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Soccer on TV: The United States men enter World Cup qualifying this week

After four years of waiting, the time has come for the U.S. men's final step toward redemption for missing the last World Cup.

Christian Pulisic and the U.S. men's soccer team enter qualifying for next year's World Cup on Thursday.
Christian Pulisic and the U.S. men's soccer team enter qualifying for next year's World Cup on Thursday.Read morePeter Morrison / AP

Central African Republic vs. Cape Verde

9 a.m. Wednesday (YouTube)

On the opening day of Africa’s World Cup qualifying group stage, we might see Jamiro Monteiro — one of seven Union players called to national teams this week — play for Cape Verde.

Norway vs. Netherlands

2:45 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2,

If Norway is to reach the men’s World Cup for the first time since 1998, Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard will have to play big at home against their qualifying group’s top team. The Dutch squad has a lot of firepower, including Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum, and 22-year-old new Borussia Dortmund signing Donyell Malen.

Houston Dash vs. OL Reign

8 p.m. Wednesday (CBS Sports Network)

Ever since the Reign brought attacking stars Dzsenifer Marozsán and Eugénie Le Sommer over from parent club Lyon, we wondered how they’d play on a full-strength squad with Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, and Jessica Fishlock. The answer came Sunday night: All five played in an impressive 2-1 win over archrival Portland, thrilling an NWSL record crowd at Seattle’s Lumen Field.

A few hours before that game kicked off, Houston bolstered its defense by trading for North Carolina’s U.S. World Cup veteran centerback Abby Dahlkemper. This would be quite a game for Dahlkemper’s debut.

» READ MORE: Freya Coombe’s exit from Gotham FC upends what had been a strong NWSL season

Canada vs. Honduras

8 p.m. Thursday (Universo, Paramount+)

The curtain rises on the final round of World Cup qualifying, and the spotlight will stay on this stage until the eight-team round-robin is done in late March. It’s a 14-game sprint over seven months, with the top three teams booking trips to Qatar and the fourth playing an intercontinental playoff.

Canada has its best team in decades, led by Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, and a major shot at its first men’s World Cup sine 1986. There’s pressure, too, because Canada is cohosting the 2026 edition with the U.S. and Mexico. If the Canucks don’t qualify for this one, they’ll have failed to reach nine straight tournaments before getting an automatic berth to play on home soil.

Honduras, with six MLS players on its squad, seeks its first World Cup ticket since 2014.

Panama vs. Costa Rica

9 p.m. Thursday (Paramount+,

Costa Rica has been a Concacaf powerhouse in recent years, making four of the last five World Cups. This Ticos squad isn’t as good as its predecessors, but it’s got serious talent in Ronald Matarrita, Joel Campbell, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas — the best netminder in a region that includes the United States’ Zack Steffen, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa, and Jamaica’s Andre Blake.

Panama wrote a fairy tale story four years ago by making its World Cup debut at the United States’ expense. The odds are against Panama this time, but a win in this game would be a statement of its potential.

» READ MORE: After winning Premier League with Manchester City, Steffen ready to lead U.S. men’s soccer team’s quest for trophies

Mexico vs. Jamaica

10 p.m. Thursday (Univision 65, TUDN, Paramount+)

Jamaica’s Union trio of Blake, Cory Burke, and Alvas Powell will never have a better chance to lead the Reggae Boyz to a historic upset at Mexico’s famed Estadio Azteca. The game will be played behind closed doors as a punishment to Mexican fans for their repeated use of a homophobic chant during games.

But Jamaica’s team is likely to be shorthanded because of the pandemic. Mexico and Costa Rica, where Jamaica plays next week, are on the British government’s list of countries from which incoming travelers must quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in the country, which led the Premier League to try to block its players from going abroad. Unless a compromise is reached, the Reggae Boyz will be without Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey, West Ham United’s Michail Antonio, and possibly other big names.

El Salvador vs. United States

10 p.m. Thursday (CBS Sports Network, Universo, Paramount+)

After four hard years of waiting, the time has come for the U.S. men’s team’s final step of redemption for missing the last World Cup. On paper, this is the most talented American men’s squad of all time, with players from global superpower clubs Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and more.

The talent of those players has been clear to see on the field for anyone who watched the Nations League final four earlier this year, and other big games that stars Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie have played in. There’s also serious depth, and Medford’s Brenden Aaronson is a big part of it.

But few of the 25 players in this group — reduced from 26 due to Tim Weah’s thigh injury — have played a game of consequence on the road in Concacaf. Outside back Sergiño Dest is a prime example of a player who hasn’t experienced the region’s hostile atmospheres, different facilities, and diversity of playing styles that aren’t like those of rich European clubs.

As the cherry on top, El Salvador manager Hugo Pérez is a U.S. national team legend who played at the 1994 World Cup. He was the U.S. under-15 coach from 2012-14, and brought Pulisic, McKennie, and Adams into the program.

Since taking charge of El Salvador’s senior team in April, he has recruited dual nationals in the U.S. including Alex Roldan, brother and Seattle Sounders teammate of U.S. midfielder Cristian Roldan. And Pérez has made La Selecta a much better team, giving Mexico fits at the Gold Cup and reenergizing the fan base to a degree not seen in years.

The U.S. should win this game, and should qualify for the next World Cup. But should never applies in World Cup qualifying. It’s about results, plain and simple. And it must be now more than ever, with the ghosts of the 2017 failure still haunting fans and players alike.

Note that CBS Sports Network’s coverage includes a two-hour pregame show that will include live look-ins at the other games.

» READ MORE: Christian Pulisic helps make USMNT’s Concacaf Nations League win an epic chapter in U.S.-Mexico rivalry