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Back to the future: US World Cup veterans reunite with Arena

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Demspey and Tim Howard were with Bruce Arena the last time the U.S. coach guided the Americans into World Cup qualifying – way back 12 years ago.

“It’s a long time for a coach, too, I might add,” cracked the 65-year-old Arena, “I had a lot more hair 12 years ago.”

Jozy Altidore played for Arena during his debut season of Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls in 2006 and part of `07.

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The Americans are counting on that familiarity and experience in big matches when they face Honduras at home Friday in World Cup qualifying.

“He’s been around U.S. Soccer for a very long time. I think that helps him a bit in his approach,” Altidore said after Tuesday’s training in a steady rain at Avaya Stadium. “He’s a guy that everybody’s really comfortable with and there’s no adjustment period, which is good. He was one of my first pro coaches, so I know him well, his style and everything, so it’s nothing new. It’s good to have him back.”

Arena’s roster features 19 of 26 players from Major League Soccer with the Monday night addition of Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes. There were just 10 MLS players leading into an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Costa Rica on Nov. 15 – eight of whom dressed for the match after Howard got hurt against Mexico.

That sent the Americans to their first 0-2 start in the final round of World Cup qualifying and led to Jurgen Klismnann’s ouster. Arena then returned 10 years after his firing.

“I think Bruce is going to call up the players that give him the best chance to win,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Regardless of where you play, regardless of what you’ve done, Bruce is going to rely on guys who are going to step on the field in big moments and go for it, be aggressive and fearless and represent him and the team and our country in the best possible way.”

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The Americans might need all the depth they have up front. Forward Jordan Morris didn’t practice again Tuesday while nursing an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. He did gym work and rehabbed the ankle after spending Monday receiving treatment at the team hotel. His status for Wednesday’s practice remained unclear.

“Anybody that’s going to help the team, it doesn’t matter where you play,” Beasley said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s more MLS, more Europe, more Mexico, more Scandinavia, it doesn’t matter. As long as you know what it’s about to play for this team and play for this country you’re going to be a part of it, so it’s good to have that.”

Beasley and Dempsey are 34. Howard, the starting goalkeeper the past two World Cups, turned 38 this month. There’s a comfort level for the three with their new, and old, coach, Arena.

“They’re old, man, they’re some old cats,” Altidore said. “That’s a long time ago. Guys that we still need, guys with a lot of quality.”

“They’re not bad players,” Arena said when asked about his 30-somethings still playing for him on the big stage more than a decade later.

Dempsey and Howard are healthy again at last.

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Howard had surgery on his right thigh in November after getting hurt in a World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico and being replaced in the 40th minute. Dempsey had been out because of an irregular heartbeat.

“Experience counts for a lot in games like this, guys who understand what these games and what these moments are all about,” Bradley said. “In both their cases, their experience and their track record speaks for itself, guys who have been on the field for us on so many big days, on so many important days. For me, personally, I couldn’t be happier to have them both back and in the team and we’re going to rely on them in a big way on Friday night.”

Howard likes the mix of players brought in by Arena.

“I think that’s probably a testament to some of our longevity,” Howard said. “It’s good to have some pieces in play that have been there who understand the manager. There are a lot of young kids, too.”

NOTES: Altidore downplayed a Twitter back-and-forth with teammate Alejandro Bedoya on March 11. Bedoya spoke after Altidore drew a foul during Toronto FC’s 2-2 draw with Philadelphia. “Knowing Jozy, he tends to go down easy in the box, so let’s just leave it at that.” Altidore took to Twitter: “Nice comment pal (at)AleBedoya17. You have a lot to say but never to anyones face. Im surprised.. but I shouldn’t be.” The matter seems put to rest. “It’s all jokes, man,” Altidore told The Associated Press. “It’s nothing crazy. I’ve known Bedoya a long time. It’s all good.”

FOLLOW LIVE: Fringe players get a chance as USMNT takes on Jamaica

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Bruce Arena is doing something it felt like Jurgen Klinsmann never dared to do in charge of the US National Team: use a meaningless game to give fringe players a chance to shine.

Following a drab 0-0 draw with Serbia, Arena has chosen to give a number of players looking to make a statement the stage to do just that. Regulars such as Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley take a seat on the bench, and in their place is a starting lineup chock full of players looking to prove their worth against Jamaica at 7:30 p.m. ET ahead of vital World Cup qualifiers.

[ LIVE: Follow PST’s Kyle Bonn on Twitter for updates and to join the conversation ]

Arena has stuck with the 4-3-3 he used in the last match against Serbia, but the cast is entirely different. We knew ahead of time that NY Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles would be between the sticks, and that Walker Zimmerman would make his national team debut. Alongside the FC Dallas defender is Steve Birmbaum, a player with some experience under Klinsmann but who has yet to crack the true starting eleven.

Graham Zusi returns to the right-back position he took charge of against Serbia and plays well, and with so many new faces in the lineup, he takes the captain’s armband. 27-year-old defender Jorge Villafana, who was called into January camp late, gets a chance to stake a claim to the thin left-back position.

[ LIVE: Follow the US National Team on Twitter for updates ]

In front of them is an even more experimental midfield of Chris Pontius, Dax McCarty, and Benny Feilhaber. Philadelphia’s Pontius earned his debut cap against Serbia off the bench, and now will get more significant time. Fans have clamored for Feilhaber and McCarty to get time under Klinsmann, and while both are now either past 30 years old or fast approaching it, they get another chance to break the squad.

In the attack is Sebastian Lletget who took his chance off the bench against Serbia and provided a spark, supporting Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris, the latter of whom will likely play out wide as an inside forward, a position he has experience with at the national team level.

It’s also possible that the formation comes out in more of a 4-1-3-2, with Agudelo and Morris up top, Lletget leading the midfield forward, and Pontius or McCarty in front of the back line, but that would be a lineup that lacks width and would put significant pressure on the full-backs.

All told, it’s a meaningless game with potentially a whole lot of meaning for these domestic-based players who have plenty to prove.

LINEUPS:

USMNT: Robles; Zusi (c), Birmbaum, Zimmerman, Villafana; Pontius, McCarty, Feilhaber; Lletget, Agudelo, Morris.
Subs: Bingham, Rimando, Beasley, Bradley, Bedoya, Marshall, Garza, Nagbe, Altidore.

Jamaica: Blake; Powell, Fisher, Lowe, Campbell; Gordon, Grandison, Burke; Watson, Binns, Williams.

What should USMNT fans expect in the short term from Bruce Arena?

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The winningest manager in USMNT appears set to return, and the 62-year-old is here to dig the United States out of a 2-game hole in World Cup qualifying.

That turnaround is priority number 1 for the former LA Galaxy boss, and fans will probably see a stark contrast to the Klinsmann era.
Bruce Arena has always done things his way, both with the U.S. in the past and during his time with the Galaxy, but he’s done nothing but win while doing so. He won championships at Virginia, MLS titles with D.C. United and Los Angeles, and brought the United States 2 Gold Cups and a World Cup quarterfinal. He is unquestionably the most successful manager in US history.

There are plenty of players who will benefit from Arena’s hire, many who are local. MLS standouts like Benny Feilhaber, Sebastian Lletget, Matt Hedges, Bill Hamid, and Dax McCarty could all see not just call-ins but significant playing time. Arena’s domestic tenures have made him an expert on domestic talent.

Arena is also a superior motivator. Players have always given their all for him up and down the ranks, something not always apparent under Klinsmann. The most recent tactical surprises clearly left the players searching for answers, and they seemed to lose faith in his leadership.

However, not everything is sunshine and roses with Arena. His demeanor can sometimes be abrasive, both towards fans and media. Klinsmann was often passively insulting towards US fans, but he always at least attempted to shroud his disdain in a veil of professionalism. Arena is far more blunt.

In addition, the disastrous 2006 World Cup, which cost Arena his job in the first tenure, remains a serious blemish on his resume. The U.S. struggled mightily in an admittedly tough group, losing to the Czech Republic and Ghana before drawing with defending champions Italy.

But even that wasn’t enough to tarnish his resume beyond repair. Sunil Gulati himself said after announcing Arena’s dismissal, “The direction Bruce has set is very, very positive. We didn’t get the results we wanted in the World Cup, but Bruce didn’t become a bad coach in three games with a few bad bounces of the ball.”

Another point of interest about Bruce is his disdain for foreign-born internationals. With 

Finally, it’s important to note that, with the immediate goal of turning around the minor crisis, it’s likely that Arena will discontinue a number of the youth projects that Klinsmann had in the test tubes. The next two years will be solely results-based, and Arena will do what’s best to win now, as he always has. Christian Pulisic’s rising star is most certainly safe, but the prospects of Julian Green, Lynden Gooch, and other youngsters may see a decrease in time while they get stuck in at their clubs. While one of Klinsmann’s biggest weaknesses was his reactionary mindset on calling young players in, but Arena will probably not have any interest in scouting the US player pool, at least not through 2018.

Bruce Arena will be a mixed bag with the USMNT, but he’s what they need to pick up the pieces at this juncture.
 

US players react to Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing

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With Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as United States head coach coming to an end, a number of players made their thoughts known on social media in the immediate aftermath of the news.

It’s clear that, while some are happy about the news, many others were given a chance under the German, and others just hurt to see a man lose his job.

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First up was Landon Donovan, who retired last year but made a comeback with Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy this season. Landon was famously left off the USMNT roster for the 2014 World Cup by Klinsmann, but now with Arena expected to take over as U.S. manager, could Landon make a comeback on a national level? He offered his thoughts on the news.

While Landon stayed professional, others didn’t hide their true feelings. Benny Feilhaber, who has been infamously shoved aside in the national picture by Klinsmann, made it clear how he felt about the decision.

Ruthless. Feilhaber has 41 U.S. caps, although he was last a regular in 2010, featuring only twice since, and not since 2013.

25-year-old Greg Garza, currently with Liga MX club Tijuana, gave thanks to Klinsmann for handing the Texas product his debut cap back in September of 2014.

Garza has nine caps, all coming under Klinsmann.

Finally, Bundesliga lifer Joe Gyau who has two USMNT caps, showed appreciation for Klinsmann, who supported Gyau through a rocky period. After Gyau suffered a knee injury in 2014, Klinsmann was there to support him and help him heal.

As the news only came down a few hours ago, there are sure to be others who come forward with public opinions.

Reports: Bruce Arena to take over USMNT in wake of Klinsmann firing

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According to a number of reports across the United States media, including Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated and Ives Galarcep of Goal USA, have stated that U.S. Soccer has reached an agreement with current LA Galaxy manager and former USMNT head coach Bruce Arena, who will take over as soon as Tuesday.

Arena was the USMNT manager from 1998-2006, replacing Steve Sampson. He owns the most wins of any U.S. manager with 71, and he brought the United States to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup before losing 1-0 to Germany.

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He takes over with the United States in last place in the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualification, after two consecutive losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, which proved to be the last straw for Jurgen Klinsmann, who was fired on Monday. It is unclear what the preferred length of Arena’s tenure will be, but many have speculated that his initial deal will be two years, handing him the reigns through the 2018 World Cup. Arena is seen by many as more of a short-term stop gap rather than a long-term solution.

The feeling is that with the early hole in 2018 World Cup qualifying, U.S. Soccer is focused less on long-term program development, and is instead focused on ensuring a spot in Russia 2018. Once that is accomplished, a more broad approach can once again be taken. Arena is seen as someone who knows the system, knows the players, and brings a deep passion that is desperately needed after lackluster performances.

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The 65-year-old Arena will bring a confidence and swagger to the US setup, something not seen during Klinsmann’s reign, with the German often remaining calm, cool, and collected through the ups and downs. However, he isn’t widely thought of as the talent identifier that is desperately needed down the road to ensure the talent pool continues to grow.

Other popular names brought up for U.S. head coach include Americans Peter Vermes, Jason Kreis, and Jesse Marsch. Others floated less commonly include Gregg Berhalter, Dominic Kinnear, Caleb Porter and Sigi Schmidt. Those same names will likely come up again should Arena only serve for a short amount of time.

For the Los Angeles Galaxy, they will now be left to pick up the pieces after losing their wildly successful manager. According to Fox Sports’ Rob Stone, they could promote from within and hire Galaxy II manager Curt Onalfo to the now-vacant senior team position.