With a few days to reflect on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s successful June World Cup Qualifying camp, Bruce Arena spoke to ussoccer.com about his takeaways from the Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico games and outlook for this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
ussoccer.com: On the first day of camp, you told the team about your plan for the two matches which centered around preparing two very different lineups to play in the June World Cup Qualifiers. How did you feel about the team’s response to the approach?
Bruce Arena: “I think there’s enough evidence there to indicate that they responded well to a plan that we had in place. When we came into camp, we had an unprecedented challenge ahead of us with playing two games at altitude and having two less days of rest between games than you typically have. We had to have a plan that not only enabled us to have fresh players available to play against Mexico, but also to deal with the altitude for the two games and the two weeks. Overall, I think the players did well.”
- READ MORE: Pulisic Brace Gives U.S. 2-0 WCQ Win vs. Trinidad & Tobago
- READ MORE: Bradley Stunner Guides USA to 1-1 Draw vs. Mexico at Azteca
ussoccer.com: In playing nearly two different teams, you made the decision to insert younger players in the midfield, with Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta joining Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley. How did you feel they responded to being put into a game of that magnitude?
BA: “I think with Christian we saw the effects of the altitude. He played three full games for us when you include the Venezuela game, and he was really physically done near the 60-minute mark in Mexico and hung in there. That was good, but it also validated the fact that we did need to make changes when you see our fittest player struggling so much. I thought Paul Arriola did an excellent job on the right side of the field, and with a little bit more experience he’ll be a little bit better in passing and having more composure. It’s the same thing with Kellyn. His work rate was outstanding. He could be a little better passer of the ball, but I think the experience for him was outstanding as well.”
ussoccer.com: The U.S. MNT now has eight points and sits in third place after six Final Round World Cup Qualifiers. With you taking over a team that was rooted to the bottom at the start of the Hex, does it now feel like there’s a little more breathing room?
BA: “There’s a little bit more, but there’s not a whole lot. It’s a pretty tight race at this point, and I don’t think we have any interest in finishing fourth. Our goal is second or third place, because I think Mexico is far ahead and it’s unlikely we can catch them. We can be second or third and I don’t really care which way we end up, but we certainly don’t want to be in fourth. Stepping away from this camp, we recognize the home game against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 is critically important to making sure we finish in the top three.”
ussoccer.com: Michael Bradley scored a stunning goal early in the game against Mexico. Could you speak to the U.S. MNT captain’s performance and leadership since you returned as head coach?
BA: “I think he’s been pretty solid with his approach to everything. Michael has been consistently good for us, buys into everything we’re doing and leads the team that way. He’s been very good both on and off the field.”
WATCH: Bradley Discusses Highlight Reel Chip at Azteca
ussoccer.com: From sleeping in hyperbaric tents, to training and playing at elevation, the team went through thorough preparation to adjust to the altitude in Denver and Mexico City. Taking away four points from the two games, would you say all the work during those two weeks paid off?
BA: “I think so. As we told our team from the start, we weren’t foolish enough to believe that we would be fully acclimated to the altitude in Denver and Mexico City, but I think by the time we got to Mexico City there were some clear gains there where we were able to play that game over 90 minutes and look physically better than we have in the past. The preparation work was probably a factor in us getting a point out of that game.”
- READ MORE: By The Numbers of June WCQ Camp
- READ MORE: MNT Players Hail Bradley Strike, Arena's June WCQ Plan
ussoccer.com: Looking ahead to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, earlier in 2017 you said that a good year would be to qualify for the World Cup and win the Gold Cup. With your roster nearly set, what is your outlook for this year’s confederation championship?
BA: “I think I said it would be a great year to do those two things, and that’s a pretty tall order. I think we will have a good group of players coming in with a nice blend of some experienced players and some less experienced. They’re going to have an opportunity to show what they’re about, and I think that part is exciting. Anytime you’re in the midst of World Cup Qualifying and very close to not only qualifying, but being at a World Cup a year later, you have to have a competitive environment, and these players will push to positions themselves to be a big part of things moving forward.”