When the United States steps on the field Thursday night in Commerce City, Colorado to face Trinidad and Tobago the time for practice and preliminaries will be over as the serious business of World Cup Qualification once again takes center stage.
The U.S. looked far from the finished product in Saturday’s 1-1 friendly draw versus Venezuela conceding a goal after failing to clear a corner kick while not moving the ball decisively enough when in sight of the opposition net.
After the game Arena analyzed the goal his side conceded this way, “you mark a guy and you beat him to the ball,” the coach said. “When the ball is cleared and played back in you’ve got to stay with your man, and beat him to the ball.
“It’s simply individual breakdowns. Players have to do better.”
The U.S. performance picked up after Arena made a switch to a 3-5-2 formation after beginning the match in a 4-4-2 diamond. Arena had about a week to work on the new setup with the team but is still expected to trot out the more familiar diamond Thursday night in Commerce City.
Center back John Brooks picked up a leg injury versus Venezuela and while the newly signed Wolfsburg defender hasn’t been officially ruled out by U.S. Soccer, Brooks may well miss out.
With 11 defenders on his expanded roster Arena is not lacking in options with Omar Gonzalez expected to partner Geoff Cameron in front of Tim Howard.
Arena appears to have settled on DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana as his fullbacks, especially with Fabian Johnson settling in at midfield after shuffling back and forth between fullback and his preferred role further up the pitch.
Arena has also fixed on Michael Bradley as his deepest lying midfielder, part of the new manager’s effort to stop shifting players around from position to position.
Arena believes that there was too much roster uncertainty under his predecessor telling Goal.com, “one of the things that was confusing as I came in and evaluated the rosters was there was just too many players called in for whatever reason from everywhere and no consistency.”
It may be a bit unseemly to criticize the man you replace but Arena wanted to make a point, so he continued, “so I’m trying to get a rhyme and reason here. I’m trying to have a little bit of consistency, and sometimes you’ve just got to make a decision. All things being equal you decide to stick with one guy and you stay with him until he proves otherwise.”
On that note, the rest of Arena’s lineup looks pretty well set with Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic expected to complete the midfield although Arena has a decision to make with his forwards.
With Jozy Altidore a late arrival at camp and therefore unavailable versus Venezuela Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey started up top for the U.S. Wood ended the Bundesliga campaign battling injury and poor form and that lack of sharpness was apparent versus Venezuela.
I expect Altidore and Dempsey to get the nod from Arena on Thursday night as the U.S., sitting fourth on the Hex, look to secure three valuable points and Dempsey seeks to tie and possibly surpass Landon Donovan for the top spot on the U.S. Men’s international goal scoring list.
U.S. MNT Roster By Position (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 13/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 0/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 35/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (11): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 33/6),Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 11/1), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER; 3/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 20/2), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; 3/0), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 14/0), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas; 0/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 4/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 2/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 6/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 17/3)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 2/0),Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana/MEX; 2/1),Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 8/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 33/6), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 15/1), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 5/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 38/18)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 36/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 38/18), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 8/4)