When Bruce Arena was hired a little more than three weeks ago for a second go-round with the U.S. MNT Sunil Gulati, the man doing the hiring labeled this new era as Bruce 2.0. Restored to the national team job Bruce promised to be more open with the media and the public than he had been in his first term.
To that end, the famously prickly coach subjected himself to a Facebook live session Friday afternoon where he answered questions posed by fans across the social media platform.
Arena did not look entirely comfortable in the sparse setting, nor did Arena linger, but neither did he duck when he easily could have.
For example, Arena was asked if could he envision playing Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan together in the center of the midfield. His answer? Yes. With no reporters on hand to press him, Arena could have easily given a pat answer about keeping his options open, and exploring all combinations, etc, etc.
Instead, Arena answered the question and he even threw in a potential formation that could feature the duo. Arena revealed that he could see the pair in a 4-1-4-1 set, adding that was just one possibility.
Arena was similarly forthright when he was asked about potential number 10’s for the side. The number 10 being, of course, a playmaker, a passer. A position that Arena mentioned on his hiring as a spot that needed to be filled.
Again, Arena was frank reeling off the names Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber, Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, and even veteran Clint Dempsey, who Klinsmann has already said he would like to see in the camp as he recovers from an irregular heartbeat.
The coach also pointed to a few young wingers that he would like to get a look at next month, including his former player with the Galaxy Gyasi Zardes, Seattle’s Jordan Morris and, in something of a surprise, Vancouver Whitecaps speedster Kekuta Manneh.
Without having been asked, Bruce 2.0 twice mentioned “foreign national,” Manneh. “Foreign national” is, of course, the somewhat antiquated phrase that Arena used when he was asked on his reinstatement to clarify his earlier comments that seemed to suggest that he felt non-American born players were somehow less American than their U.S. born teammates on the U.S. MNT.
Arena made it plain then, that he would play anyone that was eligible if they would help the team win and inviting Manneh to camp is certainly in that spirit, even if Manneh is not yet eligible to play for the U.S.
Arena also was asked about Fabian Johnson, one of the German-American contingent that Arena was thought by some to have maligned. In one of his first acts as coach Arena traveled to Germany on a fence-mending, getting to know you trip to meet with some of his key Bundesliga-based players.
The question was simple enough, where would Arena use the versatile Johnson? Arena relayed that he put that same question to the player. Johnson, Arena said, was happy enough to play either, but the Borussia Monchengladbach man admitted he “would just like to play one or the other.”
Arena surely raised an eyebrow or two with news that he has invited veteran DaMarcus Beasley into camp to address depth issues at left fullback. The 34-year-old is an MLS free agent and played under Arena at the 2002 and 2006 World Cup.
Arena revealed several names of players that have been invited to the January camp while noting that as many as two-thirds of the World Cup team will likely come from MLS.
Dempsey, Chris Pontius, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Gyasi Zardes, Dax McCarty, Feilhaber, Darlington Nagbe, Keegan Rosenberry and Juan Agudelo were some names dropped by the manager. It is primarily a veteran group and consistent with Arena’s mission, which is simply to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
It is just 24 days into Bruce 2.0 and a Facebook chat won’t have told us a whole lot. We will learn a little more when Arena’s official camp invites are released. More will be revealed on January 28 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego when the U.S. face Serbia in the first game of the Arena era.
It is all building, of course to March, and a pair of World Cup Qualifiers against Honduras, on the 24th, possibly in San Jose’s Avaya Stadium and then in Panama four days later.
Two losses in the first two games of the Hex got Jurgen Klinsmann fired, jumpstarting this second Arena era, this pair of March matches will give us a good idea of just where Bruce 2.0 is headed.