Having slept, albeit briefly, on the United States men’s national team’s 3-0 home loss to Mexico in a friendly, it’s no surprise to see the Sun back up in the sky.
The night was a comedy of disappointment, beginning with John Brooks’ groin issue costing the USMNT its best center back for Gregg Berhalter’s system.
Not the end of the program or even the manager (Get a GM)
Is it “just a friendly,” as some might ask? In most situations you’d say so, but this was Berhalter against Tata Martino’s Mexico for a second time in two months. And to lose decisively… yeesh.
Still, this isn’t the death knell for the Berhalter project, as some might say. And that’s not a glib nod toward Berhalter’s brother’s status as the federation’s next CEO.
Berhalter needs help with player identification and scouting from above. Earnie Stewart is going to hire a new general manager, who hopefully will come from a pool of more than two interviews.
That guy can hopefully help Berhalter better realize that he isn’t Herb Brooks to the rest of the world’s Soviet Union. It doesn’t take a miracle collection of “lesser” talent to make deep runs in tournament, and over-performing (incredibly well) with Columbus’ lack of spending isn’t the same as doing it against Mexico (let alone France or Brazil).
Despite Friday’s foibles (see below), Berhalter is a heck of an in-game guy and there’s reason to believe deploying this possession style against most of CONCACAF will be dynamite.
Berhalter has no answers for possession failure
In our opinion, Gregg Berhalter’s bristling response to a media ‘narrative’ stemming from his side’s miserable failure to deal with Mexico’s high press on Friday shows just how deeply he understands the lack of options available to him last night, and how poor of a decision it was to stick with the system (at least in a one-game context against your rivals. The bad night still may somehow benefit his men in terms of experience).
With Brooks absent, Berhalter opted for Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long at the back. Long is a tenacious, energetic defender… a mauler. Both Zimmerman and Brooks are no slouches in that department, but both are far better passers than Long.
And what Brooks brings that Zimmerman does not, at least as much, is a terrific ability to both dribble and ping long balls out of the back. He’s coming at you in possession, like a train (Unfortunately this train is often in the shop for repairs).
Now you throw in the unavailability of Matt Miazga, also injured and a better passer and ball mover than Long, and there’s a problem. It’s probably also worth noting that Fulham center back Tim Ream, a left back with the USMNT, was still a comparably magnificent passer during a miserable defensive season with the Cottagers last campaign.
Here are the above-mentioned four, without Long because his passing numbers aren’t in the ballpark this year and he’s not on the field for that. It’s also worth noting that two of the above players’ performance scores come from markedly better competitions than MLS.
Brooks is a level above the three and there’s are arguments to be made for any of the other three alongside him, but with him out playing for possession would need to come through Zimmerman. That didn’t work on Friday, as Zimmerman had a poor day with the ball at his feet and his keeper had a worse one. Wil Trapp, playing atop the center backs could only manage short sideways passes.
The answer wasn’t in Berhalter’s bench when it came to his desire to play out of the back (Tyler Adams, a right back in his system presumably for this reason, was also out of the lineup). And he never flipped the switch and asked his midfield to battle for 50/50 balls amongst other options.
That super weird penalty, though
This one’s a small one, but glossed over by the immediate fallout of a 3-0 loss.
Late in the match Sebastian Lletget slipped Jordan Morris into the box with a delightful pass, and the Seattle man won a penalty.
Christian Pulisic handed the ball to young Josh Sargent, who would see his effort saved by Jonathan Orozco.
At first blush, our thought was it was unselfish from Pulisic to offer an international goal to his younger teammate. Some voices online claimed the Chelsea star didn’t want to take a pen in the rain, but that seems a bit much, doesn’t it?
What was your verdict?
What’s going to happen on Tuesday versus Uruguay?
Neither Brooks nor Miazga, as stated above. No Adams, Yedlin, nor Weah. Heck, no Altidore, Gonzalez, or Bradley, who know a thing or two about messing with Mexico.
Mexico is a firm favorite against the USMNT when both teams are healthy. As I wrote on Friday, Berhalter would’ve been justified to hang this one on injuries and a lack of depth. He probably didn’t want to hang the player pool out to dry (or the development system behind it), but sinking into a bunker mentality was… interesting, at best.
Now Brooks goes back to Wolfsburg, while Zack Steffen and the stretchered-off Alfredo Morales return to Fortuna Dusseldorf (who play Friday). Sean Johnson is back at NYCFC and Christian Pulisic to Chelsea.
Here’s a first look at a likely XI, as Berhalter continues to court Sergino Dest while blooding some other younger folks.
Does he call up Brad Guzan if he’s not going to play the veteran? Seems likely we could see a halftime split between the Atlanta United man and 24-year-old Jesse Gonzalez. Plus the vocal veteran could help cool any nerves on show from 22-year-old Miles Robinson.
Dest — Robinson — Zimmerman — Ream
Yueill — Roldan
Morris — Lletget — Pomykal
That would leave Corey Baird and Nick Lima as the only players yet to feature, and Lima would either enter for Dest or Ream, while Baird isn’t in feature player mode.