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United States 'players have to do better' with set pieces - Bruce Arena

Jose Manuel Velazquez (6) exposed the United States' deficiencies at set plays.

SANDY, Utah -- United States manager Bruce Arena thought his team played "OK" in its 1-1 friendly draw with Venezuela, while also bemoaning his side's frailties on set pieces.

The U.S. fell behind in the 29th minute when a half-cleared corner kick was headed back into the box, allowing Jose Manuel Velazquez to volley home. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard then came to the Americans' rescue on two occasions in the first half, as the U.S. defense continued to look wobbly from set plays.

The U.S. perked up in the second half, and equalized through Christian Pulisic in the 61st minute. The U.S. later switched to a 3-5-2 formation but was unable to come up with a game-winner.

"I thought it was a good game," Arena said in his post-match news conference.

"Venezuela played very well, had a game plan that I think we may see on Thursday [against Trinidad & Tobago] as well. [They] dropped off, defended the spaces well, pressured the ball, and countered. And then they caught us on a set piece.

"We were very poor on a couple of set pieces tonight. And then at the other end of the field, I think we could've been a little bit cleaner in our execution. At times we played well, but the final product wasn't very good."

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Arena was also critical of his side's play in the first half, one in which the U.S. failed to exploit some transition opportunities.

"I think we just played too slow, too much east-west, and it was because our spacing was poor," he said.

"By our positioning we shut down passing lanes for our players ahead of the ball. Once we opened it up a little bit at the end of the [first] half and then in the second half, we were a little bit more successful getting into the final third of the field, and attempting to create some chances."

The U.S. used the match as preparation for a pair of World Cup qualifiers in the next eight days. The Americans will face Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 before playing Mexico at the Estadio Azteca three days later. With both matches being played at altitude, the U.S. opted to play this game just outside of Salt Lake City in a bid to get the players better acclimatized.

"Dealing with the altitude is a good exercise for our players," he said. "So I give our opponents credit. I thought overall we played okay.

"It was good for me to see some of the new players on the field and get a little bit of a feel for them and see where they're at in terms of their fitness and their sharpness.

"Overall it was a good night. Certainly we would have liked to have won the game, but overall I thought it was good."

Christian Pulisic levelled the scores for the hosts just after the hour mark.

The U.S. will no doubt have to clean up their play on set plays, an area that plagued the team in its most recent World Cup qualifier, a 1-1 draw at Panama. Arena insisted the fix isn't a complicated one.

"You mark a guy and you beat him to the ball," he said. "When the ball is cleared and played back in you've got to stay with your man, and beat him to the ball.

"It's simply individual breakdowns. Players have to do better."

That said, he is confident that another five days at altitude will be sufficient to prepare his team for the Soca Warriors.

"We're moving forward at the right pace," he said. "Come Thursday, we're going to find out. I'm optimistic that the team will be ready to play."

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


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