USMNT properly begin a new era under Gregg Berhalter when they host Ecuador in a friendly at the Orlando City Stadium in Florida on Thursday (8 PM ET live on ESPN 2 / UniMas / UDN).
After a lengthy selection process, Berhalter was named the new national team head coach in December. He made a good start with January wins over Panama and Costa Rica in friendlies in which the teams involved were limited to domestic-based players.
The former Columbus Crew coach, a US international as a defender in his playing days, now has a full squad to work with for this pair of fixtures against South American opposition. After Ecuador, Chile follow in Houston and then Texas next Tuesday.
Following the United States’ surprise failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, interim coach Dave Sarachan did his best to widen the player pool in his year at the helm, handing debuts to 23 players. Berhalter must now narrow that down to a group capable of successfully leading them through the qualification process for Qatar 2022.
There are no real shocks in his 24-man selection for these friendlies. Experienced defenders Omar Gonzalez, who played alongside Berhalter at LA Galaxy, and Tim Ream are back in the squad for the first time since 2017. Forward Jordan Morris also returns after recovering from an ACL injury that has kept him out of national-team action since early last year. Fourteen of those involved in the January training camp and friendlies have returned.
There is clearly some good young talent in the squad. Tyler Adams has stepped straight into the starting XI and made a good impression since joining German side RB Leipzig in January. Weston McKennie is getting regular minutes at Schalke. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea-bound this summer, has been in good form for Borussia Dortmund recently.
The cards might just be falling into place at the right time to make Berhalter’s possession-based approach, heavily influenced by his time in the Netherlands as a player, a viable path to success. There is still a lot of work to be done for that to become a reality and not much time to do it in before the national team’s first competitive action in this summer’s Gold Cup.
Thursday’s opponents Ecuador likewise have a continental competition to prepare for in the form of the Copa America in Brazil and they, too, have a new man in charge. Hernan Dario Gomez led Ecuador to their first World Cup qualification back in 2002. After steering Panama to that same achievement in 2018, he returns to try and repeat the trick.
His difficulty in doing so will be partially determined by whether or not FIFA elect to expand the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, as is being discussed. In that scenario, extra qualification places would be opened up, making things a little easier. If the format remains the same, he will be tasked with dragging a team who finished eighth, six points off a playoff place, in the 10-team South American group last time out into a top-five position this time around.
Ecuador have performed well in each of the last two South American Under-20 Championships, finishing as runners up in 2017 before winning this year’s competition. Gomez therefore has a decent group of youngsters coming through to replace some of the old guard. Four of them have been selected in his squad for this month’s matches against the US and Honduras, including uncapped 18-year-olds Jackson Porozo and Leandro Campana.
Currently, though, this Ecuador side lacks the quality of those who qualified for three World Cups in four between 2002 and 2014. Players in their mid-thirties such as Antonio Valencia and Christian Noboa still represent the cream of their crop. Unless some of the younger talents can take big leaps forward over the next couple of years that is unlikely to change.
Our Preview’s United States vs Ecuador Predictions & Picks Verdict
USMNT emerged triumphant from both of their matches against Ecuador in 2016 and have won four of the last six meetings between the sides. Both teams are still in the early stages of their relationships with their respective head coaches. The US have the more talented squad, with young players getting minutes in big European leagues, and should be able to secure victory on Thursday. Here is our U.S. vs Ecuador Prediction:
- Bet on USA to win on the moneyline @ +119 with Bookmaker.