SANDY, Utah – This is no ordinary exhibition soccer game for the United States. Already in a tough spot in World Cup qualifying, the Americans are trying to regroup before qualifying resumes next week against Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico.
The U.S. will face Venezuela on Saturday night with a roster that’s finally nearing full strength. Injuries hurt the U.S. during March qualifying matches. Fabian Johnson, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood and DeAndre Yedlin were all unavailable while rehabbing injuries. Brad Guzan also did not participate in camp because of the birth of his second child.
All five are back, giving coach Bruce Arena the luxury of spending 90 minutes uncovering the player combinations that could be most effective in squeezing out points next week.
“I would argue that there’s not enough qualifying left and we’re not in a good spot,” Arena said. “We’re in a better position than we were in November but we have a long way to go. We have to go out and earn points because, (with) the position we’re in right now, we are not qualified for the World Cup. That may be the case all the way until game 10 in October.”
Midfielder Michael Bradley said the team is seeing progress during training this week in accomplishing these goals. He chalks up success in the week ahead to something as simple as putting in enough work on and off the field.
“There’s no formula,” Bradley. It’s about guys coming in and understanding that, with really important games coming up, we are using all of our time together in the best possible way so that we are training in the right way and using time off the field in the right way to talk about some things and look at some things and feel like as games get closer we’re ready to go.”
The game against Venezuela will be the first of three at altitude for the U.S. as it moves from Sandy to Denver to Mexico in succession. Only a few players on the roster have extensive experience playing at higher elevations.
“Introducing players to elevation is important,” Arena said. “We’ve done it in the first four or five days in Denver and for the two days we’ll be here. I think that’s a big plus and, hopefully, our players will adjust to the altitude and be able to perform well under those conditions.”
The U.S. is 3-0-1 overall against Venezuela and has won all three matches played against La Vinotinto on American soil. Arena directed two of those wins in his previous stint as coach.
Forward Clint Dempsey could take a step closer to overtaking Landon Donovan as the U.S. career goals leader. After totaling four goals against Honduras and Panama in March, Dempsey is just one goal behind Donovan. Dempsey has 56 goals in 132 caps since making his national team debut in 2004. Donovan had 57 goals in 156 international matches from 2000 to 2014.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be on the field with Clint on so many big days,” Bradley said. “His ability to leave everything he has on the field and make plays that make a difference and to come through in big moments has been incredible. When you’re getting ready for big games, and you see Clint, he’s a guy you want with you on the biggest days.”
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