With a place in the FIFA World Cup secured this November, the U.S. Men's National Team begins the preparation process for Qatar with four matches to start the summer.It all kicks off as the USMNT hosts 24th-ranked Morocco in a friendly at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium on Wednesday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN).
Here are five things to know about the Atlas Lions:
Morocco has competed in the FIFA World Cup five times, making its debut with a 0-2-1 mark at the 1970 competition in Mexico. The north African side achieved its best finish at Mexico 1986, earning 0-0 draws against Poland and England before defeating Portugal 3-1 to finish on top of the group. They also became the first African team to advance past the group stage. Facing eventual finalists West Germany in the Round of 16, Morocco fell on an 88th minute winner by Lothar Matthäus.
They again reached the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, but didn’t make it out of the group stage. After failing to qualify for four consecutive tournaments, Morocco returned to the World Cup at Russia 2018, but dopped back-to-back 1-0 results to Iran and Portugal before salvaging a 2-2 draw with Spain in the group finale.
In the African Cup of Nations, the Atlas Lions have enjoyed greater success, emerging as champions in 1976 and finishing as runners up in 2004.
USMNT HISTORY VS. MOROCCO
Morocco has proven to be a difficult side for the USA, which has never beaten the Atlas Lions in three meetings.
In the first encounter, Morocco recorded a 3-1 win in Casablanca on March 18, 1992. Ahmed Bahja (fourth minute) and Said Roqbi (25th minute) scored against goalkeeper Mark Dodd and lifted the hosts into a two-goal halftime advantage. Hugo Perez curled a 23-yard free kick around the defensive wall for his eighth international goal, ending the U.S.'s 426-minute scoreless streak while cutting the lead in half in the 58th minute. Said Chiba gave Morocco some breathing room in the 81st minute.
The USA was in the midst of a 1-5-1 skid at the time.
Eric Wynalda scored the lone USA goal in a 2-1 defeat in Marrakech on Nov. 17, 1999. Adil Ramzi lifted the hosts to a 1-0 edge in the 15th minute before Wynalda equalized with his 33rd international goal two minutes later, his first since Feb. 1, 1998, against Cuba. Interestingly, the goal made Wynalda the only player to score for the USMNT on five different continents.
After goalkeeper Kasey Keller pulled down Salahaddine Bassir in the penalty area, Mustafa Hadji converted the ensuing penalty kick and eventual game winner.
In the lone contest on U.S. soil, Morocco registered a 1-0 win in Nashville on May 23, 2006, in the first of three USMNT warmup matches leading up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Mohamed Madihi's 90th-minute goal past Keller proved to be the difference.
On the unfortunate side of things, USMNT defender Cory Gibbs (pictured above) sustained a knee injury during the match which forced him off the final World Cup roster. The center back was replaced by current USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter.
Bosnia native and former Yugoslavian international forward Vahid Halilhodzic has guided Morocco since Aug. 15, 2019.
Halilhodzic scored 211 goals in 406 matches for Velež Mostar (Bosnia), Neretva (Croatia), Nantes and Paris St-Germain during a 17-year playing career. He added eight goals in 15 games for Yugoslavia, including two substitute appearances during the 1982 World Cup.
During a 29-year coaching career, the 69-year-old has directed club teams in Morocco (Raja Casablanca), France (Lille, Rennes, Paris St-Germain and Nantes), Turkey (Trabzonspor), Al-Ittihad (Saudi Arabia) and Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb). Morocco is the fourth different nation he’s managed to a World Cup appearance, doing so with Ivory Coast (2010), Algeria (2014) and Japan (2018)
Halilhodzic has a 21-1-8 record while in charge of the Atlas Lions.
Morocco finished undefeated at 7-0-1 during their FIFA World Cup qualifying run. During the second round of CAF qualifying, they finished on top of Group I with a perfect 6-0-0 record while outscoring their foes, 20-1.
In the qualifying playoffs, Morocco played to a 1-1 draw at DR Congo, equalizing on Tarik Tissoudali's tally in the 76th minute on March 25. Four days later, they left no doubt, recording a 4-1 triumph to win the aggregate goals series, 5-2 and book a spot in Qatar. Azzedine Ounahi had a brace (21st and 54th minutes) with Tarik Tissoudali (seven minutes into first-half stoppage time) and Achraf Hakimi adding goals.
Ayoub El Kaabi led the way with five qualifying goals, followed by Ryan Mmaee with four.
In between the WCQ group stage and final round, Morocco competed in the Africa Cup of Nations, reaching the knockout round on the strength of a 2-0-1 record. The squad defeat Malawi, 2-1 in the Round of 16 on Jan. 25, as Youssef En-Nesyri (penalty kick two minutes into first-half injury) and Achraf Hakimi (70th-minute game-winner) contributed goals. In the quarterfinals, Morocco could not hold onto a seventh-minute lead on Sofiane Boufal's penalty kick and fell in extratime to Egypt, 2-1, on Jan. 25.
Vahid Halilhodzic summoned a mostly European-based 27 players roster for the June window. Only two players compete domestically - goalkeeper Anas Zniti (Raja Casablanca) and defender Yahia Attiyat Allah (Wydad Casablanca).
The Atlas Lions have a decent mixture of veterans and younger players.
Forward Youssef En-Nesyri, one of three Sevilla players on the squad, is the team's leading scorer with 12 goals in 48 appearances. Yassine Bounou (40 caps), who tends goal for Sevilla, was the vice-captain during qualifying. Forward Munir El Haddadi is the third Sevilla player.
Team captain and defender Romain Saiss, 32, the most experienced member of the squad, plays for Wolverhampton Wanderers (England).
Paris St-Germain right back Achraf Hakimi has excelled on both sides of the ball (eight goals in 48 contests).
Defender Noussair Mazraoui signed a four-year contract with Bundesliga power Bayern Munich on May 24 on a free transfer after starring at Ajax (Netherlands).
Hatayspor (Turkey) is represented by two players - forward Ayoub El Kaabi and goalkeeper Munir El Kajou.
DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION
Goalkeepers (3): Yassine Bounou (Sevilla/ESP; 40/0), Munir El Kajou (Hatayspor/TUR; 43/0), Anas Zniti (Raja Casablanca; 5/0)
Defenders (10): Nayef Aguerd (Rennes/FRA; 19/1), Sofiane Alakouch (Metz/FRA; 3/0), Yahia Attiyat Allah (Wydad Casablanca; 1/0), Sofian Chakla (OH Leuven/BEL; 4/0), Jawad El Yamiq (Valladolid/ESP; 11/2), Achraf Hakimi (Paris St-Germain/FRA; 48/8), Adam Masina (Watford/ENG; 14/0), Noussair Mazraoui (Bayern Munich/GER; 7/2), Samy Mmaee (Ferencvaros/HUN; 8/0), Romain Saiss (Wolverhampton/ ENG; 60/1)
Midfielders (7): Selim Amallah (Standard Liege/BEL; 17/4), Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina/ITA; 34/0), Aymen Barkok (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; 17/1), Ilias Chair (Queens Park Rangers/ENG; 8/1), Faycal Fajr (Sivasspor/TUR; 48/3), Azzedine Ounahi (Angers/FRA; 4/2), Adel Taarabt (Benfica/POR; 29/4),
Forwards (7): Zakaria Aboukhlal (AZ Alkmaar/NED; 10/2), Ayoub El Kaabi (Hatayspor/TUR; 20/7), Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla/ESP; 45/12), Munir El Haddadi (Sevilla/ESP; 11/2), Amine Harit (Marseille/FRA; 11/0), Soufiane Rahimi (Al-Ain/UAE; 4/0), Tarik Tissoudali (Gent/BEL; 6/2)