Finance

Arena laments ‘sloppy’ United States display in Gold Cup quarterfinal win

Bruce Arena speaks after the USMNT make the Gold Cup semis, focusing on defensive prowess, and Altidore’s odd bite.

PHILADELPHIA – The United States may have prevailed in its Gold Cup quarterfinal against El Salvador, 2-0, but manager Bruce Arena was sharply critical of his team for failing to play better against a side intent on upsetting the rhythm of the game.

Arena said he didn’t "think games should look that; too many fouls, time-wasting, players falling on the ground." But he also put plenty of blame on his own team for not playing better.

"I thought we had a difficult time tonight," said Arena. "Our timing wasn’t good, we didn’t do well with the physicality. The game had no rhythm with all the fouls, and players falling on the ground.

"But we weren’t good on top of it. It took us 30 minutes to play a little bit. Then we got a little bit more assertive, and took up good positions on the field, and capitalized on a couple of their mistakes.

"But it was just a sloppy game overall."

The U.S. was heading towards a frustrating, scoreless first half, but goals from Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj just before halftime gave the U.S. some valuable breathing room, allowing them to see out the victory.

"Arena praised the play of Lichaj, who overcame some shaky moments early before settling down, and scoring his first U.S. goal.

"[Lichaj is a] good defender, no question about it," said Arena. "He still needs a little bit more experience at this level, but he fits in well with the team.

"That’s a position we need help. DeAndre Yedlin was injured for a fair amount last year. We didn’t have him for all of our games. It’s nice to know that Eric is a player that perhaps we can depend on to help us in that position."

One of the game’s main talking points was a series of off-the-ball incidents, most of which went unnoticed by referee Drew Fischer. El Salvador defender Henry Romero appeared to bite U.S. forward Jozy Altidore in one incident, and pinched him in another.

"There should have been players sent off in my opinion," said Arena, later adding: "These games aren’t easy. Clearly, I would think that the referee didn’t want to send anybody off.

"But it was a night where there were a couple of occasions where perhaps it would have had the game headed in the right direction. But I certainly didn’t see the play. Someone showed me afterward. But I can’t fault the referee. Those things aren’t easy to see."

The U.S. had little problem getting the ball out its own half and had the bulk of possession. But Arena bemoaned his side’s lack of precision with the ball at critical times.

"We weren’t clean in the last part of the field," he said. "We have to do better. I told the team afterwards, I just thought it was some simple things.

"Our passing wasn’t good. We didn’t hold the ball up well enough. We didn’t move well enough off the ball. We have to be a little bit better."

After an unconvincing quarterfinal win over El Salvador, Taylor Twellman is concerned by the state of the USMNT’s Gold Cup.

The result was that Altidore and Clint Dempsey were oftentimes starved of service, but Arena felt that they had enough chances to get on the score sheet.

"Give them credit, they got into our forwards pretty well," said Arena about El Salvador. "But there was a chance for both [Altidore and Dempsey] to get a goal tonight and it didn’t happen, a combination of us not being sharp enough and give the team from El Salvador credit for playing us real hard."

Arena didn’t let his back line off the hook either. Lichaj nearly gifted El Salvador a goal early in the match with an under-hit backpass. And early on the U.S. didn’t cope well with El Salvador’s physical approach.

"I thought in the first half, their No. 9 and No. 11, for the first 30 minutes of the game owned our center-backs," he said.

""And then we got better over the last 15 minutes of the first half. And then as the game went on and they were putting the ball in the air it was no contest. Our center backs were able to dominate a lot of those aerial battles."

The U.S. will now face Costa Rica — who beat Panama 1-0 earlier in the day — in Saturday’s semifinal in Arlington, Texas. Costa Rica has been hit by some injuries, with four players forced to exit the tournament. But Arena is expecting a tough battle.

"Certainly they’re a good team, we know that," said Arena about Costa Rica. "They beat the U.S. by four goals in November, right? Hopefully we can remember that."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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