The US Men’s National Team debuted their Pride Month kits facing Venezuela in Sandy, Utah to prepare for the next round of the Hex. In order to help the players acclimatize to the high altitude they will experience in Mexico City, the U.S. held the match at Rio Tinto Stadium in the Rockies. The U.S. will hit the highlands again on Thursday, June 8th when they host Trinidad & Tobago in suburban Denver where they’re looking for three crucial points in World Cup Qualifying.
Bruce Arena started an attack minded lineup with his squad set up in a 4-4-2 diamond featuring Bobby Wood starting over Jozy Altidore at striker, Jorge Villafana playing left back, and Darlington Nagbe as the right midfielder.
As the match opened, the US had several moments where they looked like they may find the back of the Venezuela net and took control defensively. Unfortunately, the scoring opened in the 29th minute to the delight of the Vinotinto fans attending the match. A corner kick was headed away by Clint Dempsey only to be cycled back into the box. Fabian Johnson was caught ball watching leaving Jose Manuel Velazquez free to fling a foot at the ball flying through the box and past keeper Tim Howard.
Rather than retreating into a shell and looking to absorb US pressure, Venezuela tore forward looking for a second goal and in the 35th minute, on another corner kick, Tim Howard got a fingertip on a header that seemed destined to put the visitors ahead by two. The goal turned the tide for Venezuela who sprang forward with confidence in possession and the U.S. tried in vain for an equalizer.
The Stars and Stripes made their first sub at the half with Omar Gonzalez coming in for Geoff Cameron, who had a superlative first half. The opening minutes of the second 45 were back and forth with the U.S. mostly having to settle for ineffectual crosses. Around 10 minutes into the half, Matt Hedges came in for John Brooks. In the 61st minute Fabian Johnson shuttled a pass to Christian Pulisic just outside of the penalty arc and the midfielder fired a left footed daisy cutter into the net bringing the U.S. even with Venezuela.
Immediately after the goal, Fabian Johnson and Clint Dempsey made way for Kellyn Acosta and Tim Ream as Bruce Arena looked to keep his players fresh for their match later in the week. Near the 70th minute, Jordan Morris came on for Darlington Nagbe to add a more offensive option to the mix. As the game wound down, Arena made one last sub taking Deandre Yedlin out for Graham Zusi in the 90th minute.
In the end, each side had chances to put the match away and earn a win but both sides had lessons to draw from the result. The U.S. will look back and be disappointing that they failed to turn the chances they had in the Venezuelan third into better attempts at goal than settling for crosses. Venezuela can look at the game as a decent result against a determined opponent in which they perhaps won the match from a human spirit perspective. Finally, the red, red, and red will have learned that they can’t get beat on corner kicks and set pieces in general and though they didn’t come away with a win the team looked confident and came away without any injuries.