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Pulisic, McKennie and the winners and losers of the USMNT's first World Cup qualifiers of 2022

12:00 GMT 03/02/2022
Christian Pulisic USMNT 2022
Gregg Berhalter's side took six points from the winter window, with several players making strong cases for bigger roles going forward

Just three games stand between the United States men's national team and the 2022 World Cup. Just one more window in this chaotic sprint towards Qatar, one more camp that will determine whether or not the U.S. returns to the game's biggest tournament for the first time in eight years.

And, after this week's three-game set, the U.S. controls their own destiny. They sit second in CONCACAF qualifying, knowing that two results in March will secure their spot.

Getting to that point, though, was anything but straightforward, as the U.S. endured yet another up-and-down window.

It has been a familiar pattern: a good first game, a bad second one and a fantastic third to send everyone home happy. The U.S. followed that formula yet again this time around by edging El Salvador, falling to Canada and then battering Honduras in the frozen Minnesota weather.

With that said, GOAL takes a look at the biggest winners and losers of the USMNT's penultimate window of World Cup qualifying...

Winner: Weston McKennie

There is no doubt who was this window's MVP: Weston McKennie.

The Juventus midfielder was incredible for the U.S. across the three games, most notably against Honduras. McKennie was surgical in picking apart the opposition on Wednesday, helping the U.S. dominate the midfield despite the absence of Tyler Adams.

To go with that midfield dominance, McKennie also scored a much-needed goal, giving the U.S. an early lead in the frigid temperatures. That strike allowed the U.S. to exhale a bit while sucking a bit of energy out of a Honduras team that was in Minnesota with nothing to play for.

McKennie was one of the few players to put in a decent performance against Canada, giving the U.S. their best chance at a goal in the 2-0 loss, and was also one of several standouts in the win over El Salvador.

Overall, a great window from a player that seemingly reaches a new level every week as he continues to grow for both club and country.

"He's a guy that that leads by his performance," Berhalter said. "I thought I thought he had an outstanding window.

"I thought is what you could tell that is that he's in big, big form with Juventus with the way he came into this window and he's dominant.

"I think he's one of the best midfielders in this region, if not the best, so it's great to have a strong performance from Weston. We've almost come to expect that from him."

Loser: Matt Turner

It is a bit harsh to label Matt Turner as one of this window's losers, but such is life for a goalkeeper.

Turner had one real bad sequence against Canada, his first truly bad sequence in a USMNT shirt, and it proved costly. He hit a poor goal-kick into the wind and was unable to stop a potentially-saveable shot from Cyle Larin from the attack that followed.

Now, that moment was not exclusively on Turner. The defenders in front of him, namely Miles Robinson, did not cover themselves in glory either. But as a goalkeeper, you cannot make mistakes, as when you do, they prove costly.

Unfortunately for Turner, he was not tested enough against El Salvador or Honduras to overshadow that mistake. And so the lasting images of Turner this window will be that goal (and the videos of how cold he was against Honduras).

That is not ideal for a player battling Zack Steffen to be the USMNT's No.1. That battle still hs a long way to go, and Turner very well could win it, but with Steffen on the shelf, this was an opportunity for Turner to assert himself as the No. 1.

He did not take it, and so that battle rolls on.

Winner: Luca de la Torre

Speaking of taking an opportunity, we have to talk about Luca de la Torre.

The Heracles midfielder was spectacular in midfield against Honduras, making the most of his opporutnity to impress Berhalter. And impress Berhalter he did, as the USMNT boss selected De la Torre as his Man of the Match.

Starting alongside McKennie and Kellyn Acosta, two other MOTM candidates, De la Torre was smooth as silk, showing off the ability to drive the ball forward that has made him one of the Eredivisie's best midfielders.

After struggling to break through at Fulham, De la Torres is now growing rapidly in the Netherlands, evolving into a midfielder that is fantastic on the ball and has an incredible work-rate when he is forced off of it.

So where does that put him? As things stand, McKennie, Adams and Yunus Musah are the starting midfield, with Acosta as Adams' primary backup (which was only reinforced with a magnificent performance against Honduras).

But after that, De la Torre might just be the guy, with this performance being more than enough to vault him ahead of Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan.

In De la Torre, the U.S. have a solid Musah replacement: a player that can drive the ball forward with energy. That's a valuable thing.

"This was a really big opportunity for me," he said after the game. "In some ways, I've worked my whole life for this."

Look for De la Torre to have a bigger role going forward after being left out of the squad in earlier windows. Performances like this are the ones that make you a national team mainstay, a title De la Torre hopes to earn going forward.

Loser: Strikers

Three games from three different strikers. No goals.

The problems at the No. 9 position have been discussed at length, and it was another window where the U.S. did not quite get the production they needed up top.

Jesus Ferreira started the first game, with the young FC Dallas star having some good moments, including setting up the goal for Antonee Robinson.

But while the effort was there, the crispness was not, as Ferreira squandered a few good chances. Chalk that up to inexperience or out-of-season rust, or both.

Gyasi Zardes got the second start as Berhalter leaned on a veteran against Canada, but he did little to impact the game as Canada bunkered in.

Despite Zardes' energy and effort, the U.S. needed someone that could unlock Canada and, on that day, it was not him. It may not be quite time to move on from the Columbus Crew forward but, with young forwards scattered all over Europe, it was a missed opportunity for Zardes to prove he belongs.

And that brings us to Ricardo Pepi, who finally started the third game of the window. He had his moments against Honduras, but still no goals. He remains the USMNT's leading scorer in this qualifying cycle, but Pepi has not scored since his brace against Jamaica in October.

With names like Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike, Jordan Pefok and Matthew Hoppe all still in the mix, there are still more questions than answers up top for the U.S. to figure out.

Winner: Tim Weah

There are certainly plenty of talented wingers in the USMNT pool, but Tim Weah looked like the best of them this window.

In Weah, the U.S. has a player that can do so many things. He can take the game vertical with his pace; he can create with his ability to beat players while dribbling; and he can get on the end of chances by either arriving late or driving into the box.

Weah did all three against Honduras after impressing against El Salvador as well. He almost certainly would have featured against Canada if not for some vaccination confusion, and he very well could have made the difference due to his ability to widen the field.

As things stand, Weah is one of the USMNT's most in-form players, for club and country, and is a key piece of their attacking system. But that may have to change as Gio Reyna returns to health, only further complicating the winger pool.

Regardless, the U.S. has a good problem when it comes to the winger group, and Weah continues to make his own case for minutes by proving he can shine in different types of games.

To be determined: Christian Pulisic

Until the 67th minute of Wednesday's game, Christian Pulisic found himself bound for the "Losers" category, but it is ammazing what a much-needed goal can do.

Pulisic got that goal after coming on as a substitute against Honduras. It was a well-hit finish on the half-volley following a set-piece scramble. Not the most beautiful goal Pulisic will score, but he will not care.

It comes at a time when the American star has struggled, both with Chelsea and the national team. He is played in a variety of different positions at Stamford Bridge, leading to a lack of rhythm that was evident against both El Salvador and Canada.

Pulisic cut inside too often, dribbled too much and looked like a player that knew he needed to make something happen so as to change the narrative that currently surrounds him.

He eventually got the bounce he needed against Honduras, but now it is time to see what that means. Can he use this as a springboard towards brighter days? He will hope so, and so will the U.S., because they will need Pulisic to be at his best in March.