Preview: USMNT return to competitive play against Honduras

The United States Men’s National Team will play a competitive match tonight for the first time in 572 days. The Yanks take on Honduras in the Concacaf Nations League semifinal for the chance to win a… historic trophy. The U.S., Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica are the remaining four sides in the tournament’s second-ever edition.

Tonight is a chance for fans and manager Gregg Berhalter to see a largely first-choice side in action. Against a unheralded but difficult Honduras side, they’ll look to win convincingly ahead of a packed stretch of competitive action.

United States

For the first time in a long time, Gregg Berhalter has a full-strength roster to work with. Outside of Aaron Long and Jordan Morris, the vast majority of players you’d expect to be called up are healthy.

Parts of the lineup seem to pick themselves. Fresh off a Champions League trophy, Christian Pulisic is an automatic starter when healthy, and will be a focal point in attack. Juventus’s Weston McKennie is coming off an exceptional 2020/21 season, where he solidified himself as one of the better young two-way midfielders in Europe. Sergiño Dest has turned into an every week starter for Barcelona, and while Zach Steffen is the number two at Manchester City, he’s the clear pick in goal for his country.

With that being said, there are still plenty of questions. Perhaps the biggest has to do with Tyler Adams’s health. The RB Leipzig midfielder is consistently excellent when he gets on the pitch; he just hasn’t been on the pitch much in the last year and a half. A back issue kept him out of the squad for the final four matches of his club season, and he’s missed 25 of the Yanks’ last 30 matches.

Adams is in the squad for this tournament and has been in training. He’ll be a last-minute call.

If he can’t play, Jackson Yueill is a natural option as a no. 6, or Berhalter could drop McKennie back into more of a defensive role. As good as McKennie is making late runs into the box, I think the team loses too much by dropping him deeper, and Yueill has the passing range and vision to break down Honduras on the ball. He’d be my choice.

Another big question is at fullback. Dest is naturally right-footed, but can switch to the left without much drop off. This allows Reggie Cannon to play in his natural spot on the right. Berhalter has the option of playing Dest and Antonee Robinson in their natural positions on the right and left, respectively. But in recent matches he’s seemed to prioritize getting Cannon on the pitch, and I expect that to continue.

The biggest selection decision comes up top. Josh Sargent has been hailed as the future for what feels like forever. He was an every-week starter in the Bundesliga for Werder Bremen, who ended up being relegated. He made 32 appearances, and managed five goals and two assists in just over 2,500 minutes.

At the international level, though, he’s been far from clinical. Against Switzerland, he struggled mightily with timing and seemed disconnected from the rest of the squad.

Berhalter has other options in Tim Weah and Jordan Siebatcheu, and both seem likely candidates off the bench. Still, Berhalter has shown a preference for Sargent and I’d be surprised to see that change tonight.

Honduras

Honduras is a decent side. They’ve been a consistent contender in Concacaf, outside the “Big 3” of Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica. With a heavily domestic-based roster, they’ll look to take the US by surprise with a quick start and get an early lead, before staying compact and making life miserable.

This Honduras squad will be familiar to fans of MLS. Forward Alberth Elis spent four seasons with the Houston Dynamo before heading to Portugal, and he’s the main threat up top. Lightning quick and lethal one-on-one, he’ll stretch the backline and look to isolate defenders, earning a half-yard of space before getting to goal quickly.

Maynor Figueroa captains the squad. He’s tallied 165 caps in an 18 year international career, and at 38 years old is still a fixture in the backline. Bryan Acosta is another Texas-based player, plying his trade for FC Dallas. The box-to-box midfielder is versatile, able to play anywhere in the midfield four, and will be key to Honduras’s success in possession.

The odds aren’t favorable for Honduras. In 17 official meeting against the U.S, they’ve won just twice. They managed a point in their most recent encounter, a 1-1 draw in San Pedro Sula back in 2017.

While they don’t have the recognizable names of their opponent, they’re not an easy test. Historically difficult to play against, they’ll invite the Yanks to break them down and leave the impetus of creating chances on the other side.

Fan forecast

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Match info

Teams: United States vs Honduras
FIFA World Rankings: United States (20), Honduras (67)
Odds: United States (-233), Draw (+300) Honduras (+900) via Action Network
Date: Thursday, June 3
Time: 3:30PM Central, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
TV:  CBS Sports, Paramount+, Univision, TUDN
Forecast: 83°/58°. Clear. 15% chance of rain. 23% humidity.

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