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US seek breathing space in World Cup push

Los Angeles (AFP) – The United States will aim to exploit the mile-high mountain air of Colorado on Thursday when they host Trinidad and Tobago in a key 2018 World Cup qualifier in Denver.

After a sluggish start to the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers, the Americans remain just outside the automatic qualifying places with only four points from four games.

Back-to-back opening defeats against Mexico and Costa Rica led to the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann last year and left the Americans with little margin for error in their remaining fixtures.

Three points against Trinidad and Tobago’s “Soca Warriors” will be the minimum requirement for Bruce Arena’s men before they depart for a daunting assignment with bitter regional rivals Mexico at the Azteca Stadium on Sunday — a game that will also be played at altitude.

The US, who have played in every World Cup finals since 1990, have spent the past fortnight training at altitude in Colorado and Utah, as they chase the points that will vault them into the automatic qualifying positions.

Arena hopes the lengthy preparation will stand his team in good stead.

“The altitude issue is a big issue,” Arena told reporters. “The longer you’re at altitude, the more you’re affected by it.

“If you come up for one or two days, you can get through it because your body still hasn’t (reacted) fully. We’re playing through that a little bit. 

“Hopefully by Thursday, we’re going to be a little bit more adjusted and be a little bit better prepared, physically, when we get to Mexico City.”

Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Fabian Johnson admitted players had been left gasping during the training camp.

“The first couple of days in warm ups you’re breathing hard,” Johnson said. 

“That’s why we came here pretty early. It just helps us to close the gap to where we need to be on Thursday. We’re in a pretty good way.”

Denver’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids, has been a happy hunting ground for the US in the past, with the Americans winning both of their previous two games at the venue.

Arena’s men will also be buoyed by recent history — the US routed Trinidad 4-0 in their second round qualifying meeting last September. Overall, the Americans have beaten Thursday’s opponents 13 times in 17 games, with only one defeat.

Mexico meanwhile will aim to stride ever closer to a place in Russia when they face Honduras in Mexico City on Thursday.

Mexico lead the standings with 10 points from four games but will be wary of the threat posed by Honduras, who scored a 2-1 victory at the Azteca in a 2013 qualifier.

The Mexicans warmed up for this week’s qualifiers with a 3-1 win over an under-strength Ireland side in New Jersey last weekend, with goals coming from Jesus Corona, Raul Jimenez and former Arsenal forward Carlos Vela.

Thursday’s other qualifier sees second placed Costa Rica aim to stay on Mexico’s heels when they face third-placed Panama in San Jose.

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