Once again Gregg Berhalter and his USMNT squad find themselves under pressure to earn a result, as qualification for the 2022 World Cup comes down to the wire.
The optimism and confidence that rode with the team coming into the current window has taken a hard hit after an entirely lackluster win against El Salvador was followed by a lifeless loss in Canada.
The last game in particular, Sunday’s dos-a-cero loss in Hamilton, has hit particularly hard, even if, on paper, the team’s position hasn’t taken too much of a blow in terms of their ultimate goal of finishing in the top three of the eight-team qualifying group.
Even though the Americans dominated possession and the general run of play on Sunday, as was heavily emphasized by head coach Gregg Berhalter in his post-game comments, they lacked any sense of a final bite, and were unable to avoid being shut out by new CONCACAF top-dogs Canada.
The opportunity for redemption, or at least chance to stave off pressure in the standings, will come in approximately 24 hours, on Wednesday night, when the team hosts winless, last-place Honduras in Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It should go without saying that a victory is the bare minimum in this game, and anything short of a convincing domination of the CONCACAF punching bags will be a bitter disappointment.
The wear and tear of two consecutive cold-weather games within a 72-hour space of time has taken a hit on the American roster, as anybody could have foreseen when the venues were announced. Most notably, the captain of the team, Tyler Adams, will miss the game after suffering a hamstring injury midway through the second half in the game against Canada.
Additionally, central defender Chris Richards, who has started three of the last four qualifying games for the United States, is also out with what is currently being reported as a calf injury.
This will likely mean that the central defense will feature a starting duo of Miles Robinson, who had a lackluster outing against Canada, and Walker Zimmerman, who is expected to return after missing the game in Hamilton.
Timothy Weah will return to the fold, and will likely start, after missing the trip to Canada due to a incompatibility of Canada’s vaccine requirements with what is suitable for his employers in France. Who he pairs with in the front line will depend on the roll of the dice Berhalter makes leading up to kickoff.
Despite the general feeling of doom and gloom surrounding the team following the last two games, they are still in a relatively good position to qualify for Qatar, thanks to CONCACAF rivals Mexico also having serious problems to earn results in their games
The Americans are still in second-place in the eight-team qualifying group, ahead of Mexico on goal difference, and one point ahead of fourth-place Panama. Mexico and Panama will square off in Azteca simultaneously to the game in Minnesota, so the race for the final two automatic qualifying spots behind Canada could be completely upended by the time the final whistle has blown on all of the games on Wednesday.
Honduras have been the punching bag of the qualifying group, having picked up only three draws and seven losses in their ten games, while allowing almost two goals per game, This included a 4-1 loss to the Americans back in September.
They are mathematically eliminated from any possibility to qualify for even the inter-continental playoff, however will look to play spoiler in their final four games, three of which are against the trio of teams – USA, Mexico and Panama – fighting it out for automatic qualification.
The game will kick off at 7:30pm Eastern time in St. Paul’s Allianz Field.