The U.S. Men's National Team is looking for redemption after two surprising and disappointing World Cup qualifying losses, first against Mexico and then against Costa Rica. The loss to Mexico was the U.S.'s first ever W.C. qualifying loss at home against the team and was the beginning of a shocking start to the Hexagonal phase of qualifying for Russia 2018. Fed up with the results, the president of the USSF, Sunil Gulati, fired head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in late November and brought back former coach Bruce Arena.
Arena coached the USMNT from 1998–2006, leading them to the quarterfinal round of the 2002 World Cup. He was fired after a disappointing group stage elimination in the 2006 World Cup but has now been given a second chance. Arena will be looking to achieve the same objective as the team he'll be coaching: redemption.
The road to Russia 2018 still looks promising for the U.S., but so did wins against Mexico and Costa Rica only a few months ago. With leaders like Clint Dempsey still questionable, Arena has said he will be looking to an MLS core for strength and to the team's youth for energy.
Arena earned one international cap with the U.S. in a 1973 game against Israel. Three years later, he started coaching D.C. United in the MLS. He was the 1997 MLS Coach of the Year and the next year was hired to replace Steve Sampson as head coach of the U.S. National Team. Their surprising and successful run in the 2002 World Cup and continued success following it earned Arena's team a place at number four on the FIFA world rankings in 2006. Though their performance in that tournament was disappointing and lead to Arena's departure, he nonetheless brought 71 wins in 130 games coaching the National Team.
Back as head coach, Arena is facing several anxious months of practice leading up to the next qualifiers. A friendly against Serbia on January 29 will be fans' first look at the team under its new (old) coach. The important games, though, begin with a qualifying match against Honduras on March 24. Four days later, another qualifier at Panama means two crucial games are fast approaching to bump the U.S. out of their last-place position in the hexagonal stage and onto the next stage with winning momentum.
Meanwhile, CONCACAF is preparing for the 2017 Gold Cup. The full schedule and final groups won't be announced until the new year, but seven teams have already qualified: Canada, Curacao, French Guiana, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico and the U.S. The tournament will start July 7 at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.
Bruce Arena has an entirely different team under his leadership than he did in 2006, but the U.S.'s underdog status remains. He'll be familiar with unfavorable odds and has proven that he knows how to instill confidence in a team facing established opponents. The USMNT has finished third in the last three hexagonal stages, which earns them a spot in the next stage. So even a fourth consecutive third-place finish will push the team along. But with a new coach and a few solid months to prepare, let's hope for a stronger advance and greater momentum going into the tougher matches.
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