Just after the announcement of the 32-man roster for the Men’s National Team January Camp, head coach Bruce Arena answered fan questions on a Facebook Live Q&A on U.S. Soccer’s official page on Thursday.
While he continued with the January Camp convention of handing out debuts to several new players, Arena also called in more veterans than have commonly been seen with the National Team at this time of the year.
Understanding that January Camp is the only time he’ll have with the team before they gather again for World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras and Panama at the end of March and the need for the MNT to rebound in those matches, Arena discussed why there’s a bit more experience in camp than normal.
“When we get to March and qualifying we’re not going to be experimenting or looking at new players,” Arena said. “If there’s an option in 2017 to look at some new or young players, it would be in the January Camp, as well and perhaps July for the Gold Cup. Really our team is fairly set.”
“We want to evaluate these 32 players in camp and try to project ahead to the qualifiers in March and see if any of these players can position themselves to help our team in qualifying in the important games against Honduras and Panama. We think it’s a real important camp, and obviously there’s some new faces that we haven’t seen for a while and we want to see if there’s any faces that can break in and make our team stronger.
Beyond talking about the experience of the group, Arena honed in with specific insight on the personnel along the back line.
One of the most experienced players summoned to camp is left back DaMarcus Beasley, who earned his first cap under Arena during January Camp in 2001. Though he announced his international retirement in 2015, the four-time World Cup veteran returned to help the National Team during that year’s Gold Cup and CONCACAF Cup. Arena hopes that Beasley and the 123 caps that come with him will provide extra depth and experience pushing towards March.
“I think DaMarcus is an outstanding player and his experience and enthusiasm can help our team,” Arena said. “We think DaMarcus is a good player to compare others with because we know he’s been successful at the international level at that position, so we look forward to having him.”
Arena will be comparing Beasley to newly-signed Atlanta United FC defender Greg Garza (above) and D.C. United full back Taylor Kemp. At 25, Garza isn’t new to the National Team scene, but has been absent since September 2015 due to a string of injuries that limited his time with Club Tijuana in Liga MX. Earning his first MNT call-up, Kemp, 26, is one of the players Arena has chosen to reward for a strong 2016 M.L.S. campaign, after appearing in 31 matches for D.C. United.
“We know we have Fabian Johnson who has played [left back] a lot,” Arena added. “Besides that, I think that’s a real competitive position, and a position we need some answers for. That’s why we’ve invited DaMarcus Beasley, Taylor Kemp and Greg Garza.”
On the opposite flank, Arena has recalled Seattle Sounders FC defender Brad Evans and handed a debut call-up to Rookie of the Year finalist Keegan Rosenberry, but the most interesting piece on the back line is Graham Zusi’s shift to right back.
While it’s not a spot the 2014 World Cup veteran has played for the MNT, it is one he’s familiar with from his time with Sporting KC.
“Graham’s a very talented player,” Arena said. He’s demonstrated versatility with Sporting Kansas City and we know he can play at the right back position. We have a talented group in the midfield and think that Graham can still help our team as a right back. We’re going to give it a shot in January.”
In the middle, Arena has welcomed Chad Marshall (above) back into the MNT mix after the 32-year-old led Seattle Sounders FC to its first M.L.S. Cup title last month. Arena also handed Marshall his first cap in 2005, and though he hasn’t been in the U.S. squad since January 2010, his consistent performances in the domestic league have earned him another shot, along with 2016 M.L.S. Defender of the Year Matt Hedges and his FC Dallas teammate Walker Zimmerman.
Steve Birnbaum is the only center back that has been in with the MNT during the past year. The D.C. United defender tallied his first international goal in last January’s 3-2 win against Iceland, and went on to make appearances at Copa America Centenario and in World Cup Qualifying.
“Clearly John Brooks and Geoff Cameron have played a lot at [center back],” Arena said. “In this camp we’re going to look at some new players and clearly Zimmerman is one, [Matt] Hedges is another, [Chad] Marshall is another and [Steve] Birnbaum is back. All four of these players are talented. I thought Chad Marshall had a great year at Seattle and I’m really looking forward to seeing him in camp.”
Watch Arena’s full Facebook live chat below.