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Arena puts his own stamp on January camp roster

Meet the new boss, who is definitely not the same as the old boss.

Arena calls in U.S. roster for winter camp

If you made a list of top MLS players Jurgen Klinsmann had chosen to ignore in recent years, it would have looked a lot like the squad Bruce Arena just called in for the January camp. The group of outcasts, led by poster child Benny Feilhaber, earned a reprieve that was expected ever since Arena replaced Klinsmann as U.S. coach back in November.

You can certainly argue that Klinsmann might have called in the likes of Sebastian Lletget and Keegan Rosenberry if he had been given the chance to keep his job, but there's little reason to believe he would have changed his tune on players ranging from MLS Defender of the Year Matt Hedges, veteran MLS Cup winner Chad Marshall or midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who had recently entered Klinsmann's doghouse.

Not everything was different about the latest U.S. roster. Chris Wondolowski is back in the fold, much to the chagrin of U.S. fans who see him as a lost cause. Jermaine Jones was back as well, deservedly so, even though there was some belief that the 35-year-old midfielder might fall out of the picture after Klinsmann's dismissal. Arena saw enough from Jones in last year's MLS playoffs to lead him to believe the former Schalke standout can still contribute, particularly in the vital March World Cup qualifiers.

So what is there to be excited about in this January roster? For one, the fresh blood in midfield, where there were plenty of players Klinsmann had either ignored or failed to call up recently. Feilhaber tops that list, and though it isn't a given that he will earn a prominent role under Arena, he will at least have a chance to prove himself.

Nagbe is another midfielder who has to be happy about the coaching change. Things started out promisingly for him under Klinsmann a year ago, but he spent much of 2016 being rarely used, or flat-out ignored, by the former U.S. coach. Then there is Lletget, who thrived under Arena with the Galaxy, playing both as a winger and central midfielder.

The defensive midfield options in the pool have needed refreshing for some time, and Arena did that with his January selections. Dax McCarty has been one of the best in MLS for years and deserved more of a look under Klinsmann. Wil Trapp earned January camp looks from Klinsmann before but hadn't been in the mix for some time. He's back and capable of playing his way into the defensive midfield conversation. Kellyn Acosta had also earned call-ups in the past year but was used at left back rather than in defensive midfield, the role he plays for FC Dallas.

At center back, Hedges and Walker Zimmerman are coming off outstanding seasons for FC Dallas and jump into a wide open competition for playing time. Chad Marshall has continued to be one of the steadier central defenders in MLS, and was a key figure in Seattle's run to the MLS Cup title, but he could struggle to beat out younger options.

Arena optimistic about Dempsey's availability

The same could be said for DaMarcus Beasley, who was a bit of a surprise call-up at age 34. In fairness to Arena, Beasley did have a solid season for Houston and just might have enough in the tank to give the U.S. a left back option for the March qualifiers, but it's tough to see him offering much beyond that. Greg Garza's recent move to Atlanta United paved the way for his January camp inclusion, and now that he's healthy after almost two years of injury issues, Garza could very well be the left back to emerge from this camp as a viable starter.

Right back also had some interesting selections in Keegan Rosenberry and Graham Zusi. No, Zusi has never played right back for the national team before, and has only played there a few times at the club level, but Arena stated his plan to give the Sporting Kansas City midfielder an extended look at right back in the January camp. Initially, the move sounded eerily similar to something Klinsmann would do, given how often he tried players at different positions, but it actually makes plenty of sense.

Arena watched Zusi play right back against his LA Galaxy team last season and surely came away impressed with what he could bring to the position. A quick look back to Beasley moving from left midfield to left back, which worked out extremely well for the U.S. in the last World Cup qualifying cycle, should be enough evidence of how such a move can pay dividends. Arena also did something similar in his first stint as USA boss, moving Tony Sanneh to right back from his original midfield role. That move eventually led to Sanneh shining at the 2002 World Cup.

Arena will be hoping to unearth just those kind of gems in the upcoming camp. Whether it's Zusi thriving at right back or Hedges and Zimmerman challenging Steve Birnbaum for a place in the center back upper echelon, Feilhaber showing he should have been with the national team all along, or even youngsters like Lletget and Kekuta Manneh showing they're ready to contribute sooner rather than later, this January roster is filled with players eager to prove themselves — be they veterans who spent years waiting for a call that rarely or never came from Klinsmann, or youngsters who could take advantage of aging competition to reward Arena's faith.