If there’s a couple things we know about Bruce Arena it’s his practicality and pragmatism. Both were on display Sunday night as the Americans went into hostile territory and grabbed a point at 7,382 feet. When it was announced, by Arena no less, that there would be at the least 7 changes in the match against Mexico people started to get a bit nervous. Call us gun shy from the Klinsmann era.
And to think it could have been more.
“I was close to nine yesterday, but fell back to seven,” Arena said after a 1-1 draw with Mexico on Sunday. “To repeat the lineup we played on Thursday,” he added, “we would’ve struggled big time in the altitude.”
- USMNT Coach Bruce Arena; Source: Washington Post
Only four players played in both matches: DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic. Three went the distance, and Pulisic came off during stoppage time, because according to Arena he was “basically done”.
Center-back Omar Gonzalez said they all knew this was going to happen. The team would split into two teams. One team practicing for Trinidad and Tobago and the other getting ready to take on El Tri.
From the moment they got into camp - Bruce Arena told them exactly what was going to happen within the next two weeks of World Cup Qualifying. He also started the team on a strict regimen to prepare them for storming the gates of Estadio Azteca.
“We worked the best we could over the two weeks to try to get adjusted and try to level the playing field a little bit when we came here” to 7,350-foot Mexico City. Arena said. “We know you can never really do that. We certainly benefited from the things we did over the last two weeks.”
This was a plan that was put into motion back in January as the coaches sat around Bruce’s office. Noting that he’d like to go with 5 in the back when it came to playing Mexico on their turf.
“I tossed it around in our office with the [assistant] coaches,” Arena said. “They were probably not real supportive of the idea. I was pretty confident we could implement it.”
Some were calling it a 5-4-1, some likened it to a 3-4-3. Bruce didn’t care what you called it as long as it worked. And that’s all he wanted. His plan worked, and was enough for Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio to call out the United States in his post-game presser.
"I think their intention from the start was to defend, with a line of five and three midfielders to stop our attacks," said Osorio after the match. "They played for an error or the possibility of a transition, which is what happened [for Michael Bradley's opening goal]."
- Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio; Source: ESPN FC
Picking up points wasn’t the only thing that happened during the two week camp, players grew closer and tighter as a unit.
“This is critical because you meet even fewer times a year now,” Arena said. “Most of these players will disappear until September. And to leave with a bond they’ve acquired the last four games is very important. So the next time around, I’m optimistic we can be better. … The players have responded very well. We’re really becoming a team.”
The next round of qualifiers will be held in September when the boys in red, white and blue face Costa Rica at home and then go to Honduras just four days later. But before that there’s the upcoming Gold Cup.