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Arena thinks US immigration debate fires up opposing players

U.S. coach Bruce Arena speaks at a news conference at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017, ahead of a World Cup qualifier Tuesday. Arena thinks the divisive debate over immigration policy in the United States is firing up opposing players and fans. (AP Photo/Ron Blum)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) — American coach Bruce Arena thinks the divisive debate over immigration policy in the United States is firing up opposing players and fans.

“Our immigration policies are impacting people in Central America, right, and there’s probably a little bit of anger over that,” Arena said ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier at Honduras. “And then your national sport gets a chance to play the U.S. I’m sure it becomes very meaningful.”

Arena also criticized the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to play last week’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. While ticket priority was given to season-ticket holders of the New York Red Bulls and people affiliated with the USSF, supporters of the visitors were a sizeable portion of the sellout crowd of 26,500.

Costa Rica won 2-0, giving the U.S. two home qualifying losses in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957.

“It was already decided, but I don’t think we should play in a venue that’s comfortable for the visiting team,” said Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann in November. “I don’t think it made a difference in the game.”

The U.S. had lost just one home qualifier in 50 matches since 1985 before a 2-1 defeat against Mexico in November at Columbus, Ohio. Last week’s game was the first World Cup qualifier in the New York metropolitan area.

“We don’t get any luxuries of going on the road and everything is nice and comfortable and we’ve got a good fan base coming out to the game and all of that,” he said Monday. “Obviously our country is unique to other countries. We’re a melting pot and all the countries in CONCACAF, many of their countrymen make it to the United States in one capacity or other and they’ll come out and support their team. So we have to be shrewd in the venues that we select to play different countries.”

The last U.S. home qualifier in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region is Oct. 6 against Panama in Orlando, Florida.

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

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