ORLANDO, Fla.—A strong attack corps continuing to add assets, and a Portland product ready to blossom into the key provider – that's how US national team head coach Bruce Arena views the World Cup qualifying road ahead in 2017.
Paying his first visit to Orlando City Stadium ahead of their game against Sporting Kansas City – as the Lions’ new digs will host the final home fixture in the Hex, against Panama, in October – Arena was bullish looking ahead to the six matches that will decide if the USA appears in Russia 2018.
And, looking at the current form of Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore, the head coach insisted the big striker now leads a formidable lineup of attacking talent at his disposal among a group that includes Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris – and, possibly, Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer.
“[Jozy] is currently in outstanding form,” Arena said. “We saw him in camp in January when he was dealing with a couple of injuries and he slowly built into the season. Then, in the games for us in March against Honduras and Panama, he showed pretty well. After that he has just gotten better and better, so we’re excited to see Jozy in a couple of weeks [for the warmup game with Venezuela].
“I think some of the other players he played with in March, such as Clint and Christian, are in very good form as well. We’re also looking forward to getting Bobby and Jordan back, because that’s a position of real strength for the US team.”
That forward quintet is likely to have another player knocking on the door if Arena gets all his ducks in a row following the Hex games against Trinidad and Mexico in June, with Sporting’s British-born striker Dwyer now nationally qualified for his team, and with an eye on the Gold Cup in July.
“Dom’s a very good player,” Arena said. “He has just become eligible and is certainly on our radar. I’m hopeful between now and the end of summer we’ll have an opportunity to have him play for the US.”
Arena also identified the other key man in the immediate future of the US team as Portland midfield maestro Darlington Nagbe.
“Darlington is an outstanding player,” Arena said. “He is a team player but I have encouraged him to be a lot more selfish, a lot greedier. It’s a point we made to him in camp in January and kept building on that concept [against Honduras and Panama]. His coach at Portland has been the same.
“We’re just trying to allow a very talented player to be who he can really be, and I think we’ve seen from the start of the MLS season that he’s been excellent. I thought his games for the US team in 2017 have been very good and he has a very bright future.”
The US coach is also delighted to see the domestic league producing the kind of talent he needs on the international stage.
“For Portland [Nagbe] is obviously an important figure, and, for the US to have those type of talented players in Major League Soccer is very important,” Arena said. “And, as he continues to have confidence and becomes a more aggressive attacking player, you’re going to see even more out of him.”