As the holder of the Nations League, Gold Cup and a new world ranking of 10th, the USMNT approaches World Cup qualifying at its highest level of confidence in five years — since John Brooks destroyed the house that Ecuador built at the Copa América.
But the formula for success in CONCACAF never changes: try to win at home, try to draw away. Get that done and you’re going to Qatar; experiment with the formula like Jürgen Klinsmann and you’ll kill Taylor Twellman.
It’s an exceedingly difficult opening test for Gregg Berhalter’s side. Having just assembled the largely Europe-based group in Nashville, they’ll fly to El Salvador to play on Thursday, return to host Canada on Sunday and then travel to Honduras for a Wednesday night match.
That’s one game against the region’s rising side (Canada) and two daunting road trips. Although this young U.S. team did well in finals against largely pro-Mexico crowds this summer, those matches were still on U.S. soil.
Nothing can prepare you for Estadio Cuscatlán and the Olímpico, especially when your squad has 13 players aged 23 and younger. This is all to say that a draw in San Salvador on Thursday night shouldn’t be reason to burn your Matt Turner kit — a point should be cause for celebration.
After all, we still don’t know if Christian Pulisic will be ready for El Salvador despite clearing coronavirus protocols, and now Timothy Weah is out with a thigh injury.
If you want a complete TV guide to following the U.S. throughout the octagonal, click this link.
USMNT World Cup Qualifying: September Preview
El Salvador vs. USMNT
Date: Thursday, Sep. 2 | City: San Salvador, El Salvador
Venue: Estadio Cuscatlán | TV: CBSSN, Universo
El Salvador was one of the better stories of the 2021 Gold Cup. After beating Guatemala (2-0) and Trinidad and Tobago (2-0) to begin group play, they went toe-to-toe with Mexico and were only narrowly beaten 1-0. In the quarterfinals, La Selecta played one of the tournament’s best matches — a wild 3-2 defeat to Qatar.
Manager Hugo Pérez — who won 73 caps with the USMNT and played at the ’94 World Cup — rightfully earned plaudits for the style his team employed, and El Salvador has risen to 64th in the FIFA world rankings.
Joaquín Rivas, who plays for Tulsa in the USL Championship, scored three goals at the Gold Cup. 25-year-old fullback Alex Roldán, who plays for the Seattle Sounders, also scored during the tournament.
Estadio Cuscatlán, with its capacity of 53,400, is an absolute nightmare. If you need reminding, here are the scenes from the last qualifier contested in San Salvador between these two nations. Trailing 2-0 with just over 10 minutes to play, the U.S. needed late goals from Jozy Altidore and Frankie Hejduk to salvage a point.
“It is important for my players that they play against the best because they will improve their level and of the national team,” Pérez said. “The United States will play their ‘A’ team, but the ‘B’ team has great players and they won the Gold Cup in the summer. We have to play against everyone in the final round and we hope that our stadium is packed to give us that extra boost.”
USMNT vs. Canada
Date: Sunday, Sep. 5 | City: Nashville, Tennessee
Stadium: Nissan Stadium | TV: FS1, TUDN
Despite not having its stable of emerging stars at the Gold Cup, Canada still managed to reach the semifinals before bowing out to a 98th-minute winner from Mexico. Canada’s performance highlighted its growing depth, as well as manager John Herdman’s ability to get the most out of this golden generation of Canucks.
But a return to full strength means the inclusion of two of CONCACAF’s brightest stars: 20-year-old Bayern Munich fullback/winger Alphonso Davies and 21-year-old Lille striker Jonathan David.
Jonathan David’s first of the season. Hitting form ahead of vs. on Sep. 5.pic.twitter.com/q2im5sLIZf— The18 (@the18com) August 29, 2021
Veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson also returns from Beşiktaş, joining those who shone at the Gold Cup, like Cyle Larin, Junior Hoilett, Tajon Buchanan and Stephen Eustáquio.
It’s honestly kind of frightening, but it’s also a beautiful thing seeing the USMNT vs. Canada turn into a legitimate rivalry — don’t forget the fighting words from the Nations League — that’s can’t-miss on the international calendar.
Honduras vs. USMNT
Date: Wednesday, Sep. 8 | City: San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Stadium: Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano | TV: Paramount+, Universo
After starting the Gold Cup with a 4-0 win over Grenada followed by a hugely entertaining 3-2 victory over Panama, Honduras stumbled to a 2-0 loss to Qatar followed by a 3-0 quarterfinal defeat to Mexico that was over by halftime.
However, this squad has two exciting overseas inclusions that weren’t in that team: Cádiz attacker Anthony “Choco” Lozano and Académica’s Jonathan Toro.
The U.S. and Honduras met earlier this summer in the Nations League semifinals, where an 89th-minute goal from Jordan Pefok was the difference, so this should be a tight one at the Olímpico.
During 2014 World Cup qualifying, the U.S. lost 2-1 in San Pedro Sula. In 2018 WCQ, it was a 1-1 draw thanks to Bobby Wood’s dramatic 85th-minute equalizer. Points do not come easily at the Olímpico.
A false start to qualifying and the USMNT's glorious summer will be quickly forgotten. But, if this squad manages to succeed where many before them have failed, then we'll know that we've really got something special on our hands.