Bruce Arena will 'embrace' all eligible players if they're committed to USMNT
On the day that he was installed as United States manager for the second time, Bruce Arena said he will "embrace" all players who are eligible for the U.S., but he wants to make sure they are sufficiently committed to the U.S. cause.
Before his hiring was made official on Tuesday, Arena came under fire about comments he made in 2013 about foreign-born players who have played for the U.S. national team.
In an interview with ESPN the Magazine, Arena had said, "Players on the national team should be -- and this is my own feeling -- they should be Americans. If they're all born in other countries, I don't think we can say we are making progress."
Predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann made extensive use of dual nationals, including German-Americans like Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, and John Brooks.
On Tuesday during a conference call with reporters, Arena sought to clarify his remarks, adding that one of his favorite players from his first stint in charge was Earnie Stewart, who was born in the Netherlands and whose father was a U.S. serviceman.
"I believe that anyone that has a passport for the U.S. is certainly eligible to play for our national team and I embrace all players that are eligible to play," he said. "I just want to make sure that their heart is in the right place, when they place that U.S. jersey on, that they're playing for the crest on the shirt. It's important to me.
"I have great passion for this national team and I expect the same out of our players. I'm all for any players that are eligible to play for us, and I'm really looking forward to working with -- using your term -- our foreign nationals as well as our domestic players."
Arena's comments were echoed by U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati.
"If you are eligible to play for the U.S. national team, you are available for selection," he said. "After that, the coach makes those decisions, but we are open to anyone, whether they are born abroad or born here."
Gulati said the context of such conversations that he's had with Arena focused on the state of the U.S. player development system, and that the success of players like Johnson, Jones, and Brooks couldn't be seen as a plus for the U.S. system since they were all developed abroad.
He added that where a player was born would have no bearing on player selection.
"There's no thought pattern that one has an advantage over the other, as long as they are committed to the U.S. national team," Gulati said.
Arena added that he'll spend the upcoming months meeting with every player in the U.S. pool. Arena will conduct a camp in January for domestic players and will also speak with those playing abroad.
"I think they need to know who I am, and what my thoughts are, where they fit into the program, and the challenge we have together as a team," he said of the U.S. players.
"We'll develop an identity over the next couple of months and hopefully feel comfortable working with each other, and understand that the goal we have is important for the entire group.
"We'll work together in the next couple of months to build our team to be obviously the best team that we can be, and be ready for qualifying when March 24 comes around."
Arena added that he's better prepared for the job than he was when he first took over in 1998, and that he can see and assess things quicker than he did then. But his strengths remain the same.
"What I really know is how to build a team," he said. "I understand all the qualities and circumstances that develop into making a team. Again, I'm hopeful those qualities will allow me to get this team moving at full speed when qualifying starts in March."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.