Bruce Arena: U.S. newcomers are 'well aware' of what's at stake in Gold Cup

United States coach Bruce Arena says his Gold Cup squad is well aware of what's at stake in next month's tournament, despite the players' relative international inexperience.

Of the 23 players on the U.S. team, 13 have made eight or fewer previous appearances with the national team.

But past regional championships gave then-fringe players like Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Stuart Holden the chance to showcase their skills. And with many of the U.S. mainstays given a break for this event, and the World Cup less than a year away, now is the time to impress.

"I don't think I have to make that point to them, I think they're well aware of that," Arena said on Monday after the team's first practice at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

"A lot of things can happen coming out of the Gold Cup, especially when the World Cup is a year away. So this is an important tournament for the players."

The U.S. plays Ghana in a friendly on Saturday in Hartford, Connecticut. It begins the Gold Cup in Nashville on July 8. World Cup qualifying resumes Sept. 1 against Costa Rica.

Four players have a chance to earn their first caps: Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer and midfielders Kenny Saief of Belgian club Gent, Cristian Roldan of Seattle and Kelyn Rowe of New England.

"It was the first time I've had the opportunity to see some of these players, so it's been a good day for us," said Arena, who confessed he was unsure of how to pronounce Saief's last name. "They need to know me, I need to know them. And we have to piece it all together in a short period of time."

LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes has played 31 games for the national team but has been out of the mix for about a year.

"I'm highly motivated to showcase myself because it's been a while," said Zardes, who has scored seven goals for the U.S. "I'm cognizant of our goal in hand, which is to win the Gold Cup.

"But also for myself, I want to try to produce each and every single day because I'm trying to get back into the national team and trying to be a regular on this team."

Defender Eric Lichaj has played sparingly for the national team despite a decade-long career in England, most recently with Nottingham Forest.

"It's something I'm really proud of to do, to wear the crest," Lichaj said. "So I'm just going to do my hardest and it's an opportunity for everybody that's in the squad to stake their claim for a World Cup spot in a year's time."

Lichaj says he has worked hard to keep himself in the national team picture. And he finds nothing awkward about competing with teammates all angling for the same thing -- a World Cup spot.

"That's every team that you play for," he said. "In your club there's always competition for a spot, and all the guys know that. So if you're not on your A-game I don't think you'll be playing many games."