USMNT to Face Northern Ireland in March Friendly

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Gregg Berhalter had previously indicated that the U.S. men's national team would be heading overseas for the March international window, and that is indeed the case.

The U.S. will play Northern Ireland in Belfast in a friendly on March 28 in what it hopes will be one of two friendlies to help prepare for the meaningful matches that will follow. U.S. Soccer says it "is continuing the effort to secure a second match in Europe during the window."

Unlike the last two U.S. friendlies–a 6-0 win over El Salvador and 7-0 romp over Trinidad & Tobago–the March window will occur on the FIFA international calendar, meaning Berhalter will have the full player pool at his disposal. There's a caveat, that being FIFA extending its exception to allow clubs to deny player releases under certain circumstances, as they relate to the coronavirus pandemic. The same exception prevented Josh Sargent from taking place in the last camp open to the full pool in November, with Werder Bremen denying his release due to quarantine protocols upon return from leaving the country.

Nevertheless, with the Concacaf Nations League final four, Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying on the horizon, it is an opportunity to continue to build before the games truly count. The March camp also takes place concurrently with the Concacaf men's U-23 Olympic qualifying tournament, meaning Berhalter and U.S. U-23 coach Jason Kreis will have to divvy up the player pool as best they see fit for their respective objectives (and based on which players are released to them).

“This is a good opportunity to work with our full group before the Nations League final four in June,” Berhalter said in a statement. “We’ve been excited about the progress our players continue to make with their clubs, and now we have another chance to strengthen our group ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying later this year. Northern Ireland is a very competitive team and brings a different set of challenges in the way they play. We look forward to a great experience.”

Northern Ireland, ranked 45th in the world, narrowly missed out on qualifying for Euro 2020 after reaching the knockout stage in 2016 and is in a UEFA World Cup qualifying group with Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania. A team with an older core in contrast to the up-and-coming U.S. nucleus, Northern Ireland is led by Leicester City defender Jonny Evans, Rangers veteran midfielder Steven Davis and Reggina forward Kyle Lafferty and is coached by Ian Baraclough.

Northern Ireland is winless in its last five games (0-4-1), getting edged by one goal in UEFA Nations League defeats to Austria (twice) and Norway and falling by a goal to Slovakia in extra time in their Euro qualifying playoff. Its most recent result was 1-1 Nations League draw vs. Romania.