New-Look US Opens World Cup Qualifying, Four Years After Flop | Sports activities Information

By RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) – They landed on a charter flight, just three veterans of the devastating defeat four years earlier along with 20 fresh faces and a new coaching staff.

Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen stay behind.

After the reconstruction, the USA will open the 2022 World Cup qualifiers on Thursday evening at the Estadio Cuscatlán in El Salvador, where two of their top starters are missing, one due to COVID-19 and the other back cramps. It will be the start of an unprecedented schedule of three games in the first week and 14 games in 210 days, which for some will include five transatlantic breaks in their European club season.

This future could not have been imagined when, after the disgraceful night in Trinidad, which ended a series of seven World Cup appearances in a row, dejected US players stomped off the field.

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“I remember where I was when the US failed to qualify in 2017,” said Matt Turner, who will start in gate. “And to think of this moment from my couch and be here now to have the opportunity to have a say in the straightening of the ship is truly an honor.”

Turner, who was watching from Walpole, Massachusetts, that evening, knows that World Cup qualifiers in Central America and the Caribbean are very different from what players in Europe and Major League Soccer experience.

“Maybe bad seats,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, “hot weather, maybe bad referees. It’s just things we’d learn along the way, and I think they’re things we’ll adapt to as a group. “

The US ranks 10th, its highest spot since 2006 after winning the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup, and El Salvador ranks 64th. Los Cuscatlecos have only reached two world championships in 1970 and 1982, and the USA have 18 wins, five draws and one loss in the matchup, which includes a run of 17 games without a loss (15 wins). The US won the most recent meeting at an exhibition in December 6-0.

Three of the eight nations in the regional finals qualify and fourth place advances to a playoff. But easy games for the USA are rare in Central America.

“The only thing I’ve learned from the youth national teams in Central America is that you can’t be naive in these games,” said midfielder Tyler Adams, who played in the 2015 CONCACAF U17 tournament in Honduras and the U20 Competition 2017 in Costa Rica. “If you naively go into these games and think that it will be an easy game or that there is an opportunity to score a lot of goals, I think you can make a lot of mental mistakes here. And in order for us to go into this game, we have to be prepared for a challenge, a fight that might not turn out to be a nice football. “

Pulisic returned to training on Monday but has not played a game since Aug. 14 and missed Chelsea’s last two games after a positive COVID-19 test – he was vaccinated and said he had shown no symptoms. He was left behind in Nashville with Steffen, who woke up Wednesday with back cramps.

US coach Gregg Berhalter, a veteran of 14 qualifiers as a player from 2001 to 2005, said Pulisic was unsure for Sunday’s qualifier against Canada in Tennessee.

Berhalter preferred Turner to Ethan Horvath. Turner made his national team debut in January and, like the Gold Cup this summer, allowed one goal in six games. Horvath stepped in when Steffen injured his knee in the Nations League final against Mexico.

“We all know this is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Turner. “We’re going to play in a stadium in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment. But as the coach said, we just have to be loyal to our anchors, be loyal to our team, and things will happen for us. “

Berhalter expects many players to rotate across the three games.

“On an individual level, I think there are guys who can play three games and 90 minutes, but it won’t be many, especially given the way we play and our pressure work,” said Berhalter.

DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta are the only players to appear in the 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago in Couva. Another, Tim Ream, was an unused replacement.

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El Salvador is led by coach Hugo Pérez, who played 73 games for the USA from 1984 to 94 and scored a goal in a 1-0 qualifying win over El Salvador in 1989. He recruited nephew Joshua Pérez, a teammate of Pulisic and Adams in the Under 2015-17 world champions, who scored three goals in the first two qualifying rounds.

Also in El Salvador is Álex Roldan, a brother and teammate of the Seattle Sounders of US midfielder Cristian Roldan.

“We talked about the fact that he fouled me a little and that I specifically asked the referee to give him a yellow card,” said Cristian Roldan jokingly. “It’s just fun, but we’re both competitors. So as soon as we are on the field, we are no longer brothers, we are rivals. “

The Americans opened the final round of the final qualifying cycle with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 loss to Costa Rica, resulting in Jurgen Klinsmann being sacked and Bruce Arena returning. The Americans took to the streets without a win.

Acosta said veterans wouldn’t tell newcomers what failure felt like. You do not have to.

“We never want to go down that path again and in that respect we don’t want to feel the same way we did in 2017 and use that as motivation for these games, to do whatever we have to do. To do to win,” said he. “Sometimes you can play nice football, but sometimes you have to be quite brave, roll up your sleeves and work out a result. However we have to do it, as long as we get the result. “

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