USMNT player ratings: Adams, defense will Yanks to Azteca point

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The USMNT picked up a point at Estadio Azteca on Thursday, playing bitter rivals Mexico to a scoreless draw in 2022 World Cup qualifying.

[ MORE: Mexico 0-0 USA recap & highlights ]

The USA was wasteful at one end of the field, but resilient and unbreakable at the other end. As far as performances in Mexico City go, there won’t be many better. The result, on the other hand, should have been.

Here’s a look at who stood out (for better or for worse) for Gregg Berhalter’s side, with some bonus commentary from PST’s Nicholas Mendola (italicized)…


GK – Zack Steffen: 7.5 – For a goalkeeper making his first international start since mid-November due to injuries, and having made precious few for his club side during that same time, Steffen was reassuringly confident on Thursday. He faced seven shots on target (saved all of them), showed both the short- and long-range distribution which once separated him from Matt Turner as the incumbent no. 1. As has been the case throughout World Cup qualifying, having two international-caliber goalkeepers is a good thing, not a bad one.

RB – DeAndre Yedlin: 6.5 – It really pays to have a backup right back with 71 caps on the squad, just in case the starter gets injured days before a crucial rivalry game. Yedlin stepped into the team with Sergiño Dest (hamstring) out, put in 80 hard minutes and helped to keep Jesus Corona incredibly quiet (zero shots, just one key pass).

CB – Walker Zimmerman: 7 (7.5) – With Raul Jimenez dropping into midfield in an attempt to pull the center backs out of position — either for Jimenez to play them in behind, or to create space for diagonal runs behind from the wings — it was imperative that Zimmerman and Miles Robinson be on the same page. One had to know when to go with Jimenez, while the other would stay. They handled that assignment rather well (zero shots, three key passes for Jimenez).

He gets up, he stays up, and he’s only getting smarter despite some very crafty Mexican talents conspiring to get behind him (They rarely did). The Nashville SC man has a legitimate chance to become the Unsung Hero of this USMNT era. He even had to win over Gregg Berhalter despite his status as the best center back in MLS — or the best American-born one, at least. Zimmerman is a tower who knows his limitations in speed and is finding his positional wisdom at the age center backs traditionally do so. If and when the Yanks make it to Qatar and if he keeps a starting spot over either Miles Robinson or Chris Richards, Zimmerman has a chance to become of the January transfer window’s biggest stories.

CB – Miles Robinson: 7 – Robinson had a rough start in the opening 15 or 20 minutes, but he settled in nicely thereafter and was continuously in the right place at the right time to make a key interception or clearance.

LB – Antonee Robinson: 6.5 – Offensively, Robinson was dangerous and always willing to throw himself forward. Defensively, there were a few hairy moments where he was caught out of position and/or ball-watching, thus freeing Lozano to run at the other Robinson one-on-one.

DM – Tyler Adams: 8.5 (9) – Midway through the second half, there was a 10- or 15-minute period in which Mexico were quickly growing into the game and putting the USMNT under ever-increasing pressure. Perhaps Adams sensed that was his moment to step up and singlehandedly keep the score level at 0-0. He made three defensive plays in a matter of moments — tracking back into the left back position on a counter-attack, and twice stepping forward to win the ball or break up a Mexican attack with a foul. Because there were no shots (let alone shots on target) resulting from these moments, it gets lost in the chaos of USA-Mexico, but each was yet another prime example of Adams’ indispensability to the USMNT.

While Christian Pulisic has the potential to put a 10 on the board in any given game and remains the USMNT’s best game-breaker, Adams has pretty much made an 8 or 8.5 his starting point. He still has moments that show his lack of emotional maturity — and perhaps that’s why Berhalter yanked him early — but if the sky is the limit for most, Adams performed just as well at altitude.

CM – Kellyn Acosta: 7 (7) – Every team in the world — club or country, it doesn’t matter — needs a Kellyn Acosta in their squad. With Weston McKennie (broken foot) out until this summer at the earliest, away to Mexico is a tough spot for most backups to step into, but Acosta had already played Mexico four times in his USMNT career (once in Mexico) and might have been the coolest head on the field. He provided the one thing the USMNT needed most against El Tri: stability in central midfield.

It’s safe to say that Acosta — besides his Jermaine Jones, Ruben Neves, or Granit Xhaka knack for taking wild shots from distance and rarely being on target — has finally found the potential that so tantalized national team fans when he came on the scene with FC Dallas. It’s very nice, like Andy points out with Yedlin, that the Yanks’ Weston McKennie alternative is the Colorado Rapids star.

CM – Yunus Musah: 6.5 – Musah was less influential than he has been in games against CONCACAF’s not-giants (to be expected), but he remains 19 years old and at no point did he not look like he belonged on the field. He was made to track back and battle more than he’s done in the past, and he showed there’s more to his game than slick dribbling and combination play.

[ MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule ]

RW – Tim Weah: 6 – Weah lasted just 60 minutes and was scarcely involved in USMNT possession or build-up. Again, that was to be expected given 1) Mexico’s stellar wide attackers, and 2) attack-minded DeAndre Yedlin playing right back behind him. Weah was committed defensively — a hugely necessary contribution — though his yellow card means he’ll miss the game against Panama.

LW – Christian Pulisic: 6 (5.5) – Pulisic had the first half’s best scoring chance in the 35th minute, but he somehow managed to put his shot in the one spot on the planet where Memo Ochoa could save it (below video). It’s hard to look past that moment, given the quality of the chance and the rest of the USMNT’s performance. He had another half-chance to start the second and forced Ochoa to make a (slightly) more difficult save.

Drew a couple of fouls in dangerous places but was a non-factor for too long of a stretch given his status. The missed point-blank shot would’ve been a fitting, “Now we’re back” moment for a player who’s become the ultimate thorn in El Tri sides. Instead, it stands as a huge miss (though not as big as Pefok’s).

CF – Ricardo Pepi: 5.5 (5) – Pepi remains the USMNT’s best prospect at center forward — and these games are important for his development, no doubt about it — but the Yanks got very little from the 19-year-old on Thursday. The reality of the situation is that Berhalter doesn’t currently have anybody better or more reliable to select, and so Pepi must learn on the fly.

Young players disappear and Pepi’s done that before, but he’s almost always found a way to make an impact in a USMNT shirt even on his quieter days. Not today.

Sub – Gio Reyna: 7 (8) – Reyna came on for Weah right on the hour mark and immediately looked to get on the ball, run at defenders and cause chaos. His long dribble through midfield seemed to indicate the 19-year-old (it’s so easy to forget just how young so many of them still are) is finally fully recovered from his torn hamstring and can potentially be a game-changer in the final two games.

Seems likely to start against Panama and the USMNT is flat-out going to cruise if he shows the craft and cleverness he showed at Azteca.

Sub – Jordan Pefok: 5 – A painful miss that conjured memories of Chris Wondolowski against Belgium in 2014.

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