Bruce Arena faces his first test as U.S. national coach on Sunday, as the Americans play Serbia in a friendly at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (4 p.m., ESPN2, UniMas).
A late-January exhibition that doesn’t fall on an official FIFA international match day will not paint a true picture of the team, as none of the Europe-based players are available. Nevertheless, U.S. fans and the media will be paying close attention to see if the players look more energized and creative than they did in a pair of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica that wound up costing Jurgen Klinsmann his job.
The U.S. team is in last place in the six-team CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group, with critical games coming up in March against Honduras and Panama.
Almost all of Arena’s 23-man roster comes from Major League Soccer with the exception of defender Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna) and the unattached DaMarcus Beasley, still kicking it at 34. The team features many World Cup veterans such as Michael Bradley, Weston’s Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones and Boca Raton’s Jozy Altidore, who was in top form with Toronto FC last season.
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“I think some of the veteran guys continue to demonstrate why they’ve been leaders with the team,” Arena said. “I would say Bradley, Altidore, Jones — they’re really impressive individuals on a daily basis, and they bring a lot of character and experience to the team.”
He also brought in two midfielders who had fallen out of favor under the Klinsmann regime, Portland’s Darlington Nagbe and Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber. Both are playmakers who could spice up the attack. Also, keep an eye on Sebastian Lletget, a former West Ham player who has been a rising star with the Los Angeles Galaxy under Arena.
Lletget caught the attention of other players in camp. He can play winger or in the middle.
“I’ve been a big fan of Sebastian Lletget,” Altidore said when reporters asked who stood out to him at camp. “I think he’s a player that in terms of the new faces that’s come in and done really well — good, tidy player and I think he’s made a really good impression on a lot of the guys.”
Bedoya added: “I’ve definitely been impressed by Sebastian’s style, the way he’s so balanced, strong on the ball and has really good feet. So I’ve enjoyed playing with him.”
Arena singled out FC Dallas center back Walker Zimmerman — “He impresses me every day” — and Zimmerman’s Dallas teammate Matt Hedges, who was sent back to his club with a right knee sprain. Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes left camp with a knee contusion.
“I think over these two weeks we’ve gotten a really good reaction out of the players,” Arena said. “They’ve worked real hard. I have been extremely pleased by everything we have seen throughout the January Camp. It’s important to get off to a good start. If we get a win, I’ll be very happy.”
After the game against Serbia, the U.S. team heads to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to face Jamaica on Feb. 3.
EPL: Chelsea (55), Arsenal (47), Tottenham (46), Liverpool (45), Manchester City (43).
La Liga: Real Madrid (43), Sevilla (42), Barcelona (41), Atletico Madrid (36), Real Sociedad (35).
Serie A: Juventus (48), Roma (47), Napoli (44), Lazio (40), Inter (39).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (45), Leipzig (42), Eintracht (32), Hoffenheim (31), Dortmund and Hertha (30).
Ligue 1: Monaco (48), Nice (46), PSG (45), Lyon (37), Marseille (33).
Sunday: Congo vs. Ghana African Nations Cup (10:55 a.m., BEIN); Real Madrid vs. Real Sociedad (2:35 p.m., BEIN); USA vs. Serbia friendly (4 p.m., ESPN2, UniMas).
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes); Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake); Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls).
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (unattached); Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United); Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders); Greg Garza (Atlanta United); Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders); Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna); Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas); Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union); Michael Bradley (Toronto FC); Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City); Jermaine Jones (L.A. Galaxy); Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls); Sebastian Lletget (L.A. Galaxy); Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire); Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers); Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union).
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution); Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC); Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders).