San Francisco (AFP) - Veteran coach Bruce Arena believes a tougher mental approach can help the United States reignite their 2018 World Cup qualification campaign on Friday as the Americans prepare to face Honduras in a must-win tie in California.
Arena, who replaced sacked coach Jurgen Klinsmann in November, is targeting six points from Friday's game in San Jose and next week's trip to face Panama in the CONCACAF regional qualifiers.
The US are currently languishing at the foot of the six-team "Hexagonal" qualifying tournament, with no points from their opening two games which ended in defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica last November.
The second of those two losses - a catastrophic 4-0 drubbing by "Los Ticos" in Costa Rica - prompted Klinsmann's dismissal, paving the way for Arena to return for a second stint in charge.
The 65-year-old, who led the United States at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, says toughening the squad's brittle mentality following the lopsided Costa Rica defeat has been a priority since he took over.
"Mentally, to me, they collapsed in the game against Costa Rica," Arena told Fox Sports. "So, over the past three months, we've worked really hard and talked to the players about their role, the importance of playing for the US team and becoming a team once we come together in San Jose.
"I think the message is out to the players. I have a lot of experience. I understand the temperature of a team and have the right feel. I can promise you when Friday comes around we're going to be ready to play against Honduras."
US captain Michael Bradley said Arena had already had a positive impact. "Bruce has come in and done a good job in terms of re-establishing certain things, getting out a few things," Bradley said.
"I think the mentality and the spirit in training and around the group, both in January and now this week, has been excellent."
The top-three finishers in the "Hex" qualify automatically for next year's World Cup finals in Russia.
The fourth-placed team faces a two-leg play-off against a side from Asia. While Arena remains confident the US will qualify for Russia, he raised the stakes for Friday's qualifier by stating that only a win would do.
"We need to win. Period," Arena said. "Our goal on Friday is to win. "I don't know if we're hanging on by a fingernail, but we're getting close. If there were two games left, I'd be concerned. I think we can close the gap."
Bradley, meanwhile, said the losses in the opening games had left the Americans with little room to manoeuvre.
"The reality is simple. We let ourselves down in the first two games. It means that our margin for error is now very, very small," Bradley said.
Arena was given an injury headache after Hamburg forward Bobby Wood withdrew from the squad, citing a back injury.
That could mean a recall for Seattle Sounders veteran Clint Dempsey, who has returned to football after an enforced lay off last year caused by the discovery of an irregular heartbeat.
Dempsey, second on the all-time USA scoring charts with 52 goals in 130 internationals, is back in the squad and could feature against Honduras. Arena said Dempsey would have a "reduced role".
"It's important to move him back the right way and not to push him too hard. If he steps on the field, he'll contribute," Arena said.