Ahead of two hugely important World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico Bruce Arena brought his U.S. MNT to Salt Lake City and came away with a 1-1 draw versus Venezuela.
Here are three takeaways from what was a mixed U.S. performance in Utah.
1) Howard and Pulisic Shine
The two best players for the U.S versus Venezuela were its 38-year-old goalkeeper Tim Howard and Christian Pulisic, the team’s 18-year-old talisman.
Pulisic started slowly, struggling to make an imprint on the match while Howard was doing his best to keep the Americans from being overrun by their young, dangerous opponents.
Howard was unable to prevent the U.S. from falling behind in the 29th minute when Jose Velazquez scored after the U.S. was unable to clear a Venezuela corner. But Howard was otherwise unbeatable keeping his side in the game with a pair of tremendous first half saves.
Trailing 1-0 at the half a clearly unsatisfied Bruce Arena told Fox that he wanted to see his team move the ball more quickly in the final 45 minutes. It took a while but eventually, the pace began to quicken and Pulisic nabbed the equalizer just past the hour mark after some solid work from Fabian Johnson.
It wasn’t a great night from the U.S. but with his oldest player providing a solid defensive foundation and his youngest lending a creative spark perhaps Arena’s mood will have improved from his halftime funk.
The U.S. started the night in a diamond 4-4-2 with a midfield that featured Michael Bradley deep, Pulisic at its point and Darlington Nagbe and Fabian Johnson on the left and right.
With late-arriving Jozy Altidore unavailable Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood started up front, DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana were the fullbacks and John Brooks with Geoff Cameron in the center of the defense.
Brooks limped off in the second half, perhaps as a precaution, and Arena switched up to a 3-5-2. The team’s performance seemed to pick up after the switch with better ball movement an obvious byproduct.
Will Arena try this formation versus Trinidad and Tobago or Mexico? Hard to say but it is no harm to give it a look in a friendly right before the real deal.
3) Sueño Come True
U.S. fullback Jorge Villafana, who began his professional career when he won a television contest on a show called Sueño, or Dream, never got a national team chance under Arena predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann but the 27-year-old Santos Laguna defender has quickly earned Arena’s trust and looks set to start versus T&T Thursday night in Colorado.
The MLS Cup winner (Portland 2015) did his cause no harm with his solid performance versus Venezuela. DaMarcus Beasley is on the roster but for now, it looks like Villafana will continue to live his dream.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
VEN 1 0 1
VEN – José Manuel Velázquez (Júnior Moreno) 29th minute
USA – Christian Pulisic (Fabian Johnson) 61
USA: 1-Tim Howard; 2-DeAndre Yedlin (19-Graham Zusi, 90), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 6-John Brooks (21-Matt Hedges, 56), 8-Clint Dempsey (16-Kellyn Acosta, 63), 9-Bobby Wood, 10-Christian Pulisic, 15-Darlington Nagbe (18-Jordan Morris, 70), 17-Jorge Villafaña, 20-Geoff Cameron (3-Omar Gonzalez, 45), 23-Fabian Johnson (14-Tim Ream, 63)
Subs: 22-Nick Rimando, 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 13-Dax McCarty
Head coach: Bruce Arena
VEN: 1-José Contreras; 3-Mikel Villanueva, 4-Rubert Quijada, 6-José Manuel Velázquez (18-Yordan Osorio, 56), 17-Pablo Camacho; 5-Francisco Flores, 11-Darwin Machís (16-Aristóteles Romero, 67), 14-Júnior Moreno (13-Francisco La Mantía, 83), 15-Jhon Murillo (2-Jefre Vargas, 89), 9-Salomón Rondón (capt.) (23-Andrés Ponce, 90+3), 19-Christian Santos (10-Jefferson Savarino, 72)
Subs: 12-Alain Baroja, 7-Edder Farías, 20-José Luis Marrufo
Head coach: Marcos Mathias
Stats Summary: USA / VEN
Shots: 12 / 10
Shots on Goal: 2 / 4
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 5 / 2
Fouls: 9 / 12
Offside: 2 / 2