Gregg Berhalter and Christian Pulisic were both very happy with the USMNT display as they won 2-1 at Northern Ireland to cap off a successful international break.
The USMNT lined up in an unfamiliar 3-4-3 formation in Belfast (which was more like a 3-4-2-1 in possession) as Berhalter experimented with his young side against a much-changed Northern Ireland outfit.
What was the reason behind that tactical change from a coach who has always focused heavily on playing a 4-3-3?
Berhalter explains reasons for formation switch
“The first thing is we knew it was going to be difficult dealing with their first balls. They play with two strikers and the one guy is tall and really difficult to win the first ball from so we wanted some protection for second balls. Second thing is, looking at their shape we thought we could exploit some spaces with out midfield configuration, the way we had it. Basically with four guys in midfield,” Berhalter said. “The other thing we think it is important to challenge this group. It was a good opportunity to do so.”
It was also because a lot of his best players are now playing a 3-4-2-1 formation for their club teams, some of the giants of European soccer, so he wanted them to feel comfortable.
“When you think about it, another reason is that Christian’s team plays a similar way,” Berhalter added. “Sergino at Barcelona plays a similar way, Antonee Robinson at Fulham played as a wing-back, Gio played a similar position for Dortmund. We thought that they would be reasonably comfortable playing that way.”
And they were, even if there were a few teething problems overall as the U.S. had hardly worked on this formation in training.
The 3-4-3 added a new dimension to this USMNT side and it certainly allowed Reyna and Pulisic to create plenty of problems and also suited Dest and Robinson who are both attacking full backs.
We aren’t sure how often the USMNT will move this formation going forward, if at all, but this performance suggested it is a very useful Plan B, especially against teams who want to sit back deep.
The one issue is that the USMNT looked a little exposed when they did turn the ball over in midfield, but this formation allows them to build attacks and work the flanks as Dest in particular could cut inside.
Getting the best out of Dest, Reyna and Pulisic is key for the USMNT to progress.
Christian Pulisic ready to take on leadership role
Speaking of Pulisic, the 22 year-old captained the USMNT as he dazzled throughout as he won and scored a penalty kick for the second goal and was named man of the match.
Asked by ProSoccerTalk after the game about becoming more of a leader for this team, he made it clear he is ready to step up and lead by example on and off the pitch.
“That’s where I want to be,” Pulisic said. “I want to help lead this team in whatever way that is, whether with the captain’s band or not. I want to be one of the hardest workers out there and lead by example. Hopefully guys will see that and do the same.”
Berhalter added that the next step for Pulisic is to take a game by the scruff of the neck like he did against Northern Ireland all the time, as he praised his influential playmaker.
A decent step forward for USMNT
The USMNT secured wins against Jamaica and Northern Ireland over this international break and the return of form, and fitness, for Pulisic was a huge plus for Berhalter.
Putting things into perspective, beating two much-weakened Jamaica and Northern Ireland teams is nothing to get too excited about, but without Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams for this international break, the big positive was how many options Berhalter has to choose from.
Heading into a hectic spell for the rest of 2021, he now has some huge selection headaches when it comes to picking squads for the Nations League, Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
Any coach will tell you that is a good problem to have, and right now there are positive vibes flowing through this young USMNT team. Tougher tests are on the horizon, but there is plenty of promise.