U.S. coach Bruce Arena won't favor Europe-based players over MLS talent
U.S. men's national team manager Bruce Arena indicated that when it comes to building his roster for the March World Cup qualifiers, "it doesn't matter" whether a player is playing domestically or overseas.
Arena just concluded the U.S. team's annual January camp, one that saw him get a close look at 31 domestic players. But with the MLS season not set to begin until March 3, there are questions as to how sharp they will be heading into the critical matches against Honduras in San Jose, California, on March 24, and then away to Panama four days later.
As a point of comparison, foreign-based players will have been playing for about eight months. But Arena insisted he'll look at each player on a case-by-case basis.
"We're going to follow every player, both in Europe, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, and decide on who we think are the best group of players to help us get some results," he said on a conference call with reporters. "It doesn't matter where they come from. We have players in Europe who aren't playing.
"We have players in Europe that are playing a lot. It's the same case in Mexico. And then in the U.S. the players we've had in camp are for the most part the players that will be under consideration for the March roster.
"They have a bit of a jump, so they have another six weeks or so to be prepared for the March camp."
Arena added that he'll be visiting U.S. players playing in Germany, England, and Mexico over the coming weeks.
Included in that group are fringe players like Nottingham Forest outside back Eric Lichaj and Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola, with Arena stating that they were under "strong consideration" for the March camp.
"[Those visits] will help us make some final determinations as to how he'll piece together our roster," he said.
One player who hasn't been seeing time is Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Guzan, who will join MLS expansion side Atlanta United in the summer, has been stuck on the bench behind starter Victor Valdes. But Arena said Guzan remains very much a candidate to take the field against Honduras.
"Brad Guzan is a very experienced goalkeeper, and as we saw in the case of Nick Rimando in the January camp, that experience means a lot," said Arena. "Because they're not getting games on a consistent basis doesn't mean you can rule them out. I think Brad has shown enough that he's still a strong candidate to be our No. 1 goalkeeper."
Guzan's status is impacted in part by the groin injury Tim Howard sustained back in November that required surgery. But Arena wasn't necessarily ruling out Howard being on the squad either.
"[Howard] is on schedule to maybe start the first week of the MLS season. Having said that, [his recovery] could be off a couple of weeks, and perhaps he won't be a candidate for March. But right now he's in the picture, and that's a positive as well," Arena said.
Arena also seemed more optimistic about the status of Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, who has been sidelined by a knee injury since October.
"[Cameron] is making progress and he'll be back in full training shortly," said Arena.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.