USMNT: Finally Turned the Corner or Yet Another False Dawn?

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After the jubilation of winning the Gold Cup against arch-rivals Mexico with what was essentially a second-string side, The USMNT was supposed to take that momentum into the first international break of the European season, and with a full-strength side take the full 9 points on offer. Put simply – that did not happen.

This recent round of World Cup qualifiers was a disaster for the USMNT. Out of the 270 and change minutes they played, only 45 of them met the minimum standard required.

Now head coach Gregg Berhalter needs to make sure the team changes course, or they will suffer the ignominy of missing out on back-to-back World Cups.

The mood was optimistic in the beginning though.

When the squad was announced for their opening match of this WC qualification period, the stars were back. Only Matt Turner and Miles Robinson remained from the Gold Cup side as the majority of the first team were selected.

Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Sergio Dest etc.

What followed was an embarrassment. In front of a packed Custcatlan stadium, they wilted.

Huffing and puffing, but in the end, only managing two shots on target for the entire 90 as they walked away from El Salvador with a 0-0 draw.

Never fear. No time to panic. That was merely a blip on the radar, right?

Next up were the less storied rivals from the north, Canada. Not only that, it was a USMNT home game.

And the cherry on top of the optimism cake?

The return of none other than Captain America.

Christian Pulisic was back, having beaten COVID-19.

There were marginal improvements this time around. The Americans dominated possession with a 78% share of the ball come full time.

And when Fulham defender Antonee Robinson set up Brenden Aaronson to open the scoring – it looked like the Nashville crowd would go home happy.

That wasn’t to be. Less than ten minutes later, Canadian superstar Alphonse Davies set up Cyle Larin to equalize; and the score remained 1-1 at the final whistle.

Suddenly the USMNT sat 5th on the CONCACAF World Cup qualification table. 

Suddenly Weston Mckennie’s disciplinary suspension suggested there might be a culture problem amongst the elite in the USMNT.

Suddenly the USMNT were looking down the barrel of potentially missing consecutive World Cups if they couldn’t beat Honduras in the very next matchday.

The USMNT was down 1-0 at halftime and had failed to trouble the Honduran goal. They needed a miracle. 

Berhalter made what seemed to be a desperate move when he made three subs at halftime. They proved to be anything but that. Three minutes into the second half and one of those subs had equalized.  Then all momentum seemed lost when Christian Pulisic went off injured again around the hour mark.

 

Enter 18-year-old FC Dallas starlet Ricardo Pepi, who buried the winning strike just ten minutes after the latest Pulisic injury catastrophe. Then he went ahead and set up another two for teammates in an incredible twenty-minute stanza.

The USMNT cruised to a comfortable 4-1 victory; saving the US chances of qualifying for the World Cup.

So the question remains. Have they turned a corner? Or is it just a false dawn? 

As Kate Abdo said, the international window closed out “with a sense of hope”. And I am inclined to concur. There is an old adage in football that the big players show up for the big games. 

And the USMNT has some big ones coming up this qualification period.

And if just a couple of those big players put in big performances and young guns like Brenden Aaronson and Ricardo Pepi can continue to have impactful cameos – I feel like Team USA might have corrected their course just in time.

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