On Friday night at Exploria Stadium, the nation’s eyes will fall on The City Beautiful once more when the U.S. Men’s National Team takes on Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League.
The match marks the second time the U.S. MNT will visit Exploria Stadium in the calendar year and the third since the downtown soccer-specific venue opened in 2017. The U.S. has gone on to win in both of their previous visits to Orlando, with a resounding 4-0 victory over Panama in November 2017 in front of a sold-out crowd, followed by a 1-0 win over Ecuador this past March.
This time around, the U.S. faces a must-win situation in the Nations League against Canada after falling to their neighbors to the north last month. The U.S. will then face Cuba in the Cayman Islands on Tuesday to close out their 2019 campaign, with Friday serving as their last match in the U.S. this year. A win in both contests while overcoming the necessary goal-differential over Canada would advance the United States to the knockout round in June 2020.
“For this group it’s important. We’re a developing group, but we still have goals and we still have objectives and we still have priorities and along the way comes winning things,” U.S. MNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “This is an opportunity to win something and for us we want to put ourselves in position to do so. We can only do that with two wins in this window and the group has been relishing that and looking forward to that challenge.”
These remaining two Nations League matches represent the last competitive contests for the U.S. until the June 2020 FIFA World Rankings are released, which now hold great value in regards to World Cup Qualifying. The new World Cup Qualifying format, announced in July of this year, will see the top six ranked nations in June’s FIFA Ranking go straight into the Final Round, also known as the Hex.
The CONCACAF tournament also represents the primary track to qualifying for the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, with the winners and runner-ups from League A and League B automatically qualifying for the confederation’s next championship.
The United States will have to overcome absences from marquee players Christian Pulisic, Zack Steffan and Michael Bradley on Friday night however, with all three having been ruled out with injury.
U.Ss Youth National Team prospect and Ajax defender Sergiño Dest will be available for Friday’s match after announcing he will continue internationally as a member of the U.S. MNT. With an appearance against Canada on Friday, Dest would be cap-tied to the United States. The 19-year old has appeared in 17 matches for Ajax this season with four assists to his credit.
“We’ve got a group of guys that obviously the coaching staff believes in, the players believe in and so whoever’s on the field, it’s an opportunity to get a massive result for us, to do a job. It’s down to the players in camp to perform come Friday night,” U.S. MNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan said.
In short, Friday’s match is of great importance to the U.S. MNT and their journey to qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It also provides Orlando another opportunity to showcase the passion of its fanbase for the beautiful game on the international stage.
“Winning at home is critical in these tournaments, so finding a home-field advantage is important,” Berhalter said of Orlando. “When you talk about great environments, the atmosphere in this stadium is one of the best in the country. Like we’ve seen in previous visits, the fans in Orlando are there when you need them and we look forward to their support.”