Wednesday, January 19

USMNT faces pressure in high-stakes World Cup qualifier vs. Canada


The US men’s team’s 2018 World Cup qualification cycle couldn’t have started much worse.

It started with two quick losses. The first was a loss to Mexico, a 2-1 loss to El Tri in Colón that ended all talks of Two to zero For the time being. And then came a disastrous trip to Costa Rica, a memorable 4-0 beating that served as Jurgen Klinsmann’s last game in charge.

And, through that lens, the USMNT’s start in the qualifying cycle for the 2022 World Cup doesn’t look too bad. Knowing what we know about previous cycles, things require a bit of perspective as the United States prepares to host Canada in their second qualifying game.

In 2018, Mexico won just two of its five road games en route to leading the Hex, with one against the USMNT in that aforementioned first match. Costa Rica, who finished second, also won twice, including a win over the United States at Red Bull Arena at the end of the cycle.

This cycle is different, given the two additional teams, but a point on the road is never a crushing blow. And so the USMNT draw against El Salvador surely wasn’t the ideal result, given the talent gap between the two, but this is CONCACAF, where the talent gap doesn’t matter.

However, points do matter, and with that 0-0 draw in El Salvador on Thursday night, there is a bit more pressure heading into Sunday’s clash with Canada. Hopes for a nine-point window evaporated with the tie, but anything short of five points would be a tough start to this opening three-game stretch.

To reach that five-point mark, the US would need a win and a draw in its next games against Canada and Honduras. If they hit that mark, the US would feel good heading into the November three-game set. One less thing and there would surely be cause for concern, as catching up in CONCACAF is never ideal.

“Our intention on Sunday is to win the game,” USMNT chief Gregg Berhalter said. “That’s what we want to do. And I don’t think Thursday night’s result will change that at all.

“Our focus is to have a good game. We are focused on winning this game. In our home games and in qualifying for the World Cup, you want to win.”

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In its last eight competitive games, the United States has allowed just three goals, two of them against Mexico in that round-trip Nations League final. Since that game, they haven’t conceded a single time since open play and, with Miles Robinson and Tim Ream in central defense, they never looked too threatened against El Salvador. John Brooks, probably still the best center-back on the team, is expected to enter for the Canada game.

But the concerns are not in defense; they are in attack. Josh Sargent was active, but relatively ineffective. Jordan Pefok has had brilliant moments to start his USMNT career, but it is still an untested product. And overall, the United States lacked sharpness and fluidity against El Salvador, and Berhalter said his team’s attack was too individualistic.

“Looking back at the game, we had 1.6 expected goals, so we were supposed to score in that game, and we didn’t,” Berhalter said. “I think we are creating opportunities. I would like to have more opportunities, there is no doubt.

“When you look across the board and talk about qualifying, the games were tight. There wasn’t much that separated all the teams in these games, so we know the games are going to be tough. We know that, especially when you’re going in the game. way, we should expect the worst and still have the intention and mindset to go out there and win these games.

“We will regroup for Sunday, but also moving to Wednesday is another opportunity after Sunday to go on tour and have another experience.”

However, before that, the US will have to navigate another tough game against Canada, a team that is undoubtedly booming in the region.

With stars like Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan, Canada is a team loaded with the best young players playing across Europe and in MLS. They are also a team with limited experience when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup, as Canadian football as a whole has made a big step forward in CONCACAF in recent years.

Like the United States, this Canadian team is young. And, like the US, Canada will be eager to bounce back after a disappointing draw in its opener, a 1-1 draw with Honduras in Toronto.

And so both teams face an early test in game two of 14, as the USA and Canada have a chance to set the tone for the rest of the qualifying after a tepid start.

“They’re similar. We have similar groups,” Berhalter said, “and when you look at the level of experience in qualifying for the World Cup, it’s pretty much the same. I don’t know exactly how they’re going to approach the game. I know they’re well trained, I know they have a good squad and I am sure they will be ready.

“Now it’s up to us to do the same and show the right mindset in the game, which we’ve been showing for the past few months.

“Now it’s a home game that we can play in front of our fans. These are the moments we’ve been waiting for.”

As Berhalter says, it is a game that the United States has been waiting for since Trinidad and Tobago four years ago, a game that gives them the opportunity to fight their way to Qatar 2022.

But, even though there is still a long way to go, it is a game that now comes under pressure as the United States seeks to reestablish the foundations for its qualifying campaign.




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