Hopes for seven to nine points in the first block of three matches, ending Wednesday in Honduras, have been dashed.
“Keeping it in perspective, we knew it was going to be a difficult road,” Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We knew there were going to be tough games, and we’re getting into it, and we’re finding out they are tough games. Our success is going to depend on how we deal with that as a team.”
Brenden Aaronson scored in the 55th minute, and Cyle Larin tied it for Canada (0-0-2) in the 62nd. The Americans gained another point, but it felt like a loss. The result left them tied for fourth place in an eight-nation Concacaf competition that, after 14 games over seven months, will send three teams to the World Cup in Qatar late next year and a fourth to an intercontinental playoff.
“It’s almost like a season; we still have a long way to go, so our heads will stay up,” Pulisic said. “We have to really turn it around and start winning games.”
This was not how the United States wanted to begin the schedule, not after missing the World Cup in disastrous fashion four years ago and revamping the roster with a set of young standouts employed by major European clubs.
“We have to be resilient,” Berhalter said. “We can feel bad for ourselves, or we can continue on with positive attitude and get a positive result in Honduras, which is what we’re going to do.”
Pulisic’s bout with the coronavirus impacted his fitness and prevented him from playing in the 0-0 draw with El Salvador. He was not only in uniform Sunday, he started, captained the squad and played all 90 minutes.
Pulisic’s return, though, was tempered by the absence of three teammates and the loss of another late in the first half.
Zack Steffen, Berhalter’s first-choice goalkeeper who had missed the opener with back spasms, was ruled out of the Canada and Honduras games after he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Midfielder Weston McKennie was not in uniform after he violated team policy. The U.S. Soccer Federation did not specify the violation, but before kickoff on social media, McKennie said he had broken pandemic protocols.
This wasn’t McKennie’s first misstep. In April, he and two Juventus teammates were suspended following a party at his home in Turin, Italy, that violated pandemic guidelines.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “It’s very disappointing.”
Berhalter said McKennie’s status for Wednesday “remains to be seen.”
Attacker Gio Reyna had a more traditional reason for missing the Canada and Honduras matches: He strained his right hamstring against El Salvador.
The Americans suffered another setback just before halftime when right back Sergiño Dest exited with a sprained ankle. Given the absences, Berhalter said he might call in additional players.
One other member of the delegation tested positive and has undergone the same protocol, the USSF said. That person, who also was vaccinated, was not a player and had not traveled to El Salvador, the USSF added.
In the first qualifier between the neighbors since 1997, the Americans set the early tone Sunday night. They sustained possession against Canada’s deep-lying resistance but labored to find space. Canada took a counterattacking approach and generated a serious threat in the 14th minute.
Dest, who did not perform well at left back in El Salvador, misplayed a long ball on the right side while being pressured by Alphonso Davies, Canada’s Bayern Munich star. Davies slipped the ball back to Larin for a close-range bid that Steffen’s replacement, Matt Turner, slapped aside.
Goalkeeper Milan Borjan rescued Canada twice, and in the 40th minute, Pulisic redirected Aaronson’s cross off the near post.
The Americans went ahead in the 55th minute on a well-crafted sequence started and finished by Aaronson.
The 20-year-old attacker won the ball near midfield. Five teammates were involved in the subsequent surge. After touches by Jordan Pefok, Pulisic and Tyler Adams, Pefok supplied Kellyn Acosta, who slid the ball ahead to the overlapping Robinson.
Robinson’s low cross met the sliding Aaronson inside the six-yard box for his fourth goal in nine international appearances.
The joy did not last long. Davies, one of the world’s best fullbacks, roared past Yedlin to track down a long through ball. With Davies drawing all the attention, Larin was left undetected on the back side. Davies rolled it to him for a tap-in.
The rest of the match brought high anxiety for the United States as Canada sent several dangerous balls through the penalty area.
“Some games are there for the taking, and we had a chance there to come away with three” points, Canadian Coach John Herdman said. “That will keep us up at night.”
Three late U.S. substitutions did not provide any answers, and Berhalter was left to reassess his grand plans before another match in Central America in 72 hours.