PHILADELPHIA — The reinforcements have arrived.
On Monday morning on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the US national team held its first training session since head coach Bruce Arena called six new players onto the squad: forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, midfielders Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeepers Tim Howard and Jesse Gonzalez.
They came in ready to go, unfazed by the somewhat unique situation of joining a team in the middle of a tournament.
“Listen, we jumped into the quarterfinal stages and we already know the tournament’s been going on,” Howard said ahead of Wednesday’s quarterfinal game against El Salvador in Philadelphia (9 pm ET, FS1). “But nothing changes for us. We’ll get up to speed with how Bruce wants to play, and keep the tempo high as older players continue to push this group forward.”
Aside from Gonzalez, who’s been called up to the USMNT for the first time, the newcomers certainly provide plenty of experience. Dempsey, Altidore, Bradley and Howard combined have played in 10 World Cups.
For Arena, getting those veterans into the fold was always part of the plan. That's even though some of the players they replaced — the six that departed are striker Dom Dwyer, midfielders Cristian Roldan, Alejandro Bedoya and Kelyn Rowe, and goalkeepers Sean Johnson and Brad Guzan — played well to help the Americans win Group B.
“We knew before the tournament that we would move in this direction,” Arena said, “and they’ve come in with a good attitude. They’ve made a good impression on the team. And I’m hopeful we play our best soccer as we move hopefully from the quarterfinals to the semifinals and finals.”
While Arena knows most of the new additions quite well, this will be the coach's first time working with Gonzalez, who recently switched his eligibility from Mexico to the US. Arena admitted it’s “not likely” Gonzalez will see the field, with Howard set to start and Bill Hamid backing him up. But just getting him into a USMNT camp is a good first step for the FC Dallas youngster.
“Any guys that come into the team, you try to help them along,” Howard told MLSsoccer.com. “Here, it’s a little more cut-throat than with club teams, so you have to be ready, you have to be sharp. We have a bunch of good guys on this team but we’re not looking to undercut you. Guys are looking to help you. Of course we’re competing for spots, but guys are looking to help.”
While Arena said he doesn’t yet know what the starting lineup will look like Wednesday, the influx of talent will certainly help the US “raise the bar to a new level,” said midfielder Chris Pontius, one of the team’s holdovers.
But as to whether that means the Americans are now the favorites to win the tournament, Arena was characteristically coy.
“There are," he said, "eight favorites to win right now."