The current reason for USMNT playing against Germany, but encountering difficulties in securing future matches


The mission statement of this U.S. men’s national team evolved as it moved from the last World Cup cycle to the current one.

The Americans’ stated goal ahead of 2022: “Change the way the world views American soccer.” This time around, it’s “Change soccer in the United States forever.”

Changing the sport won’t be just about making a deep run in the 2026 World Cup, which will be co-hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said he believes this generation of young talent has the ability to change perceptions with their personalities and individual star power, as well, and the team’s performance in the lead-up to the tournament, most notably in the 2024 Copa America, will also be important in shifting mindsets.

With such lofty ambitions, this Saturday’s game against Germany strikes a somewhat more important tone.

Yes, the U.S. is technically ranked higher in the FIFA rankings than Germany — 11th for the U.S. and 15th for Germany — but that’s an indictment of FIFA’s point system more than anything else. Germany is considered a world power, and even as they navigate some rough results, falling in the group stage at the 2022 World Cup and winning just one of their last six games, resulting in a coaching change, getting a result against the four-time World Cup champions would be a mark in favor of the U.S. program’s soaring hopes.

The current reason for USMNT playing against Germany, but encountering difficulties in securing future matches

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“We all know they’re a world class team,” said U.S. right back Joe Scally, who plays professionally in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach. “They have such good players who play in all the best leagues in Europe and I think they definitely did go through a difficult period and the World Cup and now after, but now they have a new coach, (former Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann), maybe new ideas. … For us, it’s definitely a learning process to play against some of the best teams and we’re just gonna give it our all.”

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The Germany game takes on even more importance when considering the difficulty of scheduling top opponents due to a crowded international calendar.

The advent of the Nations League competitions has made cross-continental competition more challenging than it used to be in international soccer. It is one of the reasons why the U.S. played Asian opponents Uzbekistan and Oman last month. For the U.S., that presents a problem; World Cup hosts qualify automatically for the tournament, meaning there will be no qualifying tournament to provide do-or-die games (even against some countries perceived as weaker). That means intentionally scheduling quality matches is even more important.

The U.S. has CONCACAF Nations League obligations in the November 2023, March 2024, November 2024 and March 2025 windows. The Copa America will take up the summer of 2024 and give the U.S. a vital opportunity to face some of the best teams from CONCACAF and CONMEBOL in a knockout competition, while the 2025 Gold Cup is another month-long tournament for the U.S. to work for an extended period of time together.

That gives the U.S. nine windows to schedule friendlies ahead of the World Cup: June, September and October 2024; June, September, October and November 2025; and March and June 2026. But finding opponents to fill those windows is not an easy task.

UEFA has qualifying for the 2024 European Championships and 2026 World Cup, as well as games for the 2024-25 Nations League that eat up the vast majority of the next two-plus years. CONMEBOL, meanwhile, has World Cup qualifiers from September 2024 through September 2025; The African Confederation, CAF, has World Cup qualifying and qualifying for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations taking up the majority of windows from Nov. 2023 through Nov. 2025; while Asian World Cup qualifying stretches through the fall of 2025 for most teams. Oceania has World Cup qualifying from the fall of 2024 through March 2025.

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“For us as we sketch out what our three-year pathway looks like, we want to challenge ourselves and give ourselves as many opportunities to play as many world-class opponents as we can,” U.S. assistant B.J. Callaghan said. “It’s clear with the players that Germany has on their roster, the type of team that Germany is, that they fall right into that bucket. We value and view them as a high-level, world-class opponent that we’re going to look forward to challenging ourselves against. (It is) an opportunity for us to get better against teams like this in the opportunities that were given.”

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Zendejas has two goals and three assist this Liga MX season (Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Zendejas replaces Tillman

The U.S. announced Monday that winger Alex Zendejas was added to the roster to replace Malik Tillman, who had to withdraw due to injury. The replacement may be an indicator of how the U.S. plans to adapt to some key absences.

With Tyler Adams missing from camp, there was some question as to what Berhalter would do to replace him. Berhalter said the camp served as a chance to try out some ‘Plan B’ options for when and if Adams misses games. But with the return of Gio Reyna to camp, it seemed likely that at least one of those options was playing Yunus Musah in a deeper role and inserting an attacking midfielder like Reyna or Tillman.

With Tillman pulling out, however, and Reyna’s minutes limited — he has played just 27 minutes for club or country since June 19 — Berhalter may be forced to play more of a 4-3-3 with Musah and Weston McKennie higher up the field and midfielders like Luca de la Torre, Johnny Cardoso or newcomer Lenny Maloney sitting in a more traditional No. 6 role. Zendejas has typically played on the wing in that 4-3-3 formation and adds depth to a group in camp that includes Brenden Aaronson, Kevin Paredes, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, as well as Reyna.

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“I think a great strength of our entire group is our versatility and the adaptability of a lot of our players,” Callaghan said. “So I expect that we’re still going to be able to put these guys in positions that are going to help our team exploit some areas that we hope that we can (take advantage of) versus Germany. And I think as we’ve shown over time, we have a lot of players that can play different roles in different positions. We’ll just continue to use that depth because that is what we view is one of our strengths.”


Bundesliga experience

A total of nine players on the U.S. team have experience playing in the German Bundesliga, including five who play there now: Scally (Gladbach), Maloney (Heidenheim), Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Aaronson (Union Berlin) and Paredes (Wolfsburg).

Center back Chris Richards developed in the Bayern Munich academy and was teammates with several players on the German national team, while Weston McKennie (Schalke), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg) and Pulisic (Dortmund) also played there.

The U.S. also has had 16 German-born players get caps for the national team since 1990, including Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, John Brooks, Mike Windischmann and Thomas Dooley, all of whom had 45 caps or more. Maloney, who was born in Berlin, has a chance to become the 17th if he makes his senior debut this month.

(Photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)