With more time to reflect on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s recently concluded January Camp, MNT head coach Bruce Arena spoke to reporters via teleconference Wednesday to discuss his takeaways from the month-long gathering.
“I was really pleased with the reaction of the players in the January Camp and the games we played in,” Arena said. “Obviously, it was critically important that we got to know these players a little bit better and understand their qualities a little bit better as we prepare for our roster in March.”
- READ MORE: January Camp By The Numbers
With the 26-day camp complete, Arena and his staff shift their focus towards evaluating how the entire pool performs with their clubs during the next six weeks as they formulate their final roster for all-important World Cup Qualifying matches against Honduras and Panama at the end of March.
“Now the goal is to merge our players abroad with our domestic players and come up with the best roster for those games against Honduras and Panama,” he said. “We’re working right now with a pool of approximately 40 players, give or take a few numbers either way, and we need to break it down to somewhat near 25 for when we report to San Jose.”
While an air of familiarity grew between the MNT’s domestic players and the returning U.S. coach during the past month, a big part of the job in preparation for March will be for Arena and his staff to build their relationships with players based outside of the United States.
“We’re going to visit them. We remain in contact with all these players. In fact, after today we’ll probably have had contact with every player in our pool for the March camp and some others as well, so that’s a starting point – e-mails, phone conversations and then in-person visits. I’ve already been in touch with most of these players personally, visiting players in Germany in December and I plan to go back in the next week or two as will other staff members who will be going to Germany, England, and Mexico, as well as following players in the United States.”
Because the U.S. has zero points after the first two Final Round World Cup Qualifying matches and will have only a few days of training together ahead of the Honduras and Panama games, the MNT boss indicated that those meetings and conversations won’t just be about getting familiar with one another.
“We understand how we’re going to play, we have a depth chart and we’re going to sit down and have some conversations to make sure the players understand what they’re going to do before they even get here, make sure they’re bought into that and then finalize the roster.”
As part of the team’s overall preparation, the MNT coaching staff will be distributing game film and opponent scouting reports to the player pool under consideration for the roster in order to have everyone on the same page when players report to camp on March 19.
Some other interesting tidbits from Arena’s call:
Eric Lichaj and Paul Arriola Under Consideration
Asked if it was more difficult for foreign-based players that haven’t been MNT regulars to make the March roster, Arena pointed specifically to Nottingham Forest right back Eric Lichaj and Club Tijuana attacker Paul Arriola as two players that could be called in for the set of games.
“I think in particular, Lichaj and Arriola are players right now we’ve got to strongly consider for the March camp. We’re going to see those players play in the next couple weeks to help make those decisions.”
He later added, “The next couple weeks, we’re going to be looking at players that have been a little bit outside our pool of late and see where they fit with players have been in our pool.”
With Tim Howard still returning from the adductor injury he suffered in November’s loss to Mexico and Brad Guzan not gaining consistent playing time with Middlesbrough, Arena gave an update of how he views the goalkeeping situation going into March.
“Brad Guzan is a very experienced goalkeeper, and as we saw in the case of Nick Rimando in January Camp that experience means a lot. Because they’re not getting games on a consistent basis doesn’t mean you can rule him out. I think Brad has shown enough that he’s still a strong candidate to be our number one goalkeeper.”
- READ MORE: Tim Howard checks in during January Camp
“In the case of Tim Howard, he’s moving along pretty well. I believe he’s 12 weeks out of surgery and the expectation for him was that his full recovery would be between 12 and 16 weeks, so he’s on schedule to hopefully start the first week of the M.L.S. season. Having said that, it could be off a couple weeks and perhaps he won’t be a candidate for March. Right now, he’s still in the picture and that’s a positive as well.”