Why the USMNT window was a huge success 


Raider Times photo / Courtesy US Soccer/John_Dorton/isiphotos

Weston McKennie (left) celebrates one of his two goals with teammate Christian Pulisic the US men’s national tea’s 7-1 victory over host Grenada on March 24, 2023.

Sam Shea, Raider Times staff

For the US Men’s National Team, its first competitive window since the World Cup can only be viewed as a success. 

Not only did it qualify for the semifinals of the CONCACAF Nations League, getting the Americans one step closer to defending their title, but they also saw the debut of Alejandro Zendejas, as he got his first competitive cap for the USA and scored his first goal. Fans also saw the return of Daryl Dike from injury and Johnny Cardoso and Ricardo Pepi, all of whom were not selected for the World Cup. 

The USMNT played two games in this international break, scoring eight combined goals and letting up only one goal against opponents Granada (Friday, April 24) and El Salvador (Monday, April 27). The USMNT looked like it had bounced back from the World Cup heartbreak almost immediately.

The Americans did it all without a head coach, too, to make this window even more impressive. 

The most important part of this window for the USMNT was qualifying for the next round of the Nations League. Coming into this International Windows second in its group, needed to finish first to qualify for the next round. But to finish first, the US team needed to at least draw in two crucial matches against third-place Granada in Granada and first-place El Salvador in Orlando, Fla.

Ricardo [Pepi’s] such a great kid, he’s so good around the group, great energy … and I think the same for Daryl [Dike].”

— ANTHONY HUDSON, USMNT interim head coach

Interim head coach Anthony Hudson said, “We wanna be a attacking team that controls the ball.”

The team did just that. 

In Grenada, the USMNT won 7-1 (US goals: Pepi 2, McKennie 2, Aaronson, Pulisic, and Zendejas), securing the top space, meaning that the USMNT only needed a tie against El Salvador to move on to the next round. The team fought hard against El Salvador, earning a 1-0 victory (US goal: Pepi), ensuring it would advance.

These results are significant for the US team in terms of bouncing back from the World Cup and its third-place finish during the World Cup qualifiers, as the USMNT reminded everyone in CONCACAF that the Americans are still the dominant team as by making it to the next round, they only have to win two more games to win their third straight CONCACAF cup, after having won the last CONCACAF Nations League in the 2019-20 season and the last CONCACAF Gold Cup during the 2021 season. 

Anyone connected with US soccer knows how much of a big deal it is that Gio Reyna is back. After nagging injuries kept him out of much last season and early this season, he was told by former USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter that he would not be playing a significant role at the World Cup in Qatar. In response, it is reported that Reyna did not give a full effort in training. It reportedly got so bad that it almost forced Berhalter to send him home. When Berhalter released this information after the World Cup, it started a flurry of activity.

Gio Reyna’s parents released information about Berhalter’s domestic violence incident in 1992. This investigation led to Berhalter’s contract not being renewed and a lengthy investigation that found that the Reynas had been harassing US soccer officials for years, starting when Gio was playing for his youth US teams. (Read the US Soccer statement HERE.) This caused speculation that Reyna might not return to the US national team. It was great to see him back on the field and, more importantly, starting both games for his country.

What’s more, according to Hudson during his Thursday night press conference ahead of the Granada game, Reyna had been fully cooperating and having a great week with his teammates. Hudson said, “[Gio’s] had a good week … he’s had a really really good week of training, his quality is very very evident, and his attitude has been great”

That is an excellent sign for many US fans who were worried about how Reyna would react to returning to the team. How this window has gone for him can only be seen as positive. Many see Reyna as the future of the US national team.

Dike, Pepi, and Johnny Cardozo, who all missed the World Cup, hit the ground running in these matches. All three made appearances, with Pepi and Dike both starting. Hudson, when asked about their return to the national team, said, “I think its been seamless for both guys, Ricardo’s such a great kid, he’s so good around the group, great energy … and I think the same for Daryl.”

Dike, who missed the World Cup to an injury, returned as America’s starting striker in their second friendly against El Salvador. Pepi, who was dropped from the World Cup squad, certainly did a lot to prove that he is ready to be a regular on the team. The 20-year-old scored three goals across two matches, including the only goal in the 1-0 win against El Salvador.

Cardozo, who is one of the only USMNT players in recent years who does not play in the MLS, Liga MX, or a European League (He plays for  Sport Club Internacional in Brazil), also got appearances coming off of the bench in both matches. What’s more, he seems to be part of the USA plans going forward with Hudson saying, “Johhny’s a great great guy. He is really good to have around the camp … He is very much part of our group.”

Zendejas made a splash in his first competitive match for the USA after switching nationalities from Mexico ahead of the January camp. Christian Pulisic said, “I think he can bring a lot to this team. He’s just a good guy to have around he’s a great teammate.”

Zendejes showed this during his first two competitive appearances for the USMNT and certainly did not disappoint, coming off the bench and scoring his first USA goal against Grenada and earning himself a start against El Salvador. All of these players who missed the World Cup for different reasons have taken significant steps to prove that they deserve to be part of the US system in hopes of making it to the 2026 World Cup squad. 

–March 28, 2023–