Let’s start by not overreacting to a 1-1 draw against El Salvador. It was the same result that kicked off the United States’ Octagonal round of World Cup qualifying. That matchup from last September mattered way more to the US. And the Yanks didn’t score in that game.
Fast forward to Tuesday night’s final game of the USMNT’s late-spring camp and not much from those 90 minutes needs to be dwelled upon. El Salvador’s lone goal was a great shot that starting American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath should’ve made a better effort to save. He was as busy as an accountant after Tax Day outside of the goal.
It did provide minor bits of clarity for how to proceed later this year in Qatar. And that’s looking at the game from San Salvador from a half-glass full approach. In a scorched Earth method, the US would’ve been right to not even play Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Nations League game. Did you see that field that turned the American’s sparkling white jerseys to pigsties? It looked like Christian Pulisic and friends rolled around in manure.
What a physical and literal shit show it was. CONCACAF at its absolute grimiest and somehow most endearing? I’ll explain. For the Nations League, there’s no VAR, which undoubtedly hurt the United States with every controversial decision. The handball on an El Salvadorian defender which would’ve given the USA a penalty late? Not seen live and not reviewed. The soccer gods looked fondly upon the Americans, allowing Jordan Morris to score the equalizer just before stoppage time.
Morris’ goal came 10 versus 10, obviously one less than each team started the game with. Paul Arriola’s tackle that got him sent off eight minutes after he was subbed on was a clear yellow card. Somehow in CONCACAF referring, any mistimed slide tackle leads to a red card? We’ll get back to Arriola’s future involvement later.
El Salvador got its money’s worth with a red card when one of their defenders delivered a great football tackle to Yunus Musah to deny him a breakaway with the goalkeeper. Musah, at 19, may be one of the best American players already and needs to get credit for it. His performance in this four-game window solidified that he needs to start in Qatar. A Musah -Tyler Adams - Weston McKennie midfield is now the only option for the US, should that trio be healthy.
The best thing about playing El Salvador less than six months from the start of a World Cup, with two matches left and before the official roster gets announced, is how Central American venues produce the most random challenges for the USMNT to go through =. There’s no chance the World Cup will be played on fields considered anything less than pristine. The competition, unlike El Salvador, will be pristine too.
The US finishes this window getting a result from every game, including a win against World Cup-bound Morocco and a draw against international powerhouse Uruguay. It’ll be interesting to see who the Americans schedule for the final pre-World Cup window from Sept. 19-27, where two friendlies will be played. I’d look to Europe for one, if not both, of those opponents. The perfect opposition for me is Ukraine. That’s who Wales defeated via an own goal to become the USA’s first World Cup opponent. I’d schedule another opponent that’s tactically similar to England, like Scotland, Hungary, or Israel in the other matchup.
As for who made their case for Qatar and who’s case diminished, Tuesday’s shift may have given Arriola’s seat to Morris, a win for the USA. When healthy, he’s better in every way. As for the case colleague Sam Fels and I made for the USMNT selections from late March, replacing the injured Miles Robinson for Joe Scally won’t happen. He was too shaky against Uruguay. Maybe the biggest other stock-riser was goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who may take the spot belonging to Horvath or Zack Steffen.
The biggest question for US coach Gregg Berhalter remains at striker. Jesus Ferreira did bag four goals against Grenada. But it’s fuckin Grenada. I’m sure it’s a lovely country, but it’s No. 170 in the FIFA rankings. Not quite the standard that’ll appear at the World Cup. Berhalter had well over a year to figure it out and hasn’t. Or maybe, it’s Jordan Morris’ time to shine.