Venezuela shreds sloppy US defense early for 3-0 win
CINCINNATI (AP) — Sloppy defense, a poor goalkeeping decision, wasted chances. The United States set another historical marker in its latest shutout loss, and it was not the good kind.
Down by three goals after only 36 minutes, the U.S. fell to Venezuela 3-0 Sunday in its final exhibition tuneup for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. A young team showed its inexperience with little more than a week left before the tournament opener.
"Obviously I know what the narrative's going to be, that we have no chance, that we're going to lose and maybe not even make it out of the first round," coach Gregg Berhalter said.
The Americans wrote the narrative with their two unsettling exhibition losses.
The revamped roster had another historical throwback when Venezuela surged ahead 3-0, marking the first time the U.S. trailed by three goals in an opening half since June 4, 2011, against world champion Spain.
Salomón Rondón had two of the goals , moving ahead of Juan Arango for the Venezuelan career scoring record with 24, and La Vinotinto beat the Americans for the first time after three defeats and two draws.
"I think we're humbled right now and we're ready to learn from our mistakes," defender Aaron Long said. "We had good chances today, and the score could have been a lot different. We're not going to hang our heads and say a 3-0 loss and we're playing terrible."
Up next is 175th-ranked Guyana in the Gold Cup opener June 18 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the first competitive match for the Americans in 20 months.
The defense was the most glaring issue this time, with Berhalter describing it as "really careless." Many of the 23,955 fans at Nippert Stadium, home of the Major League Soccer's new Cincinnati team, booed as the half ended.
The U.S. enters the Gold Cup with an unproven goalkeeper for the first time in three decades.
A bad decision by Zack Steffen, who was in goal for the second straight game, set up Venezuela's first score. His careless pass was intercepted, and Steffen was out of position as Rondón got the ball from Jhon Murillo and scored his 23rd international goal.
Rather than clearing the ball to his left, Steffen sent it into trouble just ahead of the penalty area.
"I didn't really pick up my head to look to the left," Steffen said. "My head was just straight forward. I wanted somebody to come to the middle. I unfortunately gave it away.
"When you concede that first goal, it's tough."
Another defensive lapse off a throw-in set up Venezuela's second score. Jefferson Savarino hit the left post but tracked the carom past two stuck-in-place defenders and scored from the right side, his first international goal in 10 appearances.
Rondón circled around Long, who was late to get into position, for an unobstructed shot and the third goal.
"It's a tough spot and it can be solved earlier with me just tracking back faster," Long said.
The U.S. is still refining its lineup for the tournament, and several players were held out Sunday as they worked into shape. Christian Pulisic joined the team on Thursday and didn't play. Forward Jonathan Lewis and midfielder Michael Bradley are recovering from hamstring strains, and Tyler Adams does not report until Tuesday.
Forward Tyler Boyd made his U.S. debut, one of five lineup changes. The 24-year-old attacker made five appearances for New Zealand before FIFA approved his switch to the U.S. last month. Forward Jozy Altidore made his first appearance since the October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans' streak of seven World Cup appearances.
No matter. The scoreless streak for the U.S. reach 266 minutes as the Americans misfired or were denied on chances in the second half.
Berhalter was hired in December to implement an attacking, possession-oriented style, and he lamented a lack of speed and aggression against Jamaica. Only two players were positioned in the penalty area much of the time, which became a focus for improvement in Sunday's game.
Although the offense got more chances, Berhalter was still disappointed with the level of competitiveness.
"We're still trying to get guys to where they need to be," he said. "We're not there yet, and that's pretty clear."