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Arena’s tactics earn US point against El Tri

Bruce Arena showed why he’s such a legend of American soccer coaching last night when he managed the United State national team to a 1-1 draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca.

Yes, it was a draw, but for a Yanks side that had been struggling throughout the qualifying process, it was a great result. Centerback Geoff Cameron even said it was a great win for the US, before correcting himself and saying it was a draw. But that even says what it meant even to tie the game.

The key to the result was Arena, who masterfully implemented a great lineup strategy to keep El Tri in check. The Red, White, and Blue went out with a 3-4-3 lineup, but it was fluid and when defending was more a 5-4-1. Far too often in soccer, coaches and managers refuse to allow their lineups that much fluid movement and demand their players stay in a particular area, but Arena stacked the defense when defending and pushed his wing backs up into the attack when on offense.

Arena also sacrificed possession to slow the Mexican’s down. That sounds like heresy for soccer, to give up possession, but it was an effective strategy. The USA is down right now compared to where they were in qualifying for the last two World Cups. Mexico is the better side, with dangerous scorers like Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Jonathan dos Santos running on the attack, but even despite Mexico dominating possession they only managed one shot on goal. That was the one goal they got, which came in a transition breakdown by the Yanks.

The USA only possessed the ball 26-percent of the time and capitalized on a remarkable shot by Michael Bradley, which was lifted right over top of Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in the sixth minute, but did not allow the Mexicans the opportunity to run them over, even despite the lack of possession.

It might not be the most favorable tactic the US could play, but it worked and got them a much-needed point in qualifiers was not expected. The Mexican’s are great in their home stadium, in Mexico City, where the heat and the altitude both play a huge factor.

Also considering the Yanks only had one day’s rest between games and were traveling to play at a place that is physically grueling, Arena’s lineup decisions were also great. After seeing a player like Darlington Nagbe perform at a high level on Friday, it was odd not to see him start on Sunday night, but it made complete sense. Arena used him as a reserve but didn’t push the physical limitations of players like Nagbe by putting him through another grueling game in the midfield. He also decided to use Brad Guzan in goal instead of a 38-year-old Tim Howard, another risky move that seemed to have paid off.

Arena also didn’t use Fabian Johnson, John Brooks or Clint Dempsey in the game, who would all be considered to be A-squad members for the United States. Instead, he used players who were used to the altitude in Mexico City. Omar Gonzalez, who currently plays for Liga MX’s Pachuca and Tijuana winger Paul Arriola both started the game. The one older US veteran who did play in the match was left back DeMarcus Beasley, who played at Puebla for four seasons.

These were all decisions that may have been considered risky, but ultimately proved to be smart and earned the United States a critical point in the hexagonal World Cup qualifying standings. Finally, US coaching was the reason for their success.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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