USMNT Opens 2022 World Cup Qualifying with Scoreless Draw vs. El Salvador

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 3, 2021

AUSTIN, TX - JULY 29: United States defender Miles Robinson (12) looks for a teammate to pass the ball to during the Gold Cup semifinal match between the United States and Qatar on Thursday July 29th, 2021 at Q2 stadium in Austin,TX.  (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Four years ago, the United States men's national team shockingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. On Thursday night, a squad of fresh-faced talents started on the path to redemption. 

It was a... mediocre start. 

The United States traveled to El Salvador and left with a scoreless draw in a game that was a bit of a slog to watch, as neither team managed much in the way of consistent chances. 

The first half was a rather sloppy affair, with the United States buzzing for the first 10 minutes before El Salvador came into the game and mucked things up a bit. Much of the half was scrappier than Gregg Berhalter would have preferred for his possession-based system. 

The U.S. did have the best chance of the first 45, however, as Miles Robinson put his free header in the box off a set piece just over the crossbar.

The second half wasn't much better, as Berhalter's suite of substitutions didn't change the game's flow or find it any better to break down El Salvador's resolute defending. 

Kellyn Acosta had the best chance of the second half for either side:

CBS Sports Golazo โšฝ๏ธ @CBSSportsGolazo

Kellyn Acosta comes close to opening the scoring ๐Ÿ˜ณ <a href="https://t.co/BAGLV8GO1j">pic.twitter.com/BAGLV8GO1j</a>

Granted, the United States was without its best player, Christian Pulisic. And they got a point on the road, keeping a clean sheet in a tough environment. The long view is that it wasn't a terrible result.

Maximiliano Bretos @MaxBretosSports

That's a good result for the U.S.๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ 1st road game in 9, a lot of debutants who now have a WCQ game under belt.<br>Would it be crazy if I said Tim Ream was the MVP tonight?

Steve Davis @SteveDavis90

Not great. But not bad. <br>Plenty of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USMNT</a> players were whacking their way through the CONCACAF jungle for the first time.<br>So mission (sorta) accomplished - although a couple guys certainly need to be better.<br>Home wins + Road draws gets you to a World Cup

But a team full of young talentโ€”many of whom ply their trade at top European clubsโ€”was expected to do better. 

Perhaps most emblematic of the struggles of such players was Sergino Dest, playing at left-back instead of his normal position on the right. While he presents a threat going forward given his pace and inability to beat defenders one-on-one, he was a huge liability in defense, to the point that it's fair to question if he's the right type of fullback for a back-4 system. 

Maximiliano Bretos @MaxBretosSports

I don't think you can start Sergino Dest, I don't know what to say. He just doesn't fit right. <br>Leaving a guy out who starts for Barcelona sounds crazy, but it's a fluid situation.

Will Parchman @WillParchman

Dest hasnโ€™t just been bad, heโ€™s been American Left Back Bad.

Ives Galarcep @SoccerByIves

Sergiรฑo Dest leads the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USMNT</a> in "What are you doing? Okay, fine" moments. Doesn't make those any less nerve-wracking<br><br>Still 0-0, 63rd minute.

But it wasn't just Dest. Gio Reyna and Brendan Aaronson failed to make a major impact in attack. The USMNT in general seemed to lose its flow in the final third, lingering on the ball too long as two defenders seemed to form a wall in front of every attacker who pushed the play out wide. The snappy, incisive passing that got the United States through the midfield seemed to wane as they neared the danger areas. 

Of course, CONCACAF qualifiers on the road aren't for the faint of heart. The El Salvadoran crowd was bumping. A number of hard fouls went uncalled. El Salvador deserves credit for executing a game plan that seemed intent on creating a wall in defense and occasionally threatening on the counter. 

There was also this moment for Gio Reyna:


Gio Reyna getting his first experience of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the USMNT ๐Ÿ˜ณ <a href="https://t.co/SXF7ViuYqE">pic.twitter.com/SXF7ViuYqE</a>

Nancy Armour @nrarmour

Security with riot shields blocking Reyna from stuff being thrown while he's taking a CK. CONCACAF gonna CONCACAF

Nothing comes easy in CONCACAF. It's a lesson the young and talented Americans learned on Thursday night. 

U.S. Soccer MNT @USMNT

Boys are ready. ๐Ÿ‘Š๐ŸŸ<br>Kickoff is just around the corner here in El Salvador. <a href="https://t.co/STyRKdWO6I">pic.twitter.com/STyRKdWO6I</a>

Maximiliano Bretos @MaxBretosSports

BTW, this is how road games in CONCACAF are supposed to look like. Many were under impression our guys were gonna show up from Europe and run circles. That's not how it works. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SLVvUSA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SLVvUSA</a>

Caitlin Murray @caitlinmurr

Are there just random fireworks going off during the game? What is that sound on the broadcast? Is it... the sound of Concacaf? ๐Ÿ˜‚ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USMNT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USMNT</a>

These are the types of games the young Americans need to learn how to win. These are the environments they need to learn how to navigate. There is enormous talent for the USMNT, more promise than perhaps any previous generation could boast. 

But four years after failing to reach the World Cup, most United States soccer fans are more concerned with the present than the future. They won't be thrilled with what they saw Thursday night, point on the road or not.