New United States men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena announced the roster for his first camp on Thursday, calling up 32 players, all from Major League Soccer, for the 25-day January camp.
Arena was re-hired in November to succeed the fired Jurgen Klinsmann. He had previously been the U.S. manager from 1998 through 2006 and worked as head coach and general manager for the New York Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy in his decade away from the national team.
He made several interesting choices on his expansive roster and recalled the long-exiled Sporting Kansas City playmaker Benny Feilhaber. He also brought back Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who had fallen out with Klinsmann and was no longer getting call-ups. Other notable returners are New England Revolution striker Juan Agudelo, Philadelphia Union forward Chris Pontius and unattached veteran DaMarcus Beasley. Sporting KC attacking midfielder Graham Zusi, meanwhile, was listed as a defender.
Gambian-born Vancouver Whitecaps forward Kekutah Manneh and Swiss-born MLS Cup-winning Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei received invitations despite not being eligible to play for the USA yet, although both are in the process.
The Seattle Sounders’ Clint Dempsey, the second all-time leading scorer in the national team program, was not called up. He missed the second half of the MLS season with an irregular heartbeat, for which he underwent two procedures, although he returned to training toward the end of the year.
“Clint is still progressing and everyone is taking a measured approach,” national team press officer Michael Kammarman told Yahoo Sports. Arena said in a Facebook Live chat that he hopes to have Dempsey available in March when World Cup qualifying resumes.
Since his hiring, Arena has watched potential national teamers in action in North America and in Europe, met with players and hired a coaching staff. He has little time to forge a team, given that March brings qualifiers against Honduras and Panama. Following losses in the first two games of the final round of qualifying, leading to Klinsmann’s ouster, the margin for error has become small, even if the CONCACAF region is a very forgiving one – with three of six teams qualifying directly for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and a fourth reaching a playoff against an Asian team. The U.S. currently sits in last place.
The January camp will culminate in friendlies with Serbia on Jan. 29 in San Diego and Jamaica on Feb. 3 in Chattanooga, but Arena won’t have his full national team at his disposal – his European-based players – until just a few games before the Honduras match. So this camp is a chance to build a spine and core from the regulars that are active in MLS – like captain Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore – and to build a framework to which to add the rest of the talent pool later on.
“With games at the end of the month and the World Cup Qualifiers in March, this is going to be a critical time for us,” Arena said in a statement. “It’s important that we come in and quickly establish an understanding of what we are about and how we go about building our team. As for the players, we are coming into this with an open mind, so it’s a huge opportunity for them.”
U.S. MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM JANUARY CAMP ROSTER
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls).
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (unattached), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC).
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy).
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.