Nashville SC

Mini-preview: USMNT @ El Salvador (World Cup Qualifying)

Hello. The start of college football season means the day job leaves extremely limited time to talk soccer. Let’s get right to it.

The essentials

Opponent: El Salvador
Time, Location: Thursday, Sept. 2 9:05 p.m. CDT • San Salvador, El Salvador
Watch party: TailGate Music Row with AO Nashville
Weather: 74ºF, 51% chance of rain, 96% humidity (!), 11 MPH SW wind
Watch: CBS Sports Network/Paramount Plus (national) • Universo (nacional)

The FIFA rankings: USA 10, El Salvador 64
Competition: 2022 World Cup Qualifying matchdate one

The competition

It begins. After the USMNT failed to make the 2018 World Cup, stage one of the redemption tour officially gets going with the next opportunity to qualify for a World Cup.

Each team in Concacaf’s Octagonal round will have three matches in this international window, with a pair of round-robin quartets (Canada and Honduras are the others in the US group, while Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, and Panama play each other across the way).

It’s too early to work through the machinations of how the table could play out – literally every possible outcome of 56 different games is currently on the table – but it’s worth noting that, in order to qualify, the USMNT will need results in at least a few road games. Preferably, the USMNT should win a couple to provide leeway later in the qualifying cycle. El Salvador and Honduras are two of the less-heralded teams in the Octagonal, so tonight’s match is one of the best opportunities to do just that.

La Selecta

Unlike the for the friendly matchup last time these two teams saw each other (the US won 6-0 in Florida), El Salvador has called up a fair number of players not from the domestic league.

MLS is still the most-competitive league from which players were called in, so this isn’t a group of world-beaters, necessarily. Toronto FC’s Eriq Zavaleta, Houston Dynamo’s Darwin Cerén, and Seattle Sounders’ Alex Roldan are likely all in a best-available lineup (Cerén got hurt in league play over the weekend, so his status is questionable).

Given where players come from in the domestic league, this paragraph from the last preview is going to remain relevant:

There are essentially three powers in recent years: Águila, Alianza FC, and Santa Tecla. They’ve combined to win each season since 2015, aside from the 2016 Clausura, which C.D. Dragon won. Players from those teams are largely the best available domestically (with that group picking off lesser teams’ talent Bayern-style between most seasons).

Dec. 9

There are four, five, and two players from those teams, respectively, in the roster.

Leagues outside the Salvadoran and American (slash Canadian) ones represented include USL (four players), Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the Dutch second division. All this is to say that, whether or not the Yanks do, they should make easy work of this team, even given the dangers and difficulties of playing road matches in Concacaf.

The United States

Not a ton to say here that readers don’t already know (and as noted at the top, we’re in a time crunch here). Of note, Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen are both unavailable. Pulisic didn’t travel to El Salvador as he regains fitness after an isolation period following a covid diagnosis, while Steffen is suffering from back problems.

That means the US will not run out its best-possible lineup (though selfishly, it’s good for those excited about a top matchup in Nissan Stadium Sunday.

Prediction

I do think the US will have moments of getting punched in the mouth in this one. Despite that, the gulf in talent level is incredibly large, and should be enough to make up for the typical Concacaf road struggles. I hesitate to predict a win, but…

The United States wins 3-1.

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