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Mailbag: USMNT changes under Arena, Trump's impact on World Cup 2026

Grant Wahl answers your questions on all things soccer, including changes Bruce Arena will make to the U.S. men's national team.

You guys have questions. I’ve got answers. Let’s open the ‘Bag!

What changes do you foresee with Bruce Arena's starting 11 vs. Jurgen Klinsmann's? @ChelseaMatt33

I don’t see a lot of changes, to be honest. Arena himself has stated that he won’t make a lot of moves with there being so much pressure to get points in World Cup qualifying. I do think Steve Birnbaum has a chance to put himself in the conversation to start at center back in the March qualifiers, not least because Geoff Cameron and John Brooks have a recent history of missing out due to injuries. I had dinner with Arena recently in L.A. for an upcoming SI magazine story, and he said he sees Michael Bradley as a No. 6 and wants someone in front of him in the central midfield who can pass better than what we’ve been seeing in that part of the field. That player could be Sacha Kljestan, Arena said, or it could be someone else.

I also see Arena playing an actual left back at the left back position. The ideal person there might be Greg Garza, but it was also good to see Jorge Villafaña finally get called in. For what it’s worth, I’m hearing that players who have performed well in January camp include Alejandro Bedoya, Birnbaum, Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Lletget and Jordan Morris.

With new tone set, Arena trims U.S. squad to face Serbia, eyes future contributors

To me biggest pro of changing coaches was finally breaking up Michael Bradley/Jermaine Jones. What's one to think if they start together Sunday? @zolz_berg

I wouldn’t make too much of it if that happens. I’m curious to see if Arena goes with a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-4-1. If it’s a 4-4-2, I would expect to see the two central midfielders be Bradley and Kljestan. If it’s a 4-1-4-1, you could still get Bradley, Jones and Kljestan.

Do you think Bruce Arena will change his perspective on European-based dual nationals? @Gerzon_Gomez

I think he already has, at least based on what he has said lately in relation to his ESPN quote from a couple years ago about wanting “American” players. I think it spoke loudly that one of Arena’s first actions after taking the U.S. job was to go to Germany and visit personally with dual-nationals Brooks, Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler (in addition to Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood). Arena needs those guys to succeed, period.

Who will get the most USMNT caps at left back in 2017? (Have to take the Gold Cup into account, of course — sorry to complicate it!) @thew1242

I’m going to say Garza, who has a real opportunity to stake his claim on the left back spot with his move to Atlanta United.

The U.S. national team and the uncomfortable question of commitment

What’s the first soccer game you remember watching on TV? @mflisi39

I’ve been thinking about this topic this week with the departure of Tommy Smyth from ESPN after 24 years there. One of my favorite soccer memories will always be going to Fiona’s on New York’s Upper East Side and drinking Caffrey’s Irish Ale while hearing Smyth call the ESPN games during Manchester United’s Champions League title run in 1998-99. That was about the only European club soccer on U.S. television at the time, which sounds crazy today.

To answer your question, my first soccer games that I remember watching on TV were locally televised MISL indoor games involving the Kansas City Comets back in the early 1980s. The first outdoor games I remember watching were when I fell down the soccer rabbit hole during the 1990 World Cup—Univision games with the great Andrés Cantor and the late Norberto Longo on the call. Good times.

Your take on the NASL-style penalty shootout being considered to be used in World Cup 2026? @trolanma

I kind of laughed when I saw that Marco van Basten had included the old shootout in his list of proposals to change the game recently. What is it with famous Dutchmen loving the old NASL shootout? The great Johan Cruyff, after all, always said he loved the run-up shootout as well. I don’t feel that strongly one way or the other, but I’d have no problem with it.

FIFA considering replacing PKs with run-up shootouts ahead of 2026 World Cup

Does Trump make it more or less likely that the U.S. gets the 2026 World Cup? @jakehirsch77

There’s no way of knowing for sure right now. He definitely doesn’t make it more likely, and while I’d say “slightly less likely,” I still think the U.S. is the favorite. A lot can and will change in U.S. politics between now and 2020 (when the 2026 host is set to be decided). But after the U.S. failed to land the 2016 Olympics and 2022 World Cup with President Obama’s support, I no longer think the U.S. president matters that much in these decisions.

I do think the U.S. is less likely to propose a co-hosted World Cup with Mexico now that Trump is in charge. And I’m curious to see if FIFA changes its tune on demanding concessions from host country governments in return for hosting World Cups. If you haven’t noticed, it’s going to be harder to get visas to visit the U.S. under the new administration if you’re from certain countries.

Rafa Marquez, Borussia Dortmund have pointed responses to Trump's wall

Any word on the location(s) for the upcoming USMNT World Cup qualifiers? @hurleycc

The March home qualifier is expected to be in San Jose, and the June home qualifier is expected to be in Commerce City, Colorado.

What are your feelings on the Caribbean potentially leaving CONCACAF? @jpet9193

I’m not sure that it would help improve the quality of soccer being played there if they remove themselves from competing against teams in North and Central America. It would probably be advantageous for the U.S., which doesn’t benefit much from being grouped with the Caribbean teams in CONCACAF.

Any word on the opponent for the MLS All-Star Game in Chicago? @msd1986

The league has invited Barcelona to be the All-Star opponent at Soldier Field, but Barça has yet to say yes.

MLS expansion: An in-depth look at the many bids for the league's next four clubs

How big of a success will Atlanta United be, on and off the field? @drock_18

This week’s announcement that Atlanta has sold 27,000 season tickets—an incredible number for any MLS team, much less an expansion team—really does make it seem like Atlanta can be the closest thing in MLS to Seattle since Seattle. And as with Seattle, I think Atlanta can make the playoffs in its first season based on the roster that has taken shape. I also can’t wait to see how Tata Martino adapts to MLS. This is going to be fun.

Five years from now which new MLS expansion team will have a bigger impact in the league, Atlanta United (in 2017) or LAFC (in 2018)? @Shufflerevo

This to me is a more apples-to-apples question than comparing Atlanta to fellow 2017 debutante Minnesota United. In fact, I asked that question to Shawn Francis, my go-to guy on American soccer and pop culture, in our interview for next week’s Planet Fútbol podcast. He thinks LAFC will be even bigger than Atlanta, but I’m not so sure on that. Both could be huge, though.

What’s wrong with Liverpool and what do they need to do bounce back? @ErickFalero

It’s a number of factors: Sadio Mané’s absence at Africa Cup of Nations; the imbalance from moving Adam Lallana out wide to replace him; a squad that could use a couple more useful players this window; general defending issues; a difficulty breaking down defenses that sit deep; and, in that same vein, struggles against teams in the bottom half of the table. Getting Mané back would help, but most Liverpool fans would like to see FSG get going and sign a player or two this window.

The reasons behind Liverpool's fading form

Where do you think Alexis Sánchez will go after Arsenal? @esbvn

I don’t think he’s going anywhere anytime soon. He’ll get a new deal done. Arsenal is a great place for him.

Is Freddy Adu going to be the next Pele? ;) But seriously, why would an MLS team look at him given his form/history? @msd1986

Adu, now 27, is on trial with the Portland Timbers. He goes back a ways with Portland coach Caleb Porter, who coached him on the ill-fated U.S. Olympic qualifying team for 2012. In my experience, coaches often like to think they can be the one to unlock the talent that other coaches have been unable to do it with. Whether that happens with Porter and Adu remains to be seen. Adu barely played last season with Tampa Bay in the NASL.

Freddy Adu to join Portland Timbers on trial in MLS preseason

Why is there such an unbalanced national TV schedule for MLS? Some teams have 15 to 16 games, others have two to three. @JasenAsay

TV channels want the biggest audiences possible, so they’ll schedule more games of teams that have bigger stars, come from bigger U.S. cities and have bigger home crowds and atmospheres that look better on television. Canadian teams will also rarely appear on U.S. national broadcasts because that instantly limits the potential U.S. audience.