While only a draw against El Salvador is needed on Monday night for the USMNT to reach the final round of the CONCACAF Nations League, the team will be looking for a statement victory in their last competitive match before the summer’s tournaments.
Friday night’s resounding 7-1 victory over Grenada was a result most sane people would have expected, even if the magnitude of the win was somewhat inflated over expectations. Perhaps more surprising was that the result was attained with several of the presumed starters of the team such as Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream, missing from the XI either due to the coach’s choice or pre-camp injury.
Interim head coach Anthony Hudson’s pragmatic choice to put out a mixed lineup will allow him to throw the kitchen sink at their Salvadorian guests on Monday, and a largely full-strength selection in front of the home crowd in Orlando should be the expectation.
Even if the deployment of Dest, Musah, Robinson and Ream from the opening whistle should be expected, some questions still remain.
Assuming that the veteran Ream is called upon to continue his resurgence that began in November, whether he is paired with one of Friday’s starters of Auston Trusty or Mark McKenzie, or if Miles Robinson is called upon for his first USA start since his Achilles rupture last May remains to be seen.
Similarly, the exact makeup and deployment of the midfield, which is missing injured captain Adams in the central defensive role is a question. Hudson opted for a more offensive arrangement in St. George’s, placing Weston McKennie and Luca de la Torre behind Christian Pulisic in the central attacking role.
One possibility could be the return of Pulisic to the front-three, while inserting Musah alongside McKennie and de la Torre in the middle. However, considering how well Pulisic excelled in the central attacking role, there will certainly be the temptation to keep the same tactical approach, and simply slot Musah into de la Torre’s spot alongside the Texan McKennie.
The attacking front will also surely see some change, either through the movement of Pulisic to one of the wings, or by the insertion of the in-form Daryl Dike and recent dual-nat convert Alejandro Zendejas into the lineup.
That said, removing Ricardo Pepi, who scored the team’s opening and fifth goals on Friday, will be a hard decision to justify, although one that is somewhat of a rare luxury for an American national team coach.
Alternatively, a more succinct statement of the last few sentences of overly verbose word soup would simply be to say:
Hudson has enough quality options from top to bottom, that any of the 24 options at his disposal would almost certainly be enough to get the job done and reach the final phase in Las Vegas in June.
The opposition El Salvador, while having held the US to a 1-1 draw in Estadio Cuscatlán last June, has only beaten their counterparts one time in 27 tries, and never in official competition. They need to break that long streak to finish atop Group D, a tall task considering they only managed a draw on their trip to Grenada’s capital last year.
To their credit, their list of available players does have what the the current American roster is almost completely missing: multiple representatives of MLS. Namely, Seattle’s Alex Roldán and LA Galaxy’s Eriq Zavaleta will likely start in the defense for the team while Toronto’s Tomás Romero could start after manning the back in Thursday’s 1-0 home loss to Honduras.
Even if their pedigree on the field is limited, their head coach is American legend Hugo Pérez, who played for the Stars and Stripes on 73 occasions, including in the 1994 World Cup, and has been climbing through the coaching ranks in the El Salvador federation since joining as an assistant coach in 2015.
The game kicks off at 7:30pm Eastern time on Monday night in Orlando’s Exploria Stadium, where the USMNT has won all five of its games since first playing there in 2017. Most recently, they beat Panama exactly one year prior to Monday’s game on the road to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.