Well, there wasn’t too much to be gained from the USA’s friendly against Venezuela on Saturday night and now that it’s been played, it’s safe to say that not much was gained from it, with the possible exception of going a full 90 minutes at high altitude (which will be critical for the upcoming trip to Mexico City). Now that the friendly is out of the way it’s time to get down to business as a pair of crucial World Cup Qualifiers loom. There’s the aforementioned trip down to Mexico but before that, the US has a home date against Trinidad & Tobago.
Many were surprised to see Bruce Arena send as strong of a lineup as he did against Venezuela and most believe that’s probably what we’ll see in at least the first qualifier, with the possible exception of John Brooks who went off injured against Venezuela. As a whole the performance of the US was mostly underwhelming as Venezuela took a 1-0 lead before 18 year old wunderkind Christian Pulisic scored the equalizer. Tim Howard was also good, making a number of fine saves in the first half to keep the score at 1-0. But other than those two nobody really stood out in a positive way or a negative way. The most important thing to come out of that friendly was the US getting a game under their belt to develop some form of cohesion to prepare for the World Cup Qualifiers.
Looking ahead to this pair of qualifiers, the US is in a much better spot right now than they were back before the March qualifiers. The US dropped their first two games of the Hex (2-1 at home to Mexico and 4-0 on the road at Costa Rica) before bouncing back with a resounding 6-0 win over Honduras at home and scrappy 1-1 draw down in Panama City. But being in a better position does not mean the US is out of the woods yet. Anything can happen in the Hex and the US needs to regain it’s dominant home form (November’s loss to Mexico in Columbus was the first home qualifying loss for the US since 2001). To do that the US is returning to a venue where they have had good success in previous World Cup Qualifiers, most famously the 2013 matchup against Costa Rica dubbed the Snow Clasico: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in the Denver suburbs. In addition to being a good psychological boost for the team, it keeps them at high altitude in preparation for the lung-searing thin air in Mexico City.