US national team fans shouldn’t expect too many changes to the player pool under new head coach Bruce Arena – at least not right away.
Arena, who was hired last week to replace the fired Jurgen Klinsmann, told reporters at a media roundtable in New York City on Tuesday that he has a pool “between 50 and 60 players” but that he doesn’t anticipate making many roster changes for the US’s next two rounds of World Cup qualifiers in March and June.
“I know all the players, I know the pool. I don’t think there are going to be a lot of surprises in the pool of players I have at this point,” he said. “There may be changes in the summer when we’re in the Gold Cup when we can introduce a few more players, but in March and June we have to have fairly established players at the international level playing. We’re not experimenting in those games.”
Arena has good reason to be conservative with his roster choices in the upcoming qualifiers, which will see the US play at Honduras and against Panama in March before hosting Trinidad and Tobago and playing at Mexico in June. The Americans will want a solid point total from those matches after losing their opening Hexagonal contests to Mexico and at Costa Rica earlier this month. Arena thinks bringing in too many players short on international experience could be costly.
The former LA Galaxy manager, who coached the USMNT from 1998-2006, also won’t be able to work with most of the US’s Europe and Mexico-based players until the days leading up to the March 24 qualifier at Honduras. He’ll only have a few days of training with his entire group to prepare for Los Catrachos, a fact that he said will add importance to the USMNT’s January camp, which usually features MLS players exclusively.
“It’s still a lot of travel, a lot of activity [in the days building up to the March qualifiers] and we want to have an option of playing other players,” he said. “The January camp is going to help do that in a couple senses. It’ll identify players that we think can play and also get them moving a lot quicker to get them match fit. So as they enter the month of March with their MLS clubs, by March 24, those players are going to be close to full fitness, which we need. It’s important.”
Arena said that his entire player pool is capable of playing in the January camp, but the entire pool doesn’t have the quality to make the roster for the March World Cup qualifiers.
“We have a pool in my head right now between 50 and 60 players,” he said. “They can all play in January and February, but they can’t all play in March. So you’ve got to kind of know that. I have enough experience to understand that now and hopefully that can be accomplished.”