The USMNT managed a scoreless tie away from home against El Salvador in their Concacaf World Cup qualifying opener Thursday, slowing the momentum built with two title wins over Mexico this summer. This sparked flashbacks to the team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup for some. Former USMNT midfielder Landon Donovan, however, isn't among the concerned.
Here's what he said on SiriusXM FC on Friday:
"No matter how many times we go through this process, there are always people who can't really understand how difficult it is," said Donovan, whose 157 caps are second behind Cobi Jones' 164 for the USMNT record. "It doesn't matter what you're ranked. It doesn't matter how talented your players are on paper. It's a hard place to play. And I think last night was exactly what I certainly thought it would be: it was choppy, it was sloppy.
"There were a few half chances on both sides. And if you make one play, you win the game. And if not, you tie the game. If you win in El Salvador, you still have to win at home, against Canada. You don't get any reprieve from getting a point or losing the game against Canada. So, there was always going to be pressure on this match. This notion that getting a point in El Salvador is somehow a bad result I think is crazy. Historically, if you tie on the road and win at home, you're in."
The El Salvador game -- played in front of 29,000 in San Salvador's Estadio Cuscatian -- was the first World Cup qualifier for 19 of the USMNT's youth-centric 25-player squad. One of the six with World Cup qualifying experience, Christian Pulisic, missed the contest while regaining his fitness from a bout with COVID-19.
A back injury forced goalkeeper Zack Steffen out of the USMNT's lineup as well, giving the squad hope that a potential return from him and Pulisic -- along with the other players' growing comfortability in the World Cup qualifying setting -- will lead to better results in its final two games of this qualifying window at home to Canada, and on the road against Honduras on Paramount+.
"All these games are going to be hard-fought," said USMNT coach Greg Berhalter, whose team is now 18-1-6 against El Salvador all-time. "Any intention of us coming here and winning 3-0, it was going to be really challenging. They're dog fights."
The USMNT has another dog fight ahead in the next round of the opening qualifying window against Canada. That game is slated for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET in Nashville.
After Wednesday's road match against Honduras, the USMNT will be through three of its 14 qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
USMNT: Concacaf qualifiers schedule
(All times U.S./Eastern)
Sunday, Sept. 5 (Matchday 2)
United States vs. Canada, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 8 (Matchday 3)
Honduras vs. United States, 10:30 p.m. (Paramount+)
Thursday, Oct. 7 (Matchday 4)
United States vs. Jamaica, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 10 (Matchday 5)
Panama vs. United States, 9 p.m. (Paramount+)
Wednesday, Oct. 13 (Matchday 6)
United States vs. Costa Rica, 7 p.m.
Nov. 11-13 (Matchday 7)
United States vs. Mexico
Nov. 14-16 (Matchday 8)
Jamaica vs. United States (Paramount+)
Thursday, Jan. 27 (Matchday 9)
United States vs. El Salvador
Sunday, Jan. 30 (Matchday 10)
Canada vs. United States (Paramount+)
Wednesday, Feb. 2 (Matchday 11)
United States vs. Honduras
Thursday, March 24 (Matchday 12)
Mexico vs. United States
Sunday, March 27 (Matchday 13)
United States vs. Panama
Wednesday, March 30 (Matchday 14)
Costa Rica vs. United States (Paramount+)
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