The international break ended for the year, and the boys lived up to their expectations in their two friendlies. We saw a lot of glimpses of promising play that we expected to see. Last Thursday, they played Wales to a 0-0 draw and on Monday beat Panama to a 6-2 onslaught. While the competition was not of the highest level, we learned a lot about this team in the World Cup qualifiers to come.
Wales was the perfect team for them to play as Wales is right in the middle of the pack for Europe and serves as a good measuring stick. While Wales did not play their “A team,” Bale was spotted on the bench with his laptop most likely watching the Masters. Bale is known to show his love for golf, so you can not blame him for watching the Masters on the bench.
A year ago, we saw him display the flag showing his preference of playing golf than playing for Madrid where he was not getting along with management. To his defense, he did not plan for the Masters to make updates to be on the international break, but this allowed him to rest up for their Nations League game.
The boys did control the game having over 60% possession and generating more opportunities. Gregg Berhalter started Sergino Dest at right-back, which is his preferred position, with John Brooks and Matt Miazga in the center with Antonee Robinson as the left-back. In midfield, we saw Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Yunus Musah start to form chemistry and control the game. Up top, we saw another Barcelona man, Konrad De La Fuente, paired with Giovanni Reyna, and Sebastian Lletget playing a false 9.
For the first time in a long time, the United States was the team controlling the game and dictating the pace against good competition outside of CONCACAF. The midfield showed their skill in making fast shifty moves to beat players, making quick give and goes, and playing the ball out wide, where the fullbacks would join the attack. They did generate a few golden opportunities that should have been finished, but those goals will eventually happen so no need to panic. While they did play the Wales “B Team”, this was the most fun time watching the men play in years as it was a strong showing in their first time playing together.
In their second game, the boys were playing with more confidence and high morale. While Panama isn’t a threat, they are a team the USMNT could play in the World Cup Qualifiers in CONCACAF. It was important to see how we matched up with a team that we should beat as 4 years ago they did not get the results they needed to teams they should have cruised by.
We saw a couple of changes to the line-up, most notably Dest moved to left-back as Reggie Cannon filled in at right-back. This seemed to be the right move as Dest is versatile enough to play both sides and Reggie Gannon made the most of his chances and looked versatile, making stops then joining the attack and even setting up goals with his crossing. The center backs did have some slip-ups and at times were not on the same page on who they were picking up which led to Panama’s two goals.
We saw the same midfield which shows Berhalter made his decision this is going to be the midfield moving forward as they continue to play better together. Up top, we saw Reyna start again with Ulysses Llanez Jr. and Nicholas Gioacchini. This time the United States scored goals at ease despite missing a penalty for Gioacchini to grab the hat-trick. Strikers were in the right spot at the right time to finish strong setups, which was a weakness and an area they needed to improve upon.
When they did give up goals, they responded quickly as it looked to wake them up. Usually, when a team has a two goal lead and they give up a late goal, they will sit back and defend the lead. Not this team though!
They know their strength is possessing the ball and moving it upfield. It took ten minutes to equalize the first goal for Reyna’s first international goal off a free-kick. In the second half, it only took four minutes to respond to the second goal while adding two more after. This team has fight in them and creativity in midfield as well as the final third. Besides a couple of hiccups, they looked like a complete team as they headed back to play with their clubs.
There are still questions that remain. We do have to remember the win was against Panama, no disrespect to them, but the competition will get harder for them in the next year. At times, they showed their age and were careless, turning the ball over with ease and giving bad fouls in a friendly when those tackles weren’t even necessary. Communication along the backline needs to be better as well as for deciding who will be the number 9 moving forward. Maybe Altidore might come back as he provides experience and comfort. In the meantime, the young number 9’s will continue to battle for a time as Berhalter will have to decide in March when the international break is back.
It seems clear the team is better off with Dest at left-back and see Gannon start at right-back, and maybe Yedlin comes back into the squad and battles for it. In midfield, there aren’t any questions besides Musah declaring what national team he will play for when he turns 18 next week. Overall, great preview for the boys, and remember they didn’t have their best player either. Pulisic will just accelerate the hype train for the country as they look to qualify for the World Cup next year.