USA makes progress, but key vulnerabilities still exist

Two untimely draws set the USMNT on the back foot to open CONCACAF qualifying. However, a vital victory against Honduras powered by a dominant second-half performance Wednesday night may right the ship.

Take it from someone who knows what it takes to get the greatest tournament in sport. Qualifying in CONCACAF is not easy. Bruce Murray helped the United States to the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Additionally, he scored one of the two U.S. goals at that tournament.

He has something that a select few of the current roster possess: World Cup experience. Regardless, many associate this current pool of U.S. men’s players with success and further potential.

Hard to argue that, I suppose. In fact, the squad put together by Gregg Berhalter this summer is a much-needed demonstration of success. A CONCACAF Nations League triumph and a Gold Cup trophy are nice tokens. Still, this team’s goals reach beyond success in North America.

This team wants, and expects, to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

READ MORE: How to watch World Cup Qualifiers on U.S. TV.

A former-USMNT member who played in a World Cup shared his thoughts on the current makeup of the team, and what they need to do to get back to the biggest stage in the sport.

Bruce Murray Recalls CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying

Fans of the sport know the challenges of playing in CONCACAF. Sure, it is not like playing France, Italy or Brazil each week, but the nations pose challenges many U.S. players are not accustomed to — as Murray explained to us in an exclusive conversation with World Soccer Talk.

“In my generation, the fields were even worse,” Bruce Murray said. “You’re not at your physical and mental best. Can you figure out a way to get through all of those conditions?”

The El Salvadorian crowds that opened the U.S.A.’s World Cup Qualifying slate gave this young roster a wake up call. Gio Reyna requiring protection from riot police while taking a corner, players slipping at inopportune times. The conditions are not what these players, many of whom play in Europe or the MLS, are comfortable with.

Undoubtedly, the conditions hampered the U.S. players. Bruce Murray commented on how the players on both teams looked tired as the game rolled on.

However, Murray also mentioned how, at that point, it comes down to simple physical effort.

“I think the thing that bothered me most [during the first two games of this qualification window] was the grit and determination and winning the 50/50 balls.”

Murray also discussed how the teams the U.S. frequently plays in CONCACAF are fast and physical. American teams of old needed to match the physicality of the opponent.

“Are [the current USMNT members] better technical players? Probably. Did my generation have a little more determination and grit? Probably.”

“Either way, when that anthem goes off, you’re playing for your country.”

Bruce Murray

That, according to Murray, is something the U.S. lacked in the first two-and-a-half games of 2022 World Cup Qualifying.

The ‘golden generation’ of the USMNT

We hear it all the time. This is the best USMNT ever. They are young. They are talented. Many of these players play with or against the best in the world over in European competition.

Therefore, we stand confused when this great team cannot pick up a win from two relatively easy qualifying games.

“The players are getting opportunities that we never really got,” Murray said about the current crop of players.

“I played in Europe, but it was very difficult to get playing time and to get signed by big teams.”

That is not the case for this generation. You can find Americans receiving substantial and significant playing time in England, Germany, Spain, Italy and a number of other countries.

Bruce Murray also wants these players to understand that it does not all come down to pure talent. That surely helps, Christian Pulisic can dance around a handful of Hondurans or Canadians. However, true success does not come from pure talent.

“This generation of players has to understand that it is not about my technique versus your technique,” Murray added.

“It has to do with grit and determination during these qualifiers.”

Tyler Adams, Ricardo Pepi and Brenden Aaronson showed some of that determination in the second half against Honduras. Now, it is about turning that result into a run of good form.

Pushing out a consistent on-field product

One thing that is challenging for a national team is to develop consistency. For example, the U.S. played their best game in the September international window in their final game against Honduras. Moreover, they played a dismal first half, followed by an electric second 45 minutes.

Still, the U.S. picked up five points from their first three games in this qualifying cycle. It is not great, but it is certainly an improvement on the 2018 cycle when they lost their first two games.

“This is a confidence-boosting win,” Bruce Murray said of the USMNT win over Honduras.

“To go down to a hostile environment and get those three points, the players have belief in themselves now.”

Belief might go on to play an important factor in the U.S.’s hopes to qualify for Qatar 2022. Remember, the overwhelming majority of the current USMNT selection is making their debuts in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Only a handful of players actually played international soccer when the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Over the summer, it seemed like the USMNT made a dramatic turnaround. Perhaps, they were able to compete at the World Cup, rather than simply make an appearance.

Snap back to reality, qualification is no easy task.

“It would be extremely, extremely problematic if we missed two World Cups in a row.”

“That mentality has to be ‘this is the most important game of my life, I need these three points’.”

The USMNT returns to action with another set of three CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying games in early October.

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