It wasn't your typical soccer game. It's not everyday you watch a soccer game in sub-zero temperatures, with players wearing full warm-suits under their uniforms. Was it even necessary for the U.S. Soccer federation to do this with the team facing last place Honduras? We'll get to that.
The important thing, USA got the much needed win in their pursuit for a World Cup spot in Qatar next winter. That made it 2 wins and 1 loss during this window, good enough to remain in one of the automatic bid spots in the standings. Here's are a few of my thoughts on the 3-0 win against Honduras, and on this window as a whole.
Weston McKennie scores the opener, and remains the best player for the USMNY during this qualifying window
McKennie gave the hosts an early lead, directing a Kellyn Acosta free kick into the bottom right corner just eight minutes into the contest, bringing to life the announced crowd of 19,202 who braved the ridiculously cold temperatures at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Juventus midfielder put the cherry on top of a wonderful qualifying window. Clearly the best player for the U.S., his calmness under pressure on the ball was a beautiful sight to see. This was important being that the squad was without the captain Tyler Adams in the middle. Weston is not only patient, which helps setup his teammates, but he also has the ability to get forward and score from set-pieces and in direct attack. Just months removed from being sent home from the national team for breaking team rules, McKennie is back and better than ever looking motivated to lead this team from the center of the park.
Pulisic scores as a substitute, Pepi gets the start - Has Gregg Berhalter damaged the confidence of some of his players with his personnel decisions?
Christian Pulisic refused to celebrate after his second half goal against Honduras, after he came on as a substitute. It was clear, the Chelsea star was not happy to have been on the bench in a must win game to maintain position in the all-important Qualifying standings.
USMNT Fans have been calling for Ricardo Pepi to start at striker ever since he scored 3 goals in 2 games a couple of windows ago. The now 19 year-old recently moved from FC Dallas to Augsburg FC in the German Bundesliga, and while he is still settling in, Pepi seems to be the best option in attack. At the very least, the most match-fit player being that he is in midseason with his new club. Berhalter chose to start the first two matches of the window against El Salvador and Canada with Jesus Ferreira and Gyasi Zardes respectively. Two players who had not played a competitive match in over 3 months, since their MLS seasons ended. Does that affect the confidence of your young up-and-coming striker in Pepi, when he's coming into the team on a high after scoring for his country and playing against the stiff competition in Germany? It sure looked like it when he stepped onto the field against Honduras. (To be fair it could've also been the freezing cold)
Every time a Gregg Berhalter starting lineup is revealed, there is always a head-scratching decision. Some work out, some don't. But it would be nice as a fan, to know what the best starting lineup is for your team, and with just 3 games left in qualifying, we still do NOT know.
A game in Minnesota in February is not a smart move by the U.S. Soccer Federation
I completely understand the idea of looking for a competitive advantage when team's visit the U.S. for World Cup Qualifying matches. Our team has to deal with that every time they go on the road. Whether its a hostile environment, sweltering heat, or a very poor quality playing surface, they've dealt with it all.
That being said, playing a soccer game in sub-zero temperatures benefits no one. One of the coldest games in world soccer history was absolutely brutal for the Honduran players, of which three reportedly dealt with hypothermia symptoms after the match. But it wasn't much better for the Americans. Goalkeeper Matt Turner, who didn't have a whole lot to do with the U.S. goal hardly threatened, was struggling mightily throughout the first half. During an injury stoppage Turner ran over to the bench just to get a few seconds wrapped in the warmth of a winter coat.
Multiple American players voiced their displeasure after the match on social media. Pulisic used it as an excuse to wrap up his post game interview.
"It was freezing out here. I'm looking forward to getting into the locker room," Pulisic said.
My question; At the point we've reached with the talent level on this U.S. team, is it really necessary to literally freeze out opponents not named Mexico? CONCACAF games are all tough, I'm aware of that. But we shouldn't need sub-zero temperatures to help us defeat national teams in our region. Not with the talent level we currently possess. To be frank, it was a bit embarrassing to not only treat a respectfully hopeless Honduras team, but also to put our own players in that type of dangerously cold situation.
Final World Cup Qualifying window coming up in March - USA look to seal their spot in Qatar 2022
Thursday March 24th at Mexico
Sunday March 27th vs. Panama (Orlando, FL)
Wednesday March 30th at Costa Rica
If the U.S. can get at least a draw at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico, then a win at home against Panama would book their ticket to Qatar this winter. A milestone after missing the World Cup in 2018, the national team has come a long way in a short period of time. Even with all the criticisms this team and coaching staff have received, the goal remains the same...JUST QUALIFY!