Arena: Players responded to 'unprecedented challenge'

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, 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, "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.”
9 comments about "Arena: Players responded to 'unprecedented challenge'".
  1. Bob Ashpole, June 16, 2017 at 8:49 a.m.

    Great article. The quotes you included were very informative.

  2. Mo youknow, June 16, 2017 at 9:59 a.m.

    Nice to see a USMNT coach giving the players the credit. For a lot of reasons.

  3. John Mcdermott, June 16, 2017 at 11:25 a.m.

    What refreshing change is Bruce Arena. I'm sensing the players also think so.

  4. Kenneth Cabral, June 16, 2017 at 11:58 a.m.

    We now have a coach who understands and repects his players, is willing to give new comers a chance and develops a playing strategies which takes into consideration the strenths and weaknesses of his opponents. I agree with John that Arena is refreshing, in many respects.

  5. Bob Myers, June 16, 2017 at 11:58 a.m.

    Makes good sense to me! Way to go coach!

  6. Theodore Eison, June 16, 2017 at 2:10 p.m.

    You're a pro and it shows, Paul. Great job as always. And thanks for being my FB friend. Well deserved on the HOF nod

  7. Bret Newman, June 16, 2017 at 4:42 p.m.

    Where are those peeps, that were against the hiring of Bruce Arena? Shhh! That camp, is very quiet now. I'm sure will here from them, as soon as the USMNT lose their first game under Arena. If they lose! Idiots! All of them! They obviously don't know Bruce Arena, and know his track record. Successful everywhere he goes, except the Metrostars in NY. Successful on every coaching level, although he hasn't coached overseas. And yes, he failed to advance the US, the second time around in the WC, but barely. Poor officiating in the Ghana game caused that. Anyway, he's much more wiser as a coach, since then.

  8. Kent James, June 19, 2017 at 11:35 a.m.

    While I agree with the sentiments of the comments above, it is a bit odd that Arena's changes are being contrasted with JK's set line-up, since I think one of JK's biggest flaws was that he changed the line-up too much. I think the difference is that Bruce provided a logical explanation for his line-up changes (altitude, little time between games) whereas with JK, it was difficult to understand why he made the changes he did.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, June 19, 2017 at 6:14 p.m.

    I think it is a bit odd that people are looking backward and still talking about JK. We should be thankful for his efforts and move on. I guarantee that Arena and the players are not dwelling on the past. That much is evident from their play.

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