By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Mar 20, 2023) US Soccer Players – The Concacaf Nations League comes into fuller focus once again starting this Friday when the group stage of the tournament resumes and the USMNT travels to Grenada looking for points. Just four months after the World Cup, the US once again finds itself having to navigate a group stage.
This time, winning Group D in Nations League A is what’s on the line. Longer term what’s at stake during this international window are more games that count come June and a repeat of what the USMNT did in the summer of 2021 by capturing the CNL and Gold Cup double. The US is aiming to do this using the full player pool at its disposal in order to be competitive across two competitions.
“We have the Nations League in March, the Allstate Continental Clasico against Mexico in April, and then hopefully the Nations League Final Four in June followed by the Gold Cup immediately after,” USMNT coach Anthony Hudson said. “So that’s a lot of matches with players at different stages of their seasons. Players based outside the United States will need to have a break at some point this summer, and the domestic-based players could wind up missing a number of league games if they played in all the competitions. We had a similar situation in 2021 and we won both competitions with almost two entirely different groups, so we feel really good about the pool of players.”
Concacaf announced on Monday that the second edition of the Nations League Finals, which includes the semifinals, third-place game and final, will be contested from June 15-18 at at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Beating Grenada and El Salvador this month could mean the USMNT get a #1 seed in Las Vegas and therefore a better chance of contesting the final.
The next two weeks are not pivotal only for the USMNT. In the other groups are the familiar Concacaf rivals Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica looking to reach the finals. None of them are currently in 1st-place in their respective groups. All three, like the US, are in second place and will need to battle for points.
Beyond closing the group stage and looking to earn berths to both the CNL Finals and the Gold Cup, the USMNT has a busy few months ahead. It’s all part of a longer buildup to the 2024 Copa America and the 2026 World Cup the US will co-host along with Mexico and Canada.
For now, it’s Grenada and El Salvador who may not be soccer superpowers, but the USMNT shouldn’t concern itself with history or talent levels. Concacaf, and international competition in general, has taught all teams in recent years never to underestimate any opponent.
Playing on the road against any Concacaf team can be tricky. The home support, field conditions, and weather are all factors that work against visiting teams. Against El Salvador, on the other hand, offers the USMNT home support in Orlando, a city that has come to be a great place to host National Team matches.
“First and foremost our objective is to win both matches. Grenada is not an easy place to play… and we know El Salvador is a difficult opponent,” Hudson said. “We want to defend our Nations League title and also qualify for this summer’s Gold Cup and to do that we need to get results.”
This window means the return of the US’s European-based players. Allowing these players to come together for the first time since the World Cup will go a long way in rebuilding chemistry. Bringing in some new faces is also key for building for the future. The additions of defender Auston Trusty, midfielders Johnny Cardoso and Alan Sonora, and strikers Taylor Booth and Alex Zendejas into camp matters. Trusty and Booth are uncapped.
The USMNT showed unbelievable chemistry and unity in Qatar. It was a major reason why the team advanced to the knockout round. With a mix of veterans and younger players, these next two matches will help to lay some of the groundwork for future success.
Part of that is getting back to scoring goals. At the World Cup, the USMNT scored just three goals in four games. Grenada and El Salvador don’t represent the same level of defenses, so there should be a chance to score some goals here and boost morale ahead of tougher games this summer.
So far in Nations League play, the US has outscored opponents 6-1 over two games. That came by virtue of a 5-0 win against Grenada and a 1-1 draw versus El Salvador. This time, a lot will depend on the midfield Hudson deploys and which strikers to rotate. Given the depth, especially after calling into camp seven strikers, there are plenty of options. Those include Gio Reyna, Ricardo Pepi, Daryl Dike, and Djordje Mihailovic, who replaced the sidelined Tim Weah.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”
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Photo by Doug Zimmerman – ISIPhotos.com