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Colorado’s valiant goalkeeper Ethan Horvath called up for USMNT final-round Concacaf World Cup qualifying

Rapids’ Mark-Anthony-Kaye will rejoin first-place team Canada

John Babiak, Burgundy Wave

The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (USMNT) is just two weeks from reaching their much sought-after destiny of earning one of three automatic Concacaf berths to Qatar's 2022 World Cup Tournament this fall. The Yanks currently sit in second place in the confederation's World Cup Qualifying tournament that will condense its final leg this Wednesday afternoon.

Their fate lies at the feet of 27 players that head coach Gregg Berhalter called up to the team's March camp ahead of their three final matches verse Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica. In preparation for a stiff match against their south-of-the-border rival, Mexico, the team has assembled in Houston, Texas.

With recent injuries to keepers Matt Turner and Zach Steffan, Berhalter has turned to the often-reliable Horvath to rejoin the team. MLS Cup Champion goaltender Sean Johnson from NYCFC and a supposedly healed-up Steffan.

The dependable Turner turned an ankle during an MLS preseason scrimmage with the New Egland Revolution and has not seen any action since. Steffen, who plays with Manchester City, has apparently recuperated from both back and shoulder injuries. He has not played since early February, however, he did suit up on March 14 for City. He last played for the USA in November. Johnson has been a steady fixture in NYCFC's starting XI this season.

Meanwhile, Horvath, who plays for Nottingham Forest, has made five consecutive starts for Garibaldi Red. Horvath "is definitely in contention," said Berhalter his most recent meeting with the press. Horvath has seven caps with the Stars and Stripes.

Berhalter also raised the name of former Colorado Rapids wing-back, Sam Vines, as a possible replacement for injured back- Sergiño Dest. Dest went down F.C. Barcelona's Europa League match last week. A day after the team was announced, U.S. Soccer confirmed that Dest is off the roster, and defender George Bello was added to the training camp roster.

Berhalter's fielded a handful of questions about his team and opponents. His 30-minute press conference can be replayed here:

This past summer, the self-confident Horvath was the home city hero in front of the net when the U.S. faced Mexico in the final of the Concacaf Nations Cup Championship match, which was played in Mile High Stadium.

The Real Colorado product made the save of his international career in the 124th minute of play.

Before a patriotic crowd that was roaring to near defining heights, Horvath focused and stared down Mexico's national team captain, Andrés Guardado, who stood tall at the larger-than-life penalty spot during the game's second overtime penalty shootout. Seconds after the referee's whistle blew, the left-footed Guardado swatted the ball low and to his left side. Horvath dove down to his right and slapped the ball high away. In that grand minute of U.S. Soccer national team play, another American soccer icon was made. Another lionheart- Ethan Shea Horvath.

When the final whistle sounded, the determined, in-your-face Yanks defied the odds by downing Team Mexico again. Fireworks flew, confetti spewed, and the lingering crowd roared when Horvath was awarded a champions' medallion on the team's makeshift awards ceremony stage. The experience felt as if the defiant Yanks just won an invitation to the World Cup play.

It was reported to media that during the team's morning meeting, Horvath and Johnson studied a video montage of penalty kicks by Mexico's top attackers, including the venerable Guardado. Horvath's short-term memory was crystal clear in the most critical moment of the match. He got Guardado's tendency right. And doing so, he departed the iconic stadium with his delighted family and with Man of the America honors.

The U.S. is now in the home stretch of this pandemic impacted, hurried qualification tournament. With 21 points, the United States lies in wait and will facedown revenge-minded Mexico on March 24th in Mexico City's voluminous Estadio Azteca. Mexico had played its last two home qualifiers with only 2,000 in attendance as part of fans' usage of anti-gay slurs during their matches. Their fan's unbecoming behavior has earned them suspensions as in-stadium spectators now three times- in the September match against Jamaica and in the October qualifiers against Canada and Honduras. Since then, the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has adopted a strict new policy that penalizes any fan who participates in anti-gay statements or behavior during an international friendly by banning their attendance at a future match for five years. Their upcoming games should benefit from including newly formed online ticket registration, fresh and upbeat fan experiences, tightened security with the stadium venue.

The FMF has not announced the attendance ceiling for the Mexico verse United States match.

On Friday, Mexico's skipper, Gerardo "Tata" Martino, announced his 29-player roster. Notiably missing from the teams roster were veteran’s Guardado, Julio Dominguez, Osvaldo Rodriquez and Rogelio Funes Mori. Injuries and coaches' decisions were cited as reasons why they will not be invited to Mexico's final preparation camp.

Following their match in Mexico City, the U.S. team will fly stateside to Orlando and host Panama. Burgundy Wave will be on-site in MLS Exploria Stadium to provide fieldside coverage during this pivotal match on the 27th. On the 30th, Yanks will play close out Concacaf play in San Jose, Costa Rica, against the upset-minded Ticos.

Final Round Schedule

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Jamaica vs El Salvador – National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica

Panama vs Honduras – Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama

Mexico vs United States – Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico

Costa Rica vs Canada – Estadio Nacional, San Jose, Costa Rica

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Canada vs Jamaica – BMO Field, Toronto, ON, Canada

El Salvador vs Costa Rica – Estadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador, El Salvador

United States vs Panama – Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL, USA

Honduras vs Mexico – Estadio Olimpico, San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Mexico vs El Salvador – Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico

Costa Rica vs United States – Estadio Nacional, San Jose, Costa Rica

Panama vs Canada – Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama

Jamaica vs Honduras – National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica

At the end of this Final Round of Confederation play, the top three finishing teams will qualify directly to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. T e fourth-placed team will advance to a FIFA Intercontinental Playoff where they will face the winners of the Oceania Football Confederation playoff in June.