The USMNT officially kicked off its massively important summer and fall on Sunday with a 2-1 defeat to Switzerland, setting the stage for a five-month stretch in which they’ll compete in the CONCACAF Nations League, Gold Cup and the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying.
Actually, “massively important” feels like an understatement given the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Let’s call it titanically significant and urgent instead…
What we learned: USMNT – Switzerland
1. High press looked good, but left defense exposed
Here’s the good news about the USMNT, defensively: the front six players were all active and aggressive (but not overly so) as they pressed Switzerland each and every time they attempted to play the ball out of the back; they even managed to cause a few problems and sticky situations for the Swiss. Here’s the downside to that, though: they eventually managed to break the press on most occasions, and when they did there was no one — I mean no one — home to protect the four defenders suddenly tasked with defending four or five attackers over an entire half of the 120×70-foot field. On that note, let’s have a look at how Switzerland scored their equalizer in the first half…
#USMNT has done great adjusting their press height & continuing their press through to GK. During the final pressure it´s vital to press using cover shadow & eliminate the CB as the easy option. Sargent never checked his shoulder here & the press was beaten for a goal (4th pic) pic.twitter.com/hR8OVxZgrw
— Eric Laurie (@EricLaurie) May 30, 2021
— Julio Nut (@NutJulio) May 30, 2021
As horrific as that example appears for the USMNT, the entirety of the second half was much worse. Wave after wave of white shirts flooding down the left, right and center of the field cut through the vacated space between midfield and defense — where the injured Tyler Adams would typically roam and patrol, it should be noted. If not for their profligacy in front of goal, the final score could have easily been 4-1 or 5-1.
2. Sargent still searching for something… anything, really
Josh Sargent is clearly a talented player with plenty of potential still to be realized and unlocked, but the fact he remains one of the USMNT’s two or three best options at center forward at this moment — and he is, no matter which way you twist or turn or contort the USMNT player pool — is a bit concerning.
Sure, young forwards oftentimes require an extended run in the team to “find their footing” before something just “clicks” and “it all comes together.” To be clear, Sargent is far from running out of time to hit his stride at just 21 years old, but again we’re ultimately talking about a 16-month stretch which will not only determine whether the USMNT goes to the next World Cup, but will also shape the future of the men’s national team program in a big way.
On Saturday, Sargent was chief among the high pressers who caused a handful of problems for the Swiss defense and midfield, but that’s really where his contributions ended. It’s one thing for a center forward, especially a young one, to simply not score, but you then need him to make meaningful contributions in the form of hold-up play and medium-range passing — both of which are meant to be strengths of Sargent’s game.
Still, we remain patient ahead of a critical summer for Sargent — both internationally and on the club side — and that his “lightbulb” moment is only just around the corner.
3 Speaking of Tyler Adams…
If there were any lingering questions over which player is the most irreplaceable in a fully fit USMNT squad, I’m here to tell it’s RB Leipzig’s do-everything, midfield-marshaling, string-pulling, sometimes position-less dynamo.
It’s obviously much too simplistic to say, “Put Adams on the field and all of the above problems are solved,” but the foundational cracks immediately become less severe and the level of everyone around him raised. He’s that good. Now, if only we could admire his brilliance after watching the USMNT play with him, rather than longing for his eventual return.