After Nations League triumph, USMNT aim to cap run with win vs. Ticos
June 09, 2021
ON THE HEELS of an emotional and physically draining extra-time win over Mexico in the Nations League final, the United States National team will attempt to refocus on Wednesday night for a friendly against Costa Rica in Sandy, Utah.
This game will test the resolve of some players to put a big win behind them and be prepared for another challenge. It will also give other players, who have not played as much recently, a chance to make their case to be part of future rosters.
Costa Rica is a difficult team and remains one of the best teams in the CONCACAF region. The Ticos are coming off a tough Nations League campaign this past week where they were defeated by Mexico in the semifinal on penalties and then were defeated by Honduras in penalties in the third-place game. The margin for error separating Costa Rica from its fourth-place finish and the championship was actually quite thing.
For the United States, the new CONCACAF Nations League champion, this friendly is about teaching the players to refocus. In World Cup qualifying this cycle, most of the international windows consists of three games in quick succession and that will require both squad rotation and a mental resolve to put a big win, or big loss behind them and move on.
The issue in this game, however, is that unlike World Cup qualifying, this game follows a 120-minute game. That adds to the physical burden of this game and players like Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta, Mark McKenzie, and John Brooks all played the entire game against Mexico.
On Tuesday, head coach Gregg Berhalter and midfielder Tyler Adams addressed the media ahead of Wednesday’s Costa Rica friendly and addressed some news for the game.
Here is some of the news for the game, as well as some thoughts to preview the match.
USMNT roster updates
Matt Miazga has left the USMNT camp to prepare for his wedding this weekend
Central defender Walker Zimmerman has been added to the roster
Daryl Dike was non on the Nations League roster but is eligible tonight.
Zack Steffen and Bryan Reynolds are carrying “bone-bruise” injuries and are ruled out
Tyler Adams said that “he feels great” and “is in a good place.”
Expect heavy turnover
It is hard to imagine that any of the players who started the past three game for the United States or played 120 minutes against Mexico to start against the Ticos. Such players include Pulisic, McKennie, McKenzie, Acosta, Brooks, Reyna, and Sargent.
It is realistic, however, to expect some of these players to contribute off the bench. Berhalter has said that it will be tough for players to start all three games in an international window, so it will be beneficial to see these normal-players adjust to starting roles.
Yunus Musah, 18, was the only field player on the Nations League roster to not get into either of the games. The Valencia midfielder, however, appeared very happy during the trophy celebrations with his team after the Mexico win.
Berhalter was asked about Musah’s absence on Tuesday and said it was a tactical decision his part based on what the game was calling for at various moments. With Musah not playing in the Nations League games, he is still not cap-tied to the United States. That being said, Berhalter said on Musah: “He’s great. He understands this is a team effort… there has been a lot of communication with us.”
Musah should get an opportunity against Costa Rica, likely as a starter, given that the team’s midfielders are likely exhausted. This will be a big opportunity for him. Likely without Mckennie in the starting lineup, Musah will have more responsibility. This will be a chance for him to showcase himself ahead of big World Cup qualifiers.
It’s a fun time for Musah too. This trip is his first time in the United States since he left when he was three months old. He has never played in front of a crowd as a professional player. Now he will have the opportunity to make that debut in front of a crowd in the United States.
Dike returns to the USMNT
Daryl Dike has been with the team since camp opened two and a half weeks ago but didn’t play against Switzerland and was left off the Nations League roster because Berhalter felt Josh Sargent and Jordan Siebatcheu were in better form. At the time of the announcement, Berhalter said he expected Dike to play a lot against Costa Rica.
This has turned into a bigger opportunity than first imagined because Josh Sargent started the previous three games but still was unable to score. Coming on the heels of his season at Werder Bremen where the team was relegated, Sargent is in a rough patch at the moment. There is every reason to believe that he will work his way out of it, but the U.S. national team is in a position where it needs goal scorers right now.
Siebatcheu scored the big goal against Honduras but he is still within reach of Dike to overtake in the depth chart. Right now, Berhalter is looking for someone to step up and score goals at the No. 9 position.
Dike should get the chance against Costa Rica in what is a huge opportunity for him and for the team to help have momentum at this position.
Zack Steffen will not play against Costa Rica. Ethan Horvath, meanwhile, should be full of confidence after statement performance against Mexico. He might need another big performance against Costa Rica given the team’s issues in central defense.
On the flip side, David Ochoa is playing at his home stadium. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a switch at halftime to give Ochoa an opportunity in a game where close to 20,000 tickets have already ben sold.
There are a lot of questions about central defense heading into the game. With Berhalter starting three central defenders against Mexico with Ream, McKenzie, and Brooks (the latter two played a full 120 and Ream played 82 minutes) while Miazga has left the team, it appears as if there is a good chance Walker Zimmerman will start.
Zimmerman and Ream would be the freshest central defense pairing. Any other combination would require either McKenzie or Brooks to start all four games of this run. That seems unnecessary, although there could be an interest in picking McKenzie back up after the tough mistake against Mexico.
In terms of fullbacks, Dest has started the last three games. Yedlin played 105 minutes against Mexico. It seems very likely that Cannon and Robinson will get the nod against the Ticos. For Robinson, in particular, this is a big occasion for him the build a case to be dependable starter for the U.S. team. While he has played well for his clubs in recent years, that form is still yet to translate to the national team under Berhalter.
It’s smart to assume the U.S. team will go back to a 4-3-3 in this game and it seems unlikely Weston McKennie will start and Kellyn Acosta is also coming off a draining outing on Sunday.
The biggest development is that it looks likely that Tyler Adams will be able to start this game given his statements to the media on Tuesday. If Adams can’t go, Jackson Yueill seems the next candidate but for now, it is Adams. Along with Musah, it seems like two of the midfield positions are mostly known.
As for the third, Sebastian Lletget seems the readiest after playing just 38 minutes against Mexico. Other options for the attacking midfield role are probably physically drained.
The only other option would be to start Yueill in a No. 8 role, Adams at the No. 6, and then Musah further up the field. But the most likely bet is that Adams, Musah, and Lletget start against the Ticos.
The Front line
Pulisic and Reyna both had huge outings against Mexico. Pulisic went the full 120 against Mexico, Reyna went 82 but started the three recent games. Rotation will likely see them on the bench against Costa Rica.
Fortunately, it seems that the U.S. has some solid options to explore with Tim Weah and Brenden Aaronson looking likely to get the nod. Of course, it is possible Aaronson could shift centrally and Lletget could shift out wide and the in-game flexibility is there. For now, however, it is hard to see Aaronson and Weah not at least starting on the wings.
Up top, it is hard to see Sargent getting a fourth straight start although maybe Berhalter could see it as necessary in hopes of picking his confidence up.
With Siebatcheu having played the last two games, it makes complete sense for Daryl Dike to start this game. With Dike possibly being unavailable for the Gold Cup, should he get sold by Orlando, this might be the only chance to really look at Dike before the start of World Cup qualifying.
Goalkeeper: Ethan Horvath
Right back: Reggie Cannon
Central defense: Walker Zimmerman
Central defense: Tim Ream
Left Back: Antonee Robinson
Midfield: Tyler Adams
Midfield: Yunus Musah
Midfield: Sebastian Lletget
Right Wing: Tim Weah
Left Wing: Brenden Aaronson
Forward: Daryl Dike