With the next round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA Wold Cup right around the corner, U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena held court on a conference call with reporters to discuss the team’s priorities.
“Win games,” Arena said matter of factly.
The USA lost the first two games of “The Hex” — the six-team final group of CONCACAF sides aiming to advance to the World Cup finals in Russia. A home loss to Mexico and a road loss at Costa Rica leaves the Yanks at the bottom of the table with 8 games remaining in the campaign.
“We have to win games right now,” Arena added, detailing what needs to change. “We are a little bit behind the 8-ball in World Cup qualifying, and that’s the biggest improvement.”
The U.S. finished off its annual January camp with a pair of shutouts in two international friendlies — 0-0 against Serbia and 1-0 against Jamiaca. In both games, the defense played well, but the offense found it very hard to create scoring opportunities. One aspect that did not concern Arena in those games was goalkeeping, as the USMNT held firm over 180 minutes.
“Our goalkeepers are solid,” said Arena. “That is one area we wanted to focus on.”
The three goalkeepers to feature during the January national team camp and the two friendlies all hail from Major League Soccer — Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake, who played the full 90 minutes against Serbia, and Luis Robles of the New York Red Bulls and David Bingham of the San Jose Earthquakes, who each played 45 minutes in the win against Jamaica. With the current top two USA ‘keepers unavailable for the camp -- Tim Howard is out with an injury and Brad Guzan remained with his English club Middlesbrough — the three MLSers had an opportunity to show Arena they belong in the group of players he will select ahead of March World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.
“The MLS players,” explained Areana. ”We need to track closely over the next month to see where they are moving along with their fitness and how they are playing with their club teams before we finalize our roster.”
Bingham, a two-year starter for the Earthquakes will be especially keen to be selected to the 23-man roster next month, especially since the qualifier against Honduras will be played in San Jose’s home Avaya Stadium. Arena was quick to praise the 27-year-old, but he wasn’t willing to say what his chances were to suit up in March for the USA.
“He’s a good goalkeeper, a very good shot-blocker,” said Arena. “At our level, he has to get a little bit more comfortable in communicating with the group in front of him. He could be a little bit better with his distribution, but the number one quality you are looking for in a goalkeeper is shot-blocking. He’s very good at that, and he’s also good at coming off his line for crosses and all.”
Bingham played the second half against Jamaica and was little troubled. He returned to the Earthquakes earlier this week to join the rest of his teammates in preseason training. Arena noted that the Quakes number one could very well feature for the national team, but perhaps not in the immediate future.
“He continues to grow as a player,” said Arena, “and we would expect over the next year or two he’s going to make significant progress.”
The USA head coach indicated that the player pool for the upcoming qualifiers is around 40 players, including both domestic and foreign-based candidates. Bingham stands in that pool, likely behind Guzan, Howard, and Rimando on the selection list, so his good showing in January camp could eventually pave his way onto the core roster. And even if Bingham is not selected for the two World Cup qualifiers, he remains a candidate for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“It was critically important that we got to know these players a little bit better,” said Arena, “understood their qualities a little bit better, as we prepare for our roster in March.”
Tickets for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Honduras at Avaya Stadium are not yet available to the general public. Kick-off for the match are the home of the San Jose Earthquakes is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Pacific time on Friday, March 24.