U.S. men's national team seeks to end slide in Chattanooga

As he readies for the second match of his second stint as coach of the U.S. men's national soccer team, Bruce Arena admits he's very different from when he last held the reins.

"I used to dunk a basketball 10 years ago, and now I can't even touch the net," a smiling, 65-year-old Arena said Thursday night at Finley Stadium. "I'm different, because your experience in 10 years is a lot in coaching and in anything else. You have a better feel for the game and in dealing with players and understanding the organization and having the ability to sit back and look and reflect on things that you've experienced.

"I would think in coaching that 10 years later, you should be better from all your experiences."

Fans of United States soccer are hoping their team is better tonight against Jamaica in a Finley friendly than it was during last Sunday's 0-0 draw against Serbia in San Diego and noticeably better than last November, when qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia began with losses to Mexico, 2-1, and Costa Rica, 4-0. Those setbacks led to the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann as coach and the return of Arena, whose first go-around from 1998 to 2006 was highlighted by a thrilling surge to the 2002 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals that included upsets of Portugal and Mexico.

In between his stints guiding the U.S. national team, Arena led the L.A. Galaxy to three MLS Cups.

Tonight's exhibition, which is expected to take place before a crowd of at least 17,000, is the final match before the U.S. team resumes hexagonal qualifying with a March 24 date with Honduras in San Jose, Calif. Fox Sports 1 is televising tonight's friendly, which begins at 7.

"I think every time you step on the field, it's important to play to win and to get a positive result," Arena said. "Having not won our last game, this one will be important to try and win. I think you'll see the players have a lot of energy."

Arena will use different players from five days ago, beginning with Luis Robles in the goal. Nick Rimando was the goalie last Sunday in San Diego.

Defenders Jorge Villafana and Walker Zimmerman are scheduled to start tonight, with Villafana having come off the bench last Sunday and Zimmerman having not played at all. Arena will use a different alignment in the midfield, and there won't be a specific player filling in for Jermaine Jones.

"It's all about leaving a good impression on the coaches," midfielder Chris Pontius told U.S. Soccer earlier this week. "We have a lot of training sessions, but the games are where you're going to make or break it. You've got to step out on the field and perform, and we've got one more game for that.

"For all of us guys who have been here for three-and-a-half weeks, we want to see all of our hard work pay off and get some confidence going into the qualifiers. A win would be huge."

Arena wants to see improvement in speed of play compared to last Sunday but isn't putting too much importance on continuity this evening. Perhaps that's his experience doing the talking.

"For the domestic players, it's a difficult time with their fitness and timing and all of that," he said. "I don't think anything we do tomorrow night will impact our coordination or our continuity. We're going to look at a few more faces and have a few more evaluations that will allow us to prepare for March."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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