S. players to seize an opportunity on Friday.

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It shouldn’t be hard for any one player to make a statement given the lackluster attacking performance from the MLS-only squad.

Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Lletget both impressed against Serbia, granted they stood out in a match that was offensively uninspiring.

Benny Feilhaber didn’t get a ton of time to make an impact, and had a moment or two in his quarter-hour return to the fold. Chris Pontius came close to scoring during his 25-plus minutes, but neither ran wild against a team which entered the day with a combined eight caps.

The only U.S. midfield player not to get a run was Dax McCarty, and it seems likely the new Chicago Fire man will see plenty of time against Jamaica.

Perhaps Arena will line ’em up like so:

Robles

Zusi — Zimmerman — Evans — Villafana

McCarty — Bradley

Nagbe — Feilhaber — Bedoya

Altidore

USMNT 0-0 Serbia: Nagbe, Lletget shine in Bruce Arena’s return

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The Bruce Arena Era is back on with the U.S. Men’s National Team, but the second-term boss has his work cut out for him.

[ MORE: USMNT to face Honduras at Avaya Stadium in March WCQ ]

The USMNT earned a 0-0 draw against Serbia on Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, however, both sides struggled to create opportunities in the final third and the hosts still hold many questions regarding their lineup heading into March’s resumption of World Cup qualifying.

While both sides recorded a combined four shots on target, Arena did get a solid look at several players that impressed on the day. Sunday was a day of firsts for several players in the U.S. ranks making their debuts with the senior team, while Jozy Altidore earned his 100th cap for the Stars and Stripes.

[ MORE: PST talks to David Villa about ’17 MLS season, La Liga and more ]

Second-half substitute Juan Agudelo carried the ball into the penalty area with just minutes remaining before Chris Pontius pulled his effort just wide of net.

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando wasn’t tested often on the afternoon but the Real Salt Lake shot-stopper came up big in the 89th minute with a close-range save on Lazar Jovanovic.

The U.S. nearly took the lead in the 25th minute when the hosts pushed a counterattack deep into the Serbia end but Jermaine Jones’ final pass into the center of the penalty area couldn’t pick out another American player.

Darlington Nagbe, who really shined on the afternoon, had a quality chance of his own four minutes later but the Portland Timbers attacker couldn’t bend his shot enough and his effort missed just wide to the right.

Nagbe had an almost identical chance to pick out the corner seven minutes before halftime, but the Timbers man once again curled his shot wide of Serbia goalkeeper Filip Manojlovic.

Arena made just one change at halftime as LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget came on to replaced his new teammate Jones. Sunday marked Lletget’s first senior cap for the USMNT.

The USMNT boss could potentially use Lletget or another player in a holding midfield role come March when the U.S. takes on Honduras with Jones suspended.

The U.S. was fortunate to avoid a sending off in the 57th minute when Sacha Kljestan lunged in on Marko Gobeljic with two feet. The New York Red Bulls attacker was shown a yellow card, however, it could’ve just as easily been red.

Lletget nearly linked up with Kljestan just minutes later when he picked out the head of the New York Red Bulls attacker, but Kljestan’s nodded effort just missed to the right post.

Arena opted to go to his bench late in the match, with Jorge Villafana and Chris Pontius two more players in the USMNT system to made their first appearance on Sunday.

The U.S. will take the field again on Friday when Arena’s squad faces Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

USMNT: Three things to watch for — USA vs. Serbia

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With Bruce Arena set to make his (re-)debut as U.S. national team manager on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, versus Serbia), three things to keep an eye on as the USMNT gears up for the resumption of World Cup qualifying in March…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]


The shape (and members) of the midfield

Arena is generally quite flexible when it comes to formations and tactics, which is to say he typically alters his system to get as many of his best players on the field as he can at one time, within reason. When you look at the roster for these games, the most intriguing unit on the field is undoubtedly central midfielders, within the realm of wondering, “what’s Bruce going to do with the lineup?”

Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber are maestro passers which the USMNT has desperately needed in its bid to become a possession-based, front-foot attacking side. They were, of course, left ou tin the cold by the former manager for far too long, and that (among other things) was eventually a large part of his undoing. Now, they’re both in the team, and both deserving of a place in the starting lineup — with any luck at all, we might even see them play together. These days, Kljestan is the purer no. 10 of the two, while Feilhaber has proven himself for three seasons running as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in MLS — their roles seemingly reversed from early days of their careers.

While the temptation will always be there to play Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones together in the center of the park, we’ve 1) already seen that movie, and 2) know how that story ends. Bradley is unquestionably the more disciplined of the two, when instructed to sit in front of the backline, and his long-range passing dwarfs that of Jones, thus the most complete passing midfield in USMNT history could be realized over the next week, in games that count for nothing, which is precisely the time for such experiments.

[ MORE: Arena not panicking (yet) about USMNT’s place in WCQ ]


So, uh, who’s gonna play left back?

It’s a question that’s been asked for, well, basically an entire decade. Seven years ago, Carlos Bocanegra, a center back by nature, was holding down the left side of defense; Jonathan Bornstein got nearly 40 run-outs at the spot; DaMarcus Beasley was reborn a left back for the 2010 World Cup; the Brek Shea experiment fizzled out quickly; Greg Garza was (very) briefly the left back of the future; and more recently, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler and Edgar Castillo marauded up and down sideline with varying degrees of success.

Too long, didn’t read: the USMNT hasn’t had a steady left back since Arena’s last tenure. A quick glance at the current roster reveals that it’s, well, still lots of the same names. Garza is back from a long-term hip injury, and having made a loan move to MLS expansion side Atlanta United this winter, is likely months from reaching anything resembling his best. Until then, it’s likely Johnson who’ll be played out of position to fill the void (Beasley his likeliest deputy), which is less of a problem now that Christian Pulisic has exploded onto the scene and made the left wing spot his own. Still, Johnson is 29 years old and will be 36 before the 2022 World Cup, so this is likely his final go-round. The door is open for anyone — literally, anyone — to step into the position and claim it as their own. Simply unearthing a capable left back for his successor could go down as Arena’s greatest achievement to date, and he’s already the man who took the Yanks to the 2002 World Cup semifinals quarterfinals (you will not be forgotten, Torsten Frings).

[ MORE: Altidore to join 100-caps club, but can he name the 16 others? ]


Who’s the no. 3 goalkeeper, once and for all?

Tim Howard and Brad Guzan seem set to tussle for the no. 1 and 2 goalkeepers’ jobs until they’re both bald rolling in wheelchairs, thus the age-old question rages on: who’s the deputy’s deputy?

Bill Hamid is the best of the bunch (don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently), but he left camp with a(nother) knee injury, and most are beginning to wonder whether or not he’ll ever be healthy enough to nail down a regular place in the USMNT, pre- or post-Howard/Guzan. That leaves Nick Rimando, David Bingham and Luis Robles, whom I rank in that order, from top to bottom. Sure, Rimando is 37 years old, and he’s lost a bit of the agility and quickness that allowed him to thrive as a 5-foot-10 athletic wonder in net, but he’s been managed closely by the staff at Real Salt Lake in an effort to slow the deterioration, and he’s the only one of the three listed above with more than two caps (he’s got 21).

Jones speaks out on Tim Howard’s “dangerous” talk (video)

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New LA Galaxy midfielder and USMNT mainstay Jermaine Jones is hoping he can clarify Tim Howard’s controversial comments about dual nationals.

Howard said Wednesday that there were commitment issues with some of the dual nationals on the United States squad, adding that players like Jones and Fabian Johnson were great for the team.

[ MORE: Galaxy adds Portugal CM ]

Jones answered those thoughts on Thursday, labeling them “dangerous stuff”.

From ESPNFC’s Doug McIntyre:

“With all the respect for Timmy, I feel it’s not if you’re half American or full-American. It’s more what you have in here [taps his chest].

“If you go on the field and you give everything for this country, then of course sometimes there’s a situation where you’re not playing good.

“But it’s normal. That can happen to everybody, and that’s what you have to understand.”

Jones isn’t shy to share his comments on anything, and it was definitely a surprise to hear Howard’s thoughts on dual nationals. Salient words from Jones.

Jermaine Jones, LA Galaxy make it official

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He’s been a club changer at both of his Major League Soccer stops, and Jermaine Jones will expect nothing less from his time with the LA Galaxy.

Jones, 35, helped spearhead turnarounds at New England and Colorado after a good career in Germany. He has four goals in 67 caps for the United States men’s national team.

[ MORE: PST’s feature on Jones ]

He won’t be a Designated Player for the Galaxy, who still have two slots available next to Giovani Dos Santos. The Galaxy watched two DPs, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, skip town this winter.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Jermaine is a winner who has experience in MLS and playing against the highest competition in the world,” said LA Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo. “He has a relentless engine on the field and we are confident that he will strengthen our midfield. We look forward to him joining the Galaxy as we prepare for the upcoming season.”

When healthy, Jones remains a game changer at the MLS level. He was not healthy often during his season in Colorado, but the Rapids did not lose a regular season game in which he hit the pitch.