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Venezuela shreds sloppy U.S. defense early for 3-0 win


    United States goalkeeper Zack Steffen (1) reacts after being scored on by Venezuela forward Jose Salomon Rondon (23) during the first half of an international friendly soccer match today in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI >> Sloppy defense and careless goalkeeping sent the United States to another disconcerting loss today, 3-0 to Venezuela in the Americans’ final exhibition before the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Another bad start never got much better.

Venezuela surged ahead 3-0 in the first 36 minutes, the first time the U.S. had 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.

The U.S. dropped a pair of exhibitions in a five-day span while preparing for its Gold Cup opener June 18 against Guyana in St. Paul, Minnesota, the first competitive match for the Americans in 20 months. They were coming off a 1-0 loss to Jamaica — only their second home defeat to a Caribbean nation in a half-century — that prompted several roster moves. Forward Josh Sargent and six others were cut a day later.

The defense was the most glaring issue this time, with coach Gregg Berhalter describing it as “really careless” during a halftime interview. 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, and it showed today.

A bad decision by Zack Steffen, who was in goal for the second straight game, set up Venezuela’s first score. His careless pass went directly to Yangel Herrera in front of the penalty area. Steffen was out of position as Rondón got a pass from Jhon Murillo and knocked in his 23rd international goal.

Another defensive lapse off a throw-in set up Venezuela’s second score. Jefferson Savarino hit the left post, followed the carom past two stuck-in-place defenders and scored from the right side, his first international goal in 10 appearances.

Rondón circled around defender Aaron Long for the third score.

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 against Venezuela. 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 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 positioned in the penalty area much of the time, which became a focus for improvement in Sunday’s game.

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