Given the fact it was Ghana that handed Bruce Arena his last defeat before his dismissal as U.S. national team coach in 2006, you couldn't blame him for wanting a measure of revenge on Saturday, when he leads the U.S. against the Black Stars in a friendly.
"I still have nightmares from 2006 World Cup thinking of Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien," Arena said with a smile on Saturday. "[They have] outstanding players, and I think it’s a great test for us to play against quality players."
As for wanting some payback, that was the furthest thing from Arena's mind.
"There’s no revenge in mind as far as I’m concerned. I think it’ll just be a really good challenge for our team, and for Ghana as well."
Arena's focus heading into Saturday's friendly at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut is to try out some new faces ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which kicks off next week. Arena has called in a U.S. group filled with relative newcomers, as well as some veterans who haven't been in the national team picture in some time.
Among the newcomers is Kenny Saief, the Gent midfielder who recently filed a change of association to play for the United States after having previously represented Israel. The left-footed attacking midfielder is expected to help provide some quality and depth on the left flank, and potentially in a playmaking role. He has come into the current U.S. camp off a summer break, though, so he's still catching up from a fitness standpoint.
"You can tell there’s quality there," Arena said of Saief. "We intend to follow him during the season in Belgium, and have a closer look at him as well once he leaves the Gold Cup. We’ll see if he can be a player that we figure in our plans as we move toward 2018."
Also expected to make his U.S. national team debut on Saturday is Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer. The England-born striker recently became a U.S. citizen, and the upcoming Gold Cup will provide him with an opportunity to throw himself into a wide-open competition at forward.
"It's a huge honor. I've been raring to go for a while, and I hope that I can put in a good showing," Dwyer said of his U.S. national team experience. "It's a really good group, I'm excited to be with this group, and I'm just raring to go when called upon."
Matt Miazga isn't quite a national team newcomer, having earned two caps under Jurgen Klinsmann, but he arrives in the current U.S. camp off the high of an impressive season with Dutch club Vitesse, and will be expected to hold his own in a stacked stable of central defenders.
"[Miazga] has improved as a player. He continues to grow physically, he’s still young,” Arena said. “He’s physically bigger than he was when I saw him as an MLS player. He has more experience. I think his season at Vitesse was good for him. I know Chelsea’s likely going to move him to another club this year, and give him another year of experience playing on a regular basis. I think one day he can be a player at Chelsea."
The fullback positions are another area where Arena will be looking to test some new faces, and given Ghana's quality in the wings, Arena should have a good chance to see what players like Eric Lichaj and Justin Morrow can do.
"Our outside back position can certainly use some depth," Arena said. "We started, if I’m not mistaken, in March with a new left back in (Jorge) Villafana, a number of right backs even in the game against Honduras in Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi, and then brought in (DeAndre) Yedlin for the games against Trinidad (& Tobago) and Mexico, so those are positions [where] we’re not deep. We continue to look for help in those spots, and certainly that opens the door for Lichaj and Morrow."
The U.S. squad does have some experience, with players such as goalkeeper Brad Guzan, center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. The Americans will face a Ghanaian squad that recently put in a good showing in a 1-0 friendly loss to Mexico on Wednesday. Anderlecht winger Frank Acheampong and Chicago Fire speedster David Accam are expected to help lead the Ghana attack, along with veteran striker Asamoah Gyan – whom U.S. fans will remember from the 2010 World Cup, where he scored the winning goal to eliminate the U.S.
"They’ve got a few new faces in their camp, and they’ve got very talented individuals that can hurt you,” Guzan said. if your’e not careful so we’ve got to make sure we’re tidy with the ball and limit their chances."