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Despite ‘difficult situation’, Bruce Arena likes USMNT’s chances heading into final World Cup qualifiers

At this point, everyone knows what’s at stake for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Just two games remain in the World Cup qualifying cycle, and those two games will determine how and if the USMNT heads to Russia next summer.

Bruce Arena knows what those two games mean and he knows the scenarios that need to play out, and he also knows that those two games will present different and unique challenges.

The U.S. hosts Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando before visiting Trinidad & Tobago four days later to close out the Hexagonal. As things stand, the U.S. sits fourth in the Hex standings, one point behind Panama ahead of their upcoming clash. A third-place berth would send the U.S. straight to Russia. A fourth-place finish means a playoff against Australia or Syria.

“As we enter these last two games, our view is that we have to get at least four points and likely six points in order to qualify as the third team in CONCACAF,” Arena said, according to U.S. Soccer.

“I know it looks like were in a difficult situation, but we’re a point out of third place and we’re playing the team that’s ahead of us at home, so that’s a real positive,” he added. “If we’re able to beat Panama, we head into the last game with a very good chance of finishing third in the group. I like our chances, and at the end of the day it’s up to us. We have to play well in games nine and 10 in the Hex in order to qualify.”

Like Arena said, the U.S. will need to handle the Panama challenge to qualify automatically. Panama is a familiar opponent, but also a very difficult one. They sealed a 1-1 draw earlier this year in Panama before securing the same result at this summer’s Gold Cup.

“Panama and ourselves are fighting for the third and fourth position in the group,” Arena said. “They’re a point ahead of us, so when we play them we anticipate they’re going to have a really defensive look to themselves and look to catch us on the break.

“They’re a strong team physically. I think they’ll be very aggressive coming at us – fouling, looking to get out on the break and trying to create some chances off restarts. They’ll be tough to play against. We have to have a good mentality in that game, be very aggressive going forward, try to get a goal and make Panama chase the game.”

If the U.S. can take down Panama and earn all three points, the team will know a win in Trinidad will see them through. Depending on scenarios, a draw could be good enough as well, but that will depend on help from Costa Rica and Mexico. Costa Rica is all but set for the World Cup while Mexico’s spot has already been clinched.

T&T sits on the other end of the spectrum as the Soca Warriors know they will not be heading towards Russia next summer. However, that makes them dangerous as well as Arena is aware that T&T could stun the U.S. because they have nothing to lose.

“Trinidad is a different opponent,” he said. “When we play them in the tenth game, they will be out of the competition and that presents a problem. I think they’ll be a team that’s relaxed, has no pressure on them and can play free. They have a team with some good athletes, good pace and a difficult environment to play, so I think they will be challenging as well.”


  1. We just aren’t very good, that is our problem. Our players (Bradley) brush off these embarrassing losses as just concacaf road difficulties–pitch, ref, weather, blah and blah. No accountability. Our coach is too afraid to change. No balls, no blue chips. Out with the old, bleed in the new.

  2. Gary, its not so much where CP plays as where the players are around him. If he is in the middle with Bradley sitting deep and Nagbe and Johnson on the lines yes he is going to get dominated in the middle. Remember, however, it was playing centrally that allowed him to spring into the attack and score two against TnT. There is really no one else to play that middle attacking player spot. I’m becoming more and more convinced the issue with this cycle is the pieces just don’t fit together. To make Bradley better he needs a deep midfield partner, which isolates the forwards, move CP or Nagbe to the middle to link Bradley to the forwards and then you have to take off Wood or Altidore. Play 2 up top and 5 in the midfield and Gonzalez has to defend in space.

  3. Gary, it seems like playing the 442 the way Bruce has lined us up that he’s expecting CP to play that right mid spot like Landon, and that’s a mistake. LD was a much better 2 way player, and CP is flat out the most dangerous player we have. Our 442 has been a huge goose egg.. Other than a few games at the Copa, we’ve only played well like a complete team in ONE game, that 6-0 drubbing..
    CP needs to be on the wing in a 433, or on the wing or at the 10 in a 4231… and we should build around our best player. At this point our 442 is like insanity

    • The 4-4-2 seems to be built around getting 2 of Jozy Wood or Dempsey on the field and that is the issue.
      As you said, we should be building our attack around Pulisic while creating a solid spine of the team. 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1. However we line up should be contructed to be strong through the center and quick on the counter.

  4. Just play with a 5 man midfield and build up through the middle and and let CP do what he does and create whether it be from the wing or in the middle. With 5 in the midfield it might help defend the counter attacks alil better also cuz the defense has looked terrible lately I know there have been players missing but still no excuse against concacaf opponents. Yedlin should really be able to open up CP on the wing if he’s played out there instead of centrally.

    • CP is not a superman. We saw what happened vs. CR. When he would go into the middle he would be surrounded by 2 or 3 guys and they would force a turnover. I say, yes, you can play him centrally, but he can’t do it on his own. Need quick combinations or quick attacks from turnovers in midfield. CP is best when he is running at opponents in space. When he is being surrounded he needs to give up the ball quickly so his teammates can try and play through balls in space vacated by those defending him.

      • I agree that’s why I said yedlin would open up space for him with his pace up the right side, with CP on the wing and yedlin at RB. I think CP’s best position is on the wing but a lot of people want him in the middle.

  5. At least Arena has figured out what the opponents’ strategies will be. Will he pick a team and play accordingly? He really screwed up in Honduras. For Panama he needs speed on the back line (Yedlin and FJ at RB and LB) to protect on counter attacks and we will want guys who are good in the air for attack (Jozy and Dempsey). This is especially so because the Panamanian GK, Pineda, is not really good at judging when to come out for balls in the air. So, we should attack with speed down the flanks and pump in crosses. Mix that in with ball control using fast, one touch passes and give and goes. When we played CR, our ball movement was much too slow. Every time they have an opening, our strikers should shoot instead of playing for the perfect pass or perfectly played goal. Too often I think our players do that. It’s essential we score first. As for T&T, we should play conservatively aggressive. We should be able to beat them just on the basis of our quality being that much better so that we shouldn’t have to force things.

  6. Says the guy who rates Zusi and Lichaj over a starting Bundesliga RB in Chandler. The same guy who started 9 of 11 MLSers in Honduras and left our best defender and striker on the bench, only for that benched striker to save our f–king a-s in the 85′. The same guy who’s calling in a 35 year old converted LB, a never has been striker who misses WC sitters, and a never has been DM who can’t boss the midfield against Martinque.The same guy who ignores MLS’ leading assist leader, an auto starter Bundersliga RB, a pretty good DM who bossed Championship MFs,The same guy who always plays a 442 with no creativity and plays hoof it forward ball with the hope of getting lucking on a set piece or two.
    Oh, that same guy likes our chances. Ah F–k.

    • I’ll bite a little bit. The 442 thing I’ll agree with you on. I don’t think it fits most of our players. It wasn’t really effective during most matches during the winning streak, but Bruce seemed to fall more and more in love with it anyway.

      I think you were promoting Nguyen, Williams, and Chandler. While you can’t argue that Williams and Chandler play in better leagues than MLS, I do recognize that with Nguyen and Chandler the last three US managers have decided against using them and Williams the last two managers. There has to be something there whether it’s the player’s ability of attitude or just Nguyen’s size

  7. Bruce may like the US’ chances of qualifying, but I don’t think that even diehard fans do.

    Based on what we’ve seen so far, the US doesn’t deserve the trip to Russia.

    Missing out on this cycle might be a good thing in the long run: it’ll force change at the top, and give the program time to re-think and retool.

    • I have heard this comment several times and its ridiculous Barry. Missing the World Cup would cost US Soccer both financially from lost sponsorships, number of kids taking up the sport, rosters spots for Americans on European clubs and overall influence on American culture. Missing the World Cup would set American Soccer development back 10 years and MLS at least that much.

      • @johnny

        Not so ridiculous when you consider that the most successful WC run by the States was 15 yrs ago.

        Where’s all this progress and momentum in development that you refer to? I can’t see it. USSoccer has bigger coffers now, but I’m not seeing the results in the stats columns.

        The bigger danger to development domestically is going to Russia, and flaming out in the first round in embarrassing fashion. I’d love to be more optimistic, but I don’t see concrete rationale why I should.

        What’s your’s?

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