CARSON, Calif. — Jorge Villafana wasted no time diving into the action at U.S. national team camp, taking part in training Thursday, shortly after arriving from Liga MX side Santos Laguna. He will be looking to make a strong impression in his first U.S. camp, something several players have done this month.
In fact, so many players have impressed Bruce Arena during the winter camp that the U.S. boss says it will be next to impossible to trim the roster from 28 to 23 ahead of Sunday's friendly against Serbia.
"Obviously when you have a change in coaches, you have different philosophies and the players have to respond to you," Arena said Thursday. "I think over these two weeks we've gotten a good reaction out of the players. They've worked real hard and they're making the task of trimming this roster basically impossible.
"I will make five or six decisions today to get our roster down to 23 players and I will tell you guys, you can say that this guy is an idiot on the five or six guys because they all have earned a spot, really. They've all done so well, so this is going to be difficult to do."
Villafana joined the U.S. team after playing for Santos Laguna in midweek Copa MX action. The former Portland Timbers fullback has struggled for playing time since last year after enjoying an outstanding first season in early 2016. Currently stuck on the bench at Santos Laguna aside from cup matches, Villafana was released for the U.S. camp despite the club not being obligated to release him.
"We did that a long time ago," Arena said of arranging Villafana's release and inclusion in the U.S. camp. "I'd seen Jorge during his days at Chivas USA, at Portland, and he played against the Galaxy, I guess it was a year ago, and I thought he played well against us. I always felt he was a player that needs an opportunity with the national team program.
"He's a good, experienced left back," Arena said. "He can sense the position well. He's a pretty good passer and he's experienced. We'll see what he's like in this setting but I've always felt he's a player we've needed to look at."
As for Arena's early impressions of Villafana's first day in camp?
"He fit right in. He looked comfortable in this setting," Arena said. "We'll give him a few more days to get his feet under him and figure out how to utilize him in this camp."
Arena went on to say that Villafana might even have a couple of things playing to his advantage in joining camp from Liga MX..
"We'll see him in camp and see how he responds in one these games," the coach said. "He has to return to his club team and play a little bit more, but one of the advantages he has is that he's in a little bit better form than some of our players here because he's playing off of a little break from the Mexican league."
Arena will send some players home from camp before the team travels down to San Diego on Friday, ahead of Sunday's friendly against Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium. An early departure doesn't necessarily mean Arena won't see them again this year, not with the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying looming.
"We brought in some young guys that I'm more or less looking at for potentially the Gold Cup, and I'd say that would be the case for (Taylor) Kemp and (Keegan) Rosenberry for example, and even (Walker) Zimmerman," Arena said. "They're all candidates for the Gold Cup. We want to have the opportunity to see them here and then we're going to follow them during their MLS seasons before we make those decisions."
When asked which players have stood out or exceeded expectations, Arena responded with a mix of new faces and veterans.
"I think I would say Walker Zimmerman impresses me every day and Matt Hedges did as well," Arena said. "They are two good center backs in Dallas and it's unfortunate that Matt got nicked up a bit, but we really feel responsible to MLS clubs in these kinds of settings where if there's any damage to a player, we'll send them back so they're ready for the season. We did that in that case. We could have kept those guys around but felt that was the more responsible thing to do.
"Zimmerman's done well. I think (Sebastian) Lletget has done well. I think some of the veteran guys continue to demonstrate why they've been leaders of the team. I'd say (Michael) Bradley, (Jozy) Altidore, (Jermaine) Jones, they've been impressive individuals on a daily basis and they bring a lot of character to the team."