The United States worked out the kinks against Venezuela ahead of two huge World Cup qualifiers.
Drawing 1-1 in Utah, the Americans started slow and won’t love their evening overall.
Yet the Yanks saw dynamite performances from Tim Howard and Christian Pulisic, with Jorge Villafana also doing plenty of good.
Set pieces are a real concern
Bruce Arena’s appointment didn’t guarantee much, but it promised significant improvement on set pieces. Jurgen Klinsmann’s team did not fare well on corner kicks and free kicks, and Arena was supposed to fix what ailed the Yanks tactically.
The Yanks have not been much better, if at all, in dealing with set pieces, allowing another goal off a corner on Saturday and saved from a second by one of two fantastic saves by Tim “No. 1 Forever” Howard.
Either Fabian Johnson (likely), John Brooks (maybe), or both were victimized on the goal, moved out of position by the ping-pong of the ball amongst Venezuela heads (Win a 50-50, gents!).
And the second saw Clint Dempsey lose his mark for the first header, and Michael Bradley lost on the second as Howard bailed both veterans out.
Pulisic, Pulisic, Pulisic
At the risk of over exuberance, the Borussia Dortmund 18-year-old continues his path toward becoming a transcendent U.S. talent.
Pulisic scored five goals for BVB this season, and now has five as a national team member. Again, he’s 18.
This time, it was a composed move atop the 18.
“The ball just came back to me on top of the box. I just didn’t see the shot on my right foot, so I cut it back once and just put it right to the back post.”
There’s also something about the way Pulisic sees the ball in the center of the park, and the way he sets up for his longer passes, how they come off his foot.
There are some questions about his BVB future with Thomas Tuchel, a huge Pulisic proponent, out the door, but there aren’t any when it comes to his import within the USMNT structure.
Listening to Pulisic and Tim Howard after the game, this friendly was part of the process. No, it didn’t look good. No, they didn’t come out well. But yes, they knew they were experimenting as well as the merits of that experimentation.
That last part is the biggest difference so far under Arena, and the half-year game plan to get used to playing at altitude has embedded itself in the players. We’ll see whether it’s successful on Thursday versus Trinidad and Tobago, and then Sunday at Mexico, but right now we like hearing the following:
Pulisic: “Obviously we had a slow start. We didn’t come out with the right intensity like we should have but as the game went on we found a groove. We’re getting used to the altitude. We’re looking a lot stronger and we feel much more confident.”
Howard: “Just a little bit of experimentation but Bruce Arena emphasized that every time you put that shirt on it means a lot.”