As the calendar flips to the year 2022, the realization has started to set in for soccer fans that it is finally a World Cup year. The only downside to that is the World Cup being held in the furnace that is Qatar. FIFA was forced to move the tournament to mid-November, thus making soccer fans wait an additional five months for the most popular sporting event on the planet. The good news is that it gives the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) extra time to figure things out as well. A process that could have been much farther along had US Soccer not waited an extra 13 months to hire Gregg Berhalter is nonetheless shaping up to be a good one with the US claiming both the Nations League and the Gold Cup in 2021. The team currently sits just one point out of first place in the Octagonal. On Thursday night, they get a chance to reclaim first as they resume qualifying against El Salvador.
The US roster for this slate of three World Cup Qualifiers is surprisingly filled with a large number of MLS players, given that the majority of MLS teams have been in the offseason since the end of October. In fact, of the 28 players called in by Berhalter, 13 of them are based in MLS. And while the US did have the usual January Camp, there was no friendly at the end of it to really gauge the fitness of the bulk of these players.
Fortunately, most of the big guns from the European clubs have been called in: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, and so on. It’s also worth noting just how young the roster is. With 16 of the 28 payers under the age of 25, the youngest is Ricardo Pepi at 19 years old. Fourth string goalkeeper Gabriel Sionina is 17 years old.
The US is coming off a very successful 2021 in terms of total wins and win percentage after posting a record of 17-2-3 (W-L-D) last year, which allowed them to really start building momentum for the final push to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. But if there were some setbacks, they happened during the qualifiers. A first ever loss in Panama happened in October. And before that, there was a 1-1 home draw against Canada in Nashville. Most recently, the US drew 1-1 in front of an empty stadium in Jamaica. So while last year was enjoyable to watch at times, there is room for improvement. Tightening their grip on an automatic qualifying spot begins with the home game against El Salvador.
The year 2021 may have been a good year for the US but it was far from it for El Salvador. While they did well to qualify for the Octagonal and make it to the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup, it’s been pretty rough sledding for them since then. They went winless with two draws and a loss in the three September qualifiers. They followed that up with a win and two losses in the three game October window before posting a draw and a loss in November. They also lost two friendlies in that time frame for good measure.
Former US international Hugo Perez has his work cut out for him if El Salvador is going to even have a shot at making it to Qatar as they currently sit seventh in the Octagonal. Their roster for these three January-February games does little to inspire confidence with mostly domestic based players. Only one player is on the books at a European club (Enrico Hernandez of Vitesse in the Netherlands) and of the six players based in the US, three of them are in the USL: Ronald Rodriguez and Joaquin Rivas both of FC Tulsa, and Walmer Martinez of Monterey Bay.
1. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s status is questionable due to a back injury. He’s receiving treatment for it in Manchester, England.
2. Current standings for the Octagonal are as follows: Canada (16pts), USA (15pts), Mexico (14pts), Panama (14pts), Costa Rica (9pts), Jamaica (7pts), El Salvador (6pts), Honduras (3pts)
When and where to watch the game on US TV and streaming
USA leads 18-0-6
Thursday, September 2, 2021
San Salvador, El Salvador
El Salvador 0-0 USA
Current FIFA Ranking
El Salvador: 70
Sunday, January 30, 2022
World Cup Qualifying
Tim Horton’s Field
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