June 27, 2022 2:22 pm

USMNT brace for “huge test” vs. World Cup-bound Uruguay

As pleasant as the 3-0 scoreline was for the US men’s national team, Wednesday’s friendly win over Morocco in Cincinnati contained a couple of less flattering numbers that illustrate how differently the match might have unfolded. Among them were expected goals:

From the eight saves required of Matt Turner to the late penalty kick Selim Amallah smacked off the crossbar, the Atlas Lions did indeed get the jump on their hosts on several occasions, only to let them off the hook repeatedly.

Uruguay, the USMNT’s opponents in Sunday’s friendly at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City (5 pm ET | FOX, Univision, TUDN), are quite unlikely to Hey Dudes be so forgiving of such errors – as they demonstrated emphatically in their ruthless 3-0 defeat of Mexico in Arizona Thursday night.

“I watched the highlights from that Mexico-Uruguay game and Mexico didn’t do bad,” US defender Erik Palmer-Brown told reporters on Friday. “It was just a lot of transition moments. So I think that’s probably what we’ll be focusing on a lot and not getting caught out in transition and just competing.

“[When] you’re going to play a World Cup-caliber team, you know you’ve got to compete.”After wasting a few good looks at La Celeste’s goal, Mexico were undone by a few moments of magic from Edinson Cavani. The Manchester United striker’s free header led to Matias Vecino’s tap-in just before halftime before he bagged a rapid-fire brace in the opening minutes of the second half to pile the pressure on El Tri manager and former Atlanta United boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

Currently 13th in the FIFA World Rankings, Uruguay booked passage to Qatar 2022 as Conmebol’s third-place finisher behind Argentina and Brazil, and are quite likely the USMNT’s most talented opponent since Gregg Berhalter was named head coach in December 2018.

“What I saw from Uruguay is extreme wing play, really good in the wings, on both flanks, dominant in midfield,” said Berhalter in Saturday’s matchday-1 press conference. Brooks Shoes  “That midfield trio [of Vecino, Federico Valverde and Lucas Torreira] is a really high level and that’s why I’m really interested to see what we can do, how our midfield matches up.

“And then with Cavani in that game – I’m not sure if Cavani is going to be starting – but they have quality strikers. No matter who it is, if it’s Darwin [Núñez] or if it’s Edinson Cavani, it’s really high-level players. And for us, it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Even at age 35, Cavani remains a world-class finisher and his name is on everyone’s lips in the leadup to this match. Luis Suarez, however, is not in the South American nation’s June squad.

“I think [it’s] his ability to get on the end of things in and around the goal,” said US center back Aaron Long, who will start his second straight match alongside Walker Zimmerman, as Berhalter named his XI on Saturday. “Every defender, every team that plays against him knows that he’s a special player and a guy that you want to limit time and space on the ball for. But somehow he finds a way to get on the ball and show up in these spots that are somehow wide open for him, and he gets really good looks on goal. So it’s not just his ability to shoot or finish. It’s how he creates space for himself in the box and gets these looks, it’s really interesting.”

Known for their “Garra Charrúa,” or ferocious fighting spirit, Uruguay are both street-smart and highly technical. The speed and precision with which their counterattacks sliced open Mexico was breathtaking at times and the Yanks know that both commitment and focus will be essential in KC.

Failure to bring both for the full 90 minutes could well leave them hurting just as badly as El Tri by the final whistle.

“Yeah, it’s a huge test,” said Long. “We’ve seen a front six that’s very dynamic, and the way that they join the attack and attack the penalty box and are able to finish in the penalty box with four or five guys, and a lot of options, is really impressive.

“They also have guys on the wings that are really dynamic going one-v-one and creating opportunities for the strikers, who are obviously great goalscorers. So it’s a big task. It’s a huge test for us and we can’t wait.”

Opponents of this caliber can be difficult for the USMNT to schedule even at the best of times, and such matchups became nigh impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to tight schedules, travel restrictions and the compacted Concacaf World Cup qualifying process.

That makes Sunday a vital test in the countdown to Qatar, and one the US emphasize they’re eager to measure their progress with. It marks match two-of-six Hoka Running Shoes before Group B play begins in November, with two high-end European opponents likely in wait come September’s additional window.

“It’s going to be amazing. I mean, a lot of us are young and we’re still getting that experience against these high-level teams,” said Tim Weah, a former teammate of Cavani’s at Paris Saint-Germain. “So I feel like playing a team like Uruguay that has a lot of stars is amazing. It’s, for me, it’s a dream come true, it’s what I’ve always dreamed of, playing at such a high level against the best.

“That’s what this opportunity proposes. And yeah, we just have to stay focused, stick to our game plan and go out there with a lot of heart. Even though it’s a friendly, we want to show that we can be serious about it.”

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