The United States men’s national team takes its first steps in World Cup qualifying since that ill-fated night in Couva come Thursday in San Salvador.
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter doesn’t have Christian Pulisic, Zack Steffen, and Tim Weah, and with three games in eight days his lineup also may reflect that El Salvador, even away, is the most straight-forward ask of the bunch (Canada and Honduras are next).
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Tyler Adams captains the side in a midfield with Giovanni Reyna and Weston McKennie with Brenden Aaronson and Konrad de la Fuente serving as wings around Josh Sargent.
Matt Turner is in goal with Sergino Dest, Tim Ream, Miles Robinson, and DeAndre Yedlin the back four.
The U.S. has six wins and two draws all-time in World Cup qualifying against El Salvador. They are heavily favored to start “Thge Octagonal” on a winning note.
USMNT lineup v El Salvador
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) September 3, 2021
How to watch El Salvador – USMNT in World Cup qualifying
El Salvador – USMNT preview
UPDATE: This post has been edited slightly to account for Wednesday’s news that Christian Pulisic is staying behind in Nashville and will not play for the USMNT against El Salvador.
No away CONCACAF World Cup qualifier is straightforward, but the United States men’s national team will open its Octagonal with a visit to El Salvador that carries a simple order.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it, Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT has to deliver a ‘W’ on Thursday at the Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador. And it will.
Beyond that, though, this team — the most talented, deepest unit in USMNT history — should carry a desire to win decisively, to send a message to the rest of the confederation that the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup weren’t a joke.
There isn’t a coach here who will take a point in Couva for granted. There isn’t a team who will wilt when the chance to bury an opponent presents itself. And there isn’t a man on the roster who will let qualification go to the last day.
Make no mistake about it: The USMNT should never have missed a World Cup and it’s farcical that it didn’t qualify for Russia, that it didn’t wake up after an 0-2 start got its coach fired. That it then proceeded to wake up for one big win before sleepwalking to a draw in Panama, eeking out a draw at Azteca on a Michael Bradley wondergoal, and then lost at home to Costa Rica.
There was entitlement. There were baffling call-ups and coaching decisions (and appointments!). And all that said, the USMNT still could’ve qualified for Russia with its draw against T&T’s B-Team if Panama wasn’t awarded a ghost goal in its final qualifier!
Haven’t forgotten the sight of a teenage Christian Pulisic sobbing on the field? Imagine how much deeper that feeling’s been sunk into the memory of the defiant Chelsea star himself, who has only grown in power since — individually speaking — a very good first qualifying run.
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There were 14 players from the 2014 World Cup roster still on the team on the final day of the 2018 qualification campaign.
There were seven players from the 2010 World Cup roster still on the team on the final day of the 2018 qualification campaign.
Know how many players from the final day of the 2018 qualification campaign there for the first day of 2022 qualifying? Four (five if you include John Brooks, who was injured for T&T).
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Pulisic is a star and Brooks invaluable but DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Ream, and Kellyn Acosta are not focal points with this squad. Acosta may become more important due to the new, congested schedule, but in the four years since Couva the turnover has been tremendous.
It’s different now. Pulisic will not let anyone forget Couva, and Weston McKennie is blessed with the swagger to carry a team’s attitude for it. Tyler Adams and John Brooks are massive parts of Champions League sides, Giovanni Reyna and Sergino Dest key parts of another.
El Salvador? Not to be overlooked, but:
- 3/4 of its squad plays club football in El Salvador
- one player (Alexander Larin) plays in Guatemala
- another is in Costa Rica’s top flight
- one more is in the Dutch second tier
- three players are in MLS
- four come from the USL Championship
Even without Pulisic, the Yanks will be expected to win comfortably. Yes they’ve twice drawn away to El Salvador in World Cup qualifying but those were much different times and/or circumstances (They also have six wins versus El Salvador in WCQs).
In previous years, the United States men’s national team might’ve been in danger of sleepwalking through an away draw but in the first World Cup qualifier since Couva? Barring a red card, series of huge injuries and (not or) a bout of food poisoning, this should be a message-sender.
The U.S. is going to qualify for the World Cup, if only because the tournament is incredibly forgiving, and they are certainly going to beat El Salvador on Thursday.
And for those saying, “Guys, don’t jinx it!!”, the point here is that if the USMNT is who we say they are, and who they say they are, the days of dropping points in El Salvador are done (not that they were ever really here).