Do you, in your heart of hearts, truly believe the United States men’s national team could fail to qualify for consecutive World Cups?
The answer is probably, “No,” especially given the potentially golden generation of talent available to head coach Gregg Berhalter during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Heck, many of us still can’t believe the USMNT could fail to finish in CONCACAF’s top five ahead of the 2018 tournament, as Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena couldn’t even negotiate the club to the inter-confederation playoff (where Australia took out Honduras on the strength of a Mile Jedinak hat trick. Yep. Read that again).
Not to dwell on this too much — that’s not really the topic of this post — but consider what had to happen for the Yanks to fall apart in 2017:
- Went winless away from home
- Lost home and away to Costa Rica
- Took a single point from Mexico (in Mexico, nonetheless, as the only Hex foe to get a result at Estadio Azteca)
- Lost to Trinidad and Tobago’s B-team when a draw would’ve been enough.
- Saw Panama awarded a goal that never crossed the line against Costa Rica, keeping the U.S. from facing Australia
All that to finish one point back of an automatic spot. And, really, beating Costa Rica at home (or away) would’ve been enough to finish second.
This isn’t to say that gross mismanagement of a roster, arrogance in attitude, or pandemic madness couldn’t keep the Yanks behind three or four of Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica… but it’s incredibly unlikely.
More injuries complicate a tricky three-match week
The U.S. heads into this international break knowing it will come out on the other end with nearly half of its qualifiers in the books.
The good news is that CONCACAF as a whole failed to deal well with the first three matches of qualifying.
The USMNT’s draw in El Salvador was, in fact, a little shameful but Canada dropped points at home to Honduras, who are one of four teams to leave the first break without a win. Also, Mexico may feel a bit sheepish about its draw in Panama.
So it’ll be Jamaica in Texas on Thursday, Panama away on Sunday, and Costa Rica in Ohio on Oct. 13, all three below the Americans on the table.
All three are also looking at the USMNT as ripe for the taking after the disappointing five-point haul in September conjured ghosts of World Cup qualifying past in place of the visions of strength provided by CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup titles this song.
That’s before getting to the injuries. John Brooks has joined the list of those unavailable to Berhalter and while the center back struggled in September he’s been their best CB for at least two years. So he’s out, as are Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna.
So how will the USMNT line up against Jamaica?
Matt Turner proved himself more than able in September, but Berhalter seems likely to opt for the “Can’t lose your job to injury” card and Zack Steffen’s done enough to deserve that after missing September’s matches with COVID and injury issues.
Berhalter hasn’t hesitated to play Mark McKenzie (22 years old) but using him with Miles Robinson (24) gives him a combined CB age of 46 with 19 caps. We’d expect Walker Zimmerman to get first dibs next to one (probably Robinson), as Michail Antonio threatens to hijack U.S. plans.
Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest will likely be the fullbacks and Tyler Adams the holding midfielder but that’s where the guarantees stop.
What about Weston McKennie, you say? He’s the only player that Gregg Berhalter has revealed to be a starter.
Berhalter trusts Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, and Cristian Roldan and it seems likely one or two of the trio will be a part of his plans versus Jamaica. Yunus Musah and Gianluca Busio are wildcards.
Ricardo Pepi is going to get a start at some point if not all three matches given his auspicious September debut, and Brenden Aaronson did plenty toward a place in the XI during the window. Gyasi Zardes is going to feature at some point, as will Paul Arriola, but will either stop Timothy Weah or Pepi from the XI?
It seems logical that Berhalter would rather try Pepi and Weah and plug in more known entities like Zardes and Arriola if they fail rather than the opposite idea.
Here’s what we think:
Dest — M. Robinson — Zimmerman — A. Robinson
Adams — McKennie
Aaronson — Lletget — Weah