USMNT - El Salvador preview, Balogun-mania, and U-20 thoughts
March 27, 2023
THE USMNT returns to action on Monday night in Orlando to host El Salvador in the finale of its Nations League group stage, needing only a draw to advance. This game is being played in the backdrop of Folarin Balogun spending time in South Florida. Meanwhile, the U.S. U-20 camp rolls on in Spain after a 4-2 loss to England.
So here are a few thoughts.
USMNT - El Salvador preview
The U.S. team will host El Salvador tonight. This game should be a much higher test than Grenada game. Of the last three times these teams have played, two have been draws and the other has been a 1-0 win in favor of the U.S. team.
Interim head coach Anthony Hudson has said
"There's going to be a few changes," said Hudson. "I think coming into camp, we had an eye on sort of pre-planned changes. I think one of the best things, a luxury we have in windows like this is we have a very strong group. We have good depth, which allows us to be able to prepare for two games in a short time frame. And to be able to rotate, not wholesale changes, but to rotate in a way that we can at least get to the second game and have freshness in players and freshness without losing quality."
Hudson will want to have a strong lineup while ensuring that enough players earn minutes to feel like they’ve had a productive camp.
Closing out March in Orlando!— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) March 27, 2023
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???????? USA vs El Salvador ????????
7:30 PM ET
???? TNT + @Telemundo / @peacock
Match Preview » https://t.co/zCJuw1koRE pic.twitter.com/05rtfvxCWo
I believe that key players like Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic will remain in the starting lineup. Gio Reyna doesn’t start often at his club and staring him twice in quick succession might be asking a lot. I think Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest should be good to start at the fullback positions.
Midfield should see McKennie and Yunus Musah start again. If Reyna doesn’t start, Luca de la Torre might be another solid option. Pulisic and Alex Zendejas would be my predicted starting wingers and the two have known each other for years dating back to the U-17 team.
Daryl Dike could get the start in his return to Orlando where he made his first professional inroads. Goalkeeper could see Zack Steffen get the nod and not see a significant drop in quality.
Central defense is also an open question. It’s entirely possible that Hudson swaps both Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie for Tim Ream and Miles Robinson.
Off the bench, Hudson will want to get Alan Sonora minutes.
But overall, the U.S. team will be facing a heavily motivated El Salvador team that will look to make up for the talent gap with raw intensity. Hugo Perez has been a great coach in that regard. But overall, the U.S. should be in good shape.
Folarin Balogun has been a huge topic this past week. He’s been a player of interest for U.S. Soccer dating back to 2018. Tab Ramos nearly convinced him to switch ahead of the 2019 U-20 World Cup but the New York-born striker opted to remain with England.
Things are different now. He’s left England’s U-21 camp – likely for feeling snubbed by England’s full team. With 17 goals in 27 games for Stade de Reims in Ligue 1, he probably felt he belonged on England’s full team. But his departure from England’s camp was announced as an injury – which is hard to buy given that he posted pictures of him training in Florida. Now, he has apparently removed pictures on his Instagram account of him wearing an England jersey.
There are a bunch of ways to look at this, but England is making the U.S. federation’s “recruiting” of him easy. It seems obvious that he wants to play for England but is disappointed/angry with his standing. But does that really wants to play for the United States. He’s certainly open to it, but why would he be convinced by the U.S. program without a permanent head coach or even a sporting director? Yes, he might know the players but to board a boat without a captain (while also having plenty of time to wait to see who the captain is) is wild.
Is he doing this just to get England’s attention? Maybe. But I think he’s switching. Typically, dual-national decisions almost always follow momentum. The only real exception was Jens-Lyn Cajuste (who is also at Reims) and seemed to be interested in leaving Sweden for the U.S. program after he initially was told he was ineligible for, but later was found out he was. But in the end, he opted to stay with Sweden.
This heat! ???????? pic.twitter.com/N9C69NOLzm— Balogun (@balogun) March 23, 2023
Here, I think momentum will play out as it usually does. The U.S. has all the momentum.
How much is his heart into the U.S. program? It certainly does matter and it’s easy draw a conclusion that England remains his first choice. But Germany was Thomas Dooley’s first choice, and he was a big-time player as well after helping Kaiserslautern win the Bundesliga. After he was disappointed in not getting a German call-up, he opted for the U.S. and became critical to early days of the moder-era of the U.S. program.
The U.S. U-20 team rolls on in Marbella after two difficult defeats – the first to France and the second was a 4-2 loss to England on Saturday. The U.S. team scored two great goals from Wolfsburg’s Kevin Paredes and then Austin FC’s Owen Wolff.
Building from the back ?? lovely finish pic.twitter.com/0nj9CUMzI0— U.S. Soccer YNT (@USYNT) March 26, 2023
The France game was available to watch. The England game was only revealed in highlights. But here is a few observations on this U.S. U-20 team.
- They have talent.
- They haven’t been able to put away chances and have been wasteful.
- They sorely miss Dan Edelman as the only true No. 6 in the pool who is in-form
- The team will be better at the World Cup of Edelman, Wiley, and Gutierrez join.
- Varas has to do what he can for Kevin Paredes to be released.
???????????? pic.twitter.com/5gjOIIE6nq— U.S. Soccer YNT (@USYNT) March 26, 2023
In the end, the U-20 team has spent a lot of time experimenting and identifying. They might be behind the curve in building up chemistry with the top group of players. The camp leading up to the World Cup is going to be so critical.