Americans look to win opening match on Thursday in San Salvador

By Official Florida FC

The U.S. men’s soccer team has had more than 1,400 days to prepare Thursday night in San Salvador.

The Americans kick off their World Cup Qualifying campaign on Thursday night with a young roster that has been forged in the fire that was the humiliation of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Official Florida FC projects the U.S. men’s soccer team’s starting XI ahead of its World Cup Qualifier against El Salvador in San Salvador on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

The final round of CONCACAF qualifying this cycle features eight teams, instead of six — as has been the case for each of the last six World Cups. That means the USMNT will have to play an additional two matches in order to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

The USMNT will have 14 games over the next six months to show whether all the talk of this being a new dawn for the program were false promises or faux humility. Up first: El Salvador.

La Selecta earned its way into the Octagonal by winning five of its six matches in an earlier round of qualifying and played expansive, yet defensively solid, soccer since hiring former USMNT midfieder Hugo Perez in April.

El Salvador may not have an armada of household names, its most notable player is former Orlando City and current Houston Dynamo attacker Darwin Ceren, but they have played together. That is something the USMNT, for all its talent, will need to quickly establish.

As many as five American starters have never appeared in a World Cup Qualifying match and National team manager Gregg Berhalter has yet to coach a competitive match on foreign soil. The likely midfield trio has never started an international match together.

Nevertheless, a team that has players at Chelsea, Juventus (Weston McKennie), Borussia Dortmund (Gio Reyna), Barcelona (Sergino Dest) and in clubs across Europe and the upper tiers of Major League Soccer has no excuses for not qualifying for the next World Cup.

Christian Pulisic. (Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer)

Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic tested positive for Covid-19 late last month, but he was reportedly a full participant in training on Tuesday. No one on the current USMNT roster has scored more World Cup Qualifying goals than the 22-year-old Champions League winner.

Who will put the ball in the back of the net is going to be a question for the USMNT. Lille winger/forward Tim Weah was hurt in training over the weekend and will miss Thursday’s qualifier against El Salvador as well as the Sept. 5 qualifer against Canada and the Sept. 8 trip to Honduras. Gyassi Zardes, who Berhalter has relied on for club and country, picked up an injury last month. The six other forwards on USMNT roster have won 38 caps.

Josh Sargent leads the way with five goals in 16 matches; however all his goals have come in friendlies or against Cuba.

The only person with Florida connections on the roster is Olympique Marseille winger Konrad de la Fuente. The 20-year-old, Miami native has started all four Ligue 1 matches this season and recorded a pair of assists. He has only made one cap for the full USMNT, but with Pulisic unlikely to play a full 90 in all three qualifiers and Weah out, he may be able to earn additional caps in the next week.

The USMNT has lost its opening World Cup qualifier in each of the last two cycles. The program cannot afford a similar setback on Thursday night.

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