Rafael Dudamel made a lot of saves as the Venezuelan national team goalkeeper. Now, as the recently hired national coach, he is being asked to rescue his beloved “Vinotinto” from the South American soccer basement.
Venezuela sits in last place in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, the only team to go through the first six matches without a win.
His work begins, in earnest, this week. Venezuela is one of 16 teams in the Copa America Centenario, which kicks off Friday at various venues throughout the United States. The 74th-ranked Venezuelans face a tough draw with a June 5 game against Jamaica (ranked 55) in Chicago, a June 9 game against No. 9 Uruguay in Philadelphia, and a June 13 match against No. 16 Mexico in Houston.
Dudamel lined up three friendlies to warm up for the Copa, and the final one is Wednesday against Guatemala at 8 p.m. at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Venezuela tied Panama 0-0 and lost 2-1 to Costa Rica last week.
The Venezuelan roster includes some standout players, including forward Salomon Rondon (West Bromwich), Mikel Villanueva (Malaga), Tomas Rincon (Genoa) and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, who plays with American Alejandro Bedoya at French club, Nantes. Another player to watch is 18-year-old Yangel Herrera.
“I hope to have the support of each and all Venezuelans, and if some don’t want to give their support, the least we expect to receive is respect,’’ Dudamel said when he was hired. “Respect for my work, for the national team, for the country. The main expectation is to fight until the last point in play towards Russia 2018 World Cup.”
Guatemala is also under a new manager, Walter Claveri, who hopes to lead his team to the CONCACAF Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying. The Guatemalans are coming off a 7-1 loss to Armenia in a friendly last week in Los Angeles.
“We are in the stage of reconstruction and that makes it difficult for every game, but on the other hand, it gives the opportunity to the new players to emerge in competitive games,” Claveri said.
Tickets are available at the Lockhart box office and through compreboletas.com
Meanwhile, at FIU Stadium at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Miami FC, the NASL expansion team coming off its first victory, plays the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL) in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. Admission is free. The winner advances to a June 15 road game against Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.
Earlier in the day, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) host the Richmond Kickers (USL) at 11 a.m. at Broward College South Campus in their U.S. Open Cup match. Season ticket holders get in free, general admission is $5.
▪ Goalkeepers: Jose Contreras (Deportivo Tachira), Wuilker Farinez (Caracas), Dani Hernandez (Tenerife)
▪ Defenders: Wilker Angel (Deportivo Tachira), Rolf Feltscher (Duisburg), Alexander Gonzalez (Huesca), Roberto Rosales (Malaga), Jose Manuel Velazquez (Arouca), Mikel Villanueva (Malaga), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Nantes)
▪ Midfielders: Juan Pablo Anor (Malaga), Arquimedes Figuera (La Guaira), Alejandro Guerra (Atletico Nacional), Yangel Herrera (Atletico Venezuela), Romulo Otero (Huachipato), Adalberto Penaranda (Granada), Tomas Rincon (Genoa), Carlos Suarez (Carabobo), Luis Manuel Seijas (Internacional)
▪ Forwards: Yonathan Del Valle (Kasimpasa), Josef Martinez (Torino), Salomon Rondon (West Brom), Christian Santos (NEC)