With the Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals in full gear, it won’t be long before more focus turns to soccer both stateside with MLS and abroad this summer. After all, we are only a year away from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which the US men’s national team (1-1-2, 4th in their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group) may or may not be a part of.
Under new/old head coach Bruce Arena, the team reconvened for training camp last week in Colorado before their friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium (home of Real Salt Lake in MLS) in Utah last Saturday vs. Venezuela. The Americans settled for a somewhat disappointing 1-1 draw against an opponent that they should be expected to beat on most occasions, especially at home. Save for the beautiful tying goal by U.S. midfielder Christian Pulisic in the 61st minute, it was a pretty forgettable encounter. As usual, the U.S. struggled on set pieces as Venezuela scored its lone goal off a corner kick in the 29th minute.
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There was logic behind the choice to practice in Denver, then play in Utah since the U.S. needed to get acclimated to the thin air and altitude for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The U.S. hosts Trinidad & Tobago (1-0-3) on Thursday (8 p.m., FS1) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver before it goes to famed Azteca Stadium on Sunday (8:30 p.m., FS1) to play archrival Mexico (3-1-0). The Americans need results, preferably a win against Trinidad & Tobago while a draw in Mexico would be a fine accomplishment. John Anthony Brooks (who just secured the highest transfer fee ever for an American player in Europe, going from Hertha Berlin (GER) to Wolfsburg) left early vs. Venezuela with a hamstring injury but he was back at training on Monday, which is a good sign. Jozy Altidore wasn’t there (at his brother’s wedding) but for the most part, Arena fielded what is likely to be a similar lineup to what he rolls out on Thursday and Sunday (barring cards and injuries): Tim Howard in goal, Jorge Villafana, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron and DeAndre Yedlin on defense, Brooks, Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe and Michael Bradley in the midfield with Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood at forward. For substitutes, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Tim Ream, Kellyn Acosta, Jordan Morris and Graham Zusi all entered in the second half for the U.S.
They are only friendlies but the U.S. women’s national team will meet two of its biggest rivals this week as well as they are in Sweden on Thursday afternoon (1:30, ESPN2) and then Norway on Sunday afternoon (1, FOX). Their World Cup is two years away but they will be getting set for the 2017 Tournament of Nations which they host on the West Coast at the end of July and into early August. The USWNT gets some big-time matches there against some of the other top competition in the world: Australia, Brazil and Japan.