Arena relies on familiar faces, 12 years after last World Cup qualifying campaign
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard were with Bruce Arena the last time the U.S. coach guided the Americans into World Cup qualifying—way back 12 years ago.
"It's a long time for a coach, too, I might add," cracked the 65-year-old Arena, "I had a lot more hair 12 years ago."
Jozy Altidore played for Arena during his debut season of Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls in 2006 and part of '07.
The Americans are counting on that familiarity and experience in big matches when they face Honduras at home Friday in World Cup qualifying.
"He's been around U.S. Soccer for a very long time. I think that helps him a bit in his approach," Altidore said after Tuesday's training in a steady rain at Avaya Stadium. "He's a guy that everybody's really comfortable with and there's no adjustment period, which is good. He was one of my first pro coaches, so I know him well, his style and everything, so it's nothing new. It's good to have him back."
Arena's roster features 19 of 26 players from Major League Soccer with the Monday night addition of Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes. There were just 10 MLS players leading into an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Costa Rica on Nov. 15 — eight of whom dressed for the match after Howard got hurt against Mexico.
That sent the Americans to their first 0-2 start in the final round of World Cup qualifying and led to Jurgen Klismnann's ouster. Arena then returned 10 years after his firing.
"I think Bruce is going to call up the players that give him the best chance to win," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "Regardless of where you play, regardless of what you've done, Bruce is going to rely on guys who are going to step on the field in big moments and go for it, be aggressive and fearless and represent him and the team and our country in the best possible way."
The Americans might need all the depth they have up front. Forward Jordan Morris didn't practice again Tuesday while nursing an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. He did gym work and rehabbed the ankle after spending Monday receiving treatment at the team hotel. His status for Wednesday's practice remained unclear.
"Anybody that's going to help the team, it doesn't matter where you play," Beasley said. "It doesn't matter if it's more MLS, more Europe, more Mexico, more Scandinavia, it doesn't matter. As long as you know what it's about to play for this team and play for this country you're going to be a part of it, so it's good to have that."
Beasley and Dempsey are 34. Howard, the starting goalkeeper the past two World Cups, turned 38 this month. There's a comfort level for the three with their new, and old, coach, Arena.
"They're old, man, they're some old cats," Altidore said. "That's a long time ago. Guys that we still need, guys with a lot of quality."
"They're not bad players," Arena said when asked about his 30-somethings still playing for him on the big stage more than a decade later.
Dempsey and Howard are healthy again at last.
Howard had surgery on his right thigh in November after getting hurt in a World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico and being replaced in the 40th minute. Dempsey had been out because of an irregular heartbeat.
"Experience counts for a lot in games like this, guys who understand what these games and what these moments are all about," Bradley said. "In both their cases, their experience and their track record speaks for itself, guys who have been on the field for us on so many big days, on so many important days. For me, personally, I couldn't be happier to have them both back and in the team and we're going to rely on them in a big way on Friday night."
Howard likes the mix of players brought in by Arena.
"I think that's probably a testament to some of our longevity," Howard said. "It's good to have some pieces in play that have been there who understand the manager. There are a lot of young kids, too."
Altidore downplayed a Twitter back-and-forth with teammate Alejandro Bedoya on March 11. Bedoya spoke after Altidore drew a foul during Toronto FC's 2-2 draw with Philadelphia. "Knowing Jozy, he tends to go down easy in the box, so let's just leave it at that." Altidore took to Twitter: "Nice comment pal @AleBedoya17. You have a lot to say but never to anyones face. Im surprised.. but I shouldn't be." The matter seems put to rest. "It's all jokes, man," Altidore told The Associated Press. "It's nothing crazy. I've known Bedoya a long time. It's all good."