The United States Men’s National Team, after not qualifying for the World Cup, may be in a state of flux, and there are obviously a lot of questions about the team and the direction it will go moving forward. Still, they have matches to play, and after next month’s friendly against Portugal, the team will be off until their annual January camp begins.
With next year being a year full of friendlies for the USMNT, this is a chance for U.S. Soccer to pick some matchups that will really excite fans and keep them interested in the team as they start the rebuilding process. We’ve heard already that Bosnia and Herzegovina is scheduled to have a camp in the U.S. in January around the same time that the USMNT has its camp. Still, U.S. Soccer needs to schedule games against opponents that will re-energize the fanbase and keep interest levels high while not making them cash grabs. So, which games should the USMNT schedule? Here’s my take:
January - vs. Sweden
Sweden would be a good matchup and a familiar one for the United States. But, with them possibly being in the World Cup, this would be a chance for them to evaluate talent for their final roster, and it’s a formidable opponent for the USMNT and the young players that will likely make up the roster. It’s also a team the MNT hasn’t played in a while, so that may help fans get up for a January match.
I would like for the March friendlies to be at home, but I think the USMNT will try to bring in a European-based squad and play two games on the continent. One of those can be against The Netherlands, who also didn’t make the World Cup. It would be a good test for the team and a chance to play them once again in Amsterdam. After that, the USMNT can test their mettle against Belgium, a team they haven’t faced since the 2014 World Cup 2nd Round. Belgium is now 5th in the world and running on all cylinders, so this would be a huge match for the Americans. They can exact some revenge against the Red Devils, and it would be a match that fans would travel to see as well as watch on TV for that storyline alone.
Late May to early June will be prime World Cup prep match time for teams who will be playing in Russia. It will be certain that the USMNT plays some games in Europe against some of these opponents. Realistically, the World Cup draw on December 1st may serve as a nice predictor of the teams we face. Any teams that have Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama or Honduras (should they beat Australia in the CONCACAF/AFC playoff) in their group will likely give Soccer House a call to schedule a match against the Americans as prime preparation for facing one of those teams. Still, it would be fun for fans to travel to Europe to see us play a few teams. First, Uruguay will need some games and they may be one of the teams that would be convinced to travel to Europe for one of their prep matches. Stick that game in Craven Cottage (like the 2014 Colombia friendly) and it could be a great atmosphere and solid friendly match. Next, hit the Underground to Wembley and face off against England, a team that has been avoiding us since we faced off in the 2010 World Cup. Surely this time around, a matchup against us makes more sense and it would bring eyeballs to TV sets. Finally, head down to Paris to take on France and you have three solid friendlies that may encourage fans to head to Europe for a week and a half.
September would be a nice time to have a couple home matches, but with the European season just beginning, it’s best to play two friendlies there and keep our Euro-based players close to home. The first match I’d have would be against Denmark, a team we last played in 2015. It would be a great team to help jump start the new cycle. Next, head to Cardiff to take on Gareth Bale and Wales. This match almost happened this year, but it would be a matchup that would garner a ton of interest. We haven’t faced Wales since 2003 and there are many diehard fans who would welcome a match against the Welsh.
October would be a great time to have home matches, with the end of the MLS season just after the window and you wouldn’t have to subject any MLS-based players on the roster to lengthy travel. We don’t play enough matches against Asian and African teams, so this would be a great month to have both. First, the Blue Samurai would be an incredible opponent with awesome fans and a style of play that we haven’t really taken on in a while. Next, Cameroon will be looking for opponents since CAF will be in the middle of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying (Cameroon is hosting the January 2019 tournament). Teams like Cameroon always give us trouble, so they would give us a new look at a style of play we will need to get accustomed to moving down the line.
November - @ Chile, vs. Canada
Finally, November will be a month that concentrates on the Americas. First, have the team travel for a friendly in Chile. The best team in CONMEBOL the past two years inexplicably didn’t make the World Cup, and it will be a nice test for whoever the new head coach will be at the time. Finally, return to the United States and start preparing for the next four years in taking on Canada. Canada hopes to do a lot better in World Cup qualifying during the next cycle and with players like Cyle Larin and Alphonso Davies adding more experience, it would be an interesting matchup that would draw a lot of attention.
There you go, U.S. Soccer. We got the next year completely sorted. It could be a rocky year in the win-loss column, but these matches would keep fan interest high while giving our younger talent the test they need to know what they need to do to be able to perform on the international stage, and those lessons will be key for the growth of our team. There are other great options out there, but with this schedule and some favorable pricing (I repeat, U.S. Soccer: do not make these cash grabs), the USMNT will be able to start their new cycle off with some exciting matchups against opponents that will keep fans interested despite the low importance of the matches.
Now, it’s your turn out there. Which teams would you like to see the USMNT play next year?