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USMNT looks forward to ‘good challenge’ against Canada’s youthful attack

“I like the dynamic attacking players that they have,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.

United States head coach Gregg Berhalter covers his heart during the national anthem before an international friendly soccer match against Costa Rica on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in San Jose, Calif. United States won 2-0. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

TORONTO — The United States men’s national team will play its most important Concacaf Nations League group stage match north of the border at 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday. 

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter doesn’t believe his team will bring any less intensity than Canada when they meet at BMO Field, despite the Americans playing to a 7-0 victory against Cuba on Friday while the Canadians rested.

“I don’t think intensity is an issue with us, it never has been,” he said. “That’s something that we can do. If you think about American teams, the heritage of who we are as a soccer nation, intensity comes right along with it.” 

Berhalter briefed his squad about Canada and spent time talking about the threat of their attacking options. He listed young forwards Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies as players he thinks will give the U.S. a challenge.

“I like the dynamic attacking players that they have,” Berhalter said. “They have a good team, and for us, we’re excited about this opportunity. We see it as a good challenge away from home.” 

U.S. veteran Michael Bradley echoed Berhalter’s sentiment, saying he expects a Canada team that will fight hard to defend home soil. 

“I think they will be very excited, very motivated. I think they’ll want to start in an aggressive way,” Bradley said. “From the sounds of it, it has the makings that it’ll be a good crowd, and hopefully there will be a real buzz in the stadium. So I think they’ll want to play off of that and see if they can really bring the crowd in in a good way.”

Steffen to start

Berhalter said the U.S. will make a goalkeeping change after seeing Brad Guzan in net Friday. Zack Steffen will start for the U.S. against Canada.

The Fortuna Dusseldorf goalkeeper last played in the USMNT’s 3-0 loss to Mexico on Sept. 6. In 16 starts with the senior national team, Steffan has an 8-6-2 record. 

Sargent nurses injury

Berhalter gave Josh Sargent a 10th cap with the national team during the win over Cuba. The Werder Bremen player scored his third international goal but also picked up a minor ankle injury. His starting status remains uncertain for Tuesday.

“We’re working through that now. We’ll do training today. We’ll see how everyone’s come out of the game,” Berhalter said Monday. “We’ll keep assessing him and see where he’s at, but whether it’s Josh or Gyasi [Zardes] or whoever, we’re comfortable with what we have.” 

Progression at right back

Reggie Cannon, 21, has been a regular with the U.S. national team since his switch to right back. Berhalter praised Cannon’s performances with both the national team and Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas for most of 2019. 

Berhalter said he loved Cannon’s progression from January camp up to this summer’s Gold Cup after initially having trouble getting inside from the right back position.

“Then we started seeing him play with Dallas, and you see what they did with him. I think it’s a great way that club and country can work together,” Berhalter said. “They started putting him in positions where the winger was wide and he’d come inside, and he got much more comfortable with that.”

From the Gold Cup onward, Berhalter had no issue with playing  the 21 year-old in his starting XI.

“In the Gold Cup — and I told this before — when he was playing in the semifinal, it was just because he was a good player and he was ready,” he said. “It wasn’t anything more than that. It was a guy doing his job and being ready to perform. He performed well then, he performed well in the September camp and performed well again on Friday night.” 

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