USMNT-Ecuador preview: Competition level rises

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team has never allowed a goal, albeit with a bevy of MLS players in the USMNT shirt going against domestic-based players from Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday’s opponent is Ecuador, and this is a proper international break. No, La Tricolor won’t present the same challenge as Chile, who visits Houston on March 26, but Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia are a step up from the CONCACAF visitors of January and February.

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The U.S. is unbeaten in its last three matches against Ecuador, winning two and drawing one. The last meeting was during Jurgen Klinsmann’s remarkable Copa America Centenario, as the Yanks navigated Jermaine Jones’ 52nd minute red card and both sides played most of the second half with 10 men in a 2-1, Clint Dempsey-inspired win.

Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t as young this go-round, with Michael Bradley, Tim Ream, and Gyasi Zardes among those who’ve featured for several American coaches.

It’s also the first time U.S. fans will see Christian Pulisic since his sale to Chelsea and loan back to Dortmund, likely playing attacking center midfield as the most important piece of the Yanks’ XI (with apologies to John Brooks).

What will be second-most in focus for U.S. fans is Tyler Adams as right back, a move which makes sense in Berhalter’s possession system where the RB is stationed as a center mid, but takes the 20-year-old out of the center of the park when the opposition has the ball.

This most likely says that Berhalter is unwilling to take Bradley out of his lineup just yet, because Schalke’s Weston McKennie is likely to start as is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. And it also isn’t a ringing endorsement of Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who Berhalter is calling a winger despite a distinct problem with his finishing touch.

But GB knows his stuff, and in some ways the Ecuador match is a logical progression towards a Chile which will put Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, and a back line with more than 300 combined caps on the pitch next week. So handle Ecuador, and move forward.