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USMNT heads into tough Honduras test still confident despite recent struggles

Winning on the road in Concacaf World Cup qualifying is hard, that is a mantra U.S. men’s national team fans have been hearing, and experiencing long enough to know its truth. That is what makes the trip to Honduras for Wednesday must-win qualifier in San Pedro Sula all the more scary.

Since 1998, home teams are a whopping 100-35-53 in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, but if there is a silver lining in the fact a road team has only won 35 times out of 188 road trips it is the fact the USMNT has accounted for eight of those wins, including two in Honduras.

The Americans are 8-11-12 all-time on the road in Concacaf final-round qualifiers since 1998, a road record better than any team in the region besides Mexico.

As encouraging as that history may be, the USMNT’s two points from two draws still has a large segment of the team’s fan base anxious and fearful of another qualifying failure, something U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter understands.

Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos

“If I’m a fan, I’m not happy with two points after two games. I’m not, and I can understand the frustration,” Berhalter said. ” I think that’s completely normal. But you have to look at the big picture. This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. You don’t qualify in one window. There’s five separate windows that you get a chance to qualify for.

“I can see it being just memories of the past, memories of last qualifying round coming back, and people say ‘Oh, we’re in the same situation’. I can understand that completely, ” Berhalter said. “What I’d say is, this is a different group, and we’re focused on on winning games, are focused on getting points, and we haven’t lost a game in qualifying. Sometimes you have to remind people of that. We haven’t lost a game yet. We know these games are difficult. And we’re focused on getting another result on Wednesday.”

If there is a sense that the USMNT is vulnerable, it isn’t just because of the results, but also because of missing stars Gio Reyna and Weston McKennie, as well as an attack that has managed just one goal in two matches.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

“We have good Attacking players,” Christian Pulisic said when asked about the faltering U.S. attack. “It’s not something that we need to be concerned about or look into too much. Obviously, there’s slight things that we can do. We’ve watched video, certain adjustments that we’ll try to make just to make it flow a bit better, but in the end we know we know how to play. It’s our job to go out there and create chances and score goals.”

The Americans will be facing a Honduras squad that is in the same situation as the USMNT, sitting on two points from two matches, and after having rotated its squad heavily through the first two matches —making nine lineup changes from its first to its second September qualifier —Honduras will very likely be more rested than the Americans will be.

The pressure will be on Berhalter to find the right combination of players, and deploying a lineup that isn’t in danger of being overrun due to fatigue. Tyler Adams, Miles Robinson and Brenden Aaronson have all played major minutes in the September qualifiers, and Berhalter will have to decide which of those three he starts for a third straight time.

If Berhalter chooses poorly, and the Americans fail to secure the result they need to turn September into a successful month, he could find himself on the hot seat in much the same way Jurgen Klinsmann was almost five years ago when he began the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying with a pair of losses, results that wound up costing him his job.

“Pressure is part of this job. And I realized very quickly after getting the job, that’s what it is,” Berhalter said. “So I still have to be able to look at the big picture in the long term of qualifying. And I said before I want to try to remind people that we’re still tied for third. We have two points that along with four other teams. Qualifying is going to be a grind.”

So far, Berhalter’s squad has managed to avoid defeat, but is still searching for its first win, and while the distractions of injuries, and McKennie’s suspension, might seem like it could be enough to shake a young team and leave it vulnerable, Pulisic insists the USMNT is ready for the challenge of becoming the third American team to win a World Cup qualifier in Honduras.

“There’s no doubt within this team,” Pulisic said. “Where a confident bunch of guys. We know that we’re a good enough team to go in tomorrow to get three points. That’s it, that’s our, that’s our mindset.

“We’re going in to win the game, and we’re going to have to fight though. Nothing’s going to be easy, we know that. That’s how these games are. We have no excuses, and we’re going to go and try to win the game tomorrow.”

Comments

  1. I’m looking for the most Concacaffy result possible tonight US ties Honduras, El Salvador beats Canada. Leaving ES the leader of the mini-group on 5 pts over Hond. And US with 3 and Canada in last of unofficial group B.

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      • I know Canada dashing my hopes early. They should live up to their reputation as North Americas nicest country and gift ES 3 goals.

      • Canada had 2 home games and no travel south of the Mexican border. Their September schedule was kind compared to the US.brutal travel. They are arguably 3rd or 4th best in the region, and should get points in every game this month.

  2. 1) yes, national teams are always more disjointed than club teams because the players don’t play together each week. That is a given for almost every single national team. In of itself it’s not an excuse when playing against other national teams for a coach. A system the coach wants the team to play with should be conducive of this irrefutable fact.

    2) yes, this is especially true this time around since there’s not a round of friendlies preceding initial qualifiers as there were in prior years and this team is a mix of the Gold Cup and National league.

    3) yes, the coach completely miscalculated by not bringing in reinforcements AHEAD of the problem, as Weah, Pulisic, Dest, Reyna and McKennie have been sidelined and only Jackson F’ing Yuell is brought on. Hoppe, Cannon/Scally, Richards (played RB for Bayern), Green shoulda , woulda, coulda been here, on the continent, versus 8 hours away. That’s on the coach.

    4) yes, the players as a collection of brand name Euro jerseys and longtime MLS poster boys, are playing below their presumed potential. I’ve been more critical of the players for being softer and more lackadaisical than their predecessors, but at some point, the coach is ultimately responsible for getting the most out of the collection of talent at their disposal, versus having everyone fail the bat for the system the coach wants to play. I’ve been generally pro-GGG, given his possession based philosophy versus the prior era of boot the ball down the field and awful spacing in midfield, but when does the buck stop with him? A blowout loss in Honduras? Another tie at home after that? Time is short ….

    How good do “Bunker Bob” and “spin the roulette to see who plays and what position” Klinsmann look by comparison? Ouch….

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  3. Berhalter is out if he can’t get 4 points from the next two games (next vs Jamaica).

    If Klinsi was fired after losing against the best two teams (CR & Mexico) in CONCACAF, lets have the same expectation for this guy.

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  4. This US team has no play style of its own. It’s almost like Berhalter puts 11 players on the field and tells them to go ahead and do something without ever defining what that something is. There is no team cohesion, every player seemingly tries to just create something. I hated Klinsmann, but Berhalter might be even worse despite the team successes in tournaments this summer.

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  5. side point, but the coach seems confused about when we use the “left off the roster to bed in” card. that card has historically been used mostly for friendlies, and only occasionally for gold cup by veteran established players. the idea that right now we have a list of people who could help who either (a) were left off to “bed in” with teams who have schedule breaks when we play or (b) left off after playing well this summer so we could call up people with 1 cap or who haven’t played well in years…..idiotic. it’s not just the “short,” it’s some of the reasons we’re short. you don’t leave people off for quali who played well all summer because someone who refused a callup had 1-1/2 decent club weeks. you don’t lave people off for quali to go to club PRACTICES. i cannot believe we are helping dig a hole so people can get in a few practices with Antwerp or whatnot. silly almost beyond words.

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    • arrogant is probably the better word. i think we bought our own summer headlines and thought we could multitask quali. and now the man is reminding me how hard this is. ok, call EVERYONE then.

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      • I get the sense from GGG’s comments that he approached this window like an off year, without qualifiers. The Cannon and Moore omissions may be examples. While I don’t think GGG would call in 4 right backs, you would think a solid manager would ask depth players to stay in some semblance of game shape. Instead, seems like GGG told these guys, and Hoppe, to prepare to ignore this window, as if the teams would not release new signings with rust in their legs for WCQ play during a sanctioned international window. Same with Cowell, Dike, Mueller, Mihailovic, and others Ives mentioned in his podcast other than Jackson Yueill.

      • And if “finding depth” or “rounding out the squad” were a main purpose behind these summer tournaments… WHY NOT USE THE DEPTH?!? Ok rant over.

    • Quaker, the problem wasn’t rusty legs it was the transfer window. Players like Hoppe weren’t able to get deals done until deadline day, meaning they had to stay in Europe for medicals. That makes them unavailable for ES. They could have flown to Nashville and wait for return but we chose not to do that. Ironically it appears they would have ended up with Covid since Steffen and multiple staff did. Berhalter could have tried to force it by calling guys basically saying get it done before the weekend because their leaving the continent, but that risked angering players when deals didn’t get done.

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      • sorry, bull. (1) he left off some literal bed ins, i already transferred, they want me at practice, not i need a medical. (2) he left off some players as coaching decisions. (3) how many actual deadline day players were there? (4) deadline day was august 31, games didn’t start until september 2, and we have a new one every 3 days as well as a right to call for each such game. they are 6+ hours ahead, you hop an evening plane out and are here the morning of sept 1, and we could have flown people over to be “at” or “in” the first game and “in” the succeeding games. (5) he has barely responded as his short roster eroded. (6) you’re also blowing past my theory that based on summer-driven hubris, naive ideas of how many players this would require, or naivete on how this jumps up a notch, he miscalculated on the necessary numbers/ quality/ effort needed to churn results. he played short and won gold cup. how hard could it be. except the reality is that gold cup roster was filled with overlooked marginalized players just waiting for their chance and solid at their job. many stepped up when his original starters didn’t.

  6. Boy the drama from fans after just 2 games is astronimical, to the point its off putting. I agree that we need to play better but the players have to get it done, there have been wasted chances on both games, so while its easy to blame Greg for everything from us not playing well to controlling the weather, its the ones on the field that have to show and prove! Ya wanted to crown this collection of young players as the greatest ever, now they have to show us!

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    • “Yueill is there for depth, not to start, so lets be clear about that! ”

      That’s insane.

      Yueill has proven that he can’t play. You don’t bring in a player, even for depth , if he can’t play.

      Because if he HAS to go in then the situation is dire and now you are relying on a player who can’t play to save your bacon.

      If you are correct then they are just wasting his time and the team’s time. Leave him at home where he can’t hurt anyone.

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    • @Scott e Dio, Totally agreed. I’d bundle Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart as the culprit. Together they have formed a poor executive & management group for the USMNT. As long as these 2 are in charge, it doesn’t matter how talented our player pool is and how many of our players participate in the Champions League competitions each season. Simply look at the fact that after McKennie was sent home. Who replaced McKennie. I was completely lost for words when I saw the news on the replacement 2 days ago.

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      • So logically and logistically, do you think it would habe been prudent to bring in someone from Europe? Or are you referri g to another MLS player? Yueill is there for depth, not to start, so lets be clear about that! Williamson Im sure would have been the option but he unfortunately tore his ACL. You can make the case that GB should have brought in a bigger squad to begin with, but it made absolutely no sense to bring in any player from Europe this late in the window for one game

    • @Ronniet, Hold your horses and don’t jump the gun. Nobody suggested to bring in a replacement player last minute. Let me ask you. Is Jackson Yueill the best choice as a replacement player, in your opinion, in MLS? First of all, As backup to Adams who has already started & played 180 minutes during the last 2 games, I’d rather play James Sands as the “6” instead of Yueill. There are more competent players in the US than just Jackson Yueill and Johnathan Lewis who unfortunately Berhalter kept calling into camp. Secondly, Dest was out injured, and Yedlin have been repeatedly exposed and beaten (by Alex Roldan in the ES game and torched by Alonso Davies in the Canada game). We desperately needed a competent RB too, not just a backup 6.

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      • Just to pile on: the problem was in the initial short selection. There is no “last minute” need to call in rusty players from Europe if you included those players in the roster in the first place, or, if you insist on a short roster, spoke to the players and their clubs about a potential call-up before the window. Not too crazy to foresee injuries and fatigue issues in this short window, with 2 flights to and from Central America. It’s like GGG got used to coaching these off-season tournaments and forgot about… qualifying for the World Cup. Still time. But plenty to be worried about.

    • players gratuitously omitted to bed in with club + players omitted on coaching decisions + injuries + weston + poor defensive selection + konrad “reach” decision + too few mids and wings called + we look like we never played before + the default 433 system is trash = now

      we didn’t play the same style or formation this summer, he reverted

      we tried some different people and he has some injuries

      we have the talent but for various reasons it’s not out there, some in his control, some not though he could adjust better/at all between games, or within them

      the default systems does jack for us and we look like we never saw each other before, there are no tricks and flicks, very predictable but also oddly indirect, not enough of just go after them

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    • A little bit of both, Alexarmac. This team may just be too young at this stage, still too used to “growing” into the game/career/etc. I also don’t think they’ve been adequately prepared for the intensity of qualifiers. The team is a bit hamstrung by the ethereal GGG “system.” But some of them are just showing that a solid physical opponent is more than enough to derail our attack.

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    • Is this a multiple question quiz ? If so, I’m game! Without stepping on IVs toes, I can say, our best player is dropping past the midfield to get the ball. That movement prevents any link-up play with the attack. Lleget has 31 caps, 3 assists; Acosta 39 caps, 3 assists (last assist came in the GC Final, 2 caps ago). The starting midfield vs Canada. Those 2 can’t be on the pitch at the same time, if we want to score. For all Gio’s talent, he only has 1 assist in 9 caps, but he hasn’t played centrally much for the US. Ball isn’t going into scoring position or even to the attack. If CP is playing, ball has to go there 9 out of 10 times. That’s on the manager, to put players in position, within the formation to succeed, and to lay out ways to attack. Is there a plan of attack? No squad rotation unless injury, COVID, or suspension. I would really like a coach who’s more proactive. Turner is one bad pass, shank, or give away with the ball at his feet. This prevents him from being reliable for the CBs to pass it back to him. GB starts a right footed player at LB, when he has 2 left footed LBs. Starts a player, who only has 1 cap, on the road vs El Salvador. Konrad has been playing mainly as a RW, for YNTs and Barca B. Reminder, it’s been 4 matches as a starting LW, at Marseille. Konrad & Dest have great combo play on the right side, GB starts both, on the left?! Tournament play is different. This is WCQ!!! GBs in-game management sux! Starts Aaronson in the middle vs ES, watches BA get hacked to an offensive stand still. Playing CM in Austria, isn’t the same as CONCACAF. Makes subs, but Acosta ends up playing RB because the coach has the starting RB playing LB, and the backup RB starts and is now tired. Last time Acosta played RB, he helped give up the only goal in the GC. Team played better vs Canada, same result. ES didn’t bunker. Canada did. No tactical change, whatsoever. IMO, Dribble to pass to break down a pressing team. Balls over top, for headers on a bunkering team. So my answer to your question- E) All of the above! I blame the players 1st, because they’re the ones on the pitch. Then the coach. If we beat Los Catrachos on the road, it will be a relief!

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  7. On the back of my high-school soccer practice kit was this simple truism– “Winners find a way to win; losers make excuses.”

    That says it all, I think.

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    • in an any given sunday sense, perhaps, and i always tried to approach every game i played as winnable until i saw otherwise. but the system and selection i put you out there in can help or hinder my chances of getting the result. whether i call up any/sufficient replacements for injuries or we just play short. most of the time when i’ve upset someone or won a close one, it’s some combination of the right guy to finish a lucky chance, hard team defensive work, and a functioning system where the defense holds and the attacker can be in position to have that chance. i’ve been on teams that tried hard but lacked quality or creativity. i’ve been on coed teams that flat sucked and no amount of game day effort could help. to me you need the right mix of system and personnel for hard work to kick in.

      i say this because, what amount off effort fixes wingback, mid, wing forward? yeuill can’t play all those positions or well enough to matter. and i’m like if we show up in a 433 and take the ball to the flag, or pass it back too often, or pass it around the back some more, with our defense, we will be lucky if a thing changes. you want change, we need formation, tactics, and probably most pointedly, some fresh attacking bodies in offering something different. he bet wrong on konrad being ready and we need some help. and he’s refused. and so we’re backing more and more into a corner and then you’re like let’s go out and play hard and anything can happen.

      i hope we get a result. i always wish us well. i just think this is not setting us up well for success, at all.

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  8. Wellll… it’s not the 2 pts. It’s early- if they can get things rolling- there is plenty of time to make that up.

    The cause for concern is- that in spite of a deep talented team-over years- mostly played at home- there have been so few games or even portions of games- no sustained runs of competence where this team has looked bright, cohesive, organized- running on all cylinders. Other than v. the Martiniques of the world, the best has been gutting out goals/games by way of sheer will power or through isolated moments of individual brilliance. I get the feeling the locker room has been good- the players get along- like each other- but on the field they are not playing like a team In the ultimate team sport- this far into the cycle- that is a big problem. Reason for major concern and over a long period of time- things have not gotten better and there have been no signs of adjustments being made. That is a reasonable cause for concern. I like the man- am rooting for GB and the team to get it together. We all should because this is what we have to work with- he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Frankly- I wish he’d east some humble pie- bring in a few good tactical minds to help construct a national team tournament roster, sit on the bench and at the chalkboard with him.

    OK boys… lets rally and grab 3 its today!!!!!

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    • This manager was not hired to win the Nations League.

      He was not hired to win the Gold Cup.

      He was hired and has had 37 games and nearly three years to build a team to win qualification for the World Cup in the Octagon.

      37 games is roughly equivalent to one season for a club team. You can’t say the manager has not had enough time or games.

      If this is what “prepared” looks like I would hate to see what “ disorganized and not ready” looks like.

      Honduras is game 3.

      If they lose they will have 2 points from 3 games. There will then be 11 games ( 33 points) left.

      The word on the street is that 25 points should get you qualified.

      So lots of games left, right? No need to worry. No big deal just go home and re- group and get them the next time.

      What’s fascinating is this lack of urgency has characterized all 37 games of this regime. Most of those games were friendlies at home and most of them were weak opponents.

      They have had exactly 3 games that were competitive and against worthy opponents. Or rather opponent.
      Mexico.
      Gold Cup 2019, Nations League 2021, Gold Cup 2021.

      The USMNT have bragging rights at 2-1. And did the USMNT win those last two finals with the patented “SYSTEM”?
      No, they did it by reverting to set pieces, gritty play, turning back the clock to 2009. So we have yet to see the famous “SYSTEM” we were all promised.

      Does that matter now? Mexico looks to be cruising. The USMNT look to be on fumes. Can they turn back the clock to 2009 again?

      I don’t know because the other CONCACAF teams, including El Tri, are now all playing and looking a lot better than they did over the summer.

      Here are the 11 games after Honduras:

      Jamaica (H), Panama (A), Costa Rica (H)
      Mexico (H), Jamaica (A), El Sal (H)
      Canada (A)
      Honduras (H)
      Mexico (A), Panama (H), Costa Rica (A).

      Jamaica look to be in disarray. But what happens if their EPL players finally get released?
      Otherwise, based on the Octagon games, everyone else looks a lot more ready to play than the USMNT does. There are no easy outs there. And Mexico at home is not really a home game. It never is.

      Anyone who thinks the USMNT have lots of time to fix things is just fooling themselves. A loss to Honduras makes things pretty tight. Mostly because this manager has given no one any reason to think he can make things right.
      When Pulisic says “we need new ideas” (and he’s right) that’s as close to calling out the manager as this media reluctant player gets. Not good.

      The USMNT needs to have a much greater sense of urgency than they have shown so far. They need to take advantage of the comparatively easier early schedule because it gets worse later.

      The USMNT has always had a target on it’s back in CONCACAF. But it’s worse now because they look more vulnerable than they ever have. Blood in the water. That started with Couva. The El Salvador and Canada games have not helped. If you start letting them think they can be beat you, it makes it more likely that they will.

      The last 5 games (15 points) feature Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica, all away.
      You want to grab as many points as you can before those games.

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      • Mexico has played pretty bad they’ve just gutted out two matches like the US did this Summer. They needed a late goal to beat a half strength Jamaica and a needless penalty to beat CR. Much like the GC they can’t seem to make good on their chances, but they are missing a lot of first teammers. Kind of like our GCers. Honestly after his Summer Tata is a late goal and a penalty away from being unemployed. That’s how slim the margins are. Herdman starts qualifying with 2 pts in 2 matches and he’s being hailed a genius but he needed a hit and hope that Yedlin took a terrible angle on to get a draw. Berhalter made several roster mistakes and management mistakes however if Pulisic finishes his chance and Miles doesn’t miss an unmarked header from 5 yards out we’re “rolling” too. Bottom line with exception of Jamaica who got jobbed by the EFL not allowing their players to leave, every team has been on the edge of success and failure.

  9. Time to put their money where there mouthes are.
    I hear a lot of talk but that’s cheap. Time to show it on the field.

    If we don’t get the 3 points, time for a coaching change. 5 points out of these 3 games would be a bare acceptable minimum. Anything less is truly a failure and we’ll need to get a new wind in our sails before it’s too late.

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