With a 2018 World Cup berth hanging in the balance, the arrival of coach Bruce Arena has brought a heightened sense of urgency to U.S. Soccer with players eager to rewrite their roles and undo recent failures.
When Juergen Klinsmann was fired last November it sent a wave of opportunity throughout the program for players clamoring to impress the new boss.
“When you get a new coach everyone has to earn their places again,” U.S. forward Jozy Altidore told Reuters on Sunday in Carson, California, where the team is holding their first camp since Arena took over two months ago. “That’s the beauty of the sport, you always have to prove yourself.”
Altidore may have less to prove than most having been named U.S. Soccer’s Male Player of the Year in 2016, but a coaching change is a welcomed fresh start considering the occasionally rocky relationship he endured under Klinsmann.
Klinsmann dropped Altidore for two World Cup qualifiers in 2012 while criticizing his play and sent him home from the 2015 Gold Cup over fitness concerns.
But this time around Arena, who led U.S. Soccer from 1998-2006, has only been complimentary toward the striker.
“In early years there were hints of greatness there, so I’m not surprised where he’s at,” said Arena. “When I saw him as a 16-year-old I was in awe of his physical characteristics. This (past) year he was able to overcome some injuries and have a great year.”
Arena is trying to get the United States’ qualifying campaign on track having been brought in after they lost two games last November that left them at the bottom of the six-team regional CONCACAF group.
The 32 invitees Arena called to the camp, which is the only chance he will have with a significant portion of his squad before naming his qualifying roster, all come from Major League Soccer and includes seven uncapped players.
“Everyone is trying to prove themselves and that fight creates a healthy environment,” said MLS forward Jordan Morris.
The camp concludes with friendlies on Jan. 29 against Serbia and Feb. 3 versus Jamaica that precede crucial World Cup qualifying matches in March.
“As a coaching staff we have to look at film and start to piece together a tighter roster for the qualifiers,” said Arena, a five-times MLS champion coach. “We have a lot of work to do.”