Brendan Aaronson celebrates his goal.
By Michael Lewis
Two games, two draws, two points.
Not exactly the start the U.S. men’s national team wanted or expected as it opened up World Cup qualifying.
The underachieving Americans, missing two key starters, played Canada to a rather disappointing 1-1 draw in its first home game in the Concacaf Octagonal at Nissan Stadium in Nashville Sunday.
The tie left the USA (0-0-2) with two points in its first two matches of the competition after registering a scoreless deadlock in El Salvador Thursday night, with a third match looming in Honduras Wednesday night. The Americans sit in fifth place among the eight teams, with 12 games remaining in their quest to qualify for Qatar 2022.
“We expect more. We wanted to win both of these games, absolutely,” U.S. captain Christian Pulisic said. “But this is the position we’re in now.
“Obviously, two points isn’t exactly where we want to be, but it’s just the situation we have to deal with now.. Obviously we’d love to have six points and be sitting at the top. We have to we have to really turn it around and we we need to we need to start winning games.
“I remember last qualifying losing both our first two games.”
But those were against much tougher teams, as the U.S. lost to Mexico at home and was routed at Costa Rica.
“We have plenty of games left to play in this qualifying, almost like a season,” Pulisic said. “We still have a long way to go so our heads are gonna stay up.”
Added midfielder Tyler Adams: “We got to have a long look in the mirror and really establish what what our goals are here. Coming into the first game we had goals, we had milestone goals, performance goals and if we did these things that we would characterize that as success.
“We need to kind of reorganize our thought process and figure out what’s the most important thing. It’s not going to be just the starting 11 and 11 good performances. We need 16 good performances and the subs that are coming in, how can they change the game, how can we get the best out of every single player. So, we need to challenge ourselves.”
An improved Canada side (0-0-2, 2), which had a disappointing 1-1 draw in its home game last week, played a smart match to snatch a road WCQ point.
“Proud of the performance,” Canada head coach John Herdman said, “but some games are there for the taking and we had a chance to get three.”
The USMNT’s Brenden Aaronson and Canada’s Cyle Larin traded second-half goals.
He started it. He finished it… With some great teamwork in between.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) September 6, 2021
Aaronson said that Canada “didn’t want to play and that was easy to see. It’s always hard to play against that.”
Center back Miles Robinson attempted a diving header off a Christian Pulisic corner kick two minutes into stoppage time, but his shot sailed over the crossbar.
Pulisic, who missed the El Salvador match because he was not fit due to being quarantined after his bout with COVID-19. He played the entire 90 minute and thtree minutes of injury time.
Before the opening kickoff, the USMNT already had suffered a couple of big losses. Midfielders Weston McKennie was suspended from the match due to a disciplinary matter and Gio Reyna could not play due to a hamstring issue. In fact, Reyna was ruled out of Wednesday’s game in Honduras. Prior to the game, goalkeeper Zack Steffen, whose back spasms forced him to miss the WCQ opener in El Salvador Thursday, was pulled from the competition after it was revealed he had contracted COVID-19.
In a quick paced opening half, the Maple Leafs put early pressure on the USA. Larin had an open shot on the right side, but sent a relatively soft shot that goalkeeper Matt Turner easily saved in the 11th minute.
Three minutes later, Canada came so close off on a player that was initiated on a long goal kick by keeper Milan Borjan. Alphonso Davies latched onto the ball and set up Larin, who fired a shot that Turner managed to get a hand on and knock out of bounds for a corner kick.
The Americans finally found their rhythm midway through the half, twice forcing defender Scott Kennedy to deflect shot that were almost own goals.
Other than that, the USA’s best scoring opportuning came in the 40th minute, when Pulisic, off an Aaronson feed, fired a shot off the right post.
The USMNT suffered yet another loss when right back Sergino Dest suffered a right ankle injury and was replaced by DeAndre Yedlin in the 45th minute.
Aaronson started and finished the Americans’ scoring sequence by taking the ball away from a Canadian player. Pulisic was fouled, but the referee played the advantage rule. The ball came to Antonee Robinson on the left side and the Fulham defender squared a pass to Aaronson, who slotted the ball home past goalkeeper for a 1-0 advantage.
The Canadians, however, struck back in the 62nd minute. Alphonso Davies, who was a headache for the USA for most of the night, beat first-half substitute DeAndre Yedlin on the left side before he crossed the ball into the middle to Larin, who slipped the ball into the net past from two yards. It was the first goal Turner had conceded for the USMNT in 811 minutes during the run of play.
Davies suffered an apparent injury and was replaced by Jonathan Osorio in the 77th minute.
Now, the Americans have two days to lick their wounds – mental and physical before taking on Honduras.
“Every match is going to be hard,” Aaronson said. “I mean, the next one’s in Honduras is going to be even harder for us. It’s just collecting ourselves. We know we could have gotten three points tonight.”