US soccer loses to Canada, beats El Salvador, Honduras

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

World Cup
Walker Zimmerman scored off a set piece against Honduras. The defender emphasized the importance of set piece goals in an interview early in the window. (Matthew Tate)

The United States Men’s National Team is on the brink of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup after winning two of three matches in the winter window. A 2-0 loss to Canada was sandwiched between wins against El Salvador and Honduras.

Manager Gregg Berhalter called in a strong but familiar squad, mixing both American and European-based players. Midfielder Weston McKennie and winger Christian Pulisic headline the group as the two best players.

The team is emphasizing both chance creation and scoring off of set pieces. When talking about set pieces before the qualifying cycle began, Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman said, “it [was] extremely disappointing that we haven’t had a goal off set pieces yet in these first eight games, and that’s an area of the game that we feel like we can capitalize on.” 

On Jan. 27, the U.S. hosted El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio. Earlier in the qualifying cycle, the two teams drew 0-0 in San Salvador. This time, the U.S. won 1-0, thanks to a well-taken finish by Antonee Robinson in the 52nd minute, with American forwards looking dangerous throughout the match.

Three days later, the United States traveled to Hamilton, Ontario to take on the Canadians, who they drew 1-1 with last time they played. Tim Weah was not allowed to enter Canada due to his vaccination status. He received his first dose prior to contracting COVID-19 before he could get his second shot. In France, where Weah plays for Lille, he is considered vaccinated.

The Canadians scored after just seven minutes of play, when Cyle Larin finished off a quick passing counter attack. The United States poured on the pressure but failed to create many meaningful chances in the match.

American goalkeeper Matt Turner remained busy as well but was beaten during stoppage time by Sam Adekugbe, ending the match 2-0 to Canada.

The U.S. would rebound against Honduras, when the Americans won 3-0 in frigid temperatures in St. Paul, Minnesota. All three American goals came from set pieces, with goals coming from McKennie, Zimmerman and Pulisic. Honduras was lucky to not concede more, as their defense was routinely beaten, and Pulisic had a goal disallowed due to an offside.

The temperature at kickoff was 1 degree Fahrenheit, with wind chills of up to minus 14 degrees. In comparison, the El Salvador match in Columbus, Ohio and the Canada match in Hamilton, Ontario had kickoff temperatures of 29 and 21 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. Honduras manager confirmed that two of his three half time substitutions were due to “extreme climate conditions.”

With only three games left in World Cup qualifying, the U.S. currently sits in second place in the standings. The top three teams automatically qualify for the World Cup, while fourth place must play against the winner of the Oceania region for a place in the World Cup.

The Americans face a difficult final three games in March, as all three teams they face are all still in contention to qualify. On March 24, the USMNT will travel to Mexico to face third-placed Mexico. Three days later, the Americans will host fourth-placed Panama in Orlando, Florida, before finishing against fifth-placed Costa Rica on March 30.