With the World Cup in sight, the USMNT still have doubts about keepers and strikers | United States

A mixed bag of June fixtures wrapped up on Tuesday with a testy 1-1 draw away to El Salvador as USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter continued his World Cup preparations.

The window opened with two useful friendlies against World Cup-bound nations – a morale-boosting 3-0 victory over Morocco and a resilient and sometimes fluent goalless draw with a slightly superior Uruguay team.

Then came the imposition of two Concacaf Nations League fixtures: a virtually meaningless 5-0 win over Grenada and Tuesday’s visit to sodden San Salvador, in which an injury-time Jordan Morris header saved American blushes – and exemplified American determination.

A spirited second-half display was the main positive for the US, as Yunus Musah delivered a kinetic star turn. Substitute Paul Arriola was sent off for a lunge and El Salvador also ended the match with 10 men. It was an archetypal febrile, bad-tempered, VAR-less Concacaf scrap on a dreadful surface, a context that will bear little resemblance to the Group B games in Qatar against Wales, England and Iran. You’d hope.

Here are a few takeaways from the latest round up matches.

Ferreira up front

France famously won the ’98 World Cup with a goal-averse striker turned swimming-pool salesman, Stéphane Guivarc’h, leading the line. It shouldn’t be beyond the US to get out of their group without a top-class No 9. The wingers are a threat, the midfield has drive, and it’s not as if the central strikers contributed much from open play during the successful qualifying campaign.

As of now the best option appears to be Jesús Ferreira of FC Dallas. The in-form 21-year-old moves well off the ball and scored four goals against Grenada in Austin last Friday. True, you could fit the entire adult population of Grenada into the 108,000-capacity Michigan Stadium. But given the modest caliber of the opposition and his quiet performances against Uruguay and Morocco, the pressure was on Ferreira to fill his boots and he did, with three fine finishes and a tap-in.

Haji Wright of Antalyaspor was given his first US start against El Salvador but enjoyed little service and there was not much to note other than a decent chance the 24-year-old put wide. He was taken off at half time and replaced with Ferreira, but it was another substitute, the pugnacious Morris, who delivered the equalizer from close range.

Horvath horror show

Nottingham Forest back-up keeper Ethan Horvath got his chance on Tuesday on a pitch seemingly imported from the Glastonbury festival. His feet appeared stuck in the mud in the 35th minute as he watched Alexander Larin’s cross/shot fly into the net. Rain won’t be a problem in Qatar, but the goal – El Salvador’s only shot on target – was the kind of moment that can doom a cruel international career.

Matt Turner was solid in goal against Morocco and didn’t face a shot on target against Grenada, while Sean Johnson excelled against Uruguay, the toughest opponent the US met this month. With Zack Steffen not in the squad, both Turner and Johnson bolstered their cases to be picked ahead of the error-prone Manchester City reserve. Turner may now be the favorite to start in Qatar, even if he doesn’t see much first-team action at Arsenal next season.

Tuesday’s freakish strike was the only goal the US conceded in the four games. The redoubtable Aaron Long partnered Cameron Carter-Vickers at center-back against El Salvador and deserves the edge over the Celtic defender as Berhalter decides who will slot in alongside first-choice Walker Zimmerman.

Two games to go

Gregg Berhalter is yet to settle on his final XI for the World Cup. Photograph: Scott Wachter/USA Today Sports

The US only have just 180 minutes of match action before the World Cup. Come the autumn and September’s climatic pair of friendlies in Europe, Berhalter will have to decide how much weight he places on current club form as opposed to what he’s witnessed over the longer term in training camps and international matches.

That’s a calculation for any manager ahead of a World Cup, of course. But this time the finals take place in November and December, less than halfway through the European season. Not to mention the sheer number of American players who may be on the move this summer – or have already switched clubs, like Brenden Aaronson. The Athletic listed 14 who could soon change employers, including key men such as Christian Pulisic, Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie.

Maybe they flourish in fresh surroundings; perhaps they struggled to adapt. Berhalter’s best-laid plans may end up requiring significant last-minute revision even without injuries.

Leaving it late

On the one hand, the fewer people who see Pulisic’s latest hairstyle, the better. On the other hand, the lack of buzz around the June window was a shame. With five months until kick-off against Wales in Qatar, the fixtures didn’t feel like a send-off series. But US Soccer’s policy of playing in small MLS stadiums and late kick-off times for matches broadcast on a merry-go-round of niche channels do nothing to promote the product to casual observers.

Sure, Friday’s NBA finals Game 4 held more interest for the average American sports fan than a Nations League stroll in a Texan sweatbox against the world’s 170th-ranked team. But did the Grenada game need to kick off on a Friday night at 10pm ET and be broadcast in English on the cavernous ESPN+ subscription streaming service, where viewers may have been distracted by alternative delights such as the La Crosse Loggers versus the Bismarck Larks in the Northwoods baseball league?

Tuesday’s clash in San Salvador, on FS1, Univision and TUDN, also kicked off at 10pm ET as the USMNT continued its war on people who have to get up early the next morning. The game even clashed with a rescheduled home MLS match for one of the continent’s most popular clubs, as Seattle hosted Vancouver. This on the day that MLS announced a lucrative and comprehensive deal with Apple TV; compare and contrast.

Thoughts turn to 2026

As hosts of the biennial Gold Cup, the US are fortunate to play a lot of home games. Habitual travel sickness – their only away win in the Octagonal was against Honduras, by far the worst team – doesn’t bode well for Qatar, but it won’t be a problem four years from now.

Fifa finally reveals the identity of the 2026 World Cup host cities on Thursday. Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara are safe bets but there’s intrigue regarding the American and Canadian cities. Kansas City ahead of Baltimore/Washington? Houston but not Boston? There are rumblings that Fifa will snub Edmonton, leaving Canada with only Toronto and Vancouver.

Then there’s the matter of who’s awarded the prime fixtures, with the New York and Dallas areas vying for the final. Los Angeles, too, though the field at SoFi Stadium is too narrow for Fifa’s liking. That’s right: Stan Kroenke – the owner of Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids – built a $5.5bn stadium with soccer as an afterthought.

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