Last week, the United States Men’s National Team announced that they were foregoing play during the October international fixture window, set to begin next week. Because of complications stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and the potential for the players and coaching staff to be subject to various quarantine regulations on either side of the window, the team decided it was not worth it to try and schedule any matches for the window.
Still, there is one more international window left in 2020, which is November 9-18. The USMNT, who played their lone match of the year back on February 1st, are hoping to close the year out by playing at least one match. It’s an opportunity for head coach Gregg Berhalter to assemble players to evaluate where the player pool stands before we enter a loaded 2021 schedule that includes the beginning of World Cup qualifying, the Nations League playoffs, the Gold Cup, and potentially the Olympics.
It’s expected that the team will try to schedule matches in Europe and have a camp involving mostly European-based players. The MLS regular season will conclude on November 8th, and the league is taking a break for the international window before the playoffs begin. Still, because of the rules surrounding quarantine, if any MLS-based players make the trip, it will be those players whose team are not in the postseason so any quarantine upon return will not come at the cost of playoff matches.
So, while we can debate who gets called in, there’s a more important issue that has plagued the USMNT so far this fall: who can they play? Gotta have an opponent to play a match, right? The international window was extended by a day so that UEFA could have the potential for 3 matches. November will see 4 Euro 2020 playoff matches played on November 12th, while all of UEFA will finish up Nations League from November 14th until the 18th. So, who is free in Europe to play? Just about everyone in Europe is free before November 12th. There are reports that Wales, who the USMNT was scheduled to play in March before the pandemic forced its cancellation, has been in talks with U.S. Soccer about rescheduling that friendly for the November window:
Getting word #USMNT might end up playing a friendly with Euro-based squad at Wales in FIFA fixture window in November. (UEFA teams have three dates in Nov window.) USA v Wales friendly this past March in Cardiff was called off because of pandemic.— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) August 4, 2020
The only teams that would not be free on November 12th would be the 4 teams that will compete in the Euro 2020 playoff finals that was based, in part, on the 2018-19 Nations League results:
League A - Iceland/Romania vs. Bulgaria/Hungary
League B - Bosnia/Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia/Ireland
League C - Scotland/Israel vs. Norway/Serbia
League D - Georgia/Belarus vs. North Macedonia/Kosovo
After the 12th, there are only two European teams that have open dates during the window, and they are in the same group in League D. Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Gibraltar are in a group by themselves, which leaves a team with an open date on each match day. Liechtenstein is free on November 14th, while San Marino is idle on November 17th.
The USMNT could also look to Africa to see if there is a team that could come to Europe to play a match at a neutral site. The USMNT will unlikely be able to travel to Africa to play because FIFA has rules against teams playing away in 2 confederations outside their own in the same window. Still, there are some teams that are available during the window should they want to travel to Europe for a match. CAF will be conducting Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in November, and all teams will be involved. Those matches will take place on the 9th, 13th, and 17th. While every team in Africa has a match on November 17th, there are teams available on the 9th and 13th:
Free on November 9th - Malawi, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Uganda
Free on November 13th - Namibia, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Ghana, Sudan, South Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe, DR Congo, Angola, Gabon, Gambia, Morocco, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Burundi, Cameroon, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Rwanda, Egypt, Togo, Kenya, Comoros, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Eswatini, Tunisia, Tanzania, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Lesotho
Each of the teams in Africa that are free on November 13th will have played an AFCON qualifier on the 9th, so It could be difficult for the USMNT to convince one of them to fly to Europe and then return to Africa for another AFCON qualifier 4 days later. Still, there are some possibilities there.
Of the remaining confederations, only CONMEBOL is completely out. Each of the 10 teams in South America will have World Cup qualifying during the November window. Oceania, Asia, and Concacaf will all be free, the result of the coronavirus pandemic pushing World Cup qualifying and all confederation cup qualifying to 2021. Again, a match against those teams will likely have to take place in Europe. Any chance of a domestic match in the United States seems to be done because of the logistics of getting an entire team to the U.S. to quarantine in time to play.
So, there is an opportunity for the USMNT to schedule 2-3 decent matches against some quality teams. They could even play some teams that the USMNT have never seen or rarely faced over the course of their history.
So, with all that information packed safely away, which teams should the USMNT play in November? Here’s a potential schedule:
November 11th vs. Wales (21st in FIFA World Rankings), Cardiff
November 14th vs. Japan (28th) or Egypt (51st), neutral site
November 17th vs. New Zealand (121st) or United Arab Emirates (71st), neutral site
Which teams do you think the USMNT should schedule for the November window? There are certainly more possibilities that we think, but the USMNT will need to be creative and use this opportunity to schedule some opponents they haven’t seen in a while. Hit the comments and let us know which teams you think the USMNT should try to face during the November window.