The United States men’s national team returns to competitive action with an interim coach at the wheel and a spot in the CONCACAF Nations League finals still uncertain.
The Yanks clobbered Grenada at home in their first CNL group match but could only manage a 1-1 draw with El Salvador thanks in no small part to a sloppy pitch and a red card. The USMNT was also down several first-choice players including Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna.
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The U.S. will be favored to advance and will hope to be in the catbird seat following Friday’s match with Grenada at Kirani James Athletic Stadium in St. George’s.
Grenada lost 3-1 to El Salvador away but drew Los Cuscatlecos at home and need to beat the visiting U.S. to qualify for Gold Cup.
But the USMNT’s aforementioned 1-1 draw with El Salvador looms large: Even if the Yanks were to falter in Grenada, they’ll be the Group D winner by beating Los Cuscatlecos on March 27 in Orlando.
Three key questions for USMNT in March
1. Center forwards still needed, but is there anyone ready for the task? The Nos. 1, 2, and 3 non-Reyna-related question for Gregg Berhalter when the World Cup ended was why he chose his center forwards, how he used them, and why they didn’t score goals. Haji Wright was the only CF to score at the World Cup and that was the first center forward goal in six USMNT matches. Jesus Ferreira scored four the previous game, but that was against Grenada and the FC Dallas star has three more goals in his 15 other caps. And Timothy Weah, a danger up top when called upon but often a wide man, is injured and will miss the international break.
So where will interim coach Anthony Hudson turn against Grenada and El Salvador?
World Cup cut Ricardo Pepi is back and so is Daryl Dike.
Meet the candidates and their forms:
- Pepi, 20, is on loan at Dutch side Groningen from Augsburg. He started off hot with Groningen and has nine goals, though he’s scoreless in his last three matches.
- Dike, 22, is fit and firing for West Bromwich Albion, where he’s scored four times in his last five Championship appearances, all starts.
This is one of those “prove it” camps, with Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna among those helping to cue up chances for their center forwards. If you’re not gonna get the job done against Grenada and El Salvador, you’re missing the boat.
2. Who steps into the Tyler Adams role? Tyler Adams has unflinchingly been Leeds’ most consistent and steady player in a year of tumult, and he’s proven the same time and again in a USMNT shirt.
But he’s not here!
So there will be no “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Adams. The first two pieces are here from Leeds and Valencia, but it’ll be a third piece to complete the trio. Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo and Alan Sonora of Juarez have been called into camp and Johnny Cardoso is the most defense-minded of the bunch if the team is to go “like-for-like.” Cardoso, 21, is starting for Internacional in Brazil, who trails only Gremio on the Gaucho table.
3. What’s the state of mind? Look, the “youth soccer” and “extremely childish” incident has made for plenty of discussion online, but the U.S. group seemed plenty bonded after Giovanni Reyna’s World Cup camp incidents had happened but were yet to be exposed by Gregg Berhalter at a “private” speech.
So, in theory, Reyna will arrive back into a USMNT camp in need of consistent effort and good attitude but as a member of the fold. The problem may be that the fold thought it left the World Cup with Berhalter either returning as head coach or with a search being conducted for a new coach.
It turns out, it’s only mostly the latter; Berhalter remains a candidate for the U.S. job and has been in Europe to see his “former” players. His assistant, Anthony Hudson, remains in charge of the first team on an interim basis and who can really know how much input Berhalter may currently have on the group.
All of that said, the USMNT is better than both of its opponents, regardless of venues, and should look superior to them even without Adams and Weah. Should is still pretty conditional, so let’s see what statement comes out of these two games in the favorites role, because it’s going to be quite a while before the Yanks are a clear underdog again.