US LOOK FOR MEN­TAL EDGE

Arena stresses im­por­tance of putting things right af­ter poor re­sults

New Straits Times - - Sport -

VET­ERAN coach Bruce Arena be­lieves a tougher men­tal ap­proach can help the United States reignite their 2018 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign today as the Americans pre­pare to face Hon­duras in a must-win tie in Cal­i­for­nia.

Arena, who re­placed sacked coach Jur­gen Klins­mann in Novem­ber, is tar­get­ing six points from today’s game in San Jose and next week’s trip to face Panama in the CONCACAF re­gional qual­i­fiers.

The US are cur­rently lan­guish­ing at the foot of the six-team “Hexag­o­nal” qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment, with no points from their open­ing two games which ended in de­feats to Mex­ico and Costa Rica last Novem­ber.

The sec­ond of those two losses — a cat­a­strophic 4-0 drub­bing by “Los Ti­cos” in Costa Rica — prompted Klins­mann’s dis­missal, paving the way for Arena to re­turn for a sec­ond stint in charge.

The 65-year-old, who led the United States at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, says tough­en­ing the squad’s brit­tle men­tal­ity fol­low­ing the lop­sided Costa Rica de­feat has been a pri­or­ity since he took over.

“Men­tally, to me, they col­lapsed in the game against Costa Rica,” Arena told Fox Sports.

“So, over the past three months, we’ve worked re­ally hard and talked to the play­ers about their role, the im­por­tance of play­ing for the US team and be­com­ing a team once we come to­gether in San Jose.

“I think the message is out to the play­ers. I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. I un­der­stand the tem­per­a­ture of a team and have the right feel. I can prom­ise you when Fri­day comes around we’re go­ing to be ready to play against Hon­duras.”

The top three fin­ish­ers in the “Hex” qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally for next year’s World Cup fi­nals in Rus­sia.

The fourth placed team face a two-leg play­off against a side from Asia.

While Arena re­mains confident the US will qual­ify for Rus­sia, he raised the stakes for today’s qual­i­fier by stat­ing that only a win would do.

“We need to win. Pe­riod,” Arena said. “Our goal on Fri­day is to win. I don’t know if we’re hang­ing on by a fin­ger­nail, but we’re get­ting close. If there were two games left, I’d be con­cerned. I think we can close the gap.”

Arena was given an in­jury headache af­ter Ham­burg forward Bobby Wood with­drew from the squad, cit­ing a back in­jury.

That could mean a re­call for Seat­tle Sounders vet­eran Clint Dempsey, who has re­turned to foot­ball af­ter an en­forced lay­off last year caused by the dis­cov­ery of an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat.

Dempsey, sec­ond on the all­time USA scor­ing charts with 52 goals in 130 in­ter­na­tion­als, is back in the squad and could fea­ture against Hon­duras.

Arena said Dempsey would have a “re­duced role.”

“It’s im­por­tant to move him back the right way and not to push him too hard. If he steps on the field he’ll con­trib­ute,” Arena said. AFP

AP PIC

United States coach Bruce Arena pre­pares his team for today’s World Cup qual­i­fier against Hon­duras in Cal­i­for­nia.

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