The last time the U.S. men’s national team was involved in the final round of CONCACAF regional World Cup qualifying, it did not win a single road match, picking up only three points from a possible 15 away from home. It ultimately missed out on the 2018 World Cup. The USMNT will hope to change that trend when it opens 2022 World Cup qualifying away in El Salvador.
The Sept. 2 match will arguably be one of the USA’s best chances at a road victory against a team that is among the two lowest-ranked in the eight-team final qualifying round: El Salvador is ranked No. 64 and the USA (No. 10) has an 18-1-5 all-time record against it. But nothing ever comes easy in CONCACAF qualifying and the USA will be without its star player (Christian Pulisic) and starting goalkeeper (Zack Steffen). Pulisic is regaining his fitness after a long layoff triggered by a positive COVID-19 test, while Steffen is suffering from back spasms.
El Salvador has had to endure tough times in recent years: The nation hasn’t made it to the final stage of qualifying in 12 years and it hasn’t made it to a World Cup since 1982, dropping down the pecking order in the CONCACAF region. But American coach Hugo Perez, who earned 73 caps for the USMNT in the ‘80s and ‘90s, has revived the program and it showed at the recently concluded Gold Cup, where El Salvador advanced to the quarterfinals and gave Mexico a scare in the group stage.
The memory of the USMNT’s 2018 World Cup failure is slowly fading thanks to the two trophies the USA won during the summer against Mexico: the Nations League and Gold Cup. But U.S. national team head coach Gregg Berhalter has already pointed out that those titles will mean little without qualification to Qatar 2022. A win in El Salvador, where the USA is undefeated in three qualifying visits (1-0-2), would help continue to distance this young, new-look USMNT from the team that came up short in qualifying the last time.
How to watch: USA vs. El Salvador
- Date: Thursday, Sept. 2
- Time: 10:05 p.m. ET
- TV Channel: CBS Sports Network (CBSSN)
- Spanish-language TV: Universo
- Stream: fuboTV, Paramount+, Telemundo Deportes app
The USMNT will play its first of 14 qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup at the Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador in front of an expected 29,000 fans. The match will be carried by CBS Sports Network (English) and Universo (Spanish) in the USA.
Both CBSSN and Universo are streamed on fuboTV (free 7-day trial).
USA vs. El Salvador: projected lineups
Berhalter revealed that Pulisic and Steffen did not travel with the team. He confirmed it will be New England goalkeeper Matt Turner taking Steffen’s place between the posts. In-form wingers Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg) and Konrad de la Fuente (Marseille) would likely contend for Pulisic’s spot in the starting lineup.
With a big home match against Canada coming up on Sunday and a tough road trip to Honduras on Wednesday still on tap, Berhalter will be employing some degree of player rotation with his 25-man roster. Here’s a stab at a projected XI for the match:
USMNT projected lineup (4-3-3, left to right): Matt Turner-GK — Antonee Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, John Brooks, Sergino Dest — Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie — Brenden Aaronson, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna
USMNT Subs (12): Ethan Horvath-GK, George Bello, Tim Ream, Mark McKenzie, Miles Robinson, James Sands, DeAndre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, Konrad de la Fuente, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi
El Salvador coach Hugo Perez will have eight players available for selection who ply their trade in the USA or Canada, including Perez’s nephew Joshua Perez, and Alex Roldan, who could get to face his brother and Seattle Sounders teammate Cristian Roldan, a dual national and regular callup by the USMNT. Alex Roldan will likely start at right back or in midfield for the Cuscatlecos.
Houston Dynamo central midfielder Darwin Ceren is questionable to start the match as he recovers from a knee injury. Here’s a projected lineup that leaves out Ceren:
El Salvador projected lineup (4-3-3, left to right): Kevin Carabantes-GK — Alexander Larin, Ronald Gomez, Eriq Zavaleta, Bryan Tamacas — Marvin Monterrosa, Narciso Orellana, Alex Roldan — Jairo Henriquez, Joaquin Rivas, Joshua Perez
USA vs. El Salvador: Odds & prediction
El Salvador doesn’t have a reputation as a high-scoring team, but this new-look El Salvador has shown it can create chances. The Cuscatlecos’ recent run of strong performances and the excitement of hosting a final round qualifier could see them celebrate at least one goal against the typically airtight Americans (odds for both teams to score at +155, or +225 with no draw).
Even if El Salvador doesn’t score, it still should find a way to keep the game close, especially at home. In putting together a 7-3-3 record so far in 2021, the team’s three losses have never come by more than a goal. It showed it can keep things tight in matches against Mexico and Costa Rica. The +1.25 El Salvador Asian Handicap is currently priced at +100 on DraftKings with the +1.5 handicap coming in at -130. Even the USA’s Berhalter expects the game to be decided by narrow margins.
“Most of these [qualifying] games, very little is going to decide the outcome of the game,” he told media the day before the match, “and we feel we can beat anyone in the same sense we can also lose to everyone.”
Prediction: El Salvador 1, USA 2
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- El Salvador to win: +750
- Draw: +400
- USA to win: -310
- Both teams to score: +155
- Both teams to score (no draw): +225
- 1st half draw: +125
- Over 2.5 goals Asian total: -105
- El Salvador +1.25 Asian Handicap: +100
- El Salvador +1.5 Asian Handicap: -130