- Ian Baraclough ‘excited’ at prospect of facing Americans in Belfast friendly
Northern Ireland’s senior men’s team are set to play USA for the first time next month.
Ian Baraclough’s team will face The Stars and Stripes in an international challenge match on Sunday 28 March (5.05pm kick-off) at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
For Northern Ireland the friendly is sandwiched between two FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifiers. Their first game in European Qualifying Group C will see them take on top seeds Italy in Parma on Thursday 25 March, while their second qualifier is against Bulgaria in Belfast on Wednesday 31 March.
The Americans, coached by Gregg Berhalter, will be using the game as a warm-up for several competitive matches later this year, beginning with the Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) Nations League finals in June, the Concacaf Gold Cup the following month and FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers in the autumn.
Northern Ireland manager Baraclough said he was “excited” at the prospect of playing the US and believes the game will be beneficial to his squad.
He also revealed he jumped at the opportunity to take on Berhalter’s team and he believes it will be a good test for his side against a “growing nation”.
Due to ongoing Covid restrictions the game will likely be played behind closed doors and Baraclough said it was a shame it could not be staged at a packed National Football Stadium.
Last week USA defeated Trinidad and Tobago 7-0 in a friendly in Florida and in December they secured a 6-0 win in a challenge match against El Salvador. Back in November they drew 0-0 with Wales in Swansea and defeated Panama 6-2. Both of those games were also friendlies.
In the match against Trinidad and Tobago the US head coach largely used players who ply their trade in America’s top flight, the MLS, however Berhalter has said he will be using both MLS-based and Europe-based players in his team’s matches throughout this year.
The Americans’ most high profile player is arguably Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic. The former Borussia Dortmund striker has scored 14 times in his 34 appearances for his country to date.
Paul Arriola (35 caps, 8 goals), who has just joined Swansea City on loan from MLS side DC United, and Barnsley forward Daryl Dike were the only Europe-based players to feature in last week’s friendly. Arriola scored twice.
Other England-based players who have been called up over the past year include Manchester City goalkeeper Zach Steffen, Fulham defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson, Wolves midfielder Owen Otasowie, Swansea City forward Jordan Morris and Norwich City frontman Sebastian Soto.
The US squad also features several players who operate in Germany’s Bundesliga, including Wolfsburg defender John Brooks, Hoffenheim defender Chris Richards, RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams, Borussia Dortmund forward Giovanni Reyna and Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent.
Lille forward Timothy Weah, Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, Barcelona defender Sergino Dest, Anderlecht defender Matt Miazga and Boavista defender Reggie Cannon are also part of the Europe-based contingent, while Colorado Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta, Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget and New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long are among the more experienced US-based regulars in the panel.
The veteran of the US group by far is former Sunderland, Hull City and AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore. Currently playing for Toronto FC in the MLS, the 31-year-old striker has hit the net 42 times for his country in 115 appearances.