International Fixtures

USMNT Friendlies Help Team Prepare Ahead of FIFA World Cup

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While the association football season throughout Europe is approximately two months old, this weekend, league play goes on pause in nearly every association throughout the world, with Major League Soccer only holding a single match this week. Saturday, the San Jose Earthquakes play host to the Los Angeles Galaxy (10 pm ET/ 7 pm PT, ESPN+) in a makeup game from the night of June 25.

A power failure at Stanford Stadium from mechanical issues caused by a wildfire in June resulted in the postponement of the Earthquakes/ Galaxy match ahead of its originally-scheduled date, Subsequent to the game being called off in June, MLS officials rescheduled the contest for Saturday night, Sept. 24.

This is the last FIFA international window before this year’s Men’s World Cup in Qatar. For men’s national teams who have qualified for football’s grandest tournament, including the United States Men’s National Team, the countdown to the final matches before the World Cup begins is just about over.

USMNT To Face Japan and Saudi Arabia This Week

When last we saw the USMNT on the pitch, it was approximately three and a half months ago, when the Americans took to the field for four matches in the most-recent FIFA double window. At that time, the squad played in two friendlies and the first two matches in group play of the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League, which resumes in March.

It was another successful window for the Americans, who went 3-0-1 across the four games played between June 1 and June 15. The USMNT outscored its opposition 9-1 during the double window three months ago and accumulated four points in the standings in Group D of the CONCACAF Nations League along the way.

Now, the USMNT will return to action in this last international window prior to the World Cup for two more friendlies before the tournament commences in just under two months’ time. It all begins this Friday morning (8:25 am ET/ 5:25 am PT, ESPN2, TUDN, and Unimas, when Gregg Berhalter’s men take on Japan from Dusseldorf, Germany.

From there, the team will face off against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Sept. 27 (2 pm ET/ 11 am PT, FS1, TUDN, and Unimas) from Murcia, Spain in its last contest before group play in the World Cup begins with a Nov. 21 game against Wales in Qatar. Although no points will be at stake in either of these matches, these games are critical, particularly for players on the bubble for the World Cup roster.

Gregg Berhalter Dealing with More Shuffling of USMNT’s Roster Ahead of September Window

Head coach Gregg Berhalter, who took over the managerial duties of the USMNT on a permanent basis in the fall of 2018 in the wake of Bruce Arena’s resignation in the aftermath of the team failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, will again mix up his roster for the second consecutive international window. As he said last week, however, nothing is given regarding security for a spot in the lineup.

“A lot can change,” Berhalter said at the time. “We have to be monitoring these players, we are monitoring these players, we’re having ongoing conversations with guys in the camp and not in the camp because we know things can change very quickly.”

In the intervening time since that press conference, Berhalter’s comments were proven accurate. A number of players who were slated to have a roster spot during the window are unavailable for selection.

Injury Issues Continue To Plague USMNT

Berhalter’s initial 26-man roster for the USMNT in the September window featured midfielder Yunus Musah of La Liga side Valencia, defender Chris Richards of Premier League team Crystal Palace and center back Cameron Carter-Vickers of Scottish Premiership side Celtic. None of these three players will appear in the upcoming friendlies.

All three men are unavailable for selection due to injury. Yunus Musah is currently nursing a groin injury but is on schedule to rejoin Valencia when the season resumes on Oct. 2.

Cameron Carter-Vickers is out due to soreness, with Richards missing his fourth consecutive international window due to a tweak. Chris Richards has not factored into the USMNT’s plans since January of this year.

Berhalter Calls Up Reinforcements

Prior to the absences of Musah, Carter-Vickers, and Richards being made public, three stalwarts who were major cogs in the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying run were chosen for the September roster. Chelsea FC forward Christian Pulisic, who scored five goals during the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, including a hat-trick on March 27 against Panama in Orlando to essentially clinch a berth in the tournament, has been selected this time around.

Additionally, midfielder Weston McKennie of Juventus is set to return after missing the final CONCACAF qualifiers and the June double window upon injuring his left foot. Most recently, McKennie featured in the Feb. 2 qualifier versus Honduras, scoring the first goal in a 3-0 shutout in Minneapolis.

If McKennie and Pulisic manage to stay healthy on the training ground as these friendlies loom for the USMNT and recapture their form from the World Cup qualifiers, the squad will have a good chance at coming away victorious in these two games.

Ricardo Pepi Rejoining USMNT For Final Window

The third of the major cogs in the USMNT’s qualifying stretch will also factor into the team’s plans in the upcoming international window. Forward Ricardo Pepi, who did not feature for the Americans during the June double window, is set to return to the roster for these last two friendlies.

Pepi, who was a healthy scratch for the USMNT in June, scored both of the national team’s goals during the Oct. 7, 2021 qualifier versus Jamaica, a 2-0 win. It was a special evening for Pepi, a native of El Paso, TX, as the match took place in Austin at Q2 Stadium, and later in the match, he received a Texas-sized ovation from the crowd.

Although Pepi was kept off of the scoreboard for almost a full year after the brace against Jamaica last October, if he can reignite the fire he had early on in the qualifying cycle, the USMNT looks to be in decent shape.

Final Thoughts

It hasn’t been a cakewalk for the USMNT to get to this point by any stretch of the imagination. They, along with everyone else in the world, had to contend with a pandemic these past couple of years. As a result of the pandemic and its effects on football, the start of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying was shifted to September of 2021 from June 2021.

Despite everything that this team has had to deal with both on and off of the pitch, here they are. After a long road to get to Qatar and four matches late in the spring after booking a spot in the World Cup, just two games separate them from a return to the beautiful game’s most beautiful stage.

As long as the USMNT is able to stay hungry and healthy, they can win these matches. They’re very winnable, too.

Currently, the USMNT owns the No. 14 ranking in FIFA for men’s senior national teams. Friday’s opponent, Japan, sits at No. 24 and Saudi Arabia, who will be Tuesday’s foe for the Americans, holds the No. 53 ranking.

How do you like the USMNT’s chances on Friday and Tuesday? Let us know in the comments.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.