The U.S. men’s national team’s quest to return to the Concacaf Nations League knockout stage resumes on Friday with a road trip to Grenada and several prominent faces back in the squad.
Anthony Hudson’s squad squares off with The Spice Boys at Kirani James Stadium, seeking a bounce-back performance after a pair of winless results in January. The Americans sit in second place in Group D of League A following a 1-1-0 record through their opening two group stage matches.
After rolling past Grenada 5-0 at Q2 Stadium last June, the USMNT remains focused to claim the top spot ahead of Monday’s group stage finale in Orlando, Florida.
“We have a really talented squad, playing at really high levels all around the world,” Hudson said Thursday in his pre-match press conference. “Then you come to certain places in the region and it’s just different and I mean that respectfully. Different stadium, different fans, so these have become very complicated matches.
“The bottom line is to win because our goals are to reach the Nations League semifinals and qualify for the Gold Cup. We are the current holders of both tournaments and it’s really clear for the whole team that our goal is to retain both titles, and that starts tomorrow.”
Both of the Americans’ goalscorers in June’s head-to-head showdown are not in Hudson’s squad, with Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola remaining with FC Dallas. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Antonee Robinson are among the key starters in the USMNT squad while Taylor Booth and Auston Trusty will be seeking senior international debuts.
Pulisic is back in USMNT action after a two-month spell on the sidelines at Chelsea due to a knee injury. The 24-year-old earned back-to-back appearances off the bench against Borussia Dortmund and Leicester City respectively, before totaling 62 minutes in a start against Everton on Saturday.
After missing ample opportunities with Chelsea over the winter, Pulisic is ready to get back to his best for his country.
“I am feeling healthy, was able to come back and make a couple of appearances and even get a start which was great,” Pulisic said Thursday. “My knee is feeling good, my recovery went well and I’m just ready to go and hopefully be a part of both of these matches.”
Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike will fight to lead the line for the USMNT against the Spice Boys after not being a part of the World Cup roster last fall. Pepi has enjoyed a positive loan spell with Dutch club FC Groningen, where he has totaled 10 goals in all competitions and started garnering reported interest from fellow Eredivisie side PSV.
Dike, who missed most of the 2021-22 campaign through injury, has scored six of his seven goals for West Bromwich Albion this calendar year. The former Orlando City striker has gotten back to his best for the Baggies in the middle of a promotion chase in the English football League Championship.
Both Dike and Pepi will have a point to prove this window, especially with the long-term No. 9 role still not decided.
“I think it’s been seamless for both guys,” Hudson said about his pair of strikers. “Ricardo is such a great kid. He is so good around the group. He brings great energy, we follow him every weekend, and although his team is having a difficult time, he just doesn’t stop working. He makes great some runs behind the lines, he’s scoring goals. It was important to get him back in the group and get him some confidence. He deserves the chance.
“The same for Daryl, he has been with us before and is a different type of profile,” Hudson said about Dike. “He did very well in the Championship with Barnsley, he scored a bunch of goals to help them get in the playoffs. He got a well deserved move to West Brom, unfortunately missed a lot of programming with us due to his injury, but he’s doing well and his game has improved this Championship season. We are really pleased for him and what we expect from them is to give everything they’ve got and some goals would be good too.”
The Spice Boys are in a tough situation at home after being outscored 10-3 in their opening three group stage matches. Mohammed Kwid’s squad have all but been guaranteed a third-place finish in Group D, which will clinch them a berth into the 2023 Gold Cup preliminary round later this June.
The USMNT will be heavy favorites to pick up three points against Grenada on Friday night and the experiences from Qatar in 2022 should provide great experiences with important matches on the horizon.
“We have a great foundation and we are going to use these games as experiences, especially for what’s to come” Pulisic said. “We wanna take the experiences from the World Cup into these new competitions now and just continue to do what we’re doing and continue to figure each other out.
“When you come to these away matches in Concacaf, you are out of your comfort zone,” Hudson said. “With the experience of this squad, we have guys that have been through this before, we’ve had moments where we’ve learned big lessons. We all know how important the game and now it’s about using that experience to get the job done.”