Arena to experiment with more combinations against Jamaica

February 3, 2017

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — After a dismal 0-0 tie against an inexperienced group of Serbians in his first game as U.S. coach in more than a decade, Bruce Arena gets one more look at the domestic part of his player pool when the Americans play Jamaica in an exhibition on Friday night ahead of the resumption of World Cup qualifying.

Arena said defenders Walker Zimmerman and Jorge Villafana will play against the Reggae Boyz, with Zimmerman making his international debut five days after Villafana.

Luis Robles, making his third appearance, will take over from goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Sebastian Lletget, who made his debut at the start of the second half against Serbia, figures to see action in midfield on the artificial surface of Finley Stadium following the departures of midfielders Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan.

“We’re going to look at a few more faces and have a couple more evaluations,” Arena said Thursday. “It allows us to prepare for March.”

Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in the first two games of the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and Caribbean, caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006. Arena supervised a training camp of players from Major League Soccer, and the Europe-based portion of the player pool will be integrated ahead of the March 24 qualifier against Honduras at San Jose, California. Four days later, the Americans play at Panama.

There is time to recover in the hexagonal: The top three nations qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia, and the No. 4 finisher goes to a playoff against Asia’s fifth-place nation.

“I’d like to see everything just a little bit better,” Arena said. “Our speed of play a little bit better, our defending rock solid — which I thought was pretty good the other day — a little bit more balance in our attack and, obviously, creating a few more good chances.”

The U.S. had just one shot on target against the Serbs, but the 37-year-old Rimando wasn’t tested until he dived to parry a shot in the 89th minute. With Colorado’s Tim Howard recovering from leg surgery and Brad Guzan not playing much at Middlesbrough, the American goalkeeping situation is unclear.

“We want to obviously look at a couple of goalies out of this camp,” Arena said. “Nick Rimando played well last game, and Nick has demonstrated his ability in goal is still there. That was encouraging, and now we’ll see how Luis does.”

Jones and right back Timmy Chandler are suspended for the Honduras match because of yellow card accumulation. Arena allowed Jones to leave camp Saturday to report to the LA Galaxy. Kljestan departed because of the imminent birth of his child.

“We’ll have a different midfield line (so) there really won’t be a player per se playing the position that Jermaine played the other day,” Arena said. “We’ll have a different look in the midfield with a number of different players.”

Arena said Thursday that Lletjet “brought a lot of energy right from the start” against Serbia and “helped us create a couple of chances.”

“It was unreal,” Lletget said. “You talk about experience, it was something I’ve always wanted for a very, very long time. To have reached my goal, it was a special thing.”

On the back line last weekend, Chad Marshall made his first appearance for the U.S. since 2010 and Greg Garza played his first international match since July 2015 as he comes back from hip surgery. Graham Zusi, usually a midfielder, was at right back for the first time.

“It’s just another group of players who will have their opportunity to show,” Arena said. “I think we made good progress in our January camp in trying to get more solid in our movement as a back line and movement as a team in defending. That’s going to be important as we get into the important games of 2017.”