USA vs. Serbia
Sunday, Jan. 29, 4 pm ET | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
TV: ESPN2, UniMás, UDN
Bruce Arena is back – and he’s ready for his first game in charge.
The new US men’s national team head coach will lead the USMNT in his first match since being hired to replace Jurgen Klinsmann in November on Sunday, when the US will host Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
The friendly will be the US’s first run out since losing their first two matches of the CONCACAF Hexagonal back in November, falling 2-1 at home to Mexico before getting thumped 4-0 at Costa Rica in a set of matches that cost Kllinsmann his job. Sunday’s game isn’t exactly a redemption tour, however.
Arena’s roster features exclusively MLS players, with a few familiar faces with the USMNT joined by a host of young players looking to make a mark and veterans hoping for new international life.
This will be the first meeting between the US and Serbia, but that doesn’t mean there’s no history here. Serbia is recognized by FIFA and UFA as the successor to the Yugoslavia national team, which the US faced twice. The first meeting came all the way back in 1956, with the US falling 9-1 in the quarterfinals of that year’s Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. The second matchup came at the 1998 World Cup, with Yugoslavia beating the Americans 1-0 in the teams’ final group stage match in France.
It’s important to note that Sunday’s match – and the friendly against Jamaica in Chattanooga on Feb. 4 – shouldn’t be taken as gospel of what the rest of Arena’s tenure will look like. Most of the players on the US roster won’t be with the team for their World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama in March, and some at the camp will probably never even play a match for the national team.
Still, there are a few things that we should be able to learn on Sunday. Chief among them? If Arena will settle on a formation. Matt Doyle had a good breakdown of this earlier in the month, but, after the turbulence and tinkering of the Klinsmann era, there is a major need for Arena to begin to establish an on-field identity for the US. That starts this weekend, with whatever tactics Arena uses likely to carryover – at least somewhat – into those important qualifiers in March.
If Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore plays, as expected, he'll become the 17th player -- and second-youngest -- to reach 100 caps with the USMNT. Additionally, TFC teammate Michael Bradley is one assist behind Cobi Jones (21) for No. 2 on the US all-time list.
This will be a largely experimental runout for Serbia, who won’t have their biggest names available in San Diego. Only eight players on manager Slavoljub Muslin’s roster have previously been capped, and only two members of the squad are over 25. Sunday’s encounter will be all about getting experience for a handful of youngsters ahead of the resumption of UEFA World Cup qualifying in March, when Serbia – who are currently second in Group D of qualifying – will take on Georgia.
Player to Watch
Benny Feilhaber – FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges could’ve easily been the pick if not for an injury picked up during camp, but there’s no one on the US roster that I’m more interested to see on Sunday than Feilhaber. The Sporting KC man was cast aside by Klinsmann despite some excellent form for SKC, and famously expressed his displeasure about his lack of USMNT run in the media last year. The 2010 World Cup veteran now has new life under Arena, who has talked repeatedly about the US’s need for a creative midfielder. He’s got some serious competition in Sacha Kljestan, but, if he plays his cards right, Benny could work his way onto the roster for World Cup qualifying in March.
DEFENDERS (8):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 (9):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)
Released to their Clubs: Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
GOALKEEPERS (2): Ognjen Čančarević (Radnik, Surdulica), Filip Manojlović (Crvena zvezda)
DEFENDERS (7): Nemanja Calasan (Spartak Subotica), Nikola Cirkovic (Vozdovac), Marko Klisura (Backa Panaka), Vladimir Kovacevic (Vojvodina), Nikola Maras (Rad), Nemanja Miletic (Partizan)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Enver Alivodic (Novi Pazar), Jovan Djokic (Atyrau, KAZ), Marko Gobeljic (Napredak Krusevac), Marko Javtovic (Partizan), Stefan Panic (Metalac), Srdjan Plavsic (Crvena Zvezda)
FORWARDS (4): Lazar Jovanovic (Borac Cacak), Sasa Jovanovic (Mladost Lucani), Marko Mrkic (Radnicki Nis), Aleksandar Palocevic (Vojvodina)