Bruce Arena and the U.S. team need at least a draw against Honduras at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. (Jose Valle/EPA-EFE)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — On the eve of a massive World Cup qualifier, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena touched on a number of subjects Monday with a half-dozen traveling reporters at the team hotel.

Excerpts:

On Tuesday’s outlook …

“We’ll be fine. I think we’ll get a result here.”

On the field conditions at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano …

“The field we’re playing on tomorrow, no one plays on fields like that. That’s a bit challenging. The grass isn’t cut. It’s a little bit different, for sure. Who knows what they will do in the next 24 hours. The game will be slow.”

On whether Tim Howard is playing at full capacity after last winter’s groin surgery …

“By next year, he will be. He’ll have an offseason to get stronger. He’s done a remarkable job coming back in such a short period of time, but it hasn’t allowed for him to be fully back to where he is going to be. When you have those kinds of surgeries, even athletes that come back with [rebuilt] knees, they play but they’re not 100 percent. You see the next year they start getting better. That’s typical of players with ACLs. Tim had a really complicated surgery and came back well ahead of schedule. He’ll benefit from an offseason and he’ll be better next year.”

Citing a quick turnaround for Howard after the T&T home match in June, Arena started Brad Guzan four days later in Mexico. In this set of games, Howard started Friday. So Brad starts in Honduras?

“Brad Friedel is starting tomorrow.”

On CONCACAF referees …

“The officiating is incredibly challenging [in qualifiers]. It can change games. The officiating is such that the games are different than how you normally play games, and you’ve got to make those adjustments quick, as players, as coaches.”

On complaints by some observers about a referee from Panama — a country in contention for a World Cup berth – working the U.S.-Costa Rica match …

“I don’t know how you could possibly use that as a reason why he makes the call he makes. If that’s the case, who should they choose? I think you have to trust that the officials have integrity. Some might be incompetent, but you’d like to believe they have integrity.” [laughter]

On the hard fouls received by Christian Pulisic in qualifiers …

“Panama was ridiculous, how bad he was fouled. And there were some good shots the other day [Friday]. Costa Rica has one card.”

On how Pulisic can adapt to the physical challenges …

“He can’t get frustrated by it, and if he’s a little wiser about it, maybe it will help create some advantages for us, as well.”

Wiser?

“Find the next play in the right spots of the field to draw fouls and maybe we get a penalty or a free kick that is dangerous. … We’ve talked to him. We’ll find out tomorrow if it’s gotten any better.”

On whether Landon Donovan and other young players faced similar challenges early in their careers …

“I don’t think they had as high a profile as he has. So the answer would be no.”

On where to play Pulisic in the formation …

“He’s not tied down to where he plays. He’s free to move where he wants to. It’s not an issue. He can go where he wants. He has that freedom.”

 

On factors in lineup decisions for the Honduras match …

“There is a big difference at this time of the year for the European players; they’re not that fit yet and they are not used to these [extremely hot] conditions. So you’d have to think, if they are going to play in one of these two games, it’s going to be in the first game [Friday vs. Costa Rica in New Jersey]. Common sense would tell you that, and there are exceptions to the rule.”

On the performance vs. Costa Rica influencing lineup decisions …

“It influences some decisions. The guy who didn’t play particularly well isn’t an automatic to play the next game.”

On assembling the roster for these two qualifiers …

“We had players who played in June and we didn’t see them again until September. That’s a big gap, and maybe in retrospect, you don’t even use them. Maybe you stick with the guys you had in the Gold Cup. To get a real feel for where [the European-based players] are physically is challenging.”

 

On MLS filling more attacking roles with Americans in order to benefit the player pool …

“That’s not the function of Major League Soccer. They are trying to create a product that will be in demand and competitive with other leagues in the world. Their concern is certainly not the national team program, [which is] just a byproduct of what they do. They are not sitting around thinking, ‘How do we make this national team better?’ [It’s,] ‘How do we make our league better?’ You would like to believe as the league gets better, it should benefit the national team program. Whether that is accurate or not, the EPL has gotten a lot better; I don’t think it’s helping England. The Germans could tell you it does benefit them. Maybe the Spanish would tell you the same. In every country, it’s different.”

On the relationship with MLS during his current tenure …

“It’s very good. The league is very cooperative. They supported us in the Gold Cup, they supported us in the games vs. Trinidad and Mexico [in June] when we asked to bring the guys in a little early. They’ve been good. It’s not like we’re asking for a whole lot, but they are supportive of the national team program. And we play a lot of games in their stadiums, so we reciprocate as well.”

On the USSF’s decision (before he was named coach) to play at Red Bull Arena on Friday, where about a quarter of the audience supported Costa Rica …

“I don’t think we should play in a venue that’s comfortable for the visiting team. But I don’t think it made a difference in the game. It probably makes a difference for Costa Rica. We don’t get any luxuries on the road, and everything is nice and comfortable [for teams visiting the United States]. Our country is unique: We’re a melting pot, and all of the countries in CONCACAF, many of their countrymen make it to the United States in one capacity or another and they’ll come out and support their team. So we have to be shrewd in the venues we select.”

On concerns about Panamanian support in Orlando next month …

“I haven’t look into that. Am I going to find out there’s a big Panamanian population in Orlando? I would sense Orlando is going to be very much pro-American.”

On whether he considered a young player, such as Ethan Horvath or Bill Hamid, instead of veteran Nick Rimando as the third-choice goalkeeper …

“Yes. If I was thinking of coaching past the 2018 World Cup, I would be maybe considering the third goalkeeper. That’s not my focus. If it was my focus, I would probably have a younger goalkeeper and say we’re getting him ready for down the road. But I’m not concerned with down the road.”

On whether the player pool is much deeper than a decade ago …

“It is deeper. Doesn’t mean it’s better, but it’s deeper. When we get to the World Cup, we’ll know a little bit more. That’s where you really examine where a national team is. That will give us a lot of answers.”

On social media …

“I’ve never been on Facebook in my life. I would do Twitter; they [federation staff] would have to do it, though. I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think it works for our president, even though he can reach millions of people rapidly. I don’t think it’s a good way to do business.”

USSF President Sunil Gulati or President Trump?

“I’ll leave that up to you.”