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USA vs. El Salvador, 2022 World Cup qualifying: What to watch for

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The first match in the Octagon is upon us.

SOCCER: JUN 03 Concacaf Nations League Semfinal - Honduras v USA Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team are set to embark on the road to the 2022 World Cup, as qualifying begins tomorrow for the 8 Concacaf teams still with dreams of making the tournament. The USMNT begin their journey on the road as they take on El Salvador in San Salvador. A match on the road to begin qualifying isn’t the easiest task, but this USMNT looks to be ready to embrace the challenge of getting the points on the road. The team hasn’t won a road qualifier since September 2016, and El Salvador will not make it easy for the United States to end that streak.

Latest Form

USA

W (1-0) - Mexico - Gold Cup Final

W (1-0) - Qatar - Gold Cup Semifinals

W (1-0) - Jamaica - Gold Cup Quarterfinals

W (1-0) - Canada - Gold Cup Group B

W (6-1) - Martinique - Gold Cup Group B

El Salvador

D (0-0) - Costa Rica - Friendly

L (2-3) - Qatar - Gold Cup Quarterfinals

L (0-1) - Mexico - Gold Cup Group A

W (2-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - Gold Cup Group A

W (2-0) - Guatemala - Gold Cup Group A

What To Watch For

Bring the intensity. Stepping foot into a stadium on the road in Concacaf is difficult. For most matches, the crowd is ready, and the home team feeds off that intensity. The USMNT will need to match it. It will fuel everything on the field, and the team should want to silence the Estadio Cuscatlán except for the section of American fans in attendance.

Embrace the Concacaf. There will be madness, there will be drama...the only thing this won’t have is VAR (because Concacaf will not be using it during the Octagonal). The USMNT need to embrace it, as they have throughout the summer at the Nations League Finals and the Gold Cup. Expect the unexpected, deal with the chippy play, and overcome it.

Forwards need to produce. It will be a test for our forwards to see if they can score on the road. If they can, it will take the crowd and El Salvador right out of it. They’re not going to quit, so gaining momentum from production up front is the key.

Lineup Prediction

There will be some rotations throughout the window, but to start this World Cup qualifying journey, Gregg Berhalter will likely go with what he considers his best lineup. No need to play for a draw here, and that’s not Berhalter’s style anyway. We could see something like this:

The goalkeeping competition is something to keep an eye on, but Berhalter trusts Zack Steffen and he will be the starter. Antonee Robinson lines up at left back, with Sergiño Dest at right back. John Brooks and Mark McKenzie line up as the centerback pairing.

Our midfielders are Tyler Adams at the 6, with Weston McKennie as the 8. Sebastian Lletget will be Berhalter’s man to embrace the Concacafing, and he will be tasked with taking the pressure off Adams and McKennie.

Up front, Christian Pulisic is healthy and gets the start, though you’ll see him make way for Brenden Aaronson after about 60 minutes. Gio Reyna gets the start at right wing, while Josh Sargent is Berhalter’s man up top. Expect to see Jordan Pefok later in the match, as he has been scoring goals for Young Boys. Konrad de la Fuente could be another creative wing option as well.

Prediction

The United States enter Estadio Cuscatlán and establish themselves as the team to beat in Concacaf World Cup qualifying. They struggle to get their footing at first, but they open up the scoring midway through the first half and ride it to a 3-0 victory.