Soccer: U.S. blanked by Venezuela in Cincinnati

The final tune-up for the Gold Cup was supposed to be about just cleaning up a few things and giving the regulars a chance to build chemistry.

That wasn’t the case at all for the U.S. men’s national soccer team in a friendly Sunday against Venezuela, as the American squad still looked very much like a work in progress.

Team USA gave up three bad goals in the first half and lost 3-0 in front of 23,955 fans at Nippert Stadium. The USMNT begins a quest to defend its CONCACAF Gold Cup title when it opens group play June 18 against Guyana at Minnesota United’s Allianz Field. The Gold Cup, held every two years, determines the continental champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

“I think we need to be calm,” coach Gregg Berhalter said in his post-game press conference. “We need to look at the game, look at what we need to improve on and set out to do it. It’s really tough after a result like this to come in and start making excuses. I don’t really want to do that, but what I will say is we are still getting guys where they need to be and we are not there yet, and that’s pretty clear, so we need to keep working on that.”

Venezuela got on the board in the 16th minute when USMNT goalie Zack Steffen's pass was intercepted about 25 yards out and immediately sent in to Salomón Rondón for an easy score. Then, Jefferson Savarino scored off the rebound of his own shot that hit the post, as two U.S. defenders in the area stood watching in the 30th minute.

Rondón added his second tally, beating Aaron Long one-on-one to tuck a shot past Steffen at the near post in the 36th minute.

“(The first one) I didn’t look to my left; I wanted someone to come to the middle and it wasn’t really on,” Steffen said. “I should have just played it to Aaron and I unfortunately gave it away. That’s the style we want to play and that’s going to happen sometimes. We will learn from it, improve and get ready for the Gold Cup.”

Steffen added that better communication and chemistry among the back line could have prevented some of the goals, especially the second one. Long said there were things he could have done better defending on the third goal with his positioning, but ultimately he could have prevented it more easily by tracking back sooner.

Team USA was coming off a 1-0 loss to Jamaica on Wednesday, marking their first defeat under Berhalter since he was named head coach in December. The U.S. had never lost to La Vinotinto in five previous matchups, owning a 3-0-2 record against them prior to Sunday’s match.

In the game against Jamaica, Berhalter tinkered with the lineup to get some different guys in the mix and Sunday’s squad was supposed to be much more representative of what he plans to use in more meaningful competition. However, Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley and Tyler Adams were three notable players not available and it seems Berhalter still is undecided on a few spots.

Additionally, Long was playing his first game in about a month and still working back to match fitness after not being cleared to play until Sunday. Tyler Boyd, previously a New Zealand international who changed associations two weeks ago, earned his first cap for Team USA and got the start at one of the

winger positions.

Team USA made some adjustments in the second half and actually ended up out-shooting Venezuela 13-9, but the U.S. couldn't finish the opportunities that finally presented themselves. Nick Lima sent in a cross that both Duane Holmes and Paul Arriola missed in the 68th minute and a header to the back post that Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan tried to put away but missed while colliding into one another.

Jozy Altidore made his first USMNT appearance since 2017, coming off the bench for Gyasi Zardes at the start of the second half and gave some life to an otherwise bleak offense.

“We are humbled right now,” Long said. “We are ready to learn from our mistakes and we’re not going to make excuses but we had some good chances and the score could have been a lot different. We’re not going to hang our head and say it was a 3-nil loss, and say we’re terrible. There were things we can look at that were positives.”

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