Arena tries to keep U.S. team fo­cused

Coach doesn’t want play­ers to look past tonight’s game ver­sus Trinidad and Tobago.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­ Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

COM­MERCE CITY, Colo. — Since Bruce Arena called the U.S. na­tional team into train­ing camp last month, he has tried to keep the spot­light on one game: Thurs­day’s World Cup qual­i­fier against Trinidad and Tobago.

“We’ve stressed for 10 days that the fo­cus has to be Trinidad,” Michael Bradley said Wed­nes­day. “They’re a good team. They’re dan­ger­ous. We are not, in any way, look­ing past to­mor­row night.”

That may eas­ier said than done, though, be­cause next up on the cal­en­dar is Sun­day’s qual­i­fier in Mex­ico City. And al­though the Amer­i­cans have dom­i­nated the qual­i­fy­ing se­ries with Trinidad and Tobago — go­ing un­beaten in nine home games and last giv­ing up a goal to the Soca War­riors in the U.S. in 1989, when World Cup qual­i­fiers were played at El Camino Col­lege — the ri­valry with Mex­ico is a heated and emo­tional one.

“You learn how to deal with it,” said for­ward Jozy Alti­dore, who promised he was ig­nor­ing the temp­ta­tion to look ahead. “You’ve got to take ev­ery game at a time. Thurs­day night, that’s the most im­por­tant thing.

“When the whis­tle blows and the game’s over, then you think about Mex­ico.”

Arena’s play­ers would do well not to get ahead of them­selves since they have lit­tle room for er­ror, es­pe­cially at home, if they hope to qual­ify the U.S. for an eighth con­sec­u­tive World Cup. Four games into the fi­nal 10-game qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment, the U.S. has four points, the fewest it has had this deep into the hexag­o­nal round.

It is also fourth in the six­team stand­ings, a point be­hind Panama and one spot out of an au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing berth. So it can ill af­ford a sec­ond loss at home af­ter falling to Mex­ico in Colum­bus, Ohio, in Novem­ber.

“We un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the game,” Arena said. “We firmly be­lieve we have to win the game. I could care less about Mex­ico un­til the fi­nal whis­tle blows on Thurs­day night.”

But Arena ad­mit­ted he has be­gun strate­giz­ing for Sun­day’s game just the same, a ne­ces­sity given a quick turn­around that will leave the U.S. with less than 70 hours to pre­pare for Mex­ico. This is the third time since 1990 the U.S. has had less than four days be­tween qual­i­fy­ing games.

In those first two in­stances — in 2005 and 2009 — the U.S. lost the first game and won the sec­ond.

“It does make a dif­fer­ence,” said goal­keeper Tim Howard, who played in the 2009 games. “Any time you have less days to pre­pare, par­tic­u­larly phys­i­cally, it’s tough on the play­ers.”

Adding to the chal­lenge this time is the fact both games will be played at al­ti­tude, the first a mile above sea level in sub­ur­ban Den­ver and the sec­ond more than a quar­ter of a mile higher, out­side Mex­ico City. That’s why the U.S. has spent the last 10 days train­ing at al­ti­tude in Colorado and Utah. Trinidad and Tobago has been in Colorado more than two weeks, work­ing out in Boul­der.

How­ever, Arena said at the start of camp that ros­ter depth will be just as im­por­tant as al­ti­tude train­ing for the U.S., es­pe­cially in the sec­ond game, the one he isn’t sup­posed to be think­ing about yet.

“I can guar­an­tee we will not be play­ing the same team from Game 1 to Game 2,” he said. “There will be a num­ber of changes for the game in Mex­ico, so we’ve built a strong ros­ter to al­low us to do that.”

If that ros­ter holds up. Arena wouldn’t say whether cen­ter back John Brooks, who left last Satur­day’s friendly with Venezuela be­cause of a bruised quadri­ceps, would play against Trinidad and Tobago, al­though he has been train­ing.

“We will not have one player 100% healthy [Thurs­day] night. That in­cludes John Brooks,” Arena said, adding “what­ever the cir­cum­stances might be in terms of get­ting us ready to play the sec­ond game, I think we’ve got so­lu­tions.”

Trinidad and Tobago has lost three of its four qual­i­fiers but it played well at home in its two March games, beat­ing Panama and throw­ing a scare into Mex­ico be­fore falling 1-0. Five play­ers on the Soca War­riors’ ros­ter play club soc­cer in Europe and four oth­ers play in MLS, in­clud­ing Ken­wyne Jones, a 6-foot-4 striker who has two goals in 12 games with ex­pan­sion At­lanta United.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.