United States
The young USMNT is growing more confident with time and success
United States

The young USMNT is growing more confident with time and success

Published Sep. 11, 2023 8:46 p.m. ET

Things were much different for the U.S. men's national team the last time it visited the Twin Cities. It was early last year, a crucial qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup, one the Americans had to win against Honduras. And it was cold. Insanely cold, with a temperature in the single digits at kickoff.

"Was it that high?" U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter joked Monday ahead of Tuesday's friendly against Oman — a match that will be contested in near perfect weather, around 65-degrees when the whistle blows just after 8:30 p.m. ET.

The U.S. got the three points with a 3-0 victory over Los Catrachos last year and, after missing the 2018 World Cup, eventually made it to Qatar, where they advanced to the second round before being eliminated by the Netherlands. Still, that February 2022 game at Allianz Field lives on in lore for those who were there.

"We had in the hallway over there, like all these like hand warmers and feet warmers," said winger Brenden Aaronson, who came off the bench that night.


Tuesday's contest won't have the same conditions or stakes, but it's important nonetheless. With qualification for the 2026 World Cup assured for the U.S., as one of the tournament's hosts (along with Canada and Mexico), the Americans must use every set of dates FIFA sets aside for international games wisely. While Oman is the USMNT second straight foe from the Asian Football Confederation, the similarities end there.

"Oman is completely different than Uzbekistan," Berhalter said of the side the U.S. beat 3-0 last weekend in St. Louis. While the latter was highly defensive, the former comes to life on the counterattack when its opponent loses the ball. "Part of the emphasis in this camp is was finishing attacks against the low block in Uzbekistan, and now it's preventing transitions against Oman. So it's going to be a great test for us."

Just ask Germany. Right before the last World Cup, the four-time champions barely eked out a 1-0 victory against Oman.

"They absolutely battered Germany with the transition moments," Berhalter added. "They were all over them that game."

Still, the focus for the hosts on Tuesday will be mostly on themselves. Despite what looked like a rout going solely by the final score, Uzbekistan gave the Americans fits for long stretches Saturday.  The final two U.S. goals didn't come until second half stoppage time. It was by no means an easy win.

"I feel like we can take it up a level, be more clinical," midfielder Yunus Musah said. 

Adapting to varying styles matters, too.

"It's always valuable playing these different countries because you can't have enough teams to play going into the World Cup," Aaronson said. "I think it just brings confidence playing teams and getting more of a feel of what it's like outside of CONCACAF."

That's another thing that has changed since last cycle. With a global pandemic falling in the middle of it, it was even harder then to face teams from other continents.

The biggest difference between were the U.S. is now and where they were the last time out in Minnesota might be within the locker room. It's been less than two years, but this is a far more mature and battle tested American side. One that qualified for a World Cup with the youngest roster on the planet and then survived group play.

And while they wanted to go further in the competition, there is an earned swagger that comes from that collective experience. It was evident in June, when the U.S. beat blood rival Mexico 3-0 and Canada 2-0 to retain the CONCACAF Nations League title. It even showed the other night, with those two goals at the end.

Tuesday presents another opportunity to prove both where they're going and how far they've come.

"The way that we've been playing since Nations League, winning trophies, I think you can tell that the group is getting older, more seasoned," Aaronson said. "I feel it in training every day. I feel it in the game.

"After the World Cup," he added, "There's a lot of confidence in the team."


— Following his pre match press conference, Berhalter told FOX Sports that playmaker Luca de la Torre is available for selection Tuesday. De la Torre broke his nose last game and had the fracture set Monday afternoon. He trained in the morning wearing a protective mask.

Weston McKennie, who was paired with 18-year-old Ben Cremaschi in a sprint drill, could be heard joking to Cremaschi that the youngster couldn't let himself "get beat by an old man." (McKennie is 25.) The uncapped Cremaschi didn't feature against the Uzbeks but has impressed in camp.

"We'd love to get him a debut," Berhalter said of the Inter Miami midfielder, who is also eligible to represent Argentina. "We just have to see how the substitutions work. You have six subs in the game, so it becomes challenging to get everybody on the field even though you'd like to."

Malik Tillman, who came off the bench Saturday and drew a penalty that Christian Pulisic converted, could start Tuesday. "I think he's a fantastic player, I really do," Berhalter said of the 21-year-old German-American. "He'll get an opportunity tomorrow, so we'll see how he can do. But the coaches are high on him."

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered United States men's and women's national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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