The United States begins its defense of the CONCACAF Nations League crown when it hosts Grenada on Friday night in Austin, in the first of their four group-stage games.
After a resounding win against Morocco and tough scoreless draw four days later against South Americans Uruguay, Gregg Berhalter’s squad will be taking a step down in terms of the quality of opposition when they suit up against the world’s current 170th-ranked team.
While anything short of a convincing win in Austin’s Q2 stadium would be a shocking result, there are still some uncertainties about how Berhalter will use game in terms of fine-tuning his squad in the build-up to November’s big dance in Qatar.
Despite having a wealth of talent available, the games against Morocco and Uruguay showed that the troublesome questions heading into the window are still just as pertinent at its midway point.
Namely, there is still no firm claim on the #9 position, and the best partner to start in the center of defense alongside Walker Zimmerman is still up for grabs.
Even though late-comer Haji Wright did score on his debut against Morocco, which should by no means by downplayed, it did come from the spot as a “welcome to the team” gift from his close friend Christian Pulisic, rather than from the run of play.
Both Wright and budding FC Dallas start Jesús Ferreira saw a half of action in that game, and were competent in their time on the field, however neither put a stamp on the position.
This was followed by a forgettable game against the South Americans, in terms of the entire attack for the United States, which did little to stop the rumbling in the collective stomach of the American fandom that has been been churning since Brian McBride’s retirement.
Likewise, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown entered the window as the currently likely candidates to fill in for injured Miles Robinson as the second center back alongside Zimmerman. Based on the players’ performances after two games, the question of which of these three, if any, is most suited to assume the role is still entirely open, and the best option could be to wait for Chris Richards to return to health, or John Brooks to find his way out of the wilderness.
In his pre-game comments, Berhalter gave no indication of what lineup to expect on Friday night, opting to keep his cards close prior to what is, technically, an official competition with implications beyond the 90 minutes on the field.
Whether the coach will use the game to help his preferred starters sharpen their claws, or explore possible backup options will remain to be seen until Friday night.
Grenada was promoted to the “League A” of the competition by way of finishing first place in their group one level down, with all of the games having been played in 2019. They have done well to recruit several English dual-nationals competing in mostly lower tiers on the island.
Their main weapons on attack are 26 year-old forward Jamal Charles (who, to be clear, is not the former University of Texas and Kansas City Chiefs running back trying out a new career in his former Austin stomping grounds), and Saydrel Lewis, both of whom play professionally in Hondruas and have combined for 21 international goals in just over 50 games.
The game kicks off at 10pm Eastern Time, in Austin’s Q2 Stadium.