SANDY, Utah -- Poor set piece defending, an injury substitution for John Brooks and a Venezuela attack that was able to consistently find space against the US national team didn’t answer many defensive questions heading into Thursday’s vital CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago.
While the 1-1 friendly draw with Venezuela at Rio Tinto Stadium did provide a chance to look at eight different defenders on the field, it didn’t necessarily provide any easy answers, particularly on set pieces.
“That’s something that we have to continue to work on and really clean up. That’s a few games in a row now where we have not done a good enough job in that regard,” US captain Michael Bradley said of surrendering the opening goal.
Venezuela took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute as a ball was headed back in after a corner kick was not fully cleared and Jose Manuel Velazquez was open and beat Tim Howard for the goal. Minutes later a similar play led to a header that Howard pushed off the post before Bradley booted it out.
“You mark a guy and beat him to the ball and when the ball is cleared and played back in you have to stay with your man and beat him to the ball,” USMNT head coach Bruce Arena said. ‘It’s simply individual breakdowns. The players have to do better.”
That’s one thing they’ll be working on before Thursday (8 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN). The other will be finding the right combination at center back and whether that will include Brooks.
“We’re pretty new to each other because of the change and getting a feel,” Arena said. “This is the first time I’ve seen [Geoff] Cameron at center back. Brooks had a good night. Matt Hedges played well and Omar [Gonzalez], so they’re all positioned to play on Thursday. We’ll get through the week and make some decisions there.”
Hedges didn’t play in the March qualifiers under Arena, but saw time on Saturday. Brooks left in the 56th minute due to an apparent injury, but Arena didn’t have an update on his status after the game. Given the combinations tried in Saturday's friendly, Arena has options at his disposal against Trinidad and then next weekend against Mexico.
Apart from that, Arena said the tune-up game was good to get a feel for the players and their level of fitness and sharpness at this moment, with some player in the middle of the MLS season and others recently concluding their European club campaigns.
With the game in general marked by up-and-down play, Arena said the team is progressing to be ready to earn points against Trinidad and Mexico. Of course, that includes several more days worth of practice and preparation.
“It was good to get to know each other a little bit,” Arena said. “When will we find out if we’re ready for Thursday night? On Thursday night.”