It’s a big day for soccer in Nashville. A United States men’s national team World Cup qualifying match will be played at Nissan Stadium for the first time in 12 years, five months and four days. The last time the USMNT played a qualifier in Nashville, a 19-year-old Jozy Altidore scored a hat trick in a 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago. Can the Yanks get a similar result against a talented and exciting Canada side?
United States 🇺🇸
The Yanks struggled in a 0-0 draw in El Salvador earlier in the week, with a predictable and un-impactful performance bookended by periods of creativity. It’s hard to win on the road in Concacaf.
In Nashville, Gregg Berhalter may opt to revert to the back three system he used in the Gold Cup. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, Canada has used a similar 3-4-3 setup recently, and matching their look could help keep Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan at bay. If George Bello and Sergiño Dest are threats to get in behind, it could force Canada’s wingbacks to be more conservative.
Second, Dest’s defensive shortcomings were once again exposed in San Salvador. Dest is clearly one of the most talented attackers in the squad. He’s a starter for FC Barcelona, but in a side that’s so ball-dominant, he’s not often asked to defend like he will be in Concacaf.
“We want to give him fredom to be creative, as long as that’s within our game plan,” said Berhalter in his pre-match press conference. “It’s not often you see a fullback with that amount of talent. It’s up to us to get him involved and get him involved in good positions where he can be decisive.”
Playing in a more advanced wingback role would allow Dest to play on his preferred right side, as well as ease some of his defensive responsibilities.
Unfortunately for the U.S., goalkeeper Zach Steffen remains out with back spasms, while Christian Pulisic underwent a late fitness test on Saturday to determine if he’ll be able to participate after recovering from Covid-19 last week. If he’s unable to play, expect Brendan Aaronson or Konrad de la Fuente to slot in in his place.
The Canucks also drew their first qualifier, needed a second-half penalty kick from Cyle Larin to earn a point at home against Honduras. Again, Concacaf is hard.
They’re fresh off a deep run in the Gold Cup, going toe to toe with Mexico in a hard fought semifinal match that ended in a 2-1 loss. Manager John Herdman has them playing well drilled, organized soccer, but the talent and creativity still has room to flourish.
Nashville fans will be quite familiar with Alistair Johnston. The fullback has had a fairly meteoric rise in the last 18 months. Selected in the second round of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, he made his professional debut in August, earned Nashville’s starting right-back job in September, made his international debut for Canada in January, and has appeared in all 12 of their matches in 2021.
Johnston has often played in a more central role on the right of a back three, allowing him to use his impressive passing range to kick-start Canada in possession, as well as having a fair bit of license to push forward.
Alphonso Davies is the standout player, and a legitimate elite player in the German Bundesliga for Bayern Munich. While Tajon Buchanan hasn’t reached the same heights or been tested at the highest levels like Davies, he’s tearing up MLS with New England Revolution, and recently earned a move to Brugge in Belgium.
It goes without saying, but this Canada side is more dangerous than any in their national history. They have enough elite talent to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986, and a result in Nashville would go a long way towards that.
Date: Sunday, September 5
Teams: United States (10 FIFA World Rankings) vs Canada (59 FIFA World Rankings)
Time: 7:00 PM central
Location: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Broadcast: FS1 / UniMas / TUDN