What the USA must do to qualify for 2022 World Cup

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Despite breezing past Honduras 4-1 away from home last time out, the United States’ performance during September’s international break yielded mixed feelings.

With headline performer Christian Pulisic and Columbus Crew marksman Gyasi Zardes, the USMNT were held to an underwhelming goalless draw away to El Salvador in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifying fixture.

Although Pulisic returned to the fold in time to face Canada, Gregg Berhalter’s men endured another disappointment as Cyle Larin cancelled out Brenden Aaronson’s second-half opener.

A 1-1 draw with the neighbors at Nissan Stadium served as a wake-up call for the USA, who come from a 1-0 half-time deficit to thump Honduras to cap off September’s international window with a bang.

The noteworthy takeaway from the United States’ recent matches is a lack of creative capacity in the attacking third.

Berhalter’s team drew a blank against FIFA’s #64-ranked El Salvador in their World Cup qualifying curtain-raiser, having produced just two shots on target against a side that had shipped 2.00 goals on average across their four previous internationals.

Despite welcoming Pulisic back for a high-stakes encounter against Canada, the Yanks found the net from one of only two attempts on target, highlighting growing goalscoring issues.

Berhalter boasts some of the finest attacking talents in North America, including RB Salzburg’s Aaronson and Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna.

So there is a genuine feeling that this USMNT side could and should score more, especially against lowly opposition such as El Salvador if they are to return to the World Cup finals and live up to the fans’ expectations as Football Today and other soccer publications suggest that they should.

The United States failed to qualify for Russia 2018, courtesy of several unexpected results against lower-ranked opponents.

It’s hard to forget the USA’s dismal 2-1 loss away to sub-par Trinidad & Tobago in the final match of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which ultimately cost them a place in Russia.

Back-to-back wins over Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup grand finals suggest the Stars and Stripes can cope with high-profile rivals.

However, the final standings also reflect results against lower opposition, and the USA have no margin for error against the likes of Jamaica and Panama.

These two nations are the United States’ next adversaries, with the Jamaicans set to arrive in Austin on October 8 winless after three qualifying games (D1, L2).

A home showdown against out-of-sorts Jamaica is a must-win clash in the strictest sense as the USMNT sit two points adrift of pacesetters Mexico ahead of October’s international window.

Though a trip to Panama could pose a threat to the USA’s hopes of improving their paltry goalscoring return, it may well prove decisive to their efforts to secure automatic qualification.

Since both nations experienced identical fortunes in September, a match in Panama could be a tie-breaker, and the visitors can fall back on a positive away World Cup qualifying H2H record.

The North American juggernauts have won two of their four visits to Panama, drawing the other two despite scoring first on each occasion.

Given Los Canaleros’ lackluster attacking displays in September – barring a 3-0 away thrashing of Jamaica – Berhalter’s rock-solid backline should play a pivotal role in helping the USA eke out all three points here.

The United States have been utterly outstanding at the back lately, keeping seven clean sheets in their last ten internationals while conceding precisely once in the remaining three.

A water-tight backline gives Berhalter plenty of reason to believe in his side’s chances of fulfilling the role of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying favorites.

Story by Marko Vrakela

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