USMNT hoping to heat up in World Cup qualifying during frigid set of games

The United States men’s national team are back in action Thursday against El Salvador, aiming to retake the top spot in the Concacaf table for World Cup qualifying. Here’s how to watch. The match will take place in Columbus, Ohio, where temperatures are expected to be below freezing at kickoff.

USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter discussed why the USMNT chose the venue for the late-January match.

“We’ve had some great success here,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said of Columbus in a pregame press conference Wednesday. “When I think about the last World Cup, a qualifier that we played here against Costa Rica on the way to the stadium and the bus, the streets were lined with fans. And, you know, it felt like an intense atmosphere. It felt like a real soccer atmosphere and that’s what we know Columbus can bring. When people talk about venue selection. And how do we choose these venues? Everything’s taken into consideration. But certainly, one that’s top priority is having a home fanbase.”

The USMNT will go further north for their next game, as they’re set to face Canada in Ontario on Sunday (streaming on Paramount+), so it makes sense why they’d play in a colder environment. It will be a familiar one though, as Columbus has hosted 11 World Cup qualifiers, the most of any city.

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The other home qualifier in this window vs. Honduras (Feb. 2) will be held at Allianz field in St. Paul, Minnesota to help minimize travel coming back from Canada on short rest. But Berhalter doesn’t want to be caught looking ahead.

“So to us, there’s no extra emphasis. We know that we want to compete to win every single game and it starts with (Thursday),” he said. “I think it gets a little bit dangerous when you start overemphasizing one window versus other windows, we want to be able to compete and put a good field team on the field every single game and every single window.”

The United States have lost their way during qualifiers in the past, so the focus is key here. That’s especially true with the added wrinkle that this international break occurs as the January transfer window closes. USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner — who will start as Zack Steffen nurses a back issue.

“We don’t check this social media nearly as much as you do. So about all the rumors and all that stuff. I’m not too sure but it really doesn’t affect us much,” Pulisic said. “Obviously, we’re all good friends and we talk about things. It’s not anything that’s gonna affect our game. And yeah, that’s just what it is.” 

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