Confident US sees home victories, equalizing roads as World Cup road
Kingston As long as the United States has won their last three home games, the Americans are more likely to return to the World Cup.
These young Americans stumbled on the road again in the playoffs, squandering an early lead in a choppy 1-1 draw with Jamaica on Tuesday night. After a disjointed physical game in the office, as Independence Stadium is known, it slipped to second in North and Central America and the Caribbean with 15 points, one point behind Canada and two points behind Mexico and Panama.
The matches remain at home against El Salvador (January 27), Honduras (February 2) and Panama (March 27), and the road matches will be held in Canada (January 30), Mexico (March 24) and Costa Rica (March 30). The United States has a superior goal difference (+7) over Mexico (+4) and Panama (+2), on track to claim one of the three berths in the region.
“Obviously we’ve grown with experiences, playing together and then we get the time, we get the matches,” said goalkeeper Zach Stephen. “It showed our depth and we have to keep striving for greater goals.”
Christian Pulisic has not started a game since injuring his left ankle on September 8. Gio Reina has not played since injuring his right hamstring in the opener on September 2, Serginho Dest missed the two November qualifiers due to a poor back and Weston McKinney was also. He fell into two qualifying matches to break COVID-19 team rules and missed the game in Jamaica due to a yellow card accumulation.
However, the United States only tracks the Canadian team that has made four separate trips to Central America out of their last six games.
“I think we’re on the right track. Basically we have to get the players experience quickly,” said USA coach Greg Berhalter. “He really learns as you go.”
The United States collected 10 of 12 points at home, after a 1-1 draw with Canada and victories over Jamaica, Costa Rica and Mexico. The Americans had five of 12 potential road points, tied with El Salvador and Jamaica, beat Honduras and lost to Panama.
An additional nine points might be enough to return to the World Cup for the first time since 2014 and 10 would likely guarantee a place.
“The first window was a huge learning experience for us in terms of how to mentally prepare for these three games and get past the travel and all – everything, we needed that window,” Berhalter said. “And we got five points, we didn’t lose, but we went down to less than two points per game. Then in the next two windows, we kept an average of two points per game (1.875), which is pretty good. When you think about the guys in this group, the inexperience of this group in CONCACAF Qualifiers, we’re on the right track.”
And 26 of the 34 Americans who participated in the eight games participated in the playoffs.
Ricardo Pepe scored three goals, Brendan Aronson two and Dest, Pulisic, McKinney, Anthony Robinson, Tim Weh and Sebastian Leggett a goal each. Lletget (29) is the top scorer, while Robinson is 24, Pulisic and McKennie 23, Aaronson, Dest and Weah 21, Pepi 18.
Tyler Adams, who has appeared as the lead, is only 22 years old.
“When we look at the table, obviously we’re still in a good position,” Adams said. “We have a lot of matches coming up. So in this next window it will be very important that we continue to win our home matches, and get points on the road when we can.”
In the 2018 cycle, the United States had losses on its soil to Mexico and Costa Rica, and was not adequately compensated by the land draws in Panama, Mexico and Honduras.
Weah’s 11th-minute goal had the Americans on track for a victory on the road on Tuesday night before Michael Antonio’s stunning shot from 34 yards in the 22nd minute leveled the score for the Reggie Boys.
“We’ve improved a lot, and I think one of the things we’ve really shown is the depth of our team,” Adams said. “Everyone now has the experience of playing in away matches, playing at home, what the difference is and what it takes you need. So yeah, I think in the second half of the qualifiers now, we know exactly what we need to do.”
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