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McKennie: U.S. wants to be ‘best in CONCACAF’

Two days from the start of World Cup qualifying, two of the United States‘ biggest stars embraced the high expectations the team has waiting for it on the road to Qatar 2022.

The message from midfielders Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie was clear: Qualifying for the World Cup is the primary objective, but the standard should be even higher.

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“I think our mentality is to go in and win all the games that we can,” McKennie said. “Our goals are to prove also that we’re that we’re the best in CONCACAF and I think the only way to do that is to dominate it. And to dominate, you got to win your games and that’s what we’re here to do.”

The United States opens with a trip to El Salvador on Thursday, hosts Canada in Nashville on Sunday and finishes at Honduras on Wednesday, Sept. 8. On paper, the United States will be the superior team in each match, but the failure to qualify last cycle remains an ever-present reminder of the unique challenges that await.

“There’s no Plan B for us, there’s only been a Plan A and that’s obviously to qualify for the World Cup,” Adams said. “When I think about the experiences that we’ve had now, in the past two years, I would say as a group and how much we’ve developed, it’s ultimately for this moment right here. We’ve waited a long time for this and the expectations are high going into this week.”

With three games in seven days, heavy rotation is to be expected and neither El Salvador, nor Honduras will be an inviting atmosphere for the American team.

“We’ve talked about it as a group, in the last cycle, they didn’t win one game away from home,” Adams said. “Going into this window, right off the bat, we have two opportunities to win two games away and that puts us obviously in a good position.”

In past World Cup qualifying cycles, teams played two matches per window, but the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a different format with more games in a condensed period of time. The added games and travel creates a new challenge, but the change theoretically bodes well for the United States, which is incredibly deep compared to its counterparts in the region.

“I think that the one thing that’s amazing about this team, and obviously we showed it this summer — not to harp on the fact that we obviously won two tournaments — but what that showed us was that we do have amazing team depth in the squad,” Adams said. “And there’s even players that might even deserve to be here that weren’t even called in at the moment. So we’re very fortunate to be in that position to be fair, because that doesn’t force us to have to play all three games and that we can rely on that next man up mentality.”

It’s unclear how head coach Gregg Berhalter plans to utilize depth or what rotations are most likely to be used.

One potential player combination Adams spoke highly of was a midfield three that features him, McKennie and Borussia Dortmund‘s Gio Reyna. Berhalter has only used Reyna as a winger since interesting him into the national team last year, but the 18-year-old has played more centrally for his club at the start of this season.

“I think we would mesh really well,” Adams said. “We all have such different characteristics that when you put them all together, it’s honestly a really ideal balance to the midfield.”

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