Barely three days after their disappointing scoreless draw to open World Cup qualifying, the American squad will do their best to rebound when they host cross-border rivals Canada in Nashville.
Following their summer of success, Gregg Berhalter’s young team was brought back down to earth on Thursday night in San Salvador, struggling with a surprisingly tough opponent to settle for a single point to open the 14-game final round of qualification.
While few would argue that their overmatched opponents ever truly held the upper hand, the team’s attack was unable to gain a foothold, and were flaccid in their efforts to create any consistent pressure on their opponents that would have enabled a final breakthrough.
Whether this was due to wholesale inexperience of most of the squad in this setting, a motivated opponent, or questionable lineup choices by Berhalter, the team will have to put it aside as they host a significantly higher-quality Canadian team Sunday night.
Questions still surround whether team star, and leader of the attack Christian Pulisic will be back on the field. Berhalter explained in their pre-game press conference that he was still being evaluated to determine whether he’s ready to play.
Considering the importance of the game, especially after dropping points in the first one, the Chelsea attacker will in all likelihood see some field time if he is able to stand on his own two legs.
Still absent is the starting keeper Zack Steffen, however his replacement Matt Turner proved more than adequate between the sticks on Thursday, and could even make a case for keeping the starting role for his own going forward should he put in especially strong performances against Canada and later in the week in Honduras.
While still considered, at best, a notch below Mexico and the US in the CONCACAF hierarchy, the Canadian squad has nevertheless shown notable improvements over recent years, and is by no means going to be a pushover for the Americans.
Led by the ageless Atiba Hutchinson, the Reds fought back for a 1-1 draw in their opening match against Honduras thanks to a 66th minute penalty goal by Cyle Larin. The Beşiktaş forward is hardly the only dangerous attacking talent on the team, with Bayern wingback Alphonso Davies providing speed on the outside, and strike partner Jonathan David, who plies his trade at reigning French Champions Lille, already compiling an impressive 15 goals in his first 17 international games.
After Berhalter left the experienced central defender John Brooks on the bench in favor of Miles Robinson and Tim Ream, Sunday’s game could very well see the 43-times capped defender return to the fold to deal with the talented Larin and David.
The more burning question on many fans’ minds, apart from the status of Pulisic, is whether Berhalter will end the seemingly unsuccessful experiment of moving Sergiño Dest to the left side of the defense, and return him to his natural right side, where he performs well enough to start for his otherwise unknown pub team called Barcelona.
The most recent meeting between these two teams was the 1-0 group-stage win by the US in this summer’s Gold Cup. However, with few of the Americans from that team beyond Turner expected to take the field on Sunday, this will be an entirely new dynamic – one which will largely turn upon the fitness of Pulisic.
This is Canada’s first appearance in the final round of World Cup qualification since the 1998 edition. They have only reached the final tournament once in their history, in 1986 when the tournament was held in Mexico.
The two teams will kick off at 8pm Eastern time in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.