On Friday night the United States Men’s National Team’s first competitive matches of the summer get underway. The national team played two friendlies earlier this summer, winning 3-0 against Morocco on June 1 before playing to a 0-0 draw with Uruguay on June 5.
The United States is a part of Group D in League A in the CONCACAF Nations League, along with El Salvador and Grenada. Grenada, the United States’ first opponent, lost their first game of the tournament against El Salvador 3-1 on June 4, before drawing with El Salvador 2-2 in the reverse fixture on June 7.
With the United States’ first two matches of the Nations League also representing two of the last four matches the US has remaining before the World Cup, taking advantage of the opportunity to prep for November will be key.
The United States’ Last Experience in the Nations League
In the 2019-20 edition of the CONCACAF Nations League, the US had considerable success. The US won three games and lost just one to win Group A of League A in the Nations League.
The United States’ first game in the tournament was a 7-0 victory against Cuba. Weston McKennie scored a hat trick in the game to go along with goals from Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic among others. In the next game at the tournament, the US suffered their only loss of the group stage, as Canada won 2-1 with goals from Alphonso Davies and Lucas Cavallini.
A 4-1 win against Canada in the third game of the group stage put the United States back on track when a brace from Gyasi Zardes and goals from Jordan Morris and Aaron Long helped the US to the win. Group stage play wrapped up with the US advancing to the semi-finals after a 4-0 win over Cuba that included a brace from both Sargent and Morris.
The Nations League finals took place in the summer of 2021, after a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mexico, the United States, Honduras, and Costa Rica advanced to the finals of the competition.
In the semi-finals, the United States faced Honduras, with neither team able to score for much of the game. At the very end of the evening, in the 89th minute, a goal from Jordan Siebatcheu gave the US the lead and sent the team to the finals.
After Mexico defeated Costa Rica on penalties a United States vs Mexico final was set up to determine the first winner of the competition. The final was dramatic, a second-minute goal from Jesus Corona put Mexico in front almost immediately, and began what turned out to be a very-memorable final.
Mexico nearly extended their lead in the 24th minute after what appeared to be their second goal, but a VAR check eliminated the goal. Just three minutes later Gio Reyna equalized for the United States after a corner kick.
Neither team could find another goal until the 79th minute, when Diego Lainez scored to put Mexico in the lead and 10 minutes away from victory. Three minutes later, McKennie headed in a goal on a corner kick to again tie the game, the second time the US had scored from a corner in the final.
The final went to extra time, and a 114th-minute penalty from Pulisic gave the United States the victory in the first edition of the tournament.
Nations League Format and Its’ Importance
As the US begins Nations League play it will be important not only for a potential trip to the knockout stages of the tournament next summer but also because this edition of the tournament will serve as qualifying for the 2023 Gold Cup.
The top two teams from the United States’ group in the Nations League will advance to the Gold Cup. Only the winner of the group will advance to the Nations League Finals. In addition, the last-place team in each group will be relegated from League A to League B in the next Nations League Competition.
During the current international window, the United States will play two Nations League matches. The first is Friday night’s game against Grenada, with the US’ second match of the tournament scheduled for June 14 against El Salvador. Group play for the United States will finish in March of 2023.
After the United States finishes Nations League play, there will only be two more games left before the World Cup. The United States will play two friendlies in September before World Cup play gets underway on November 21 against Wales.
With such a limited amount of matches remaining before the World Cup, the Nations League matches the United States plays this summer will have added importance. The game time available to the US in a competitive, tournament environment will be vital as preparation for the US’ return to the World Cup continues.
During the next two matches, it will be important for Gregg Berhalter to get his players as much experience as possible, especially players such as Joe Scally, Haji Wright, and Malik Tillman who had no experience with the national team before this summer.
With November, and the start of the World Cup, getting closer by the day, each subsequent match for the United States will get more and more important. The Nations League, while an important competition in its’ own right, will take on an extra level of importance this week as the United States’ preparation for Qatar 2022 continues.
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