USMNT preview

USMNT preview: 5 players to watch in Nations League opener vs. Cuba

The USMNT will host Cuba in its first ever Nations League game. While the tournament lacks prestige, it comes at a time when the U.S. team needs to take every opportunity to build and move forward. ASN's Brian Sciaretta writes about 5 players to watch in DC.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 11, 2019
9:00 AM
THE UNITED STATES national team will host Cuba on Friday night at Washington’s Audi Field to open its first ever Nation’s League campaign. As the tournament begins for the U.S. squad, it finds itself a team looking to build an identity following uneven results throughout 2019 under new manager Gregg Berhalter.

Fortunately for the U.S. team, it is the favorite against a Cuban team that typically has difficult times when playing in the United States due to defections of its players. But the goal of this game for the U.S. team should be an aim towards gaining momentum ahead of Tuesday’s matchup against an improving Canadian team that is very enthusiastic about beating its southern neighbors.

Cuba is sure to bunker and the U.S. team will hope to find openings while not showing vulnerabilities on the counter. But it is unlikely that the U.S. team will get any answers against Cuba. The most important questions can only be resolved against top tier teams: can the U.S. team break a press? Can the U.S. have a No. 6 that is strong on both sides of the ball? Can the U.S. team hold possession and beat strong defenders?

The Cuba game is not likely to answer any important questions over the direction and progress of the U.S. team. But CONCACAF soccer is usually brutal and ugly. So playing these type of games is not totally without value.

Not much is known about the lineup the U.S. team will field with the exception that Josh Sargent will start the game. Right now, there are so many players the U.S. team needs to get going and a low-pressure game against Cuba might be useful.

Here is a look at some players who could benefit the most if they get on the field.

5 Players to Watch

Josh Sargent: The St. Louis native will start this game for the U.S. team and with the absence of Jozy Altidore, can he build off his performances at Werder where he has started the last three games. Berhalter has said that Sargent will be the future forward of the U.S. team, but can start to step into that role sooner than later?

Weston McKennie: McKennie has been playing more for an improving Schalke, but he hasn’t yet been an impact player for that club. Can he take on a bigger role for the national team than he’s asked for his club?

Tyler Boyd: The winger made quite a splash in May when he announced that he would be playing for the United States moving forward. At the time he was having a breakout season in Turkey. But since then, he has struggled for both club and country. He is a talented player but can he return to the same level he was at in the beginning of 2019?

DeAndre Yedlin: Whether or not Yedlin plays against Cuba will be interesting. For one, he’s only just returning to fitness and it’s hard to see him start both games this international window. But will Berhalter ease him back into the U.S. team against Cuba or will he throw him into a tough game against Canada? The Seattle native is coming off a very solid outing when Newcastle United downed Manchester United 1-0. It’s been awhile since he had a big game for the U.S. team and Reggie Cannon has played well in his absence – so there is no need to rush him back. But his progression over this window will be important.

Paul Arriola: Personal matters kept Arriola out of the camp during the September window but the DC United winger remains an important player for the U.S. team since his defensive presence on the wings is probably among the best in the play pool. Arriola moves very well but his final ball can be inconsistent. When he’s on his game, he can be an asset.

It remains to be seen which players will play against Cuba and with the team struggling to get going, every player has a lot at stake when he steps onto the field. But for those players above, it’s an even more important opportunity.

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