After great showings in friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay, the United States men’s national team will embark on new challenge as they begin their defense of their Nations League crown. Facing Grenada at Q2 Stadium in Austin seems like a manageable task for the squad, so Gregg Berhalter will be watching to see if his players take the game seriously in the heat. It’s more of a mental test than a physical one which at an important time to see the mentality of some of the fringe players in the squad.
Those who have been involved in World Cup qualifying might be safe, but for players such as Joe Scally, Sean Johnson, Haji Wright and others, it’s just as important to see that they can compete in Concacaf as it is a different challenge. Wales and Iran are likely to sit deeper against the United States, so while those teams may have a better roster than some of the ones that the USMNT will face in Nations League play, some of the skills needed to pick up wins will be the same.
Here’s our storylines, how you can watch the match, What to watch for and more:
How to watch and odds
Date: Friday, Jun. 10 | Time: 10 p.m. ET
Location: Q2 Stadium — Austin, Texas
TV: None | Live stream: ESPN+
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1. Keep an eye on uncapped players
There are three players on the roster who have yet to play in an official Concacaf competition. Joe Sally, Haji Wright and Malik Tillman will all be expected to get official caps in these upcoming Nations League fixtures. Scally and Wright have quite a bit to play for as they could make the World Cup roster with strong showings. The United States are still in need of a backup at left back and while Sergino Dest can play there in a pinch, more of the Scally that showed up against Morocco and less of the one that played against Uruguay could give him a leg up on George Bello as Antonee Robinson’s direct backup.
Any forward who starts scoring goals could find themselves in the starting XI for the Nov. 21 World Cup opener vs. Wales in Qatar. Regardless of whether that’s Wright or Jesus Ferreira, someone has to step up and start scoring. It’s a big opportunity for those previously uncapped at the senior level. Tillman is one for the future, but getting him tied down to the United States will go a long way in ensuring that the present and the future of the team is in good hands as Berhalter continues to work the recruiting trail well.
2. How to break down the low block
What the United States are trying to solve is not new as lots of teams struggle to break down the opponent’s low block. When you don’t have space to get in behind a deep defensive shape, it can get tricky to pick the lock and find the back of the net. Grenada is expected to employ a low block as it’s a common tactic for sides that aren’t favored in an effort to stick as many players as possible behind the ball to try to frustrate attackers.
Berhalter is looking for solutions to this such as playing Brenden Aaronson deeper in midfield and also deploying a back three in the build-up with a 3-5-2 formation with Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman and Reggie Cannon as the center backs (more on the central defensive pairings below). Friday’s match will be a good time to see if that works in a competitive setting. With Weston McKennie still on the road to recovery, there’s no reason why Aaronson can’t get the lion’s share of minutes to prepare for what his role could be in the World Cup.
3. Central pairings are key
Long and Zimmerman are developing chemistry and I could easily seem them as the starting center back pairing at the World Cup. If Berhalter starts the two together on Friday, it will show that he values them getting minutes together regardless of opposition. If Erik Palmer-Brown features, it could signal that the competition is more open. To me, the only player who could start over Long is Chris Richards, who is missing this camp with injury. Alongside the starting forward, the central pairing is one of the biggest questions facing the team after Miles Robinson’s unfortunate season-ending Achilles injury.
It will take a while for the USMNT to find the breakthrough, but once the first hits the back of the net, it won’t take long for more to follow in what will prove to be an easy victory. Pick: United States 5, Grenada 0