At this stage in qualifying, there are no great fact-finding missions for Bruce Arena, and I don’t expect much in the way of revelation from this friendly. He knows who his best and most trusted players are, who his back-ups are, and the game plan he wants to implement. The Gold Cup will be for blooding younger players and seeing who, if anyone, that is out of the fold should be in the fold. Here’s looking at you, Emerson Hyndman and Danny Williams.
So, this game against Venezuela will serve as a much more simple and straight-forward tune-up game. I expect Arena will run out his first team and give them at least a solid half to kick the ball around and get back on the same page. Injured players will return, old players will welcome them back in, and then the second half will come and we’ll see some fun substitutions (Paul Arriola!) and also some not as fun substitutions (The Graham Zusi Right Back Experience™). All in all, some momentum would be nice, but the result is secondary here. If the boys get their minutes in and no one gets injured, this game is a win.
D (1-1) - Panama - WCQ
W (6-0) - Honduras - WCQ
W (1-0) - Jamaica - Friendly
D (0-0) - Serbia - Friendly
L (0-4) - Costa Rica - WCQ
L (1-3) - Chile - WCQ
D (2-2) - Peru - WCQ
L (0-3) - Ecuador - WCQ
W (5-0) - Bolivia - WCQ
L (0-2) - Brazil - WCQ
What to Watch for:
Grab a Goal - Venezuela isn’t exactly a pushover team, but they’re also firmly entrenched in the second tier of South American soccer. They’ve seen some improved results in qualifying and Copa America play over the past five years, but still have failed to qualify for a World Cup Final. As such, I want the U.S. to score some goals here. Get the confidence going early and let it run through the next two games. Ideal thing to happen: get Jozy and Bobby Wood on the scoresheet and hope the streaks will hold.
Play It Safe - Seriously, this is a pretty low-stakes friendly, all things considered. The starting lineup pretty much writes itself. So do the back-ups on this roster. As long as everyone gets through the game healthy and whole, I’ll be good.
The Once and Future Defender - The only position that looks like it will be shaken up any time soon has to be the defense. Geoff Cameron and John Brooks form best center back pairing the U.S. has right now. But both are injury prone, and Cameron is 31. That’s not ancient for central defenders, but with a partner in Brooks who is still only 24, I’m curious to see if a guy like Matt Hedges, who has been one of the best (if not the best) central defenders in MLS for years now, can make any sort of mark in this game. I doubt it will have much effect on the people playing T&T and Mexico, but this summer could well signal some shifts to come months and years down the road.
Trinidad & Tobago are up first after Venezuela, and I have no doubt Arena will want to go for the jugular in that game, so attacking we go.
I will start by saying that I could very easily swap out either one of these forwards with Bobby Wood and see that being the forward pairing against Venezuela. At this point, the three are a push for me. I picked Dempsey and Jozy because I think Arena trusts their experience, and Jozy still has the best hold-up play in our forward pool on his day. Young master Pulisic takes his talents back to the number 10 spot fresh off of winning the penalty that won Dortmund its first major trophy since Jurgen Klopp left them. Fabian Johnson slots back into the lineup and Nagbe plays opposite them. Both will be encouraged to pinch in a bit, as the fullbacks behind them both love to get up the flanks and provide width. Michael Bradley will be in the lineup. So will Brooks, Cameron, and Howard. That’s all there is to say on the matter for those guys. All in all, a strong lineup, and one I expect to see against T&T as well. Mexico might bring a more defensive look from the start (and maybe a Kellyn Acosta start in the midfield?).