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USMNT looks to build with Nations League visit to Canada

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The United States has faced much criticism since failing to miss out on the World Cup two years ago. If Gregg Berhalter is to silence the naysayers, he must use the Nations League as a building block for sustained success with a view towards 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Step 1 was completed Friday with a 7-0 demolition of lowly Cuba, and Step 2 comes Tuesday evening as the USMNT heads to Toronto to meet Canada at BMO Field, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

[ MORE: An in-depth look at Canada ]

The United States did the job at hand, soundly beating a far inferior opponent, allowing the squad to move forward quickly and emphatically. There is plenty more to prove, but the engine is revved and the gas pedal pressed. Still, Berhalter and company must remember this is a marathon not a sprint, and even the slightest slip in Nations League play will open the floodgates of criticism.

Seeing the bigger picture

The biggest thing for the USMNT to piece together in the Nations League is a sustained run of success that builds not just positive feelings but true momentum born by consistency. It will be fascinating to see the team chosen by Gregg Berhalter as he looks to put together consistent starting lineups that help build not just victories on the scoresheet but also chemistry between players who have a legitimate chance of seeing future lineups in more high leverage matches.

Against Cuba, positive performances can lend themselves to more opportunities down the line, but Berhalter must also be realistic about who has a chance to be contributors not just against the minnows of CONCACAF but also against teams the United States has aspirations of competing with. Against Cuba, Jordan Morris continued his revival as a winger, and he should be given more opportunities to build a relationship with Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic up front. Jackson Yueill is another player who can earn his way into long-term contention, but it remains true that Michael Bradley is still the team’s best option at holding midfielder and requires minutes with the other consistent starters (although it would be interesting to see if the two can play together coherently). Reggie Cannon played well at right-back but incumbent DeAndre Yedlin deserves the chance to prove he’s still the correct choice after returning from a long injury layoff.

A view towards the future must be in the back of Berhalter’s mind, not just looking to achieve results but also achieve results with the right players. Meshing the correct squad now will unquestionably pay dividends down the road as the United States hopes to turn around recent negative results against teams like Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Italy, and Colombia which fans aspire to be competitive against. With the start of World Cup qualification less than a calendar year away, the time is now to end the wild experimentation and begin dividing up the precious minutes between players who are considered legitimate possibilities for the potential 2022 squad.

18-year-old Alphonso Davies represents a youth movement with the Canadian national team that gives fans hope for the future (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Switching gears to Canada

Canada will no doubt present a tougher test than Cuba, but the United States will still be expected to emerge victorious, and anything less will represent yet another two steps back after one step forward.

The northern neighbors have high aspirations, hoping to challenge for World Cup qualification. Head coach John Herdman said in the run-up to Tuesday’s match that the United States may be a rival, but they’re also “standing in the way” of the ultimate goal, confident speech ahead of such a difficult test. LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye took it a step further, saying his play with the Canadian national team over the next few years “is going to help shape the foundation of how Canada is going to be in the next 10 years.”

Canada has a crop of young talent with Kaye joined by 18-year-old Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and 19-year-old Gent youth product Jonathan David.

Still, they have not defeated the United States in their last 17 tries, dating back to 1985. Their last match was a measly 1-0 victory over the same Cuba squad that was obliterated by the US, forced to play 35 minutes a man down after Vancouver Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry was sent off. Canada still managed to hold a whopping 81% possession in that match, but worked just a single shot on target, which resulted in Davies’ 9th minute opener. They will need to be both more disciplined and more dangerous if they wish to pull off the upset in Toronto.

Projected lineup

— Steffan —

— Yedlin — Long — Ream — Lovitz —

— McKennie — Bradley — Roldan —

— Morris — Sargent — Pulisic —

Brad Guzan started the Cuba match in goal, but Zack Steffan is the true long-term option here and it would be natural to see him return to the lineup against the tougher opponent. Gregg Berhalter loves Aaron Long and his return could also be expected. As stated above, Bradley is a contentious selection among many fans but his presence calms the midfield, and he delivers a long ball forward like nobody else on the roster. The front three played exceptionally well against Cuba and it would be questionable to see anyone but those players start again with Jozy Altidore injured.

Prediction

The United States will no doubt face a tougher challenge, and the young attacking talent will test the in-flux back line. Yedlin at right-back will have the toughest test matching up with Davies defensively which could force him back more than Berhalter wants. It will be imperative for the midfield trio to establish control of the central areas and work forward from there. It can be expected that the United States will control the tempo, and if they stay calm, cool, and collected when Canada counters, they should come away with a nervy 2-1 victory.

Desperate Canada provides away challenge for USMNT

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Canada faces one of its most important matches in some time when it faces the United States men’s national team at BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday.

The Canucks beat Cuba twice last month to start life in the CONCACAF Nations League, and can take both a physical and a spiritual step in its progression with a defeat of the U.S.

The U.S. is unbeaten against Canada in 16 matches dating back to 1985, and it’s been all wins in meaningful competitions for the Yanks.

[ REPORT: Man Utd agrees with Mandzukic ]

So that’s one hurdle for John Herdmann’s men, but the more meaningful, empirical stuff comes with the knowledge that a win would not only put Canada on the precipice of a berth in the CNL semifinals but also provide a significant boost in the race for the sixth spot in World Cup qualifying’s Hexagonal.

It’s one of the reasons Canada is spending its entire international break gearing up for the USMNT, playing just this match and not a proximal friendly.

ICYMI: CONCACAF will now determine its World Cup contestants a bit differently. Three of six sides from the Hex will head to the World Cup, while the fourth side will meet a seventh side, the champions of a second “lower” tournament, in a playoff.

Canada enters this month five points behind sixth place El Salvador, who beat Montserrat and next faces St. Lucia in what’s sure to be another win. But fifth place Honduras is also in play, as are Curacao and Panama. Haiti is on the outskirts but alive.

CONCACAF men’s world rankings via FIFA

12. Mexico (1603 points)
21. United States (1545)
43. Costa Rica (1442)
47. Jamaica (1435)
67. Honduras (1359)
72. El Salvador (1327)
——Hex cut-off———-
75. Canada (1322)
76. Curacao (1320)
77. Panama (1316)
86. Haiti (1277)
100. Trinidad and Tobago (1226)

Make no mistake: This Canada game looms large for both sides, as Gregg Berhalter’s resting of Zack Steffen, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, and even Aaron Long was probably meant to preserve them for Tuesday (The Cuba match was only Long’s second outside the XI in the Yanks’ last 10).

All four will play a big part in dealing with Canada’s massive attacking threat. While it’s natural for American fans to expect goals from their men in Toronto, it’s pretty likely that Canada is going to produce a lot of threats through whoever Herdman chooses for his front three (or four, or whatever).

Herdman has played a variation of a 4-3-3 in five of his last seven matches in charge of Canada, only going away from the formation against the two best sides he’s played: Mexico (5-4-1) and Haiti (4-5-1).

At home against the U.S., what will he choose?

The 4-3-3 does hold allure. We know Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathan David (Gent) are going to start this match, but center forward Cyle Larin is not in the side despite red-hot form for Zulte Waregem in Belgium (on loan from Besitkas).

Puebla’s Lucas Cavallini would be the likely CF in such a 4-3-3, leaving Junior Hoilett to come off the bench. There’s an argument to be made that Canada’s out-and-out attackers are as dangerous as the U.S.

That’s why the play at the back is the difference between these sides. Herdman’s men have been sound against lesser CONCACAF sides but allowed three goals in the Mexico and Haiti tilts. Only one player, Steven Vitoria of Moreirense, plays at a higher level than MLS, while four players are regular contributors to their Major League Soccer clubs.

Samuel Piette (Montreal) and Scott Arfield (Rangers) are Canada’s big hopes in the midfield and will need to contend with not just the U.S. attack but Invigorated midfielders like Weston McKennie.

Berhalter’s Yanks are well-suited to deal with Canada, even 90-minutes north of the border, but the challenge will come from the desperate hosts and their electric attackers. How much of Berhalter’s plan is to build out from the back, and how ready is he to change tactics if the high press of Davies and David cause problems for Steffen and his backs?

The CNL may be a headache and a lesser competition, but the Yanks would love to hold Canada’s hopes to the sword with a decisive away win that puts the onus on the Canadians to attack next month in the United States. The second tiebreaker in classification is goal difference in group play, and the Americans’ plus-7 is level with Canada’s 6-0 and 1-0 defeats of Cuba.

Atlanta United defender Robinson leaves USMNT with injury

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Miles Robinson has departed USMNT camp with a hamstring injury, U.S. Soccer has announced.

Robinson was injured during a post-match substitutes training following the 7-0 win over Cuba in Nations League play on Friday. The post-match training session is routine to help players that did not feature in the match to continue maintaining a level of fitness and consistency.

The injury is ill-timed for his club Atlanta United, who finishes MLS regular season play against New England in one week and will then look to navigate the postseason. Robinson has been one of the best defenders in Major League Soccer this season and is likely to get serious consideration for Team of the Season and Defender of the Year.

Robinson was an unused substitute in the win over Cuba, but given his club form, it would not have been surprising to see the 22-year-old center-back get a chance for his first international start in the upcoming game against Canada on Tuesday. The United States has anything but a concrete pecking order at center-back. With John Brooks and Walker Zimmerman hurt, while Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, and Aaron Long battling for playing time of late.

Instead, he will head back to his club hoping to get healthy for the stretch run of the season. There is no word on the severity of the injury. It’s possible that the USMNT prioritized his club situation, and played it safe with Robinson, allowing him to return and rehab as a precaution rather than risk him against a lesser opponent.

The USMNT announced that Robinson will not be replaced on the roster.

USMNT player ratings from 7-0 defeat of Cuba

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The USMNT’s first ever match CONCACAF Nations League match was always supposed to be a straight-forward win, but this was something else.

The Yanks smashed Friday’s visitors to Audi Field by a 7-0 margin, scoring six first half goals and riding a right-sided master class from Weston McKennie, Reggie Cannon and Jordan Morris to victory.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Here are the individual ratings from a comprehensive-enough win.

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 6 — Didn’t do anything wrong. Also didn’t really need to be there. Hopefully someone brought him snacks.

Daniel Lovitz — 6 — Drew the penalty with a cross, but otherwise didn’t have a ton to do.

Matt Miazga — 6 — Befuddled by a Tim Ream mistake and nearly allowed a shot, but again, three of the backs and their keeper had very little to do all night.

Tim Ream — 5 — Two dicey plays including a poor giveaway around the hour mark, but a good safety valve at the back when the Yanks allowed a long ball counter in the 73rd.

Reggie Cannon — 8 — Sensational pace and industry, and it the energy never left him. Instrumental in the first two goals as Berhalter asked his right back to do his best Trent Alexander-Arnold impression. It wasn’t a bad one.

Jackson Yueill — 8 — Exactly one blip in 90 quality minutes. Begging to be considered as the fourth midfielder behind Tyler Adams, McKennie, and Michael Bradley.

Cristian Roldan — 6 — One nice play in the second half and worked hard on the night, but a poor giveaway in the first half could’ve soiled a great start if the opposition was up to it.

Weston McKennie (Off HT) — 10 — Electric. Industrious. Fun. This was an emerging midfielder from a semi-regular European-qualifying club showing what it looks like when the opposition takes several steps down in quality. A joy to watch.

Christian Pulisic — 7 — Solid enough for the Chelsea man, who captained the squad and didn’t put a foot wrong. Scored his penalty and otherwise was content to let the others drive the bus for once.

Jordan Morris (Off HT) — 9 — The extra touch that made the fifth goal a Cuban own goal instead of an outright finish stops us from giving him a 10, but really it’s just nice to be picky and positive for once. Morris has found his home as a wing in Berhalter’s system.

Josh Sargent — 6 — Nice to see him get the start, but does that mean it’ll be Gyasi Zardes against Cuba? He was “in and around” the goal all night, and his goal was very well taken. Sliced a good chance over the bar in the 90th after producing the chance with a takeaway.

Substitutions

Tyler Boyd (On HT) — 6 — Flashed some good moves. Had a great steal outside the 18 but was stepped on and effectively limped out of the fray.

Paul Arriola (On HT) — 6 — An okay night for one of Berhalter’s mainstays.

Sebastian Lletget (On 68′) — 6 — A moment or two off the bench for the Galaxy man.

USMNT hangs 7 on overwhelmed Cuba

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The United States men’s national team made its CONCACAF Nations League debut in style, riding a six-goal first half to a 7-0 demolition of Cuba at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Weston McKennie had three goals and an assist in a stellar first half, while Jordan Morris had a goal and three assists.

Josh Sargent buried a chance, Christian Pulisic converted a penalty, and Cuba scored an own goal to round out the scoring in our nation’s capital.


Cuba’s defense saw the the Yanks blaze down the right side to open the scoring, Reggie Cannon playing Jordan Morris down the right flank and theSeattle Sounders man drove into the box before cutting back toward a sea of players in the box.

Christian Pulisic couldn’t reach the pass, which was good because McKennie may’ve been the intended target.

The Schalke man collected the ball with his first touch and lashed into the yawning cage as the clock hit :30

He didn’t need to wait long for the second, and Cannon again played Morris into the box to cross for McKennie’s finish.

McKennie then set up Morris for 3-0 in the ninth minute, with a hockey assist to Josh Sargent, before Morris and Cannon again cued up McKennie. Hat trick. 4-0. 13 minutes.

Jackson Yueill was lively, and spotted McKennie who in turn cued Pulisic up for an arrow just over the bar. Moments later Yueill found McKennie but one extra touch saw his shot blocked over the bar for a corner kick.

McKennie made a sensational touch to set up the fifth goal, which will go down as an own goal after Morris’ shot was saved off a defender’s face and into the goal.

Sargent made it 6-0 as Cuba’s midfield was nowhere to be found as Morris dropped a pass for a calm Sargent finish.

The Yanks won a penalty in the 61st minute, and Pulisic snapped up the ball and slotted it down the middle for his 14th international goal.

Roldan had a vicious deflected shot saved for a corner kick in the 79th.