USMNT Ties Canada, Stumbles to Top Second in Ranking

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NASHVILLE — If every World Cup qualifying campaign is a bumpy roller coaster ride, then the United States men’s soccer team hasn’t left the field just yet.

The Americans played two matches in four days to begin the final round of the 2022 World Cup regional qualifying tournament in Qatar, and despite hoping to win both games, they instead picked up two disappointing draws.

These are still early days. There are 12 matches. And two points is better than nothing.

However, given the disaster of the last one, there is an uneasy desire in the team and fan base for a guaranteed start to this elimination cycle. did not qualify For the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This group, which includes young talents employed by some of the best club teams in the world, had hoped to begin the recovery process.

Instead, there are more questions about the team’s competence, more worries about history repeating itself, more desperation to win the next game that comes to Honduras on Wednesday night.

“There are ups and downs and bumps on the road and we need to continue to respond when called upon,” said USA coach Gregg Berhalter. “We can do two things. We can feel bad for ourselves, or we can continue with a positive attitude and try to get a positive result in Honduras.”

The stage was set in many ways for a restorative performance at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Sunday night. The grass grew. The crowd in the house was polite. The nerves of the novice players were supposedly calmed.

In other words, none of the pretexts Berhalter had hurled over the weekend to help explain his team’s plight. Crushing 0-0 draw in El Salvador last Thursday – The ball-playing field, the hostile atmosphere, about the number of team members playing the first knockout games – could be applied as the Americans recorded another satisfying 1-1 draw in their second game against Canada.

The team’s inability to capture that moment caused them to search for answers.

The Americans looked clumsily passing the ball. When shortcuts were needed, they chose the natural route, clumsy around the dense defensive shell of the Canadians. There were a number of known problems: over-appropriation, under-production. The United States held the ball for 71 percent of the game, but Canada’s sit back and counterattack game plan worked just fine and the result looked fair.

“We needed much faster ball movement,” Berhalter said. “Everybody from the outside could see, we spent a lot of time on the ball.”

“We have to find ways to knock down a compact defense because I’m sure there will be other teams coming to the United States doing the same thing.”

Americans captain and top player Christian Pulisic, who returned to the roster after missing a game for El Salvador while recovering from a positive coronavirus test last month, was also critical—although it’s unclear whether he was targeting his coaching team, his teammates, himself, or a combination of the three.

“Sometimes I think we need new ideas,” he said. “Today I think we didn’t test enough if they were direct enough – I’m not sure. But we felt we couldn’t break them apart. We just need some new solutions. Obviously it wasn’t good enough.”

Pulisic also suggested that the team could manage itself differently after taking the lead early in the second half, making some adjustments, perhaps adopting a more defensive mindset.

“I think in these kinds of tough games, it’s important to just grind and win those games 1-0 from time to time,” he said.

Such pragmatism requires some understanding, and it’s unclear how much this team has. The roster is comprised of engaging youngsters, many of whom are technically skilled in a way to break long-held stereotypes about American football players playing for high-profile clubs in Europe. Trophies in two tournaments this summer – the Gold Cup and the Nations League – excited about what the group could do.

This month, however, the group’s youth and admitted naivete seemed like a liability.

“It’s a team sport,” midfielder Tyler Adams said when asked about the players’ strong ancestry. “It doesn’t matter where we come from. If we don’t go out and do the things we’re good at, we’re just a bunch of names on a piece of paper.”

It didn’t help matters that this team was exhausted by a combination of bad luck and thoughtlessness.

Before Sunday’s game, the team announced that one of their best attackers, Gio Reyna, will be out of the field indefinitely due to injury, and that Berhalter’s first-choice goalkeeper, Zach Steffen, will also leave the squad after testing for coronavirus.

The team also announced before the start on Sunday that star midfielder Weston McKennie would miss the game in Nashville after violating the team’s coronavirus policy.

“Sorry for what I did,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I’ll be cheering a lot for the kids tonight and I hope to be back with the team soon.”

For McKennie, who tested positive for the virus last October, carelessness (the team denied this in detail) pointed to an alarming pattern of behavior. In April, McKennie was suspended by club team Juventus after hosting a party at his home in Turin that violated a local curfew and had to be dispersed by police.

Berhalter declined to say late Sunday night whether McKennie would be available for Wednesday’s game in Honduras.

These bouts of misfortune and personal mistakes are hard to digest when every game carries so much weight. There’s so much time to get things right, so many setbacks a team can endure.

“We tell the men that every game is a final,” Berhalter said. “Fourteen finals, that’s how we have to approach it. So the urgency will always be there until we are mathematically safe in the standings.”

The Americans came up with a marketing slogan last month – “Forward only”. – this reflected his desire to leave behind his latest failures. But on Sunday, Pulisic couldn’t help being stuck in the past, stating that the team lost their first two games in the last half. These poor results precipitated the firing of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

By that standard, Americans are better off now. By any other measure, they lag behind expectations alarmingly.

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