After the uncertainty of the Klinsmann era, the sight of players being played in their best positions was a welcome one
It was a typical January camp game
With all the drama and( often unfortunate) symbolism of the regime change at the USMNT, coupled with the urgency with which the US needs to find outcomes, the game against Serbia was freighted with way more sense of expectation than it could ever be reasonably expected to bear. And thats before we even contemplate the rhetoric around national identity from Tim Howard, or the comments on American ideals from Michael Bradley.
The lead-up to this game somehow managed to frame the contest as both a distraction from weightier matters, and a meaningful prelude to weightier matters, despite all historic evidence of what January team camp games are capable of delivering.
And in the end, the game did indeed stubbornly refuse to develop into any sort of occasion though you suspect Bruce Arena will be happy enough about that. Its not like his side require any reminders of the urgency of their qualifying situation, with a crucial home game against Honduras looming in March, so perhaps more than a statement win, or a breakout superstar, there was the need for a clue of stability after the confusion of the later Klinsmann era.
January team camps have traditionally been a day for MLS players who are on the bubble with the national team to get their shot in experimental line ups. But while there was a first start for Darlington Nagbe, a test of Graham Zusi at right back, and a US debut for Sebastian Lletget, the overall feeling was of a conservative, experienced selection designed to steady the vessel. And broadly speaking thats what happened.
Its not to say this has been a typical January camp theres undoubtedly been more of a sense of urgency than usual but such triage as Arena has been carrying out on getting defensive discipline re-established was never training exercises that was going to be dramatically visible. And even with all the work he has been doing, an all-MLS roster in January is still a collect of players at pre-season levels of fitness and kind. Its hard to remember redeeming qualities from any of the corresponding fixtures in recent years, and likely not reasonable to expect anything different this time around. Any hope it would be different is more telling about the situation Arena inherited, than Sundays team falling short.
The pieces attained sense
That said, there was a merciful clarity to the US starting team, and indeed to most of the substitutes that peppered the second half. After the uncertainty of the Klinsmann era, the sight of players being played in their best stances, and with a clear brief, may not have set the pulse racing, but reminded us that whatever restrictions among the players are exposed under Arena, theyll at the least have been put into positions to succeed( or fail ).
Arena went with something like a 4-1-4-1, with Jozy Altidore the lone front man, and Michael Bradley repeatedly dropping so deep that he split the center back pairing of Chad Marshall and Steve Birnbaum. The other notional defensive midfielder, Jermaine Jones, had clear license to maraud higher up the field, while Sasha Kljestans playmaking skills were put to work in familiar areas behind Altidore.
It was all very Arena hes been around the league long enough to know whos solid where and to not try and second-guess himself or the degree of influence he can have on a game once it starts. Even the speculative aspects of his line up were based on experience starting Graham Zusi as a right back might have raised eyebrows, but Arena has previous kind with converting assaulting players to broad defenders with the national squad. Hes done it on at least two previous occasions in his last stint with “the member states national” team, and most recently with Robbie Rogers at LA Galaxy.
That said, Honduras will come too soon for the experimentation to continue Arena generally plays the odds, and anyway, the non-MLS options of Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron et al will be in the mixture for those games. Zusi proved he could be deployed in that posture at a pinch, or when a game-state crisis demands, but he was an outlier in a team built on known qualities.
There are still questions out wide
Read more: www.theguardian.com