The United States is looking for any edge for their World Cup qualifying match at Estadio Azteca in Mexico next week. They’ll play Venezuela in a friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah followed by a match with Trinidad and Tobago at Dick’s Sporting Good Park in Colorado.
By playing both games at altitude before heading to Mexico, Bruce Arena is setting up his team as best he can to accomplish something the USMNT has never done before - win a WCQ in Mexico.
Before that happens though, there are matters to attend to and they begin with Venezuela later tonight. Venezuela are an interesting team for this friendly, but the senior team has one just a single game, against Bolivia, since their run to the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario last summer. They’re last in CONEMBOL qualifying and are already eliminated from Russia 2018 contention. This isn’t even the most important USA-Venezuela matchup happening in the next 12 hours, that belongs to the U20 teams meeting in South Korea for that age group’s World Cup quarterfinal matchup.
HOW TO WATCH
United States vs. Venezuela
June 3rd, 2017 / 10pm Eastern
FS1, Univision, UDN
This gives Bruce Arena two choices in my opinion to set up for the next two games. He can play a solid lineup against Venezuela and try and rest players against T&T to prepare for Mexico or he can do a little bit of experimentation in both games. If Bruce is confident he can beat T&T at home with a more second string kind of lineup, then I’d have no problem send out the regulars in force tonight against Venezuela. Logic however says the answer lies somewhere in between.
Ideally, we’d expect the veterans like DaMarcus Beasley and Dax McCarty to line up in Mexico, leaving the first two games of the international break to work in some of the kids. Kellyn Acosta is certainly worth of a start in the midfield as is left back Jorge Villafana. There’s also a question of which center back pairing Arena will go with and just how much he wants to play stalwarts like Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and even DeAndre Yedlin in the first two games.
Then we have the attackers, a fine mix of strikers like Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore with Clint Dempsey and wonderkid Christian Pulisic. Figuring out how best to deploy these players before getting to Azteca will be a bonus and I think we’ll see some combination today of the formation Arena wants against Mexico but maybe not with the players who will start there.
USA PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Tim Howard; Jorge Villafana, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Graham Zusi; Michael Bradley, Kellyn Acosta; Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey; Bobby Wood.
Yes, this is a 4-2-3-1 formation that I think the US will use against Mexico next week. No, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flat or diamond 4-4-2 in that game but I think this is a good idea for two reasons. First, we get to start Villafana and Acosta at their natural positions with the veterans. Second, Arena doesn’t have to push guys like Jozy and Fabian to the limit early in the trip. I fully expect to see both of them, and likely Yedlin and Beasley at fullback for the Mexico game surely and maybe even against T&T as well.
Also, I like the 4-2-3-1 on the road in Mexico. I think the should be able to deploy Fabian Johnson on the wing with Bradley and Dax as the two holding midfielders. At that point, you just have to round out the attacking group - where does Dempsey and Pulisic play if they start and which striker do you want alone up top between Wood and Jozy. With two good fullbacks overlapping I think there’s a lot of pressure the USMNT can build upon on both sides of the ball.
Could someone like Bedoya also be an option somewhere in the midfield today and in Mexico? Sure, especially in the friendly I’m not so much worried about who is starting as much as I am implementing a game plan to use against Mexico. Obviously, playing against Venezuela is far different than El Tri, but the idea from Arena is to get used to playing at altitude and finding a style that not only works, but could give Mexico some trouble if it’s executed properly next week.
La Vinotinto are not good at soccer right now, but that’s okay. Because they have a stud U20 team that is also playing the USA in the wee hours of the overnight/morning in the U20 World Cup in Korea. So talented youngsters like Yangel Herrera of New York City FC won’t feature in this game as the South American side builds for the future. And if we’re being honest, it looks like a pretty bright future even in a daunting region like CONEMBOL.
Venezuela does however still have West Brom veteran Salomon Rondon who is second in the sqaud with 59 caps and leads the team with 19 international goals. Venezuelan captian Tomas Rincon is with Juventus at the UEFA Champions League Final and is also not with the team. Rondon will test the US backline and the keeper if and when he gets the ball in the final third, but it’s the supporting cast that might worry me for this game. This is a very young roster for Venezuela, which is fine for them because they’re preparing for the 2022 World Cup cycle at this point. With the talent they have in the youth ranks, they might be a darkhorse in CONEMBOL in a few years.
This should be a comfortable wire to wire performance from the United States. I don’t need them to be ruthless and run up the score, but it would be nice to for them to seem mostly in control of the match from the beginning. There will be a few goals I’m sure, but I want to see the defensive organization and Arena’s tactics very clearly from the start with adjustments later on as subs are made.
It should be a game to build on for the upcoming qualifiers, including the big showdown in Azteca.
United States 3, Venezuela 1