Tonight (September 2), the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) will embark on a seven-month trek that will include playing in 14 round-robin, home-and-away matches against seven of their leading Concacaf rivals in hopes of earning a berth at the Qatar 2022 World Cup Tournament. As a result of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the World Cup qualifying schedule has been condensed from 18 months to just seven, and so, into an Octagonal schedule that will conclude next March.
Team USA opens against FIFA 64th-ranked El Salvador at Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador. Colorado Rapids midfielder and USMNT field general Kellyn Acosta has been through this journey once before. In 2017, he was a member of the senior team that appeared to be on the verge of qualifying for the Russia-based 2018 FIFA World Cup Tournament until failing to beat an amped-up Trinidad and Tobago side that wanted to play the role of a spoiler. And spoil they did.
Acosta not only played the final 18 minutes of the last match of the 2017 Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers, but also experienced the agony of defeat to the Soca Warriors that kept the U.S. from advancing to Russia. Acosta remembers the gut-wrenching pain and embarrassment that he felt after the final whistle blew in a half-empty, junior college-sized track and field stadium, in the township of Couva, Trinidad.
Today, he does not dwell on the past. Instead, he is once again dreaming big.
“It was definitely a tough time and a tough go last World Cup qualifying. But as a group, we really don’t mention it. I think, right now we have a totally different core of guys,” Acosta said during a recent press conference hosted by U.S. Soccer. “Right now, we are just looking forward to the task at hand which is the first game is El Salvador, and to start off the tournament well. Then take it game by game. Each game brings different challenges. But I think with the group that we have, everyone’s ready and willing, and I think it is definitely positive looking into these matches.”
Acosta continued, “It was a tough, tough road that we had to face and we had to travel. I think we never want to go down that road again. We don’t want to have that same feeling that we did back in 2017, and you use that as you go into these games as motivation to do whatever you have to do to win. And win, in any fashion that is necessary, is the team’s mantra. “Sometimes you can play beautiful football, but sometimes you’ve got to get pretty gritty, roll up the sleeves and grind out a result. So, whatever kind of way we have to do it, as long as we get the result, that’s the most important.”
For Acosta, his fellow teammates, and head coach Gregg Berhalter, qualifying to Qatar is paramount, as is restoring the fan’s faith in the U.S. men’s program.
“For us as players, we are looking at it where we have the desire to be in a World Cup, and we are that much closer to achieving that dream. And so we take it, you know, game by game, and obviously, rebuild from what we experienced the last cycle and moving forward to this cycle,” Acosta said. “Like I said, just a complete desire for ourselves. Everyone dreams of being a World Cup and ultimately holding up the World Cup.”
Tonight’s game is the first of three in seven days. The Yanks will host Team Canada (#59) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on September 5, and conclude their first set of qualifiers against Honduras (#63) in San Pedro Sula on September 8.
Given the compressed schedule during this window, and nine-points on the line, player rotation may be in Gregg Berhalter’s overall game plan. As for Acosta, he will take any assignment that is given to him. “I’m not exactly sure where Greg wants to implement me. But either-or, I’m a guy that wants to play wherever for the team- whether it is playing as a sixth position, or as an 8, a 10, outside back, I’m obviously gonna give it my all. For me, it is just the positions or little details. I’m experienced in that role and played in different games and at different positions. So wherever I get asked to play, I’ll be willing to do so and hopefully play at the highest level and help contribute.”
Tonight’s match is the 25th meeting all-time between Team USA and El Salvador. The senior USMNT holds an 18-1-5 advantage in the series, outscoring Los Cusatlecos 60-15. They enter the game with a 17-game unbeaten streak against the Salvadorans.
USMNT 25-PLAYER ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)
Gameday rosters for World Cup qualification games are reduced to 23 players.
DEFENDERS (10): George Bello (Atlanta United; 3/0), John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 43/3), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona/ESP; 11/1), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 6/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 45/1), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 12/0), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 9/3), James Sands (New York City FC; 6/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray/TUR; 64/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 17/2)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 37/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 14/1), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 29/7), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 24/7), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 25/0)
FORWARDS (7):Brenden Aaronson (RB Salzburg/AUT; 7/3), Konrad de la Fuente (Olympique Marseille/FRA; 1/0), Jordan Pefok (BSC Young Boys/SUI; 6/1), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas; 0/0), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 38/16), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 8/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 16/5)
How to Watch
Match Date/Time: September 2, 2021 at 8:05 p.m. MT
Venue: Estadio Cuscatlan — San Salvador, El Salvador
TV Information: CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, and Universo
Follow along on Twitter @USMNT, @AODenver, @AOSprings