When the United States national soccer team marched into Washington's RFK Stadium on November 17 for its first match since its historic run in the World Cup, it entered with a roster of players with little or no international experience. The roster was part of U.S. coach Bruce Arena's plan to find the next generation of soccer stars.
When Bruce Arena took over the reigns of the U.S. squad after football's 1998 World Cup, he used his first game to showcase several newcomers to the international scene. Jeff Agoos, Clint Mathis and Brian MacBride were among those making early appearances for the U.S. team in that November 1998 game against Australia.
Now, four years later, Arena is at it again. In Sunday's 2-0 win over El Salvador in Washington, Arena featured a roster featuring only four players who competed in the 2002 World Cup. Two of the starters, forward Taylor Twellman and defender Wade Barrett, were playing in their first international match ever.
With several heroes from the 2002 World Cup currently playing in Europe, Coach Arena's lineup was made up entirely of players competing in the top U.S. professional league, Major League Soccer. Mr. Arena says now is as good a time as ever to check out the future of U.S. soccer. "It was nice that in the last couple months we've received a lot of praise, and I'm grateful for all of that, but I want to get down to business of starting all over again so it's nice to get back out and get back to the business of trying to build a team again that can hopefully qualify for the next World Cup," he says. "And it's not going to be easy, but at least we can get back to the business of trying."
Several U.S. soccer team newcomers had strong games Sunday. Midfielder Sasha Victorine, playing in only his second international game, scored in the 60th minute. And goalkeepers Tim Howard and Nick Rimando, with a combined international playing experience of three games, teamed up to shut out El Salvador.
Arena says for the United States to remain competitive, it must continue finding and nurturing new talent. Arena has developed a reputation for doing just that. Since taking over the reigns of the U.S. national soccer team, more than 90 players have taken part in at least one of Arena's training camps, while more than 70 have played in at least one international game.