Cuba

Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What did we learn about USMNT during Nations League?

Leave a comment

The inaugural Nations League group stage is complete, and the U.S. men’s national team managed to finish top of Group A (on the final day of play) and secure its place in the semifinals next June.

[ MORE: USMNT cruises past Cuba to reach Nations League semis ]

So, what did we learn from the final four (semi-competitive) games of 2019?

No matter the competition, the chance creation isn’t there

Inevitably, eventually, the USMNT ends up attacking its opponents in one of two ways: with long, direct balls up to the forward line, or exclusively through wide attackers and constant crosses into the box. In beating Canada and Cuba by a combined score of 8-1 during this international window, Gregg Berhalter’s team relied almost exclusively on these “tactics.” Predictably, it’s also the default setting when facing tougher competition, such as Mexico and Uruguay earlier in 2019.

Neither of those plans are bad plans, per se, only neither of those plans are what the federation has pursued as its stated goal for the last decade: possession-based soccer featuring ample chance creation from midfield.

Five coaches have taken charge of the USMNT this decade, all with varying levels of promising the above stylistic improvements. Upon completing the USMNT’s final game of the decade, it’s fair to say that all five failed.

The worst part of all is that the presence of Christian Pulisic hardly cures anything. Sure, he’s the craftiest attacking player the U.S. has ever produced, but even a primary playmaker like Pulisic requires a stable midfield behind him to filter the ball upfield and give him a stage on which to perform. Weston McKennie was stellar against Canada on Friday, but he’s proven that, at just 21 years old, he can’t be counted on to that degree game in and game out.

The good news: they’re both 21 years old and have north of 50 caps between them. One day — and it could come soon — everything should click for each of them, at which point we could see them move to operate at a totally different level.


The full backs are suddenly a bright spot

Perhaps it’s a tad hasty to claim the full backs are trending positively, but the current crop of right backs sure looks deeper and more talented than ever before. Sergiño Dest chose to play for the USMNT and is now cap-tied, Reggie Cannon is coming along nicely, and DeAndre Yedlin has proven himself, at the very least, a non-problem plenty of times.

That’s three more reliable full backs than the USMNT has had since Steve Cherundolo retired in 2012. Unfortunately, they all play on the same side of the field.

Tim Ream and Daniel Lovitz, who started at left back  don’t inspire the most confidence or excitement at left back, but perhaps a defense-first option is the way to go given the attacking instincts of all three players on the opposite side.

If Berhalter has truly settled on John Brooks and one of Aaron Long or Matt Mizaga as his starting center backs, then the USMNT heads into 2020 with a relatively stable, non-fluid situation along the backline since… maybe the 2010 World Cup.

Small victories, but victories nonetheless.

USMNT cruises past Cuba to reach Nations League semis (video)

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. men’s national team ticked all the boxes — most notably, the one reading “win and advance” — in its 4-0 victory over Cuba to reach the semifinals of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League as the winners of Group A.

[ MORE: Miami and Nashville stock rosters in expansion draft + trades galore ]

Jordan Morris continued his scintillating late-season surge, carrying over his red-hot form for MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders, and scored his second and third goals of the current international break to put the game out of reach before halftime. Josh Sargent also scored twice, once in each half.

The goals started extremely early and showed little sign of letting up from there. Josh Sargent put the Yanks ahead in the 36th… second. A mass scramble ensued after Paul Arriola crossed the ball into the six-yard box and Sargent got the final touch to tally his fourth senior goal.

Morris got the USMNT’s second in the 26th minute, when he tucked home a simple one-on-one chance set up by Jackson Yueill’s diagonal ball into the box, with a bit of help from Weston McKennie’s head.

Morris got his second of the game 13 minutes later, once again the result of a penalty-area scramble and a bit of pinball in the box. Aaron Long took two chances to get the ball across the face of goal, and once he finally did it looped over the goalkeeper’s head and found Morris crashing the back post. The ball appeared goal-bound without a touch from Morris, but better safe than sorry.

Sargent finished the scoring and bagged his second of the game, and the fifth of his international career, off a clever backheel by Tyler Boyd in the 66th minute. McKennie crossed the ball from right to left, overhitting it just a bit, but Boyd was able to touch it before crossing the endline and find Sargent in all kinds of space atop the six-yard box. He took the chance with his left foot and left very little to doubt.

The result sent the USMNT miles ahead of Canada in the final group standings. Despite finish tied on nine points, the Americans finished with a +12 goal differential compared to their northern neighbors’ +6.

LIVE — USMNT v. Cuba in must-win Nations League finale

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Win and advance to the semifinals. It’s as simple as that for the U.S. men’s national team on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET), when they face Cuba in George Town, Cayman Islands, to wrap up the group stage of the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League.

[ FOLLOW: USMNT on Twitter ]

Head coach Gregg Berhalter has made four changes to the team that beat Canada 4-1 on Friday. Most notably, Josh Sargent starts up top in place of Gyasi Zardes; DeAndre Yedlin will play right back after Sergiño Dest started there on Friday; Cristian Roldan replaces Sebastian Lletget in midfield; and Daniel Lovitz will play left back, where Tim Ream, who slides over to John Brooks’ center back spot, started against Canada.

Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras have already qualified for the semifinals. The USMNT or Canada are the last two teams with a chance to join them.

Hit the link above to follow along throughout the game, and check back on PST for a recap, analysis and reaction after the final whistle.

Preview: USMNT’s must-win Nations League finale v. Cuba

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The scenario is simple for the U.S. men’s national team ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Cuba (7:30 p.m.ET): Gregg Berhalter’s side will finish top of Group A with a victory, and only a victory. Period. It’s as simple as that.

[ MORE: Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video) ]

Friday’s victory over Canada righted the wrongs of last month’s defeat north of the border and laid the foundation for the Americans to reach the semifinals in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, provided they take care of business in George Town, Cayman Islands, in what is set to be the final game of Berhalter’s first calendar year in charge. Despite trailing Canada (+6 goal differential)  by three points heading into Friday, the Yanks (+8) already have the tiebreaker in their favor.

Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes (twice) and Aaron Long scored to give the USMNT its 4-1 triumph over their northern neighbors. More importantly, it was a largely dominant display after going 1-0 up inside two minutes and carrying a 3-0 led into halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The USMNT will once again be without Christian Pulisic (hip injury), leaving the attacking options on the roster quite thin. Morris, who got a goal and an assist against Canada, will likely start on the left again, with Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola playing centrally and on the right respectively. Zardes is the presumed starter up top, unless Berhalter opts for the youthful inexperience of Josh Sargent in a must-win game.

Berhalter appears to have settled on a pretty consistent backline, with Sergiño Dest and Aaron Long manning the right side and John Brooks and, at least on Friday, Tim Ream on the left. Weston McKennie’s place deep in midfield has been cemented for quite some time, but he’s partnered close to a half-dozen players alongside him this year alone. The 21-year-old Schalke midfielder was stellar against Canada, frequently starting counter-attacks and carrying the ball into the final third.

Projected USMNT lineup

I___________I
Guzan

Dest —— Long —— Brooks —— Ream

McKennie —— Roldan

Arriola —— Lletget —— Morris

Zardes

USMNT player ratings from 7-0 defeat of Cuba

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The USMNT’s first ever match CONCACAF Nations League match was always supposed to be a straight-forward win, but this was something else.

The Yanks smashed Friday’s visitors to Audi Field by a 7-0 margin, scoring six first half goals and riding a right-sided master class from Weston McKennie, Reggie Cannon and Jordan Morris to victory.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Here are the individual ratings from a comprehensive-enough win.

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 6 — Didn’t do anything wrong. Also didn’t really need to be there. Hopefully someone brought him snacks.

Daniel Lovitz — 6 — Drew the penalty with a cross, but otherwise didn’t have a ton to do.

Matt Miazga — 6 — Befuddled by a Tim Ream mistake and nearly allowed a shot, but again, three of the backs and their keeper had very little to do all night.

Tim Ream — 5 — Two dicey plays including a poor giveaway around the hour mark, but a good safety valve at the back when the Yanks allowed a long ball counter in the 73rd.

Reggie Cannon — 8 — Sensational pace and industry, and it the energy never left him. Instrumental in the first two goals as Berhalter asked his right back to do his best Trent Alexander-Arnold impression. It wasn’t a bad one.

Jackson Yueill — 8 — Exactly one blip in 90 quality minutes. Begging to be considered as the fourth midfielder behind Tyler Adams, McKennie, and Michael Bradley.

Cristian Roldan — 6 — One nice play in the second half and worked hard on the night, but a poor giveaway in the first half could’ve soiled a great start if the opposition was up to it.

Weston McKennie (Off HT) — 10 — Electric. Industrious. Fun. This was an emerging midfielder from a semi-regular European-qualifying club showing what it looks like when the opposition takes several steps down in quality. A joy to watch.

Christian Pulisic — 7 — Solid enough for the Chelsea man, who captained the squad and didn’t put a foot wrong. Scored his penalty and otherwise was content to let the others drive the bus for once.

Jordan Morris (Off HT) — 9 — The extra touch that made the fifth goal a Cuban own goal instead of an outright finish stops us from giving him a 10, but really it’s just nice to be picky and positive for once. Morris has found his home as a wing in Berhalter’s system.

Josh Sargent — 6 — Nice to see him get the start, but does that mean it’ll be Gyasi Zardes against Cuba? He was “in and around” the goal all night, and his goal was very well taken. Sliced a good chance over the bar in the 90th after producing the chance with a takeaway.

Substitutions

Tyler Boyd (On HT) — 6 — Flashed some good moves. Had a great steal outside the 18 but was stepped on and effectively limped out of the fray.

Paul Arriola (On HT) — 6 — An okay night for one of Berhalter’s mainstays.

Sebastian Lletget (On 68′) — 6 — A moment or two off the bench for the Galaxy man.