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US coach Arena confident despite pitch fears

Couva (Trinidad and Tobago) (AFP) – United States coach Bruce Arena shrugged off fears concerning a waterlogged playing surface as his team prepare to seal their World Cup qualification against Trinidad & Tobago here Tuesday.

The US will clinch their ticket to next year’s finals in Russia with victory over already-eliminated Trinidad & Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.

But last-minute preparations for the CONCACAF qualifying game suffered a setback on Monday however as the US arrived for training to discover large lakes of water surrounding the pitch.

One corner of the playing field was entirely submerged while US players could be seen wading through the water to get to the field.

The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association said in a statement the game will definitely go ahead — and Arena said his team would be unfazed by the heavy conditions.

“The conditions weren’t perfect for training,” Arena said. “But we’re anticipating that everything will work out and we’ll be ready to play at the stadium tomorrow.

“It was a little heavy and mushy, to be expected with all that rain that you saw. It definitely changes the way the game is going to look. 

“It’ll be a slow game, probably a little bit sloppy, a little bit different to what we’ve seen so far in the qualifying games. But we’ll have to adapt.”

– ‘Same for both teams’ –

Arena dismissed a suggestion that the conditions might be a form of payback for the United States, who famously staged a key qualifier against Costa Rica in Colorado during a blizzard in 2013.

“Whatever the conditions are they’re going to be the same for both teams,” Arena said. 

“I don’t think there’s any politics involved in this. In Denver (in 2013) I don’t think the US had any control over the climate. I don’t think Trinidad’s making it rain or anything like that. 

“It is what is and we’ve got to just play the game.”

While a win would guarantee the US automatic qualification from CONCACAF, a draw on Tuesday would also probably be enough given the team’s vastly superior goal difference over Panama and Honduras.

Arena however said there was no chance he would send his team out with instructions to play for a draw.

“It’s never easy going into a game saying we have to play for a point,” he said. “We’re going out to win the game. I feel confident. We have a good team.

“Tomorrow’s going to be challenging. Hopefully there’s not too much rain between now and kick off and the field conditions improve.”

Arena said star Borussia Dortmund forward Christian Pulisic’s fitness was being monitored after he suffered a knock in Friday’s 4-0 rout of Panama.

The US coach was confident however that the teenager would be ready for another physical encounter after a string of games that have seen him targeted by opposing defences.

“I can’t protect him,” Arena said, adding that he had been impressed at how Pulisic had responded to rough-house tactics so far.

“He does handle it very well. That’s why he’s been successful. He gets back on his feet and continues to play,” Arena said.

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