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Arena: Players responded to 'unprecedented challenge'
by Paul Kennedy, June 15th, 2017 11:43PM
In the last two World Cup cycles, the USA has never made as many lineup changes with qualifying still on the line as it did in the June window. Getting players to buy into the fact there would be wholesale changes between games was one of the keys to the 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago and 1-1 tie with Mexico that pulled the USA into third place in the Hexagonal.

In an interview with USSoccer.com, U.S. coach Bruce Arena said his players responded well to the plan presented to them.

"It’s never easy for national team players to understand some of that thinking," he said, "but I think when we came into camp we had an unprecedented challenge ahead of us with playing two games at altitude and having two less days of rest between games than you typically have. We had to have a plan that not only enabled us to have fresh players available to play against Mexico, but also to deal with the altitude for the two games and the two weeks. Overall, I think the players did well.”

WCQ: USMNT Lineup Changes
1 June 2012 (3-1h, 1-1a)
5 September 2012 (1-2a, 1-0h)
1 October 2012 (2-1a, 3-1h)
2 March 2013 (1-0h, 0-0a)
1 June 2013 (2-1a, 2-0h)
2 June 2013 (2-0h, 1-0h)
4 September 2013 (1-3a, 2-0h)
2 November 2015 (6-1h, 0-0a)
6 March 2016 (0-2a, 4-0h)
6 September 2016 (6-0a, 4-0h)
1 November 2016 (1-2h, 0-4a)
------------------------
3 March 2017 (6-0h, 1-1a)
7 June 2017 (2-0h, 1-1a)
Note: Windows in last two cycles where qualifying was contested.
h=home game; a=away game.

In the 12 previous windows, the first 11 under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USA averaged less than three changes from the first game to the second. Most notably, Klinsmann made only one change -- Brad Guzan for injured Tim Howard in goal -- for the 4-0 loss at Costa Rica that was his last game in charge.

In Sunday's 1-1 tie with Mexico, Arena made seven changes in his starting lineup, including 22-year-old Paul Arriola and 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta, who both made their first starts in the Hexagonal, in midfield. The only holdovers from the T&T game: Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley and 18-year-old Christian Pulisic.

“I think with Christian," Arena told USSoccer.com, "we saw the effects of the altitude. He played three full games for us when you include the Venezuela game and he was really physically done near the 60 minute mark in Mexico and hung in there. That was good, but it also validated the fact that we did need to make changes when you see our fittest player struggling so much. I thought Paul Arriola did an excellent job on the right side of the field and with a little bit more experience he’ll be a little bit better in passing and having more composure and the same thing with Kellyn. His work rate was outstanding, he could be a little better passer of the ball, but I think the experience for him was outstanding as well.”