The United States men's national team faces an unfamiliar foe Thursday in the Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals.
Qatar was invited to the competition as a guest team and worked its way into the semifinals to set up its first-ever clash with the USMNT.
Gregg Berhalter's team is using its second-string roster to navigate the Gold Cup, and it has done a decent job. The Americans have conceded a single goal in four matches and ground out a trio of 1-0 results, including the quarterfinal triumph over Jamaica.
On the other hand, Qatar has been involved in more wide-open matches since at least two goals have been scored in each of its four matches.
Qatar got into the final four by way of a 3-2 win over El Salvador. The 2019 AFC Asian Cup champion has let up five goals in its four games to this point.
USMNT vs. Qatar Info
Date: Thursday, July 29
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 (TV coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET)
Live Stream: Fox Sports app and FoxSports.com.
Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook): USMNT -105 (bet $105 to win $100); Qatar +320 (bet $100 to win $320); Draw (+245)
Although Qatar is not viewed as an international powerhouse, it has come up with some impressive results over the past few years.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup host captured the 2019 Asian Cup and has held its own versus some of the better North American sides at the Gold Cup in Panama, Honduras and El Salvador.
On Thursday, however, the Qataris will face a step up in competition against one of the confederation's top two sides.
The USMNT has not done anything flashy to reach the final four, but it has been strong in defense to make up for its lackluster attacking output.
Berhalter's men waited until the 83rd minute to find the breakthrough against Jamaica by way of the head of Matthew Hoppe, who is one of the few European-based players on the Gold Cup squad.
The mainly MLS-based players are fighting for spots on the back end of the depth chart for the start of World Cup qualifying in September. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and others will be available then, but with three games in the qualifying windows, the USMNT needs to have 23 strong players to pull out results.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner is trying to bridge the gap between himself and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 shirt. The New England Revolution man has three clean sheets at the Gold Cup.
Center backs Miles Robinson and James Sands have impressed in front of Turner over the past four games. Both players threw their names into contention for the second starting spot on the first team with Aaron Long out with an Achilles injury.
Robinson and Sands have other competition to start next to John Brooks, but they are both making a case to be included in the WCQ squad.
Hoppe, Daryl Dike and Gyasi Zardes are all fighting to be among the forwards selected in September. Each player has displayed flashes of brilliance throughout the tournament. However, none of them have taken a commanding hold on the top striker spot.
If one of the forwards thrives against Qatar and in the Gold Cup final, he could pave his path into the September roster alongside Josh Sargent, Jozy Altidore and others.
The key for the Americans on Thursday will be to get on the front foot early. Qatar scored twice in the first eight minutes against El Salvador, and it scored four first-half goals in the group stage. If the USMNT absorbs the early pressure from Qatar and works into the game in the attacking zone, it should create enough chances to pull ahead.
If Qatar's trend of scoring early continues, the USMNT will be forced to play from behind, which could benefit the young squad in its development, but the host side will hope that the match does not reach that point.
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