With the United States Men’s National Team having qualified for the 2026 World Cup as co-host, filling the gaps during international windows will be a challenge over the next few years, compounded by the proliferation of various competitions such as the UEFA Nations League. The hunt for suitable adversaries led to the Asian Football Confederation, from which both of the upcoming opponents hail. First on the docket is Uzbekistan, which may be enjoying a minor resurgence based on recent results. The match is planned for CITYPARK in St. Louis, Missouri, a 22,423-venue that opened in November of 2022 and is rapidly becoming a hub for the program.
This is the first all-time meeting between the two nations at the men’s senior level. Ranked 74th internationally by FIFA, Uzbekistan has yet to reach the World Cup, failing to emerge from the second round of the Asian Football Confederation section in the most recent edition after finishing runner-up in Group D and seventh in points among second-place teams. There is hope for the White Wolves following qualification for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup and claiming a silver medal at June’s Central Asian Football Association’s (CAFA) Nations Cup, traversing the group stage with a 3-0-0 record and falling to Iran in the final by a 1-0 margin.
Srečko Katanec was appointed to the manager role in August of 2021, signing a four-year contract “until 2025.” The former Yugoslavia and Slovenia international midfielder-defender has experience leading a variety of club and national team sides, including Gorica, Olympiacos, Macedonia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq. He has compiled an impressive 13-5-2 record and was heavily influenced by his time playing in Italy, with the defense-focused catenaccio style shaping his core ethos.
Katanec named a 23-player roster for the international window, which includes a friendly against Mexico in Atlanta, Georgia. Multiple notable talents were left out of the squad due to their involvement with Olympic qualifiers. The group comprises 16 representatives from four clubs in the domestic Uzbekistan Super League and a further seven members spread across other European and Middle Eastern competitions.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Umijon Ergashev (Nasaf), Ergashev Botirali (AGMK), Utkir Yusupov (Navbakhor)
DEFENDERS (9): Rustam Ashurmatov (Rubin), Farrukh Sayfiev (Pakhtakor), Khusniddin Alikulov (Rizespor), Khojiakbar Alijonov (Pakhtakor), Umarbek Eshmurodov (Nasaf), Abdulla Abdullaev (AGMK), Sherzod Nasrullaev (Nasaf), Dilshod Saitov (Pakhtakor), Shahzod Azmiddinov (Pakhtakor)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Odiljon Xamrobekov (Pakhtakor), Aziz Ganiev (Shabab Al-Ahli), Otabek Shukurov (F. Karagumruk), Aziz Turgunboev (Pakhtakor), Akmal Mozgovoy (Nasaf), Jamshid Iskanderov (Navbakhor), Jaloliddin Masharipov (Unattached), Oston Urunov (Navbakhor)
FORWARDS (3): Jasur Yakhshiboev (Navbakhor), Eldor Shomurodov (Cagliari), Bobir Abdikholikov (Ordabasi)
Katanec alternates between three- and four-player back lines, typically lining up in the 4-3-3 formation. He is “characterized by having teams with a strong defense and vertical offensive game,” willing to “sacrifice the show for a good result” with a structured defensive set-up. Much of the attack is generated from the wings, with wide attackers looping early crosses to the striker or driving deep and playing the ball back across the box.
The expected starter at goalkeeper is Utkir Yusupov. The 32-year-old competes with Navbahor Namangan in the domestic Super League. His strength is stopping shots from distance, pushing the ball away instead of attempting to corral and surrendering costly rebounds. He projects a calm and stable presence in the defensive third and sticks to basic tenets of the position, only leaving his line when absolutely certain of being able to make a play.
Nasaf Qarshi’s “physical and aggressive” Umarbek Eshmurodov sometimes serves as his country’s captain, responsible for “maintaining defensive shape.” Metro League notes his “strong communication and ability to read the game to anticipate the opposition’s moves.” His likely back line partner is Abdulla Abdullaev of AGMK Olmaliq, also capable of being deployed in a midfielder role. The 26-year-old is an intelligent distributor who can sit on the ball for extended periods of time and has the pace to track down opposing attackers.
At left fullback is Sherzod Nasrullaev of Nasaf, who has contributed one goal and four assists in the domestic league. He is equally comfortable sitting back and distributing or making diagonal runs toward the center in between members of the opposing back line. On the other side of the formation is Pakhtakor’s Khojiakbar Alijonov, another attack-minded wide player who looks to shoot from distance. The 26-year-old from Tashkent will press high up the field when on the hunt for a turnover before quickly springing into the counter.
One of the squad’s more experienced members is the versatile Otabek Shukurov, who competes with Turkish side Fatih Karagümrük but has seen his playing time dwindle this season. Depending on the team’s need, he will hang back deep or be more of a presence in the final third, providing physical challenges and ambitious long passes. Akmal Mozgovoy of Nasaf Qarshi operates in the box-to-box role and made two starts at the CAFA Nations Cup. The 24-year-old is a heavy tackler and links up with teammates through all manner of quick passes and flicks. The triangle is completed by Navbakhor’s Jamshid Iskanderov, who has registered three goals and six assists this season. Despite not being the most dynamic of attackers, his ability to work out of tight areas and utilize methodical decision-making result in high percentage opportunities while avoiding turnovers.
A brilliant strike from Jaloliddin Masharipov pic.twitter.com/2WWB2onXkt— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) October 16, 2021
The left winger spot should be occupied by Jaloliddin Masharipov, currently a free agent after a spell with Al Nassr. He is dangerous with the ball at his feet and has a quick acceleration that puts defenders on the wrong foot, allowing him to find the space to hit a perfect cross or slip a pass behind the defenders. On the other side of the formation is Oston Urunov of Navbahor Namangan, who displays intense pace and strong technique. Capable of lining up across the front line, the 22-year-old looks to break into the box with direct attacking and is more than comfortable testing the goalkeeper from difficult angles.
Leading the line is the program’s all-time leading scorer and perhaps best player, Eldor Shomurodov, who is currently on loan from Cagliari from Roma. The 6’3” striker affectionately referred to as the “Uzbek Messi” has scored 37 goals in 66 appearances at the senior international level, although his production has been lacking with his club. He covers the entire width of the field and works hard to connect with teammates, often taking on the roles of facilitator and presser. Despite his size, Breaking the Lines notes that the majority of his finishes come from the counter-attack, capitalizing on mistakes, or finding open space behind the line.
On the road to co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, the USMNT will be facing a variety of friendly opponents due to the schedule congestion created by other competitions. There is the potential to expose the program to new and different challenges, experience that should prove useful for the final tournament. Uzbekistan is steadily improving and could find a way to qualify as a part of the expanded field. However, expect the home side to come away with the victory, especially with the utiliziation of a strong roster.
The match is scheduled for Saturday, September 9th at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 2:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TNT, Telemundo, Universo, and FUBO TV (free trial).