In such a hectic and fast-paced time, it is easy to become a prisoner of the moment.
When it comes to the United States Men’s National Team and their quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, that means, for those on the outside, considering a roller coaster of guesswork, worst-case scenarios. and gut reactions which may either lack the context of the big picture or be fully rooted in reality, at least not with the body of evidence needed to come to such conclusions. For those inside, that means sorting it all out as much as possible and keeping one eye on the bigger picture and the other on what’s right in front of you.
“What I try to avoid, especially with the team, is to put pressure on them because of outside forces. We have enough internal pressure to want to play a certain way. We want to play well and we want to win games, ”said US coach Gregg Berhalter after Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Costa Rica. “But all qualifying for the World Cup is tough. All qualifying for the World Cup is difficult. And sometimes I feel like people just forget that and people think it’s a piece of cake and we’re going to face the youngest team in American football history in a game, and we’re just going to go through these matches brilliantly. It is not realistic.
The United States certainly didn’t make it through that October window, but at first glance, a six-point run after home wins over Jamaica and Costa Rica and a lifeless road loss to Panama represent a another satisfactory effort in the big project.
Ironically enough, however, it was a series of individual moments that got the United States out of the October window in good shape. The victory over Costa Rica was defined by a number of moments that circled the United States (after the first minute calamity, that is). There was the 13-pass streak that led to Sergiño Dest’s goal (and yes, the streak almost fell apart after the first passes, and you could argue that Tim Weah should have hit a first cross towards Dest, but the game ended with Dest’s goal, so this is all moot).
There was the potential-PK-that-wasn’t on Chris Richards’ sliding challenge on Jonathan Moya (Berhalter can be thankful after all that Concacaf doesn’t have a VAR available in this competition). There was the terrible gift and heroic recovery tackle from Miles Robinson (he’s lucky Bryan Ruiz made the robbery and not someone with the pace of, say, Alphonse davies). There was the injury of Costa Rican star goalkeeper Keylor Navas which at least raises the idea that Weah’s shot that resulted in the goal against his side could have had a different fate. And there was Paul Arriola’s pre-game injury that resulted in Weah’s debut. It’s unclear what Arriola could or would have done there, but Weah ended up as one of the top performers in the United States that night. Often a complex picture boils down to fine margins, and on Wednesday the majority fell in favor of the Americans.
The United States is therefore advancing as part of a trio of teams which are beginning to separate from the peloton. Concacaf’s Octagonal is not yet halfway there, but the three 2026 World Cup hosts – Mexico, the United States and Canada – are best placed to secure the three automatic berths of the region for showcase 2022. For the United States, there is a five-point buffer between their current ranking and not traveling to Qatar, albeit with road matches in Canada, Mexico and Mexico. Costa Rica ahead, the hardest part has yet to hit.
As this is the first eight-team final round of Concacaf qualifying, there is no past data to draw on to determine what the target number of points the United States would need to achieve for s ‘secure a top-three spot, but over the course of six games the United States is likely and roughly halfway to glory just under half of the fixture list.
There is little time to rest on laurels, however. The next home game against Mexico is coming up, and the focus will be on Cincinnati, where the United States can either shoot points with El Tri atop the table or find themselves pulled closer to the middle of the pack. , allowing external doubts to go back before a trip to Jamaica.
Barring injuries, the United States will have a full deck for the game against Mexico. It was imperative that Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, the indispensable midfielders they are, avoid taking the second yellow cards in qualifying on Wednesday that would have left them suspended (Adams appeared to be set to receive one for dissent after Costa Rica’s first goal, with the referee going into his pocket before finally not distributing one). If Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna are fit to join the squad – and take a second to consider that the United States have got 11 points in six games getting just one game from Reyna, just over a year and a half of Pulisic and one and a half of massive center-back John Brooks – so Berhalter might actually have a full roster of top talent for his first time as an American coach. Since November is a more traditional two-game window rather than a three-game one, team rotation will also be less necessary.
All eyes will also be on the American goal. Zack Steffen got the start in Columbus, and the first-minute fiasco turned into a clinic of questioning. Does Berhalter need make a change in the back and open up to the potential for criticism when Matt Turner had been so stable? In the long run, this may prove that getting that game from Steffen has enormous value, and while it’s nice that on one side the United States feels like it has two goalkeepers to look to in the future. big places and also feeling at peace, it helps when there is consistency. In back. Steffen lost the No.1 job due to injury and COVID-19, so in a way it’s unfair to take it away from him permanently, but Turner had supplied well in the previous five games, making up some potentially pivotal moments. to be neglected. at the end of qualifying and, unlike Steffen, he regularly plays for his club. The scrutiny of the goal decision doesn’t seem to end anytime soon.
But it is an issue to be settled in a few weeks. For now, the United States has emerged from another weeklong ordeal in a position of strength. He’s sandwiched in the table between Mexico and Canada, who remain the only undefeated teams in the region. Elsewhere, Panama also remain able to smother the best enemies at home while struggling on the road. Costa Rica looks old and severely limited. Jamaica secured the victory they needed to stay alive and will be hoping that Michail Antonio and Leon Bailey will return next month to strengthen the squad before it’s too late. El Salvador is still a tough foe with little to show for its efforts in the points column. Honduras are in last place and on a new coach, their hopes of qualifying for a third World Cup in four rounds dwindling through play.
All things considered, the United States remains where it needs to be to achieve its ultimate goal, and after all the angst, worries, and assumptions of the past few days, this is a good place to reside.
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