Brisendine: Five takeaways from the US national team's January camp

Here's what you can say with certainty about the US national team's January camp, the side's first in Bruce Arena's second stint as head coach:

They didn't concede in either of their two friendlies, which was good to see -- although that goalless draw against Serbia's C team on Jan. 29 was a whole gray bucket of meh. Still, Friday's 1-0 victory over Jamaica had its bright spots.

Beyond that, it's all opinion and conjecture -- which is more than half the fun of revisiting a situation that's basically an exercise in what-if anyway. So, with that in mind, here are five takeaways from the camp that was.

1. Benny's back, and he deserves to play in March

We'll never know whether Benny Feilhaber would have made a difference at the 2014 World Cup, the 2015 Gold Cup, or last year's Copa America Centenario and World Cup qualifying matches. (We do know that he should have been there, but there were others ahead of him.) There's no rewind button on life, meaning the US can't get back what might have been Feilhaber's best years in a national team kit. 

But wow, didn't he look dangerous out there? Playing with the energy of the reprieved and the experience and fitness born of his club resurgence with Sporting Kansas City, Feilhaber was just what the US has missed in recent years: a wily, creative presence behind the forwards, finding both space and opportunity to orchestrate good things. His assist on Jordan Morris' match-winner against the Reggae Boyz was just the gravy. 

Feilhaber needs to be in Arena's roster for the Yanks' critical Hex match against Honduras on March 24 in San Jose. And whether he's in the XI or coming on to spark things at the hour mark, he needs to be on the pitch.

2. No soft goals? That's a welcome change

The (almost) all-MLS US side looked like a bunch of guys a month or more away from full form, and that was to be expected because -- well, that's what they were. The refreshing thing is that they kept the ball out of the back of the net. Sure, they weren't taking on offensive powerhouses in either friendly, but the Jurgen Klinsmann-era teams from 2014 on bled more than a few soft goals because of poor organization and a defensive game plan best described as "Put this music on and go run around." 

There's a lot to be said for creativity, but not in the critical central defense-defensive midfield triangle. Arena is less likely to mess with formations and rosters once he finds something that works -- and even if the faces change in March (and they likely will, especially with Jermaine Jones suspended for the next Hex match), the foundation was well laid in January.

3. It's time to settle on a GK for the future

Yes, it's still Brad Guzan and Tim Howard as the top two keepers for now. But seven goalkeepers in the battle for No. 1? That's three too many, maybe more.

Full marks to Nick Rimando for being ageless and durable and still having freakish reflexes at 37. (That close-range save against Serbia? Ridiculous, in all the good ways.) Still, it's time for a new No. 3 on a fast track to No. 1. With nothing on the line in these two matches, and Stefan Frei still not USMNT-eligible, not giving David Bingham and Luis Robles 90 minutes each was a rare misstep on Arena's part.

It's also time to figure out just where William Yarbrough fits into the equation, and calling him in for a 60-60-60 rotation with Bingham and Robles wouldn't have been a bad idea, either.

4. You gotta finish those, Darlington

The offense is going to be the last thing that takes shape under Arena -- which is right and good, given the body and fender work the defense needs. That was evident in the opener against Serbia, where the US failed to score on a side that was, ahem, new to international soccer.

Darlington Nagbe was the US' best player in that match, using his pace to create two really good looks at the goal. Problem was, he pushed both of them wide. For a guy in Nagbe's position, both on the pitch and in the player pool, those balls have to go inside the post to keep him in contention.

All that said, a call-up in March -- most likely as a "give us a spark off the bench" guy -- wouldn't be out of line, especially if Nagbe can connect on a few early in the MLS season.

5. Agudelo isn't Hex-ready ... yet

If Juan Agudelo (who has never scored more than seven goals in an MLS season) wants to be a fixture up front in the national team, he's going to have to do one of two things:

  1. Be the guy who can support and draw defensive attention from the target forward, with pace or scoring or both, and become a go-to strike partner (See Wood, Bobby);
  2. Start ringing up crazy numbers in league play and make his case to be the target guy.

Agudelo, who worked only three late minutes against Serbia, got halfway to Option 1 against Jamaica on Friday. He partnered well with Morris up top, and would have had an assist with a better finish from the Seattle striker in the 38th minute after a pretty flick-on that split Jamaica's defense. That's the upside.

The downside? One shot. not on goal, in 90 minutes. 

Arena has spoken highly of Agudelo's performance in training, and that's a good sign going forward. Even so, it would serve everyone concerned well if Agudelo focused on the first half of the New England Revolution's season for now. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is coming up this summer, and that would be a great time to check in on him and give him another run-out if the club performance warrants.

Topics: