World Cup Qualifying leads the schedule this week and next as teams across the world either begin or continue the World Cup Qualifying process. The World Cup is just over 1 full year away as Dec 2022 Qatar will host the games. For Europe, Africa and South America the process began earlier – but for the US and CONCACAF – (our region which includes Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Hondoras, Jamaica and more the process starts tonight. Eight teams will battle to determine which 3 teams will represent the CONCACAF in the World Cup – the 4th team plays Asia’s 4th place team to advance. For the US – this ended in heartbreak in 2017 as our loss at Trinidad and Tobago combined with a host of other crazy outcomes knocked us out of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
USA vs El Salvador Tonight 10 pm CBS Sports Network + Paramount +
The Golden Generation as I have dubbed our young US contingent – which is coming off consecutive defeats of Mexico to win the title – boast of the current Gold Cup and Nations League CONCACAF Champions. The US won the Nations League with our European contingent of players – while the Gold Cup winning team was mainly MLS players and our not regular starters (I refuse to say B team anymore). Still World Cup Qualifying on the road in CONCACAF is unlike any other region. The US Starts with a huge game on the road vs and El Salvador team that has improved with former US team Asst Manager under Bob Bradley Hugo Perez in charge. El Salvador features Westfield and IU’s own Eric Zavaleta at Center Back. Zavaleta starts for Toronto FC and played well in the Gold Cup.
The US returns for a huge match vs Canada on Sunday at 8 pm on Fox Sports 1. Canada finished 3rd in the Gold Cup this summer and is certainly on the rise in the World Rankings – but the US will be expected to hold home field at Nashville on Sunday night. The 3rd game of this round will be @ Honduras on Wednesday night on CBSSN and Paramount plus. Thanks to Paramount + and CBS Sports Network American’s will be able to watch the Away Game US Qualifiers for the first time in years. Last time the games were on beIN Sport which many folks don’t have. Paramount+ will also show a bunch of the other CONCACAF qualifiers like Mexico, Canada and others – so fans can keep up if you doal out the $5 a month to sign up. With Champions League and Europa League and NWSL – honestly I signed up last year – its worth the $5 per month.
Tonight, Sept 2 10 pm El Salvador vs USA CBS Sports Network + Paramount+
Sunday 8 pm USA vs CANADA FS 1
Wed, Sept 8 – 10 pm Honduras vs USA CBS Sports Network, Paramount+
It will be interesting to see how Coach Berhalter lines things up over the next week of games. Already we know Christian Pulisic (recovering from Covid 19) and GK Zach Steffan (back spams) did not travel down to El Salvador and will probably be saved for Canada on Sunday night.
Who does he start tonight
I like the US to win 1-0 tonight with goals by either Aaronson or Reyna. I am ok on with a tie call it 1 -1. Again we need to get a couple of wins or ties on the road and of course you must beat Canada at home.
Via FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, here are the USA’s odds for each of the first three qualifying matches:
– at El Salvador: 42% win, 32% draw, 26% loss
– vs. Canada: 51% win, 27% draw, 23% loss
– at Honduras: 52% win, 26% draw, 22% loss
Average expected points from this group of matches: 5.2.
How to Watch
Advertised Kick-off Time: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific
Venue: Allegiant Stadium: Estadio Cuscatlan; San Salvador, El Salvador
Available TV: CBS Sports Network (English). Universo (Spanish)
Check out all the World Cup Qualifying games on the schedule below!!
USA vs. El Salvador, 2022 World Cup qualifying: What to watch for By Donald Wine II Stars and Stripes
Hugo Perez’s journey from U.S. playmaker to El Salvador’s coach ESPN Jeff Carlisle
GAMES OF THE WEEK (World Cup Qualifying)
Thurs, Sept 2
2:45 pm England vs Hungary ESPN+
2:$5pm Sweden vs Spain ESPN+
2:45 pm Italy vs Bulgaria ESPN+
3 pm Brazil vs Argentina Fubo
5 pm Equador vs Chile Fubo
8 pm Canada vs Honduras paramount +
10pm MEXICO vs Jamaica Univision, fubo TV
10 pm El Salvador vs USA CBS Sports Network + Paramount+
Saturday, sept 4
12 noon Latvia vs Norway ESPN+
12 noon Ireland vs Azerbajan ESPN+
2:45 pm Ukraine vs France ESPN+
2:45 pm Netherlands vs Montegro ESPN+
7:30 pm Orlando City s Columbus ESPN+
12 noon England vs Andorra ESPN2
12 noon Iceland vs North Madcedonia ESPN+
2:45 pm Swiss vs Italy ESPN+
2:45 pm Belgium vs Czech Republic ESPN+
3 pm Brazil vs Argentina Fubo
5 pm Equador vs Chile Fubo
7 pm Costa Rica vs MEXICO CBS Sports Network, Universo
8 pm USA vs CANADA CBS Sports Network + Paramount+
Tuesday, Sept 7
12 noon Latvia vs Norway ESPN+
12 noon Ireland vs Azerbajan ESPN+
2:45 pm France vs Finland ESPN+
2:45 pm Netherlands vs Turkey ESPN+
2:45 pm Austria vs Scotland ESPN+
Wed, Sept 8
2:45 pm England vs Poland ESPN+
2:45 pm Iceland vs Germany ESPN+
2:45 pm Italy vs Lithuania EPSN+
7 pm Costa Rica vs Jamaica Paramount+
7:30 pm Canada vs El Salvador Paramount +
9 pm Panama vs Mexico Paramount+
10 pm Honduras vs USA CBS Sports Network, Paramount+
Thurs, Sept 9
7 pm Colombia vs Chile Fubo
7:30 pm Argentina vs Bolivia Fubo
8:30 pm Brazil vs Peru Fubo
5 pm Equador vs Chile Fubo
Fri, Sept 10
3 pm Lorient vs Lille – France beIN Sport
7:30 pm Atlanta United vs Orlando City FS1
10 pm Tiajuana vs Santos Laguna FS2
USWNT vs. Paraguay (Cincy) Tix Are On Sale Now
Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Location: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Time: 7:30 PM ET
Sale opens: Now
Deadline: First-come, first-served
Opening three games.
ASN BY BRIAN SCIARETTAPOSTED AUGUST 26, 20212:30 AM
AT LONG LAST and after months of speculations and working towards this, Gregg Berhalter has finally revealed his first roster of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. Since the resumption of play from COVID, the U.S. national team has played in two CONCACAF tournaments – winning both – and played a bunch of friendlies just to build to this point of being prepared for qualifying.Of course, the U.S. national team will open on the road against El Salvador and that will be followed up by a home game against Canada in Nashville and then a road trip to Honduras. If the U.S. can rack up points early, it will pave the way for smooth qualification.Part of what went wrong for the United States in the failed 2018 qualification wasn’t the ending, it was the poor start – with two opening losses.Here is the roster along with thoughts on the team.
THE 26-PLAYER ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 7/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 23/0), Matt Turner (New England Revolution; 7/0)
DEFENDERS (10): George Bello (Atlanta United; 3/0), John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 43/3), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona/ESP; 11/1), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 6/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 45/1), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 12/0), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 9/3), James Sands (New York City FC; 6/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray/TUR; 64/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 17/2)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 37/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 14/1), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 29/7), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 24/7), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 25/0)
FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg/AUT; 7/3), Konrad de la Fuente (Olympique Marseille/FRA; 1/0), Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys/SUI; 6/1), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas; 0/0), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 38/16), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 8/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 16/5), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 13/1)
This is very strong roster. Is it 100%? No. There are some injuries and players left off because they haven’t played lately due to recent or possibly pending transfers. But the odds the U.S. national team or any other national team will be at 100% is very slim.What the team has right now is Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Dest, Brooks, and Reyna on a roster. Those six players – all Champions League starters from clubs in the “Big Five” leagues of Europe – are on the team. Then you have key backups and other key contributors too.A big portion of this new qualifying formation (with eight teams, and three-game windows) is that it will be a test of depth. That is a good thing for the United States as it now has more depth than just about any team in CONCACAF. Teams are going to be hard pressed to start players for all three games in one window – and the U.S. team can handle missing certain players at any point in time. One question many don’t seem to be asking is how opponents treat games against the United States and Mexico? Do they start their best lineups, or do they field backups while saving key players for more winnable games? That remains to be seen.Sure, there are a few quibbles some fans might make here and there with the roster. That will always be the case. But the objections are nibbling at the margins. The vast majority of the key decisions are correctBerhalter is surely very pleased with what he was able to select, and the U.S. team should feel confident heading into qualifiers.
FORMATION THOUGHTS: 6 CBS, WINGERS, MIDS
Calling in six central defenders (Brooks, Robinson, McKenzie, Sands, Zimmerman, and Ream) is a lot. But that has to be revealing in that Berhalter is seriously thinking about going with a three central defender formation at least some of the time in these games. Berhalter used that in the final of the Nations League and he also used it for the start of the Gold Cup – until Zimmerman was injured.The pieces seem to fit for that approach. The U.S. team has the speedy fullbacks who like to get forward – Dest, Robinson, Yedlin, Bello – plus they also have limited central midfielders.The U.S. team also has an abundance of wingers on this team – Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, Weah, and de la Fuente.That seems to suggest we will see (at least sometimes) a formation that is a variation of a 5-2-3 with two wingbacks joining the two central midfielders. There were also fewer central midfielders selected in proportion to the rest of the team.It’s hard to see Berhalter abandoning his typical 4-3-3 formation but he seems to be selecting a roster that gives him a chance to play a lot with a 5-2-3 formation.
PEPI’S BIG INCLUSION
The most surprising inclusion on the roster and the one that will generate a lot of headlines the selection of Ricardo Pepi – the latest gem from the FC Dallas academy. The 2003-born forward has always been considered a top prospect in American soccer and this season he has scored nine goals in 20 appearances for FC Dallas. European scouts are starting to circle and Pepi is justifying the hype.But lately Mexico has started to recruit him hard – Mexico’s head coach Tata Martino specifically. Pepi, a native of El Paso, is eligible for El Tri and has been publicly non-committal about such a decision.Now it’s important to note that if Pepi plays in these games, he is not permanently cap-tied due to the new FIFA rules and his age. Still, it would make it very hard to switch to Mexico as he would have to wait three years (an not play for the U.S. in the meantime). For all intents and purposes, if he plays in these games, he will likely never play for Mexico.Having Pepi in this camp is a huge win for Gregg Berhalter and his staff. If they do indeed play him, they will have likely landed the top teenager American forward in several years – and doing so in the face of the U.S. team’s arch-rival.While it is certainy a bonus to secure commitments from dual nationals who are either born and/or raised entirely abroad, it is also massively important to not let homegrown developed talent slip away.
OTHER SURPRISING INCLUSIONS?
There are few surprises on this roster. It was always expected that the overwhelming majority of this roster was going to come from the Nations League and Gold Cup winning teams from this summer. That turned out to be true. Of the 26 players on the roster, just two players were not part from either of the summer rosters. The first was Pepi, the other is Konrad de la Fuente.De la Fuente, 20, is a welcome inclusion into the team and he has impressed mightily since moving from Barcelona to Marseille in France. The Miami-area native didn’t stand out in his first caps last year – in the break following the COVID-19 shutdown – and he had a tough time at the 2019 U-20 World Cup where he was playing up a cycle.After moving from Barcelona this summer, he had a great preseason followed by a strong first couple of games to start the season.
He is significant for a few reasons – one being allowing players to play natural positions. Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson have been playing on the wing for the U.S. team but neither is likely to remain as a winger for his club – Aaronson plays predominantly as a No. 10 for Philadelphia and now Salzburg. Reyna has already started that central move for Borussia Dortmund.De la Fuente is a true winger. If he can play well for the U.S. team, it gives Berhalter more freedom to move Reyna and/or Aaronson into the middle.That is still a little further down the road as de la Fuente hasn’t been with the U.S. team for some time and will probably come of the bench for the coming games.
Every roster has some tough decisions of players to leave off. This roster is no different. It’s imporant to look at the players who aren’t on this roster – as many of them could be part of the team later in this qualifying campaign.
In addition to long-term injuries to Richard Ledezma, Jordan Morris, and Aaron Long, there were also more recent injuries to Yunus Musah, Gyasi Zardes, Daryl Dike, and Paul Arriola. While Musah returned to training with Valencia this past week, he still hasn’t even been playing in preseason games. He will instead remain with his club during the break and attempt to return to the starting lineup.
Matthew Hoppe impressed during the Gold Cup but has instead returned to a poor Schalke team where he hasn’t played – likely looking to make a transfer. His lack of games this past month likely made the decision easier for Berhalter. Plus, of Hoppe does transfer within this week, he can adjust to his new club. The inclusion of Pepi also probably gave coverage to leave Hoppe off.
In much a similar fashion, Reggie Cannon hasn’t played since the Gold Cup final and hasn’t even been part of Boavista’s matchday rosters. He’s looking for a move and could also use the time to adjust to a new club should the move happen.
Berhalter has frequently spoken highly of Chris Richards and his omission was one of the more surprising decisions for the roster. But he has only played a few limited minutes for Bayern Munich and could very well go out on loan soon – making his time better spent securing a starting job. The U.S. team’s central defense is in pretty good shape now. Richards will likely be involved with the U.S. team sooner than later, but it would better for everyone if he was in a club situation where he was starting regularly.
After being the top option for the U.S. team at the Gold Cup and securing a move to Royal Antwerp, Sam Vines wasleft off this roster and Berhalter instead went with George Bello as the other left back along with Antonee Robinson. Vines has played just once with Antwerp and is still getting adjusted. Meanwhile, Bello has been in top form recently for a rapidly improving Atlanta team.
Matt Miazga is yet another player who is adjusting to a new team – Deportivo Alaves in La Liga – and he is yet to make and appearance for them after going on loan from Chelsea. Miazga didn’t play in the Nations League games and the emergence of central defenders at the Gold Cup made the position more competitive for him. Miazga is in the picture but will have to play well in Spain to get back into the mix soon.
Eryk Williamson was somewhat of a surprising omission given that the team did not select many central midfielders and Williamson impressed at the Gold Cup in the wins in both semifinal and final. The likely reason is that Berhalter felt comfortable with Aaronson or Reyna shifting into the middle if needed. His omission, however, was more surprising than expected.
Gianluca Busio showed some promise at the Gold Cup but it was also revealing in that he needed to improve in other areas of his game. He is just getting situated with Venezia where he could debut this weekend. His club is going to be in a touch fight for survival in Serie A this year and Busio needs to adjust there so that he can contribute.
Nicholas Gioacchini: The Kansas City native was a useful player off the bench at the Gold Cup but could be on the move very soon from SM Caen.
Luca de la Torre: the Heracles central midfielder played well in the March friendlies but the fact that he missed out on the summer rosters (where he asked out of the Gold Cup) cost him here. He can still get back into the team but he needs to be strong out of the gate to start the Eredivisie season.
Julian Green: another player who just lost out because of other players raising their game. If he’s a winger, he lost out to Pulisic, Reyna, Weah, Aaronson, and de la Fuente. If he’s a forward, he lost out to Sargent, Pefok, and Pepi. If he’s a midfielder, there just wasn’t any room. He can get back into the mix, but he needs to step up even more with Greuther Furth.
USMNT World Cup qualifying: Gregg Berhalter’s squad is strong, but watch out for El Salvador, Canada
ep 1, 2021Bill ConnellyESPN Staff Writer
The time to exorcise demons — or try to, at least — has finally arrived. Exactly 1,423 days after a loss to Trinidad & Tobago prevented the United States men’s national team from qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, qualification for the 2022 competition finally begins. The USA’s 14-game path to Qatar begins on Thursday against El Salvador in San Salvador‘s Estadio Cuscatlan and finishes on March 30 in Costa Rica.
The first three matches of this rapid-fire schedule take place in September before things resume in October. Here are a few stats and notes to keep in mind as the competition finally begins.
The goal is 24 points
The past six CONCACAF World Cup qualification tournaments all featured six teams playing 10 matches each. While the 2018 qualification run was particularly strange — not only did the USA fail to qualify but Panama qualified with just 13 points — the dividing line has typically been around 15-17 points. Earn 17 or more and you qualify without exception. If you get 16 or fewer, you’re relying on circumstance to carry you through.
Due to the coronavirus, the format changed this time around, and now eight teams are playing 14 games each. With a couple of weaker teams in the field, there might be a couple of extra easy-win opportunities for the more high-quality countries, and that might alter the math a little. But 1.7 points per game is still a pretty high bar and would almost certainly result in a top-three finish and automatic qualification. Over 14 matches, that projects to about 24 points.This compressed sprint of a schedule means the U.S. will play eight matches between now and Nov. 16; with 1.7 points per game as the guideline, the bar for this batch is therefore 13-14 points, equivalent to four wins and one or two draws. Of course, the USA’s schedule is pretty back-loaded in terms of quality, so perhaps the early bar should be a little bit higher.World team ratings tend to separate the eight teams in the field into three approximate tiers: Mexico and the United States in Tier 1, a rising Canada and slipping Costa Rica in Tier 2, and El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica and Panama in some order in Tier 3. This first batch of matches, then, features two Tier 3 road trips (El Salvador and Honduras) and a Tier 2 home game (Canada). October’s three-match swing features a Tier 2 home game (Costa Rica), a Tier 3 home game (Jamaica) and another Tier 3 road trip (Panama). Mexico doesn’t show up until the seventh match of qualifying (Nov. 12 in Cincinnati), while the USA’s first Tier 2 road trip doesn’t come until Jan. 30, 2022, at Canada.It would save everyone some anxiety, then, if Gregg Berhalter’s team kept the dropped points to a minimum out of the gate.
A first-choice(ish) lineup
It’s incredible to think about the small number of opportunities you get to use your genuine first-choice lineup in international play. In the past two years, Berhalter has been at the helm for 23 matches: 11 friendlies, six Gold Cup matches and six CONCACAF Nations League matches. He got a look at 74 different players in that span, 48 of whom played at least 100 minutes. (Only one, midfielder Sebastian Lletget, played more than 950.)
These matches have come primarily against lesser competition and rarely (if ever) in a genuine road setting, and the U.S. has performed well, winning 18 of 23 with two draws. But the heart of the roster — the quartet of attacking midfielder Christian Pulisic, winger Giovanni Reyna, midfielders Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams — played together just once in those 23 matches, in the Nations League victory over Mexico in June.
How the U.S. plays against Mexico does not typically pair up with how it plays as a favorite against a lesser team, but two other matches from this sample could be telling as we figure out what to expect over the next week: the closed-door friendlies against Wales and Panama from last November.
With Pulisic quickly trying to regain his fitness after a positive coronavirus test in August — he also didn’t travel for the El Salvador game, remaining in Nashville to train — we might not see the core foursome in action all that much over the coming week. But the trio of Reyna-McKennie-Adams should see an extended run, at least, just as it did against Wales and Panama when Pulisic was injured.The USMNT won two trophies this summer, but none of that matters now that World Cup qualifying is starting. Can they go 3-for-3 over the break? Omar Vega/Getty Images
Berhalter’s possession preferences are clear. When possible, he wants the U.S. to hog the ball, pragmatically build play from the back and apply pressure in certain areas of the pitch. He proved flexible with his tactics this summer — with a second-choice lineup, the U.S. won the Gold Cup by beating Mexico with the more vertical, counter-attacking approach preferred by American coaches in decades past. But his preferences are obvious, and with his first-choice lineup (or close to it) on the field, we should see the U.S. indeed attempting to hog the ball over these first three matches.
Against Wales, that approach provided about as much sterility as the empty stadium in which they played. The U.S. controlled 61% of the possession and averaged 6.2 passes per possession to Wales’ 3.9. It began 19% of their possessions in the attacking third, while Wales began only 3% there. But against a hunkered-down opponent, it generated almost nothing in attack. With as much of the ball as the team could possibly want, the U.S. managed just seven shots at a middling 0.11 xG per shot. Only two of the shots provided any danger whatsoever — a miss from Konrad De La Fuente in the 33rd minute and a short-range shot from Lletget in the 45th minute that was saved by Danny Ward.
The Americans did effectively limit Wales’ counter-attacking potential (just four shots worth a total of 0.34 xG), and having McKennie (90 minutes) and Adams (71) in the midfield makes a significant difference in that regard. While the goalkeeping from each of the first-teamers — Manchester City‘s Zack Steffen, the New England Revolution‘s Matt Turner and Nottingham Forest’s Ethan Horvath — was stellar, the ability to snuff out attacks before they generate shots to begin with is among the most important attributes in the sport. (Steffen also didn’t make the trip from Nashville, though Turner’s in better form.)
Against a more aggressive opponent, the U.S. thrived. Playing Panama in Austria, it faced a lot more pressure and occasionally struggled with it: Panama began 11% of its possessions in the attacking third. But the U.S. recovered quickly, allowing zero shots in those nine possessions and when it survived bouts of pressure, it created loads of opportunities. The U.S. attempted 15 shots at 0.18 xG per shot and scored six times — three times off of possessions that it began in the attacking third.
Granted, the most successful creators and attackers in the Panama match — Caen’s Nicholas Gioacchini (two goals on three shots) and PSV Eindhoven‘s Richie Ledezma (two assists on four chances created) — did not make the roster for the September qualifiers, but McKennie was an outright wrecking ball. He’ll be in uniform.
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El Salvador and Canada can press
Combining the stats from the 2019-20 CONCACAF Nations League and 2021 Gold Cup, only two teams began more possessions in the attacking third than the United States: Canada (10.3) and El Salvador (9.8).
With Bayern’s Alphonso Davies healthy and forward Jonathan David (Lille) and wingers Cyle Larin (Besiktas) and Tajon Buchanan (soon on his way to Club Brugge) all available, Canada boasts as much pure attacking speed as any team in the group. When all four of these guys were in the lineup during the preliminary World Cup qualification rounds in June, Canada outscored four opponents by a combined 15-0. Zooming out a bit and looking only at when the Davies-David-Larin trio is together, the team has won six of seven games by a combined 23-3.
Was the competition level dreadful in this sample? Absolutely. The Canadians lost to the only decent opponent on the list — 3-1 to Mexico in 2019 — but this is the most exciting young roster core Canada has potentially ever had, and only Larin is older than 22.Even if the U.S. has more overall talent, Canada can create matchup advantages you have to address. If anyone can effectively pressure an American back line that’s usually, but definitely not always, stable on the ball, it’s John Herdman’s squad. In this regard, it was a bit surprising that Berhalter didn’t bring another steady-passing midfielder into the fold for these matches — someone such as Greuther Furth’s Julian Green, perhaps, or Venezia’s Gianluca Busio.Mind you, El Salvador will also try like crazy to fluster America’s back line. This isn’t a team the U.S. has traditionally struggled with — America has won 14 of their past 16 meetings, with two draws and a scoring margin of 49-8 — but La Selecta play with energy and a strong identity, and it has brought solid results of late. El Salvador swept through six preliminary qualification matches without defeat, and although it lost a combined three times to Qatar and Mexico over the summer, each was by just a one-goal margin. Seattle Sounders right-back Alex Roldan (younger brother of America’s Cristian Roldan) and Houston Dynamo defensive midfielder Darwin Ceren give the team upside and defensive solidity, and although it doesn’t score a ton, it can frustrate the hell out of you in build-up play.
Among these first three opponents, Honduras is by far the most likely Wales of the bunch. It certainly looked the part in its 1-0 Nations League loss to the U.S. in June. Honduras created only 0.19 xG from seven shots and occupied 36% of the possession. Its primary goal was to hoof balls out of dangerous areas and bunker down, and while the Americans had all the possession they could possibly want, they didn’t find a breakthrough until Jordan Pefok’s 89th-minute goal.
Creating quality chances against packed-in defenses will be key
While opponents such as Mexico, Canada, El Salvador and Jamaica will at least selectively take the fight to the U.S., advancing stress-free through qualification will require strong execution against parked buses.On the perimeter of the attack, the USA’s quality and potential are undeniable. Reyna, still only 18, has scored 14 goals with seven assists in all competitions (for club and country) over the past 12 months, and 20-year olds Brenden Aaronson and De La Fuente appear to be thriving with new clubs — Aaronson is a pressuring machine in a pressure-friendly Red Bull Salzburg system, and De La Fuente has been exciting early in his first season with Marseille (four chances created, two assists and an 89% completion rate in the attacking third in 268 minutes). Of course, this says nothing of Pulisic, who remains the most complete attacker in the player pool even if he’s been unfortunate from an injury and fitness standpoint.Without a commanding presence at centre-forward, though, the team just didn’t have enough ideas for cracking open a stubborn defense like the one Wales features, which has been a problem for the U.S. player pool for a while now. Daryl Dike‘s emergence as a (nearly) world-class poacher in 2020-21 was intriguing, but he’s still working back toward fitness after some minor injury issues and will miss this September go-round. Berhalter did select serviceable options such as Norwich City’s Josh Sargent and Young Boys‘ Pefok, but maybe the most interesting name on the roster this time around is Ricardo Pepi.The 18-year-old has scored 11 goals in 21 matches for FC Dallas this season and recently chose the U.S. over Mexico. He’s not a commanding physical presence at 6-foot-1, 163 pounds, but he is showing massive promise. How much of a run will Berhalter give him?
Via FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index, here are the USA’s odds for each of the first three qualifying matches:
– at El Salvador: 42% win, 32% draw, 26% loss
– vs. Canada: 51% win, 27% draw, 23% loss
– at Honduras: 52% win, 26% draw, 22% loss
Average expected points from this group of matches: 5.2.
The U.S. men’s soccer team has arguably its best squad ever. Will it win on the road in World Cup qualifying?
We know so much about Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, and other American soccer stars. But there’s one thing we don’t know yet.Weston McKennie, center, is part of a new generation of U.S. men’s soccer stars who have the team aiming high in World Cup qualifying.Mark Humphrey / AP
Sep 1, 2021
We know so much about the players on the U.S. men’s soccer team these days, or at least we think we do.
We watch them every week on our TVs, computers, phones, and every other device imaginable. We see their exploits for some of the biggest clubs in the world, in the biggest leagues in the world: England’s Chelsea, Spain’s Barcelona, Italy’s Juventus, Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, and more.
We follow their interactions with each other on Twitter and Instagram, full of jokes and emojis and videos. We presume from this that they have chemistry that will show itself on the field when they play together.
And when they have played together, they’ve shown that to be true. Less often than anyone would like, thanks to the pandemic, but this summer’s Concacaf Nations League title win showed signs of what could be.
There’s one big thing we don’t know yet. What will they do when they take the show on the road in World Cup qualifying? Will all the hype from the best collection of individual talent in U.S. men’s team history translate into results? And will those results avenge the still-haunting failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and send the Americans to Qatar next year?
We can’t know until it happens. So we won’t know until the final whistle of Thursday’s 14-game qualifying tournament opener in El Salvador (10 p.m., CBS Sports Network and Universo).Brenden Aaronson, center, stretches during soccer practice for the U.S. Men’s National Team Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)Mark Humphrey / AP
The U.S. program has changed immensely since that infamous October night in Couva, Trinidad when it hit rock bottom — almost four full years ago.
More elite Americans than ever now thrive in Europe, with a record 12 U.S. players in this season’s Champions League group stage. Many, like former Union players Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, grew up with MLS teams and were sold abroad for big sums. They earned the right to displace the last generation of players, many of whom never made it to bigger stages than MLS.
Inquirer LIVE: Styling & Profiling with Damichael Cole
Of the 25 U.S. players who will be at San Salvador’s Estadio Cuscatlán (which will be half-filled due to pandemic restrictions), just four were on hand in Couva: Christian Pulisic, Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin, and Kellyn Acosta. Only Ream is older than 30, and only Acosta — whose skill set fits a specific midfield role in the U.S. system — remains in the domestic league.
We know Pulisic is ready for what’s to come, and raring to go after a positive COVID-19 test sidelined him. Thankfully, he was fully vaccinated, so he wasn’t affected beyond having to sit for 10 days. The resulting lack of match fitness will keep him out of Thursday’s game. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, from Downingtown, is also out due to back spasms. Matt Turner will start in his place.
So are the other big-name youngsters really ready? Will Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest, Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna answer the bell? Will Aaronson, on a rocket-ship ascent with Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, step up with Pulisic out?Christian Pulisic, right, works out during a soccer practice for the U.S. Men’s National Team Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)Mark Humphrey / AP
Adams and McKennie, who by their demeanors and central midfield roles are natural leaders, say their team is ready.
“There’s no Plan B for us — there’s only been a Plan A, and that’s obviously to qualify for the World Cup,” Adams said. “When I think about the experiences that we’ve had in the past two years, I would say as a group, how much we’ve developed, it’s ultimately for this moment right here. We’ve waited a long time for this.”
McKennie emphasized that he doesn’t feel burdened by the 2017 failure, though he knows many fans do.
“Obviously, it’s going to be in the back of our heads somewhere, but that’s not our main fuel,” he said. “Right now, we’re just trying to create a legacy of our own … We’re just looking forward to this new journey, a new cycle, and not trying to dwell on the past.”
U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter knows what’s coming especially well. Fourteen of his 44 U.S. national team appearances came in World Cup qualifiers, including a 2-0 win at El Salvador in 2004. These days, he has some of the first words in practice sessions, and will have some of the last words in the locker room before kickoff.
“One thing that gives me confidence is you have guys on the team that are playing for really high-level clubs, and their expectation is to win every single game they’re in,” Berhalter said. “There’s a different sense of urgency in these games, and a lot of times, we have a target on our backs as the United States … I think we have the quality, and now it’s about, do we have the right mentality.”
After four hard years of waiting, it’s time to find out.
As World Cup Qualifying Starts, USMNT Embraces Concacaf’s Dark Arts
Winning the game within the game can often make the difference in this region’s unique cauldron, and a young U.S. team is prepared for all of it.BRIAN STRAUS SI
Thank you for supporting journalism that matters. Enjoy unlimited access to SI.com for just $1. Members log in.As soon as Qatari captain Hassan Al-Haydos looked up and replied, “You can come celebrate with us in the corner,” Kellyn Acosta knew he’d won. The theatrics and trash talk had paid off. Al-Haydos had been broken.“I just wanted to rile things up a little bit to put him off, to give him something to think about,” Acosta recalls. “I knew I had him when he said something back. I’m like, ‘This guy for sure’s going to miss it.’ ”There were about 30 minutes remaining in a tense and tied Concacaf Gold Cup semifinal and Qatar, which was competing in this summer’s regional championship as a guest, was threatening to spoil the party in Austin. U.S. men’s national team defender James Sands appeared to trip a Qatari attacker, and after consulting the field-side video monitor, the referee awarded a penalty kick. Acosta, aware that the Americans’ Gold Cup run probably hung in the balance, closely followed the official most of the way.“I was asking him dumb questions that I already knew the answer to,” the 26-year-old Colorado Rapids midfielder and U.S. veteran tells Sports Illustrated. “I was like, ‘What happened? Was it a foul? Who got him? Is the sky blue? Is the grass green?’ Just some bulls— questions to delay it as much as possible.”When he was done with the ref, Acosta approached Al-Haydos, who was standing at the spot, just 12 yards from lifting Qatar into the lead. That’s not a long distance. Just about anyone who’s ever kicked a ball can manage it easily. All pros can pick their spots. But penalty kicks under pressure are rarely about technique. Rather, they’re a mental exercise, whether it’s a battle of wits against the goalkeeper or a test of the shooter’s self control and composure. Al-Haydos, 30, had played more than 140 times for his country and scored 32 international goals. He’s as veteran as they come. But he was new to Concacaf.Drawing on his own experience and observation of similar climactic moments, Acosta went to work, standing between Al-Haydos and the goal and then letting his mouth run.
“I was just saying, ‘You’re going to let your country down. You’re going to miss it. I’ve seen you try to chip it before. You’re wearing No. 10 for no reason. You might as well take it off. You’re just out here. They should put a cone out there instead,’ ” Acosta remembers.
Al-Haydos retorted, the ref intervened and Acosta eventually retreated, but not before getting into it with Almoez Ali, the MVP of Qatar’s triumph at the 2019 Asian Cup. Several players on both sides then became involved, and there was shoving and jawing and more delay. Almost three minutes elapsed. It felt like an eternity. U.S. goalie Matt Turner looked like he was trying to stifle a laugh.A few yards away, Sebastian Lletget could appreciate what was unfolding.“As a penalty taker, you just want to get it done,” the U.S. and LA Galaxy midfielder says. “Let me focus on what I’ve got to do. The more time you’ve got to delay, delay, the more time you have to think and doubt.”meekly over the crossbar. There would be no sprint to the corner. The score was still 0–0, but the visitors had been beaten.
“Unfortunately, I think after we missed the penalty, we changed,” Qatar coach Félix Sánchez said afterward.Acosta would celebrate with his teammates instead. Gyasi Zardes struck in the 86th minute, and the Americans were on their way to the Gold Cup final. There, despite missing its European headliners, coach Gregg Berhalter’s relatively inexperienced squad claimed the title with a 1–0 win over favored Mexico. Combined with the Nations League trophy raised in early June, the unexpected but deserved Gold Cup crown represented a significant step forward, not to mention a statement of intent.They had already reinvigorated a program that hit rock bottom after missing the 2018 World Cup. Then these young and resilient U.S. players learned to win together. Across the two summer tournaments, the Americans won eight straight games while overcoming deficits, fluctuating personnel and a decent dose of what Concacaf can throw your way (which can be a lot, literally). Acosta’s antics against Qatar were classic Concacaf. They didn’t just reveal a desperate will to win—they reflected an ability to master the game within the game.Soccer in this idiosyncratic and occasionally infuriating part of the world is often about so much more than simply playing the game. It tests a team’s resolve. And so far, Berhalter’s group has handled those extracurriculars with both grace and grit. But now comes the stiffest challenge yet—the World Cup qualifying Octagonal gauntlet. U.S. soccer’s redemption tour will comprise 14 matches over seven months, starting with three in the next seven days. It kicks off Thursday night in El Salvador, where the majority of Berhalter’s players will face a hostile Concacaf crowd—apart from Mexico fans in the U.S.—for the first time (only six of the 25 men on this week’s squad have previous qualifying experience). https://983159dc782bf6ca52b5e10a4563cea6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html Concacaf qualifiers, especially on the road, are like nothing else in soccer, and they’re a far cry from the relatively pampered and predictable routines players enjoy at their MLS or European clubs. Disparities in talent don’t mean as much once the whistle blows. The ability to endure, and perhaps return fire like Acosta did against Qatar, can make all the difference.”You cannot be scared, because you are going to lose—even against a team that’s mediocre compared to you,” Lletget warns. “I’ve been in too many games to learn that they’ll beat you if they want it more.”Acosta, who played a small part in the doomed 2018 cycle, says this U.S. team has the right amount of character and bite.“We can’t just be those nice guys on the field. ‘Oh it’s O.K. It’s O.K..’ We’re not backing down. You’ve got guys like Weston [McKennie], Gio [Reyna], Tyler [Adams], Christian [Pulisic], even myself. We don’t take s—,” he insists. “We’re not going to let people hover over us and belittle us or anything like that. We want to show them that we’re here. We’re hungry. We’re ready. It doesn’t matter what you throw at us. We’re going to be ready for the fight.”If you follow soccer in this part of the world, you’ve become well-acquainted with the phrase, “Getting Concacafed.” If you’ve been “Concacafed,” it means that you probably lost the game within the game. Whether it was the literal or figurative atmosphere, the inscrutable refereeing or a bit of opposition chicanery or gamesmanship, something knocked you off kilter or got under your skin. That’s how the playing field gets leveled. That’s how talented teams can fail.Berhalter learned about getting Concacafed during his playing days. He was involved in an infamous incident toward the end of a 2002 World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica, where a phantom handball called against him led to a decisive penalty kick and a 2–1 defeat. U.S. coach Bruce Arena and captain Claudio Reyna (Gio’s dad) protested so vehemently that they each were handed multigame suspensions. Adversity can come from anywhere in Concacaf, and it can come quickly. How you react is critical.“The games can be hectic. I think it’s just about how you accept it and how you embrace it,” Berhalter said last week. “I remember as a player loving the fact that there’s so much attention around this game and there’s so much hostility with the opponents because I always felt we could play the spoiler. That was our job, to come into these countries and ruin everybody’s day.“It’s just about your outlook,” Berhalter continued. “It’s how you go about preparing mentally for the game, and realizing that within the game there’s always going to be things that happen that you need to be prepared for.”Dealing with the referees—and opponents trying to con them—is just a small part of the Concacaf experience, which is holistic. It surrounds you. There’s altitude in Mexico City, humidity in Central America and rough field conditions in the Caribbean. Traditionally, kickoff times have been adjusted accordingly. But the game actually begins when the plane lands. Security is tight and ever-present. It’s a constant reminder that the unexpected could be just around the corner. Cameramen on motorcycles or in pick-up trucks have been known to follow the team bus from the airport to the hotel. There, the U.S. can anticipate a quintessentially Concacaf welcome.“There are so many nightmare stories that you hear,” Lletget says. “But they’re true, and it would be naive of us to expect anything less.”Just about everything is fair game, as long as it might produce the slightest advantage. In Honduras, a local paper once published a hotel floor plan in order to assist readers interested in disturbing U.S. players the night before the match. In Guatemala, a radio station staged a late-night broadcast that featured loudspeakers on flat-bed trucks across the street. In Mexico City, a band set up in the hotel atrium. Fireworks are common. There have been unsanctioned wake-up calls.It gets rougher at the stadium. The sound can be visceral, and there are fewer barriers separating players from fans who are itching to get involved. Projectiles and bodily fluids rain down. Multiple generations of U.S. players tell tales of batteries and bags of urine. In Mexico City, a fan vomited into a cup and tossed it at Landon Donovan as the U.S. star prepared to take a corner kick. In El Salvador, someone once threw a severed chicken head at DaMarcus Beasley—and that was at a youth tournament. Berhalter’s Nations League squad got a taste of that intensity during the decider against Mexico in Denver, where fans heaved bottles and cups. Gio Reyna was hit in the head.Those Nations League games in early June were an important early exam, and they proved to be a pretty accurate Concacaf appetizer. As the semifinal against Honduras remained level, it became clear that Los Catrachos were going to try and drag the scoreless match into a shootout. There was flopping, time-wasting and multiple appearances by the stretcher team. At one point, McKennie’s efforts to speed things up included tying Rigoberto Rivas onto a stretcher himself.“And the best part, as soon as they’re off the field, they just unbuckle themselves and walk back on. I think they did it seven or eight times,” Lletget says. “They knew we were beating on the door and that was the way to get to penalties and have a chance. As annoying as it is, and it just kills you inside, you have to just stay calm.”The U.S. stayed calm, and Jordan Pefok won the game with an 89th-minute header.That set up the U.S.-Mexico final, which was a circus. The game was rough, dirty at times, and tightly contested (there were several choking incidents, eight yellow cards and a red to Mexico manager Gerardo Martino). The Americans fell behind twice but took a 3–2 lead on an extra-time penalty by Pulisic. They then clinched the title when reserve goalie Ethan Horvath saved a subsequent spot kick from Andrés Guardado.Watch the video, and you can see Acosta standing closest to the El Tri veteran, repeatedly shoving Diego Lainez out of the way. Acosta had been in Guardado’s ear seconds before, honing his Concacaf craft.“I was like, ‘You’re going to let your country down. All these fans are going to start booing you. You didn’t even start the game. You’re retired,’ ” Acosta recalls.“Kellyn does have that way about him. There’s a few guys [on the U.S.] that have that cheekiness,” Lletget laughs.“It’s important that we got a little bit of a taste of that this summer,” Acosta explains. “These experiences were hard but it helped us grow.”Concacaf is gonna Concacaf. You either lament it, or you lean in. Fielding a confident side full of players who’ve already achieved notable milestones at the club level—10 members of this month’s U.S. squad will take part in this season’s UEFA Champions League and one, Pulisic, has already won it—helps when it comes to handling high stakes. The Americans should be somewhat comfortable with the expectations, attention and pressure. As for the rest—as for Concacaf—they’ll have the wisdom gained this summer, plus the warnings from colleagues like Berhalter and Acosta about what awaits on the road. The results in San Salvador and then San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Sept. 8—there’s a qualifier against Canada in Nashville in between—will reveal how ready the Americans truly are.Meanwhile, they’re going to lean in.“We can’t wait for that. That’s what this is all about,” Berhalter says. “We’ve been developing this group to be resilient, to face challenges head on, to embrace challenges, to embrace setbacks. All these [Concacaf] things are right in line with what we’ve been talking about. When I think about the level of competition our team has been playing at … the guys are ready for this challenge and this is the natural evolution of this group—to compete in events like this. We’ll take it head-on. We know it’s going to be road filled with unexpected twists and turns and we’re going to welcome that.”The effort to forge the resilience Berhalter referenced is anchored by the development of a consistent and inclusive team culture and a preference for a pressing and proactive style of play. U.S. internationals now know what to expect when they come into camp, and by almost all accounts they’re happy to be there. Acosta says it can resemble a club environment. When Berhalter claims his squad will weather the Concacaf qualifying storm—whether that’s harsh surroundings, physical play, bad bounces, wayward refereeing or something else—he’s expecting his charges to “[go] back to who you are as a team, who you are as a player.”Rely on what you’ve already learned and achieved. Lean on who you’ve become and want to be. Count on each other.”Everything we’ve been doing the past two years has been preparing them for this,” Berhalter says.Acosta and Lletget are the only two players on the qualifying squad to win both the Nations League and Gold Cup this summer. They know this U.S. group, and Lletget remembers certain moments where bonds and confidence were strengthened. During brief pauses in the furious Nations League final against Mexico, for example, Lletget said that he and his teammates would gather briefly to center themselves, offer reminders and share some encouragement.“If there was a foul or fights breaking out, we would try to come together and kind of regroup, even if it was for a couple seconds, just to look at each other and say, ‘Relax, we got this,’ ” Lletget recalls. “We had to keep checking in with each other and keep that communication going.”That unity and alertness helped the U.S. to Concacaf (the verb) Mexico as the Nations League final reached its climax. Guardado and El Tri had their own penalty kick strategy. While Pulisic was preparing to take his 114th-minute penalty and the ref was distracted, Guardado started digging at the spot with his foot, hoping to deny Pulisic a level surface.McKennie would have none of that, however, and came over to repair it. Meanwhile, Adams entered the picture to separate Guardado from both the penalty spot and Pulisic. Around the same time, Adams helped Pulisic decide where to aim. That helped calm Pulisic and once the area had been cleared, he buried his shot in the upper-right corner.“To still get help from his teammates in that situation and in that environment was, I think, a really nice story line,” Berhalter said a couple of weeks later.“Experiencing these games just kind of draws us to each other and brings us closer. … I fight for you and you fight for me. I think that aspect is huge,” Acosta says. “I’m glad that we got a taste of it early on, rather than getting a taste of it in qualifying. Now we know what to expect. When something like that happens again, I think we’ll continue to know how to act, how to embrace those things and we’ll be ready for it.”
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