This World Cup qualifying cycle wasn’t necessarily supposed to be easy for the United States men’s national team, but it was at least supposed to be easier than last time, right? And it sure looked like it would be.
Despite some disappointing results to Canada, Panama, and Jamaica, Gregg Berhalter’s team sits in second place following the latest round of qualifying at the end of January/early February. With three games to go, the U.S. is four points clear of fourth … and the standings probably undersell how well the team has performed on aggregate. Its expected-goal differential of plus-10.47 is better than its actual goal differential. In fact, it’s the best in CONCACAF.
A continent-best underlying performance through 11 matches? Four-point cushion for automatic qualification? Piece of ca– not so fast.
All of a sudden, chaos reigns. Both of the team’s potential starting keepers, Matt Turner and Zack Steffen, could miss the final three matches due to injury, while arguably the team’s best performer throughout qualifying, Weston McKennie, just broke his foot while playing for Juventus and is out for the rest of the season. Gio Reyna came back for Borussia Dortmund … and then immediately got hurt again, too. Oh, and Ricardo Pepi hasn’t scored a goal for a professional soccer team since Oct. 7.
Next up on the docket: a trip to take on Mexico at the Azteca on Mar. 24, where the USMNT has never won a qualifying match, before fourth-place Panama comes to town on Mar. 27, and then the U.S. heads to Costa Rica on Mar. 30, where the USMNT has also never won a qualifying match. The U.S. is still heavily favored to qualify for Qatar — four points from these matches should just about do the trick — but it’s certainly not going to be easy.
Jeff Carlisle and I are here to break down the major talking points before the final cycle of the Octagonal: How should Gregg Berhalter set up in every area of the pitch? How should he handle the dilemma of a veteran defender in bad form? And who should start in Mexico City?
The Yucatan Times
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