And let’s get this out of the way: Mexico is miles ahead of the United States at this stage. El Tri is in a Golden Generation, and most of that generation is in its prime. The USMNT is young, and its depth has been exposed by injuries to John Brooks and Tyler Adams.
Savvy El Tri punishes sensationally poor marking for opener
Javier Hernandez entered Friday’s friendly with 51 international goals, more than anyone in Mexican national team history.
He also entered the United States’ 18 like it was a serene national park.
Jesus “Tecatito” Corona absolutely cooked 18-year-old Sergino Dest, playing at his unfavored left back slot, with a nutmeg and the young back wasn’t wise enough to foul the Mexican attacker.
Aaron Long is slow to react to the move and Wil Trapp doesn’t mark any of the three players available to him.
Weston McKennie is most at fault here, as the center midfielder is pushed so far up the field that right winger Tyler Boyd is the one racing back in futility as Chicharito plants a header past Steffen.
Pulisic impresses (despite a little bit of pressing too hard)
The United States’ clear No. 1 player was hounded by Mexican markers all game and was still the most dangerous weapon on the field for Gregg Berhalter’s men.
He needs help. Pulisic pressed too hard at times, trying to take the game himself aside from a few bright moments. There was a good combination play with Weston McKennie in the mix.
Early on, Pulisic combined with Sergino Dest on the left in a sensational way, as both players mesh well with smooth ball skills, excellent flair, and exceptional soccer IQ going forward (They were both absolutely worked by Tecatito in the build up to the goal).
Pulisic doesn’t even turn 21 until Sept. 18, so it’s inspiring to see that his motor and engine are both well-equipped to match his more cosmetically appealing skills.
Two-thirds of midfield trio fails Berhalter
Tactically, Gregg Berhalter’s idea of playing a three-man industrious midfield against Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, and crew made a lot of sense. Unfortunately, only one of his players delivered the goods for more than a few moments.
As covered above, Trapp and McKennie failed the team in sensational fashion on Corona’s opener, but it was much more than that. While McKennie had a couple of nice moments combining with Pulisic and Morales, but wasn’t close to what we see most weeks at Schalke (and many times in his a U.S. shirt).
I’m not going to pile on Trapp, but if ever there was a three-man midfield to make him perform well, it was alongside two mile-eaters in McKennie and Morales (though we just covered the former’s off night).
Every coach has his favorites and Berhalter coached Trapp for years at Columbus, but at this point it’s fairly comical that the USMNT boss continues to start him (especially against the aforementioned Mexican midfield). It’s not up to Trapp to turn down a cap. It is on Berhalter to note that Trapp isn’t even a Top 30 center midfielder in MLS right now, and knowing the system isn’t everything.
That said, Berhalter did not have the option of selecting Tyler Adams or Michael Bradley in his place. It might’ve been nice to ask Morales to handle the deeper lying stuff and use McKennie and Sebastian Lletget more advanced, but honestly Trapp over Jackson Yueill was a safer move.
Morales was mostly good until the game fell apart and he was sauteed by Chucky Lozano in the run-up to Mexico’s third goal, and then — as if we jinxed it — he looks to have suffered a serious injury in the 90th minute.
Zack Steffen — 2 — Made one solid long-distance pass to go with a handful of bad decisions with the ball at his feed. He better hope Pep Guardiola isn’t watching the tape, because it would make for a third-straight USMNT cap with very bad plays from the No. 1 keeper.
Sergino Dest (Off 68′) — 4 — Played somewhat out of position (He plays some left back, but is a right back at Ajax). Early on he was very, very good moving forward — especially for his age and in combination with Christian Pulisic — but he was nutmegged by Tecatito and had a few other dicey moments in defense. He’s 18.
Aaron Long — 3 — Slow to react when Corona cooked Dest. Atypically indecisive, overall Long had one of his few off nights in a U.S. shirt.
Walker Zimmerman (Off 58′) — 4 — Not at fault on the Corona goal, but some very bad decisions with the ball. All-in-all, like most of his team, it wasn’t his night.
Reggie Cannon — 5 — The best of the back four, but that’s not saying a ton.
Wil Trapp (Off 77′) — 4 — A bunch of accurate five-yard passes don’t combine to one incisive 60-yard pass. He’s clearly respected and has leadership skills. He’s not going to win a midfield battle against Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera. Ever.
Weston McKennie — 4 — You can forgive McKennie when his youthful exuberance leads to mistakes, but what do you do when he’s caught 10 yards outside the box while right wing Tyler Boyd races past him to mark Chicharito? One to learn from…
Alfredo Morales — 6 — Dueled with Pulisic to be the United States’ Man of the Match. His performance was made more impactful by the fact that he had little going on around him for the first hour (outside of Pulisic). Probably would’ve even earned a 7 had he not been sautéed by Hirving Lozano on the third goal. Let’s hope his late injury isn’t as serious as it looked.
Tyler Boyd (Off 58′) — 5 — A couple of bright moments in the first half but ultimately failed to impress.
Gyasi Zardes (Off 67′)– 4 — Zardes is out there to finish and stretch the defense. No one gave him a chance to do the former. As for the latter, we honestly didn’t notice him out there more than 2-3 times over his two-thirds of the game.
Christian Pulisic — 6 — It’s all about him, and he did his best to make something happen. Missed a couple of passes here or there, but was one of three starters (Morales and Dest) threatening to do something.
Miles Robinson (On 58′) — 6 — Tried to take on Lozano, to his credit, with aggression and physicality on Mexico’s third goal. We’d rather see that the ‘wait and see’ approach proffered by the others.
Jordan Morris (On 58′) — 6 — Earned a start against Uruguay.
Josh Sargent (On 67′) — 4 — Brighter moments than Zardes, until he went and missed the penalty.
Daniel Lovitz (On 67′) — 3 — Came into the middle of a tornado and got blown around. Wasn’t even in the camera when the ball hit his side before Mexico’s third goal.
Sebastian Lletget (On 77′) — 7 — Did more in his 13 minutes, playing a delightful ball that helped produce the penalty, than McKennie or Trapp did over much longer.
Gregg Berhalter is winning over his detractors. Now he needs to start winning against Mexico.
The United States men’s national team manager failed in his first bid to win a trophy, the 2019 Gold Cup, albeit against a much better Mexico team which was highly-favored to win its eighth trophy.
There were stumbles along the way — the men clearly expected to waltz past Curacao — but the Yanks largely passed tests in paving the way to the CONCACAF Nations League and 2022 World Cup qualifying.
Let’s talk about the good and the bad. We’ll try to avoid the meh.
Necessary negatives: The extended extended extended proving ground
Imagine, for a moment, you’ve moved to another country. Hey, maybe you have. Congratulations on your international jet-setting ways.
Now you’ve found one place around the corner from your apartment where you like the food. It tastes like home. The person who runs the place knows your name and always thanks you for your business.
But now your new friends are showing you other places. They are tastier places which are also healthier for you.
Still, you keep going back to the first place. It’s served you well.
It’s called Gyasi and Wil’s Family Restaurant, and Gregg Berhalter loves the lunch special.
This was one of the prime stumbling blocks of Berhalter’s early tenure as USMNT boss and one of its only true setbacks before his questionable substitutions in the Gold Cup Final against Mexico.
Berhalter overachieved in a big way during his time as Columbus Crew boss, and that was aided in no small way by midfielder Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. One needs to look no further than Caleb Porter’s first season with a very similar Columbus roster to see just how well Berhalter did in Ohio.
But Trapp has been average at-best for the last four seasons in MLS and doesn’t have a place anywhere off the fringes of the national team pool (He’s been especially suspect this year in the United States’ top flight).
And to a lesser extent, the same is true for Zardes. Even in last year’s 20-goal season with Columbus, his stats were not wonderful (aside from the goals and yes, goals are pretty important in soccer).
Berhalter gave 17 of Trapp’s 19 caps to the midfielder, but only used him twice in the Gold Cup run (once off the bench). Trapp captained the side in his first eight caps under Berhalter, and again in June’s friendly slaughter at the hands of Salomon Rondon and Venezuela.
He’s just okay, not a mainstay, and it took Berhalter some time to realize that Michael Bradley was the far superior option despite being nowhere near his peak powers and a sudden turnover machine.
Zardes is not the answer at striker, although he put in a solid sub shift on Sunday, and Berhalter made sure he asked that question continually over the past half-year. He’s capable of the sublime and there’s currently a place for him in a 23-man roster, but that’s it. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 50 career caps, and here are the ones that come outside of CONCACAF:
Anyway, the point is not to dog Trapp and Zardes. They are pool players, but are unlikely to be regular difference makers for the USMNT. Berhalter, as is his right, gave them a loyal chance to stake a claim to their preferred places. Neither has been exceptional despite a wealth of experience in his system. The game’s not over, but it seems their role is as mid-level boss.
Pulisic is a wonder, and we wonder what’s next (Alternatively titled: Don’t hurt him, Lamps)
Christian Pulisic is a terrific player with world class potential. He is a worker, a playmaker, a finisher, and a burgeoning leader.
But the key part of this is that the kid continues to show up bigger when it matters.
Not 21 until September, Pulisic’s first Gold Cup saw him post three goals and three assists in five matches. Prior to this summer, he has seven goals and seven assists in World Cup qualifiers.
Even including his failure to meet the score sheet in the Copa America Centenario, Pulisic has 10 goals and 10 assists in 21 tournament matches for the USMNT. Compare that to three goals in nine friendlies. Guy’s a gamer.
Now he goes to Chelsea, a new club with a new manager who did not purchase him (but will surely be no stranger to his exploits). Frank Lampard will need Pulisic to show him something, but the price tag means the American will get every chance to do so.
That said, this isn’t a plea for “Lamps” to play Pulisic, rather develop him. The player is a dynamite winger, but Lampard was one of the most complete attacking midfielders of his generation. We’d argue the hiring is a good one. Let’s hope to be proven correct.
Chances taken, squandered, and everything in between
Here is a partial list of players left off the USMNT roster: John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Antonee Robinson, Paxton Pomykal, Duane Holmes, Sebastian Lletget, Russell Canouse, Andrija Novakovich, and Bobby Wood.
Some went uncalled by Gregg Berhalter, yeah, but all remain prospects to get regular spots on the team.
Of the men who were called into the squad, there are several who entered the tournament as undoubted long-term mainstays: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Zack Steffen among them. Others had a good handle on a place in the squad moving forward. While not perfect, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore ensured that they won’t be headed to the retirement unless they make that choice.
It’s difficult to get a read on Berhalter, and whether he’s dismissed a player or simply rotating according to some unnamed plan.
He benched Tyler Boyd with the U.S. in dire needed of attacking creativity against Mexico. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman were pretty decent in the tournament, so maybe he had just seen enough?
Reggie Cannon seized his opportunity to lay claim to a fullback’s place in the pool, and Boyd looked good to most of us (again, how does Berhalter really feel?). Jordan Morris had his moments.
Paul Arriola seems to have made the right impression on his coach, while Berhalter has a very high opinion of Cristian Roldan (His engine is elite, but production remains absent).
All told, the coach is doing a decent job
I’ve written a number of times that the U.S. Soccer Federation did Gregg Berhalter no favors with the mysterious hiring process, because he’s a worthy hiring.
The loss against Mexico stings but it doesn’t scar, maybe because Berhalter’s Yanks pummeled Trinidad and Tobago for a measure of revenge and staked fair claims of superiority over Panama and Jamaica.
His system is asking a lot out of this player pool, but once we see the full-throated team with John Brooks leading out of the back with his under-appreciated distribution and Tyler Adams spying Pulisic, Weah, and other electric attackers, the Yanks are going to roar through CONCACAF.
Injuries could cost them, yeah, and the youth we’ve seen shine with the U-20s and (hopefully) the U-23s heading into the Olympics need to be nurtured into contributors.
As of right now, you’d bet on the USMNT to sit in the top three spots for the Hex and it’s reasonable to expect Berhalter to develop the young players into a squad that can rival Mexico’s by the Nations League finals or the Hex.
That’s when Berhalter will get his next serious chance to rival Tata Martino. And this time, he won’t have to plug in maybes and what ifs.
Hopefully. And that adverb is the one that applies to almost every USMNT question.
Bonus item: USWNT
After 1300 words on the men, here are a dozen or so on the women that matter just as much: Pay them equally. They’re the best we’ve got, and it’s the right thing to do anyway.
The United States has one final tune-up for the Gold Cup as the 23-man tournament squad gets set to face Venezuela on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET in Cincinnati.
A lackluster performance on Wednesday resulted in a 1-0 loss to Jamaica, the first loss under new head coach Gregg Berhalter. A number of fringe players saw time in that game, but with Berhalter’s camp over and his Gold Cup roster set, so it’s likely there will be less experimentation this time around, instead hoping to give the first-team squad a chance to gel.
That likely means the re-introduction of Jozy Altidore plus Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are now available as well. The biggest name of all will not be present, however, as Berhalter has already confirmed he will rest and preserve Christian Pulisic to keep him in top shape for the meaningful matches. Michael Bradley is also not available as Berhalter hopes to protect the 31-year-old from a recent hamstring injury, and while he’s been a full participant in practice, he did not play against Jamaica and will again be held out.
These two teams met in a 2017 Gold Cup tuneup at Rio Tinto Stadium in a match that saw Pulisic score a 61st minute equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw. Yet that game seems a lifetime ago, as just two of the starters from that game and four of the 19 players who saw time are on the current roster, including the 20-year-old Chelsea attacker.
The head man will want to get a mix of players on the field while still deploying the same tactical approach he will ask of his players in the Gold Cup and hope as many first-team players as possible can be on the field. Still, with a long summer ahead, it’s unlikely he will take too many squad risks. Omar Gonzalez played the full 90 minutes against Jamaica and could sit in favor of Aaron Long. Tyler Adams has been excelling in midfield since his move to the Bundesliga, but the USMNT has shown no signs of detouring from the plan to play Adams at right-back at the international level.
Berhalter may look to again deploy Tim Ream after playing just 60 minutes against Jamaica, but the 31-year-old is a known quantity and the coach could look to give Daniel Lovitz another chance to prove his worth against a difficult opponent. With Bradley out, Wil Trapp is again the man in the middle, without any fitness worries knowing that Bradley will take over once the Gold Cup arrives. McKennie is back in the fold while Duane Holmes should get another chance after proving one of the few bright spots against Jamaica.
Paul Arriola got 72 lackluster minutes the last time out, and Jonathan Lewis will have an opportunity to show what he can do out wide, with Jordan Morris possibly taking over on the other side. It’s possible that Morris could start the game on the bench with the aim of coming on to spell Jozy Altidore in the second half, in which case Tyler Boyd could see his name in the starting lineup.
Whoever starts at the back for the United States will have the tall task of marking MLS superstar Josef Martinez, a player coming off a record-breaking club season last year and – slow start aside – is back on track this year as well, with six goals in his last five matches for Atlanta United. He will likely be supported on the flanks by Real Salt Lake winger Jefferson Savarino and Jhon Murilla who plays in the Portuguese top flight. In the middle for Venezuela is a familiar face in Yangel Herrera, a midfield destroyer formerly of NYCFC who played the last six months at Spanish side Huesca on loan from Manchester City.
Venezuela is coming off a pair of disappointing performances and has won just once in its last five matches, a surprising 3-1 victory over Argentina in March. They dropped 3-1 to Mexico last time out on Thursday in Atlanta in Gerardo Martino’s return to Atlanta, wasting an early 1-0 lead via Murillo. Before that they drew 1-1 with Ecuador, again coughing up a first-half lead.
A win isn’t necessarily a must for the United States with the important matches to come, but an improvement from the Jamaica defeat is required to give the U.S. any kind of confidence and good vibes heading into the tournament this summer that will define Gregg Berhalter’s early head coaching days and set up the squad to begin vital World Cup qualifying on a high.
This was the worst performance of the Gregg Berhalter era, albeit with most stars missing from the U.S. roster.
Zack Steffen — 5 — Wasn’t going to do anything on the goal, but what was with the cavalier play to start the match?
Tim Ream (Off 59′) — 5 — Fighting to rediscover his form following a miserable season at Fulham.
Matt Miazga (Off 72′) — 6 — Bailed his men out a few times.
Omar Gonzalez — 7 — If Wednesday was any sign, Toronto FC is getting a wise, fit center back.
Antonee Robinson (Off 80′) — 6 — Ran out of gas in the second half, but buzzed up and down the left in the first half.
Cristian Roldan (Off 66′) — 4 — More of the same in an U.S. shirt, lots of industry but little in threat.
Wil Trapp — 4 — He was out there. We promise. After 15 caps, what’s his standout performance to date?
Jackson Yueill (Off 59′) — 5 — Unspectacular, but there had to be a lot of nerves on debut. Glad to see the Quakes man get the chance.
Paul Arriola (Off 72′) — 4 — As rough a match as you’ll see from a player of his experience and quality.
Djordje Mihailovic — 4 — His heavy touch in the box at the death was endemic of his team’s night.
Josh Sargent — 4 — Credit to him for battling to the final whistle, but this was very much a night for learning from and growing through struggles for the 19-year-old.
Nick Lima (On 59′) — 6 — The USMNT was better when he stepped into the fray.
Jonathan Amon (On 59′) — 6 — Lively on the left.
Duane Holmes (On 66′) — 7 — If there were really three Gold Cup roster slots available and Holmes didn’t have a hold on one already, he should now. Dynamic, clean, great vision. Could’ve had two assists.
Joe Gyau (On 72′) — n/a — Good to see him back out there.