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The USA will go top of their Nations League group if they avoid defeat by Grenada
The Caribbean nation are yet to win a game in the current Nations League campaign
Gold Cup qualification is also on the line when these two teams meet on Friday
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The USMNT have had a turbulent few months but they should have far too much quality for Grenada in this Nations League fixture.
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The USA bowed out of World Cup 2022 with their heads held high. Gregg Berhalter’s side arrived in Qatar with plenty of questions to answer, with the numerous critics of the national team fearing the worst.
But the USMNT performed well in what was their first appearance on the world stage in eight years. Back-to-back draws with Wales and England were followed by a victory over Iran which secured a top-two finish in the group stage. The USA then pushed the Netherlands hard in the round of 16, going down 3-1 in Al Rayyan but turning in a decent display.
It initially seemed like the team’s strong showing in the first-ever Middle Eastern World Cup had strengthened Berhalter’s position as head coach. However, off-field events have conspired to leave the former defender’s employment in doubt.
Technically speaking, Berhalter is already out of a job. His contract expired at the end of last year and any chance of an immediate renewal was dented when it came out that the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) was investigating the coach for a three-decade-old domestic abuse incident.
That allegation came to light on the back of a feud between Gio Reyna’s parents, Claudio and Danielle (both former USA players), and Berhalter. The manager had criticized Reyna’s conduct - without naming him - during a leadership conference in New York, which did not go down well with the attacker’s dad in particular.
The Reynas then informed the USSF about an incident in 1992 in which Berhalter was accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend (now wife) Rosalind Santana. A recent investigation found that it was an isolated incident, potentially opening the door for Berhalter to return.
That seems unlikely, however, and interim coach Anthony Hudson is expected to give way to a new permanent appointment in the summer. Regrettably for the players, the episode has somewhat overshadowed the USA’s World Cup performance.
The CONCACAF Nations League has been a huge success, much like its equivalent in Europe. The biggest beneficiaries in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean have been the smaller nations, as opposed to in Europe where the gains have been shared across the spectrum.
That is not to say the Nations League is not worthwhile for the likes of the USA, Mexico, and Costa Rica. It certainly is: they get more regular games in a competitive environment while also having an additional chance to win a trophy.
But the competition is even more valuable for teams lower down the CONCACAF food chain. Take Grenada. In the inaugural edition in 2019/20, they finished top of Group A to win promotion to League A.
Those six games (four wins, two draws) against French Guiana, Belize, and Saint Kitts & Nevis helped Grenada to build cohesion and test themselves against teams of a similar level.
Predictably, they have found things tougher in League A, taking just one point from the first nine available up against El Salvador and the USA. But they will have learned plenty from the experience of locking horns with larger nations - and that will be the case on Friday too.
A nation of fewer than 125,000 people, Grenada is home to about the same number of people as Thousand Oaks in California. There is great excitement in this part of the Caribbean ahead of the visit of the USMNT, as Grenada’s players aim to pull off what would be a major upset.
The CONCACAF Nations League also doubles up as qualification for the Gold Cup, which is due to take place in the United States this summer. So far five teams have confirmed their places at the tournament: Panama, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Mexico, plus invited guests Qatar.
The USA are on the verge of joining that quintet. A top-two finish in Group D of League A would be enough for them to qualify for the tournament, and they wrap that up as long as they avoid a heavy defeat on Friday.
A draw, meanwhile, would be enough for the USMNT to go top ahead of El Salvador. The two teams will meet on Monday to decide which of the pair finishes first and thus advances to the Nations League Finals.
Interim manager Hudson has his own incentive to oversee a handsome win in St George’s. He could be handed the reins on a permanent basis if he performs well in this part-time role, although bigger names such as Patrick Vieira, Jesse Marsch, and Marcelo Bielsa have been linked with the position of late.
The USMNT won the reverse fixture 5-0 last June, as Berhalter’s men put Grenada to the sword in Austin. This looks set to be a similarly one-sided contest - go for the USA win with a -3.5 handicap.
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Teams: Grenada vs USA
Location: Kirani James Athletic Stadium, St. George's, Grenada
Date and Time: Mar. 24, 2023, 8 p.m. ET
How to Watch: TNT, Universo
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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