USA vs. Serbia preview: Bruce’s USMNT (re-)debut

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
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You only get one chance to make a first impression, or so they say. That rule doesn’t apply to Bruce Arena, though, who’s less than 48 hours from making his re-debut as head coach of the U.S. national team.

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Fairly or unfairly, more concrete conclusions will be drawn from Arena’s first two games back in charge — friendlies against Serbia (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET) and Jamaica (next Friday) — than any other January camp fixtures in recent memory. With 2018 World Cup qualifying set to resume in March, the USMNT currently sits sixth out of six sides in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round, with zero points from two games.

Thus, momentum and a cohesive unit must be realized with startling urgency. Without a single on of the USMNT’s European-based players available for the annual winter camp, it’s the MLS-based players, with whom Arena will be quite familiar thanks to his time as LA Galaxy head coach, who have the first crack at impressing the new boss.

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

All the usual suspects retain their places — Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore (set to earn his 100th USMNT cap), Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya, to name a few — remain as holdovers from the Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann years, while a whole host of castaways and/or overlooked prospects return with a new lease on life — Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Sebastian Lletget, for example.

Arena named 31 players to the original roster as camp kicked off two weeks ago, before Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Kekuta Manneh departed earlier in the week, and six more players — Gyasi Zardes, Taylor Kemp, Keegan Rosenberry, Brian Rowe, Wil Trapp, and Chris Wondolowski — were released back to their club teams on Friday as the squad was whittled down to 23 players for Sunday and Friday’s friendlies.

FULL 23-MAN ROSTER

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, MEX), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: 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: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC)