Compared with four weeks ago, when a reserve-laden U.S. Men’s National Team squad was squarely defeated by Jamaica, Wednesday night’s performance was clearly an improvement.
So what were the biggest takeaways from the USMNT’s 3-1 win over Jamaica? Let’s discuss below.
[READ, WATCH: Pulisic, McKennie lead USMNT over Jamaica to final]
McKennie can play provider too
Last Sunday, it was Christian Pulisic connecting with Weston McKennie for a goal in the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Curacao. On Wednesday, McKennie was the playmaker in the middle of the park, picking out Jordan Morris, which led to a goal, and Gyasi Zardes, which arguably should have been a goal.
Combined with his goal, a classic late run into the box, it’s clear that McKennie is in his comfort zone as an eight playing just in front of Michael Bradley, and with a player like Pulisic in front of him. With Jamaica man-marking Pulisic across the field, when Pulisic floated out of the middle, that left McKennie with acres of spaces to dribble or pick out a pass to a teammate.
The more the USMNT can repeat this formula, the better.
Altidore has to start v. Mexico
Yes, Gyasi Zardes has history with Berhalter and he’s done plenty defensively in matches to help the U.S. However, based on what we’ve seen over the past 5 games, plus the two friendlies prior to the Gold Cup, there’s just no reason Zardes should start the final.
You may not love Altidore for Couva or other struggles over his career, but when he’s fit, he’s just simply a better player. His move to shield off Michael Hector allowed McKennie to even receive the ball for the first goal. It’s likely that Altidore was trying to control the ball in the box and just missed it, but even if he had, he would have had a second on the ball after shielding off Hector and creating some space for himself.
There’s just no way that Zardes would have done that, and Zardes’ egregious miss when 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper should keep him as a sub for the final.
The USMNT continues to learn Berhalter’s system and style of play
More than the result, which doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture of the goal of making the next World Cup, Wednesday’s performance may mark a turning point when many of the top 18 (healthy) players started to understand exactly what Berhalter wants from them, and how to trust each other as teammates.
Players looked more comfortable and executed their roles without too much forced passes or thinking of where they should be.
Berhalter’s high pressure, and the fact that he likes the right back to move forward into midfield were all on display as the USMNT has been now adequately trained on how to respond in many situations. It remains to be seen how the U.S. will play against real stress, like in the Gold Cup final on Sunday.