USMNT can’t capitalize on chances, plays to draw with Canada in World Cup qualifier
Two games into World Cup qualifying might be too early to panic. But it’s not too early to be concerned.
And U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter seemed very concerned Sunday after his tentative, uninspired national team gave up a second-half lead and settled for a second straight draw, this time tying Canada 1-1 before a crowd of 43,028 at Nissan Stadium.
“It was disappointing,” Berhalter said. “The performance wasn’t up to what we expect. We knew they were going to be tough games. And we’re finding out they are tough games.
“Our success is going to depend on how we’re able to deal with that.”
But the on-field results aren’t the only thing threatening to derail a qualifying campaign that’s just getting started. Berhalter suspended star midfielder Weston McKennie on Sunday for what McKennie described on social media as a violation of U.S. Soccer’s COVID-19 protocols.
Last April, McKennie was sanctioned by his Italian club, Juventus, after he and two teammates hosted a party at his home, violating both team guidelines and local COVID-19 laws.
Scoreless draw against El Salvador gives U.S. soccer a precious point as they seek a spot in the World Cup.
“Obviously it’s not an ideal situation,” said midfielder Tyler Adams, who said the team was informed of McKennie’s suspension early Sunday. “He’s an important player. It was a little disappointing.”
Berhalter would not say if McKennie would be reinstated ahead of Wednesday’s qualifier in Honduras, but the U.S. is running out of healthy bodies. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who tested positive for COVID-19, and forward Gio Reyna, who has a strained right hamstring, are unavailable. Left back Sergiño Dest left the Canada game just before halftime because of an ankle injury. He appears unlikely to be unavailable Wednesday.
“It hurts,” Berhalter said. “But we have to be resilient. We can do two things: We can feel bad for ourselves. Or we can continue on with a positive attitude trying to get a positive result in Honduras, which is what we’re going to do.”
The U.S. got its first goal of the qualifying tournament in the 55th minute when Brenden Aaronson came charging through the center of the box to slide onto a left-footed cross from Antonee Robinson and redirect it past Canadian keeper Milan Borjan from close range. But the lead was short-lived with Alphonso Davies fighting his way around Dest’s replacement, DeAndre Yedlin, on the left wing and sending a left-footed pass into the box for Cyle Larin, who slipped the mark of John Brooks to tie the score on an easy tap-in seven minutes later.
The goal was the first U.S. keeper Matt Turner has given up from open play in his nine-game national team career. And even though the U.S. controlled the ball for 65 of the 90 minutes and outshot Canada nearly 2-1, the best it could get was a tie that felt like a loss.
And that could prove costly because the formula for success in CONCACAF qualifying has always been pretty simple: win at home and get points on the road. In the first five qualifying tournaments played in the six-team hexagonal format, the U.S. won 21 of its 25 home games and advanced to the World Cup each time.
Four years ago, the U.S. lost twice at home and missed the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
And now the team begins this tournament with two draws, the second at home against an opponent playing just its second qualifier this century.
“There’s always urgency,” said Berhalter, who then went searching for a silver lining on the black cloud hovering over his team.
“We haven’t lost yet,” he said. “We’re undefeated, which is a positive part of it. Obviously, we wanted to get the win tonight, but we’ve got to move on.”
Because the qualifying tournament has expanded to eight teams and 14 games, the U.S. has time to make up the lost ground. But as captain Christian Pulisic pointed out, it won’t do that playing the way it did Sunday.
“We expect more. We want to win,” he said. “We have a long way to go. [But] we have to turn it around and start winning games.”