It’s been a wildly successful 2021 thus far for the US Men’s National Team (USMNT). First, there was the Nations League triumph over Mexico. That was followed up by a fabulous run at the Gold Cup, where the US won all six games and only conceded a single goal on their way to beating Mexico in a cup final for the second time in three months.

After missing the 2018 World Cup and then failing to win the 2019 Gold Cup, this pair of trophies was a much-needed morale boost for the USMNT and its fans. But at the end of the day, it’s really just window dressing. Now it’s time for the games that matter. The US is on a mission to make it back to the World Cup. That trek beings anew as the US gets set to play its first World Cup qualifier on Thursday, this time against El Salvador.

The US roster only contained one real surprise when it was released and that was the inclusion of uncapped 18-year old Ricardo Pepi of FC Dallas. However, the logic behind the decision is clear: Pepi was on the fence about whether he should play for the US or play for Mexico. It seems now that his future lies with the US.

It also seems that youth is a big part of the roster with only one player over the age of 30 (defender Tim Ream). The most experienced guys on the back line are DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks but the rest of the bunch is certainly talented but not at all experienced with the likes of Mile Robinson, Mark McKenzie, James Sands, and George Bello all with less than 10 caps.

The midfield features Berhalter’s three favorite MLS players (Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, and Cristian Roldan) plus Weston McKennie and the oft-injured but finally healthy Tyler Adams. Up top is where the most intrigue is. Gio Reyna is in good form after scoring for Dortmund over the weekend. Josh Sargent and Brendan Aaronson have both looked good early on in their respective European seasons (Sargent with Norwich City and Aaronson with Red Bull Salzburg). Jordan Siebatcheu and Konrad de la Fuente round out the attack. Christian Pulisic is training in Nashville in preparation for Sunday’s game against Canada.

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Like the US, El Salvador has had an excellent 2021 (though without the pair of trophies that the US won). They gave a good account of themselves at the Gold Cup winning their first two group games against Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago before falling 1-0 to Mexico in the final group game. Their quarter-final game against surprise package Qatar got off to the worst imaginable start falling behind 2-0 after just eight minutes and ending up behind 3-0 after a 55th minute penalty. But rather than throw in the towel they kept fighting and pulled within a goal after Joaquin Rivas bagged a pair of goals in the 64th and the 66th minute. Their comeback was not to be though as Qatar was able to see the game out.

Prior to the Gold Cup they were in absolute blinding form in the early stages of World Cup Qualifying as from March to the middle of June they played six qualifying games and won five of them (the game they didn’t win was a 1-1 draw against Montserrat back in March.) Their manager is a former US international and former US youth coach. Hugo Perez racked up 13 goals in 73 appearances for the USMNT but will have no love lost for a federation that terminated his employment under mysterious circumstances (though there have been rumors and allegations it was because of his use of the Spanish language at youth team training sessions).

The roster for La Selecta features six players who ply their trade in the US. Darwin Ceren of the Houston Dynamo and Alex Roldan of the Seattle Sounders represent the MLS players but the other four American based players all play in the USL: Amando Moreno of New Mexico United, the aforementioned Joaquin Rivas of FC Tulsa, Joshua Perez of Miami FC, and Walmer Martinez of Hartford Athletic.

1. This matchup features a pair of brothers on opposite sides: Cristian Roldan for the US and Alex Roldan for El Salvador.
2. During the qualifying process for Russia 2018, the US won just a single qualifier away from home, against St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

When and where to watch the game on US TV/streaming
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Estadio Cuscatlan
San Salvador, El Salvador
10:05pm ET
Live on CBS Sports Network, Universo and Paramount+


All-Time Series
USA leads 18-0-5

Last Meeting
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
DRV PNK Stadium
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
USA 6-0 El Salvador

Current FIFA Ranking
USA: 10
El Salvador: 64

Next Game
Sunday, September 5, 2021
World Cup Qualifying
USA vs. Canada
Nissan Stadium
Nashville, Tennessee
8pm ET
Live on FS1, UniMas and TUDN