Bruce Arena: 'Unpredictable' referees not protecting U.S.'s Christian Pulisic
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- U.S. manager Bruce Arena bemoaned the lack of protection that midfielder Christian Pulisic is getting from referees in World Cup qualifying, calling the refereeing in the region "highly unpredictable."
Pulisic has easily been the most-fouled U.S. player during the final-round Hexagonal, suffering 14 fouls in seven games, compared to Jozy Altidore's nine in as many matches.
The 18-year-old was fouled four times alone in last Friday's 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica, and as such, Pulisic cut a frustrated figure during a match in which he was held in check for much of the night.
Speaking at his pregame news conference ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Honduras, Arena said getting Pulisic back on track was out of his control.
"He's fouled just about every time he touches the ball," Arena said of Pulisic. "The referee hasn't protected him in a number of situations."
Altidore is suspended for the match after picking up his second yellow card of World Cup qualifying last Friday. All told, the U.S. has six more players on its current squad who are one yellow card away from a suspension -- forward Clint Dempsey, defenders Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler, and midfielders Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya and Paul Arriola.
Arena was critical of the current rule that sees a player suspended for receiving two yellow cards, and said the rule was affecting the way games are refereed.
"Officiating in CONCACAF is highly unpredictable," he said. "You have no idea what's going to go on in games.
"It seems to me that that the referees are refraining from issuing yellow cards because of that rule, which is, without going into a long debate, just a stupid rule.
"Over  games, and to think you'd be punished for having a second yellow card, that's essentially what it is. And I think it keeps cards in the pockets of referees."
Asked by one member of the Honduras media if the match referee, Joel Aguilar of El Salvador, would favor the U.S., Arena responded: "I don't think any referee is going to favor the U.S. when we go on the road in World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF."
In terms of the game itself, the U.S. finds itself in the position of needing at least a draw in order to keep control of its World Cup qualifying fate. The U.S. is in third place, level on points with Honduras but ahead on goal differential. It is just one point ahead of fifth place Panama.
That said, Arena said there was no increased sense of importance attached to the match.
"Every game we've played has been no different that this game [on Tuesday]," he said "It's almost like every game is a 'must' game. I don't think there's a heightened sense [of urgency], but certainly we're well aware of situation in the standings at the moment.
"We're down to three games. When I started we had eight games, and I thought at that time everything goes down to last game. Nothing has changed. We're basically in the same position we've been in since March."
The U.S. walloped Honduras 6-0 when the two teams met in California in March, but Arena said that match would have no bearing on tomorrow's outcome.
"It's a distant memory, to be honest with you," he said. "I haven't even thought about it, don't need to think about that game. This game is completely different.
The match is expected to take place in sweltering conditions, with temperatures in the low 90s at kickoff. Arena is of the belief that his team will know how to handle, and he expects a slower-paced game.
"The weather will have an effect on the game," he said. "We'll have changes in our lineup, partly due to our game on Friday, and the conditions as well."
He added: "You need to have the experience playing under these conditions, which the majority of our players surely have.
"MLS players play a lot of games in hot and humid conditions on artificial [turf] fields, traveling in worse conditions. This isn't like it's going to be anything new to our players.
"It will certainly be challenging, but I think we have enough experienced players to understand the circumstances."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.