Uruguay presents an interesting opportunity for the USMNT. After all, the U.S. has little to no familiarity with frequent World Cup teams outside CONCACAF. That’s not to take anything away from Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica. Clearly, these are strong sides with talented players.
Instead, it is simply a style of play. Nations in South America have a certain playing style, as do those in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Over the last 18 months, the United States played just five games against teams outside CONCACAF. In 2020, the U.S. played to a scoreless draw with Wales. The next year, the United States played against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Qatar, Switzerland and Northern Ireland. Three of these could be World Cup teams. That is great experience for a young USMNT side. However, not to take anything away from them, Qatar, Switzerland and Wales will not pose a real threat at the World Cup.
Most recently, the United States played against Morocco to a comfortable 3-0 win. Another World Cup side, but another nation that celebrates being at the World Cup.
There is no shame in that, some nations are just smaller and have less opportunity to thrive on the biggest stage.
That does not apply to Uruguay. In 2010, the Uruguayans finished fourth. In Brazil 2014, Uruguay made it out of the group stage but faced a blazing James Rodríguez and Colombia. Recently, in 2018, Uruguay faced the best team in the world, France, losing in the quarterfinals. Clearly, this Uruguay team knows how to win, and it possesses the players to accomplish that.
Therefore, this friendly for the USMNT can serve as an indicator of where the nation stands among a South American power. Fans will see how World Cup preparations look less than six months from the tournament.
The past year was a special one for the United States Men’s National Team. Three wins over Mexico, two trophies and one massive step forward for the program as a whole. The only thing missing was minutes against top opposition from outside CONCACAF.
This is a remarkably young United States squad. Christian Pulisic is the veteran of the side with experience, and he is just 23 years old.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a hiatus on international competition. Many of the current USMNT makeup made their debuts in 2020 or 2021. Players like Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, Matt Turner and Chris Richards all made their debuts in either 2020 or 2021. These are major players that, when healthy, play key roles for the United States. For many, the best side they have experience against outside CONCACAF is Switzerland. That 2-1 loss featured a mix of the usual faces, as well as others trying to break through. Essentially, it was an incomplete roster.
Uruguay opportunity for the USMNT
Now, many of the young faces go head-to-head with players with hefty World Cup experience. Edinson Cavani, Diego Godín, José María Giménez and others represented Uruguay at the World Cup in 2018. They are likely to feature against the U.S. on Sunday evening. This does not even include Luis Suárez, who La Celeste did not call up to allow him to heal after the club season. Plus, Suárez is in the process of finding a new club.
Clearly, the Uruguay squad can still pack a punch. Look no further than the side’s 3-0 demolition of Mexico on Thursday night. Edinson Cavani scored twice against the U.S.’s biggest rival. Moreover, Uruguay currently sits at No. 13 in the FIFA World Rankings, two spots superior to the Americans.
“Playing a team like Uruguay that has a lot of stars is amazing,” Tim Weah said on Friday before the game. “It’s what I have always dreamed of, playing against the best.”
On the surface, it is a friendly, but Tim Weah maintains that the USMNT is serious about the opportunity proposed by this tie against Uruguay. Brenden Aaronson echoed that sentiment following the USMNT’s win over Morocco, another World Cup side.
Erik Palmer-Brown, who only has three appearances with the senior squad, used to play for Sporting Kansas City, the host of the game against Uruguay. He welcomes the challenge for the U.S. to prove itself.
“These are the moments you dream of as a kid to play in these big-moment games. It’s going to be an amazing feeling to go out there and show what we can do against a quality opponent.
Clearly, the United States misses the opportunity to play teams outside CONCACAF. Uruguay is still one of the more prominent teams to face the U.S. since the 2018 World Cup.
Back in September 2019, the two nations played to a 1-1 draw at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO. Don’t take much from that game when looking at this friendly, however. Fourteen of the USMNT players to be included in the squad for that game less than three years ago are not part of the squad for Sunday’s game.
Regardless, the USMNT will likely not play a team as strong as Uruguay when it comes to history or current power until the World Cup. Expect the squad to treat it like a World Cup game. After all, it is the closest almost all of them have been to the world’s biggest competition.
PHOTO: John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images
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