USMNT face El Salvador in World Cup qualifying

SAN SALVADOR – As the drama unfolded, at least by recent US World Cup qualifying standards, the news raised an eyebrow, not a thunderous...


SAN SALVADOR – As the drama unfolded, at least by recent US World Cup qualifying standards, the news raised an eyebrow, not a thunderous alarm.

Christian Pulisic, who is still finding his way back to fitness after a positive coronavirus test and 10 days of isolation, had not traveled to El Salvador with his American teammates on Wednesday, a day before the opening of the last round of the qualifying for football 2022. World Cup. Pulisic would not play in Thursday’s game, the team said, and neither would goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who was suffering from a latest case of back spasms. He also stayed in Nashville, where the United States will return this weekend to face Canada.

“We feel like we have a strong team,” said coach Gregg Berhalter. “Now is the time to show it. “

It was the kind of stunted confidence that has become Berhalter’s signature throughout his coaching career. Losing two starters was not a crisis, but “an opportunity”, he said calmly. Berhalter talks a lot about opportunities. This summer’s Nations League was the occasion to prove that its best players could face its Mexican rival and win, what they did. The Gold Cup that followed had also been an opportunity for a different set of American players. Americans beat Mexico to win that one too.

It’s much easier, Berhalter and his players found it, to talk about opportunities when collecting trophies. Most of the current United States team, however, the eight-team qualifying final round that starts with three games over the next week is just that: an opportunity to show that a new generation of talent – the average age of the current roster is d ‘about 24 years old – can move away from past disappointments, can draw on new actors, can write his own story.

“When Greg first came to the national team he put a plan in place that I don’t think a national team coach was willing to risk doing,” said midfielder Tyler Adams. “Fundamentally changing the way the system would work, inside and out, be it our tactics, the players we wanted to have, what certain positions needed to do, the qualities we needed to have, and basically how we could develop and improve up to that point, in our first qualifying game.

He and they know that there will be missteps: bad grounds, bad weather, bad referees, even bad results. They could come immediately, or they could come in a month or two, but they will probably come. In the last round, the United States failed to win a single road qualifier. Then it was the last game, not the first, that had been the biggest lost opportunity.

Any assessment of the U.S. team’s condition at the start of the final act of that qualifying round must begin at the end of the last one: with this crushing loss in Trinidad and Tobago which led the team to miss the World Cup for the first time in a generation.

For weeks, Berhalter and his players have been questioned about this night. Midfielder Kellyn Acosta’s memory is probably clearer than most – he had entered the game as a second-half substitute and was on the pitch when his team’s world turned bleak – but he learned. not to repeat it too much in interviews. Midfielder Brendan Aaronson, who was only 16 at the time, found it hard to remember if he had seen a game live. His teammate Weston McKennie was sure not. “I don’t really watch sports,” he said.

But the fact that most of the players don’t remember the game subtly hinted at something else, something probably more important to them and their coach today: They weren’t there. They weren’t part of it. And they certainly weren’t to blame for it.

“I don’t think the band sees it as a burden now,” McKennie said of Shadow 2017. “I think it’s more, we’re not really going to focus on what’s going on. Obviously it’s going to be somewhere in the back of our heads, but it won’t be our main fuel, our main goal: to try to redeem what happened years ago.

“I think right now we’re just trying to create our own legacy. “

Several of the young stars who could start against El Salvador on Thursday – including Adams, McKennie, Gio Reyna, Josh Sargent and Sergiño Dest – did not make their national team debuts until after the loss to Trinidad. Berhalter was not hired for more than a year after the loss. It was in 2019 before he coached his first game.

Now, however, his team is humming. The summer tournament triumphs gave players a taste of CONCACAF competition, rough play, hot nights and questionable calls that have often marked World Cup qualifiers in the region. And for the first time, the final round will open with three matches in a single window, a series of matches that should, in theory, favor a Berhalter side that boasts of more depth than El Salvador, Canada and the Honduras.

They all know every game matters. For years, calculating qualifying has been a simple formula: win your home games then score points on the road. But the new breed isn’t, not really, interested in how things used to be.

“Our mentality is to win all the games we can,” McKennie said. “I don’t think we have a formula where, ‘Let’s win our home games and take a few points on the road.’ Our aim is to prove that we are the best in CONCACAF, and I think the only way to do that is to dominate it.

Adams said, “There is no plan B for us. There was only one plan A, and that is to qualify for the World Cup.

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Newsrust - US Top News: USMNT face El Salvador in World Cup qualifying
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