World Cup 2022: State of the USMNT heading into March window

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports activities Soccer Author

Throughout seven years working within the opinionated world of sports activities tv, former U.S. Males’s Nationwide Workforce midfielder Stuart Holden has earned a popularity for level-headed, voice-of-reason evaluation.

But when requested the place the present model of the USMNT stands with 11 of their 14 qualifying video games already performed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, he didn’t hesitate.

“My head and coronary heart are telling me that we’re going to qualify for the World Cup,” stated Holden, now a staple of FOX Sports activities’ soccer protection. “I really feel assured in saying that, even with every part that occurred the final time round.”

Everybody remembers what occurred final time round. Needing solely a tie to safe a spot at Russia 2018, an ageing USMNT dropped a 2-1 choice at already eradicated Trinidad and Tobago and missed the planet’s greatest occasion for the primary time in 32 years.

Now, as soon as once more, the U.S. are simply a few good outcomes away from a World Cup. A victory over Panama on March 27 (7 p.m. ET, FS1 and the FOX Sports activities app) in Orlando and a tie three days earlier in Mexico Metropolis would virtually definitely do it. Three factors from three matches might even be sufficient.

And whereas Gregg Berhalter’s squad — the youngest and most proficient in U.S. historical past — hasn’t been completely convincing since CONCACAF’s qualifying match started in September, dropping video games in Panama and Canada and settling for a tie towards the Octagonal-leading Canadians at residence, the second-place Individuals have remained on monitor for one of many area’s three automated berths.

Nonetheless, many followers need extra. “There’s numerous younger gamers doing effectively at large golf equipment, attractive golf equipment like Juventus, Barcelona, Dortmund,” stated Holden, who repped the U.S. on the 2010 World Cup. “Typically the overall notion is that immediately ought to make us this powerhouse that ought to by no means lose a recreation, and if we do, it’s due to the coach. 

“Actually, you solely have Weston McKennie who’s a key, every-game sort of participant for a significant membership,” he continued. “Sergiño Dest is out and in at Barca. Gio Reyna has been harm. Christian Pulisic isn’t beginning for Chelsea proper now. 

“So, while you get into these large video games, when you have numerous expertise, I don’t assume you may have many big-game gamers but. That’s the place you see a few of the inconsistency, particularly on the street. And that’s the half, for me, that has to actually enhance heading into Qatar.”

U.S. get essential win vs. Honduras

U.S. get crucial win vs. Honduras

The USMNT picked up a much-needed, bounce-back victory over Honduras on Feb. 2, with objectives by Weston McKennie, Walker Zimmerman and Christian Pulisic.

Only one participant on the latest USMNT roster (DeAndre Yedlin) has appeared in a World Cup. That is the primary qualifying expertise for the overwhelming majority. 

With grueling journey, monumental variations in climate and discipline situations, and comically uneven officiating, success in qualifying typically comes right down to composure and collective want as a lot as potential. And whereas there have been hiccups alongside the way in which, these Individuals have proven resilience. They responded to every of their two defeats with victories the following outing.

That’s up to now, although. All that issues now’s the decisive March window. It will likely be the hardest slate the Individuals have confronted, with a must-win residence recreation towards the fourth-place Canaleros sandwiched between daunting journeys to Mexico and Costa Rica. The U.S. have by no means gained a qualifier in both nation.

The U.S. have, nonetheless, tied their previous two matches south of the border. El Tri midfielder Hector Herrera admitted in January that the enduring Estadio Azteca isn’t the fortress it as soon as was. He’s proper: Within the earlier three World Cup cycles, the hosts have gained simply half of their qualifiers there.

“If I’m Gregg Berhalter, I’m sticking that up on the locker room wall as a problem to his gamers,” Holden stated. “This group responds effectively to these sort of challenges.”

Momentum additionally seems to favor the U.S., who beat their chief rivals thrice in 2021. All of which is to say that if any American group is able to getting a degree (or extra) south of the border, it’s this one, particularly towards this oddly toothless model of Mexico.

“I believe we’re going to be taught lots about this group in that recreation,” Holden stated of the U.S.

Walker Zimmerman on USMNT win over Honduras

Walker Zimmerman on USMNT win over Honduras

Walker Zimmerman speaks on the USMNT’s 3-0 win over Honduras in St. Paul, Minnesota. “This one was particular,” he says. “The followers have been unimaginable.”

For now, loads of questions stay unanswered. There’s apparent room for enchancment. Whereas some positions are comparatively settled — Antonee Robinson at left again, Walker Zimmerman in central protection, the MMA midfield of McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams — there’s nonetheless no clear starter in objective or at striker. And scoring alternatives have too typically been troublesome to come back by.

“At occasions, I believe the U.S. is manner too predictable and sluggish shifting the ball,” Holden stated. “They’ve dynamic wingers who can get behind defenses and actually take a look at them and create good probabilities, nevertheless it looks like Gregg desires these guys combining inside, with the fullbacks large. I don’t assume that interprets as effectively towards higher groups.”

Higher groups await in Qatar — so long as the U.S. deal with enterprise earlier than the Octagonal finale towards the Ticos, after all. The very last thing the USMNT need is to enter the ultimate match needing a end result. The strain on Berhalter and his younger gamers can be excruciating, and Costa Rica have a 10W-1L-4T document of their previous 15 residence video games. 

“I might see that sort of surroundings probably being an amazing one,” Holden stated. “One the place the U.S. might fall.”

That’s why the following two video games are important. However whereas many followers are nervous, Holden isn’t.

“I’m extremely bullish about the way in which the group is heading and the quantity of expertise,” he stated. “Berhalter has achieved an excellent job. He catches manner an excessive amount of stick, however he’s snug sufficient to take the warmth from the general public. I see guys who combat for his or her coach. They don’t quit. They battle again. They win large matches. They reply in moments of adversity.

“However finally, they’ll all be judged by qualifying the U.S. for the World Cup after which performing once they get there.”

One of the vital distinguished soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has lined United States males’s and girls’s nationwide groups in additional than a dozen international locations, together with a number of FIFA World Cups. Earlier than becoming a member of FOX Sports activities, the New York Metropolis native was a workers author for Yahoo Sports activities and ESPN. Comply with him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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