Two games into World Cup qualifying, a rebuilt U.S. soccer team is in trouble.
Three starters are hurt. Key midfielder Weston McKennie didn’t dress because he violated team COVID protocols.
Unable to break down a Canadian team that sat back with five defenders, the Americans wasted a second-half lead in a 1-1 draw Sunday night that left them with two points after two games.
Failure to qualify for the 2018 hangs over players and the American fan base like a never-ending storm.
“We have to really turn it around. We need to start winning games,” said U.S star Christian Pulisic, who returned after missing the 0-0 draw at El Salvador on Thursday while regaining fitness following a positive COVID-19 test.
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Brenden Aaronson scored in the 55th minute off a flowing passing sequence capped by a cross from Antonee Robinson, but an unmarked Cyle Larin tied it seven minutes later after Canadian star Alphonso Davies smoked past DeAndre Yedlin down the left flank.
Yedlin had entered in the 44th minute after right back Sergiño Dest sprained an anke, joining midfielder Gio Reyna (strained right hamstring at El Salvador) and No, 1 goalkeeper Zack Steffen (positive COVID test following back spasms) on the sidelines.
Coach Gregg Berhalter said it was too early to announce whether McKennie would return for Wednesday night’s game at Honduras, another difficult Central American field where the Americans came away with a draw in qualifying four years ago. Steffen and Reyna won’t make the trip,
“We’ve got to have a long look in the mirror and really establish what our goals are here,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “I think that coming into the first game we had goals, we had a milestone goal, performance goals and if we did these things, we would characterize that as success. Coming out of the first two games, we’re a little bit shy now of those goals that we have set, so we need to kind of reorganize our thought process and figure out what’s the most important thing.”
Pulisic was dynamic, putting a shot off a post in the 40th minute of his first match since Chelsea’s opener against Crystal Palace on Aug. 14. The Americans had 72% possession, outshot Canada 12-6 and little to show for it.
Mexico (2-0) leads the North and Central American and Caribbean region with six points, followed by Panama (1-0-1) with four. Canada (0-0-2) is third with two points, ahead of the U.S. and Honduras on total goals, with El Salvador farther back. Costa Rica (0-1-1) has one point and Jamaica (0-2) none.
The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar, and the fourth-place team advances to a playoff.
“We have to be resilient. We can we can do two things,” Berhalter said. “We can feel bad for ourselves or we can continue on with a positive attitude and try to get a positive result in Honduras.”
The U.S. ended a streak of seven straight World Cup appearances when it lost its first two matches of the final round and fell one point short of reaching the 2018 tournament. The primary cause of the failure was the failure of the Americans to win home qualifiers against Mexico and Costa Rica. Before that, the U.S. had not lost a home qualifier since 2001.
With just two days off between games under the pandemic-altered schedule, Berhalter made six changes to his starting lineup.
The 10th-ranked U.S. went ahead when Aaronson won a throw-in. Jordan Pefok sent the ball to Pulisic andr Adams, who gave it back to Pefok. He passed to Kellyn Acosta, who sent it wide to Antonee Robinson. He crossed in front, and the 20-year-old Aaronson poked the ball past goalkeeper Milan Borjan for his fourth international goal.
Larin’s 20th international goal, his ninth of this qualifying cycle, came when het got away from Brooks and redirected Davis’ cross past goalkeeper Matt Turner.
“In the past, we would’ve lost games like this,” Larin said. “And now you see we can fight back and win games.”
Turner had deflected Larin’s goal-bound shot in the 11th minute.
Miles Robinson came closest to a winner, heading Pulisic’s corner kick over the crossbar in injury time. An overhwelming pro-American crowd of 43,023 at Nissan Stadium booed loudly at the final whistle.
“We need ideas at times,” Pulisic said. “We just some new solutions. Obviously, it was good enough. … Everything was just a touch too slow today.”
No. 59 Canada, seeking its first World Cup since 1986, opened with a 0-0 home draw against Honduras. Davies left in the 76th minute with a knock and possibly cramping.
“This three-game window is a killer. This is a tough grind,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “Every game is an absolute battle. So it’s like a 14-game war that we’re going through. So guys will be patched up and fingers crossed Phonzie’s ready to go.”
Before the Americans head to Honduras on Wednesday, Berhalter may call in reinforcements.
“Every game is a final,” he said. “14 finals, and that’s how we have to approach it. So the urgency is always going to be there until we’re until we’re mathematically secure with qualifying.”
Notes: Sean Johnson will replace Steffen on the roster against Honduras. … Mexico won 1-0 at Costa Rica on Orbelín Pineda’s penalty kick in first-half stoppage time. … Panama won 3-0 at Jamaica on goals by Andrés Andrade in the 14th, César Blackburn in the 39th and Cecilio Waterman in the 82nd. … El Salvador played its second 0-0 draw, this time against Honduras.