US national team camp gives Arena look at potential contributors for 2017

CARSON, Calif. – On Friday the US national team shifted from camp mode to friendly mode, cutting down the roster to 23 players from the original 32 players called into camp.

The camp was run with a simultaneous focus on identifying players who can contribute in the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers in March and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July. For the younger players, it’s more likely they end up on the latter roster.

“We brought in some young guys,” said head coach Bruce Arena, “more or less looking at potentially for the Gold Cup. I would say that would be the case with [Taylor] Kemp, [Keegan] Rosenberry for example. And even [Walker] Zimmerman I think they’re all candidates for the Gold Cup.

“We wanted an opportunity to see them here and then we’re gonna follow them during their MLS season.”

Both Kemp and Rosenberry were released back to their respective MLS clubs on Friday, although Zimmerman made the cut to stay on through the friendlies, Sunday against Serbia (4 pm ET, ESPN2) and against Jamaica on Feb. 3. Approaching his first USMNT cap, he and his teammate Matt Hedges impressed Arena during the camp.

Hedges’ release back to FC Dallas earlier this week due to injury was another theme that emerged from these January workouts – being careful with players who are about to head into MLS preseason.

“Unfortunate that Matt got dinged up a little bit,” said Arena, “but we really feel responsible to the MLS clubs in these kinds of settings where if there’s any injury to a player we’re gonna be a responsible and send them back so they’re ready for their MLS season.”

Jorge Villafana also got his first USMNT call-up this week. While the Santos Laguna defender likely hasn’t gotten enough training to factor into plans for the friendly on Sunday, he looked comfortable in his first run-out with the team on Thursday.

“I’ve seen Jorge in his days at Chivas USA, and at Portland,” said Arena, “and then he played against the Galaxy a year ago with Santos. I’ve always felt he was a player that needed an opportunity with the national team.

“He’s a good experienced left back. He defensively positions well, he’s a good passer, and he’s experienced. We’ll see what he’s like in this setting.”

Veterans like Benny Feilhaber, Darlington Nagbe, Chad Marshall, and Luis Robles all appear to have found second life with the national team this camp, impressing Arena and arguing for a spot in the upcoming qualifiers, home to Honduras and away against Panama.

“They’ve demonstrated that they’re good players,” said Arena, “and they’ve convinced me that they’re options. At the end of the day we have to compile all this stuff after this camp and start looking at our pool of players that are in Europe as well as Mexico and try to see what makes sense for the games in March.”