Bruce Arena has the luxury of juggling his lineups from match to match–regardless of competition–without worrying about the result, even as he says he goes into every match with winning in mind.
While he relishes the relative obscurity his choices and tactics face, he also longs for more scrutiny over the US men’s national team he will lead tomorrow against Mexico in a friendly at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (TV: Fox Sports World, Telemundo, HDNet, 8:30 p.m. ET.).
“I don’t think there is a ton of pressure on our team like there is on other countries,” Arena said. “Unfortunately, at this point in time, there aren’t too many Americans that follow the national team on a regular basis.”
He noted as well that more fans will be there cheering on Mexico, and that “there aren’t too many Americans that follow the national team on a regular basis.”
“It certainly takes a lot of pressure off the coach, but I’d like it to get to a point where there is some real pressure on the coach and players every time we step on the field,” Arena said. “However, because of our current environment in our country, it certainly doesn’t mimic the pressure perhaps [Mexican coach Richard Lavolpe] will have on Wednesday, or coaches in Europe and South America.”
His squad going into tomorrow’s match will feature just one player not in MLS, as foreign-based players are not available due to club commitments. The only exception is forward Conor Casey (Karlsruher SC).
"We think that at this point in time it is a difficult journey for players playing in Europe,” Arena said. “We have a number of players who are playing with club teams that are fighting relegation or are in position for promotion. In their best interest and the best interest of their club it makes sense for them to remain in Europe at this point in time."
Arena, though facing more telling choices elsewhere, will have a difficult decision to make at goalkeeper–who to use in qualifying and ultimately, who will be on the 2006 World Cup roster.
He can choose between the 2003 and 2004 English Premier League goalkeepers of the year–Brad Friedel (Blackburn) and Tim Howard (Manchester United), veteran stalwart Kasey Keller (Tottenham Hotspur), or he can look to the internationally-tested Jonny Walker, now with the MetroStars in MLS, which has factored into his selections of late.
"One thing that has separated him from the MLS keepers as far as the domestic keepers go is that he is more consistent,” Arena said of Walker. “I think that has to do with his experience playing a little longer than some of our other keepers. He has more big-game experience having been in South America and some good competitions there. We have a number of MLS goalkeepers that are fairly comparable and Jonny’s experience gives him an edge over most of them."
Walker, who played a late Sunday match in a 1-1 draw with New England, may get a rest in favor of Kevin Hartman. Arena said he has not decided who to start against Mexico.
As for Howard, Arena said his availability during World Cup qualifying will be determined in the next couple of weeks, and will depend on how much of a break the Manchester United goalkeeper needs, as Howard has played virtually non-stop for the past 18 months. Arena, though, has been in contact with Howard recently.
“He obviously had a good year with Manchester United. He experienced some ups and downs, but mostly positives during the year,” Arena said of Howard. “Obviously, he sat for five, six, seven games, I’m not exactly sure of the number, but is now back in the first 11. He has developed well. I’ve spoken with Tim on an off over the past month or so. I’ve not yet determined what to do with him during the summer.”
The match tomorrow, Arena said, should be a more wide-open affair than the match the two teams played last year in Houston, with a full-sized and better surface in play rather than the narrower one at Reliant Stadium.
“We just don’t feel that this type of game is any different than games we’ve played,” Arena said. “We don’t believe that this opponent in this match on Wednesday is any better than the previous opponent, so that experience against quality teams always helps in these games. I feel when our players step on the field on Wednesday will be comfortable and will have the type of confidence they’ll need to win the game.”
Arena cautioned that while Lavolpe’s team is “a little more aggressive going forward” than ones coached by former Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, “the coach can only have so much influence. It is about the players and the players on the current Mexican team are still the same number of players that have been around for a long time, such as [Jared] Borguetti, [Omar] Bravo, [Salvador] Carmona, and [Pavel] Pardo. It’s a lot of the same players, so the style of play is still relatively similar.”
However, Arena professes that whatever team Mexico lines up tomorrow, it will be of little concern to him (“It is a friendly game.”), as he uses the match to finalize his thinking on his World Cup qualifying roster.
“A player can make a very favorable impression at this game,” Arena said. “It’s a good game against one of the better teams in CONCACAF, and I think that if you can perform well in this game then you are the type of player that can help us in qualifying.”
He will also want to find out how much progress new defender Chris Albright (LA Galaxy) and midfielder Pat Noonan (New England) has made. Of Noonan, Arena says he sees a role for him during qualifying, while with time, Albright “can develop into a very good outside back.”
And despite having to shuffle his roster at the last minute due to injuries to defenders Cory Gibbs (groin, Dallas) and Danny Califf (sprained MCLLA Galaxy)–calling in defenders Pablo Mastroeni and Richie Kotschau of the Colorado Rapids–Arena said the players on the current roster are capable of defeating Mexico.
“My expectation is to win the game,” Arena said. “Every time we step on the field that is what our expectations are. We are asking this group to perform better than they have in previous games domestically, and I think we want to see an improved performance like we presented to our group in Poland last month. We want to continue to improve our previous performances in order to give us the kind of momentum that we want to have going into World Cup qualifying.”
Notes: Jeff Agoos will provide guest commentary on MatchTracker.
Goalkeepers (2): Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jonny Walker (MetroStars);
Defenders (5): Chris Albright (LA Galaxy), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Richie Kotchau (Colorado Rapids), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Eddie Pope (MetroStars);
Midfielders (6): Chris Armas (Chicago Fire), DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago Fire), Bobby Convey (D.C. United), Richard Mulrooney (San Jose Earthquakes), Pat Noonan (New England Revolution), Kerry Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards);
Forwards (5): Conor Casey (Karslruhe), Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes), Jovan Kirovski (Los Angeles Galaxy), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution), Josh Wolff (Kansas City Wizards).
Goalkeepers (2): Oswaldo Sánchez (Chivas), Moisés Muñoz (Morelia)
Defenders (8): Omar Briceño (Tigres), Ricardo Osorio (Cruz Azul), Salvador Carmona (Chivas), Francisco Javier Rodríguez (Chivas), Mario Pérez (Necaxa), Duilio Davino (America), Hector Altamirano (Santos), Mario Méndez (Toluca);
Midfielders (5): Diego Martínez (Necaxa), Rafaél García (Toluca), Israél López (Toluca), Pavel Pardo (America), Octavio Valdez (Pachuca);
Forwards (5): Omar Bravo (Chivas), Jared Borgetti (Santos), Cuauhtemoc Blanco (America), Emilio Mora (Veracruz), Jose de Jesús Mendoza (América).