The more important U.S. Men’s National Team games will be played later in the year, but that does not mean this week’s friendlies hold little to no importance.
The USMNT will play the opening exhibition match in this March training camp on Thursday against Concacaf foe Jamaica, and the meeting in Austria carries a good bit of weight for the Americans for a number of reasons. First, it will mark star winger Christian Pulisic’s return to the team after a 15-month absence. Second, it represents a chance to both look at a few newcomers and give minutes to some of the lesser-experienced players.
Last but not least, the Reggae Boyz test is one of the final opportunities head coach Gregg Berhalter has to fine-tune things ahead of the more meaningful games that are come.
“What we are looking for is to push the tempo and that is what is really important for us,” said Berhalter. “How can we get out and make a fast-tempo game and put them on their heels? That is what I am going to be looking for.
“We know a lot of their players are used to a high tempo in the (English) Championship so it is a great challenge for us and I am really excited to see how it turns out.”
There is probably just as much if not more excitement with regards to strikers Daryl Dike and Jordan Siebatcheu. Both players have been finding the back of the net with regularity at their respective teams in recent times, and they could each earn some minutes against Jamaica.
Dike has been in good form as of late in England’s second division, scoring five times for Burnley in his last eight matches. The 20-year-old forward is still new to the international level given that he just made his USMNT debut in January, but there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.
“You see some really good actions back to goal, in and around the penalty box, really good strength holding players off,” said Berhalter. “He still needs to continue to work on his movement in the penalty box, movement behind the back line. I think sometimes when we are asking him to come down and link up play it is a little bit different than our other guys.
“But in the end we think about forwards and we judge forwards for how they are putting the ball in the back of the net. … It is going to be important when he is on the field to take advantage of his opportunities by scoring.”
Celebrating the #USMNT call up with a goal on loan for Barnsley 😈
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 17, 2021
The 24-year-old Siebatcheu, meanwhile, has cooled off a bit from the scoring tear he put together earlier this season. Still, the dual national who previously represented France at a youth national team level has compiled 13 goals across all competitions for Swiss league leaders Young Boys.
“It has been great to follow him,” said Berhalter. “I do not know him that well obviously. I do not have a long-term relationship with him, but you still want the best for each player and to see him struggle a little bit in France and then go to Switzerland and now the goal rate that he is scoring, it is really great to see.
“I am hopeful that he will get on the field this week and be able to show what he can do because I think he is a good talent and he has found a good level now where he can score goals.”
Of course, Thursday’s showdown at Stadion Wiener Neustadt is more about the collective than any individuals. The Americans are set to play in World Cup Qualifiers, the Concacaf Gold Cup, and Concacaf Nations League later in 2021, and this game presents another good chance to work on things prior to then.
“We are just trying to play together more, play different styles, just try things, keep trying things,” said midfielder Yunus Musah. “We are going to make mistakes and we are going to make so many, but that is obviously how we are going to get better.”
Concacaf opposition has not proven too difficult for the USMNT as of late, so it could be argued Jamaica will not provide the biggest challenge. That said, the Americans’ recent wins over Trinidad & Tobago and El Salvador by a combined score of 13-0 came under different circumstances and in non-FIFA dates that did not permit teams to have their top players.
This time, Jamaica will have many of their best options and that should make for a good barometer ahead of everything that is to come.
“A familiar opponent in Jamaica but different personnel,” said Berhalter. “They have reloaded with a number of players from England. We really like their squad. We think they have some good quality.”