USMNT analysis

Analysis and Player Ratings: USMNT downs Uzbekistan 3-0 but show need for improvement

At times it was ugly, but the USMNT defeated Uzbekistan 3-0 in a friendly on Saturday in St. Louis. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts and player ratings for the game. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 10, 2023
2:05 AM

THE UNITED STATES national team defeated Uzbekistan 3-0 on Saturday in St. Louis in friendly which marked Gregg Berhalter’s return to coaching the team after nine months away. The game saw the U.S. team start strong, end strong, but have long stretches of difficulty in between.

Afterward, Berhalter acknowledged that the team needed to improve from this game.

"We can improve and we need to improve and we will," Berhalter said. "I think that it's a good baseline for us to start and say this is what international competition from other regions looks like and so that we use as we go."

Initially, it seemed as if the USMNT would roll through Uzbekistan after a very early 4th minute goal from Tim Weah which was set up by Weston McKennie.

To Uzbekistan’s credit, the team dug in a fought much harder. As the first half progressed, it was the Asian guests who had the majority of the better chances – only to be denied by a crossbar, misses, and goalkeeper Matt Turner. Right before halftime, the goalkeeper from New Jersey saved Eldor Shomurodov on a dangerous 1v1.

The best chance over the remainder of the half was a Folarin Balogun header which hit the frame. But otherwise, Balogun appeared frustrated.

In the second half, the U.S. team slightly improved its defense, but Uzbekistan had its chances. The U.S. team nearly doubled their lead in the 73rd minute when Sergino Dest dribbled into the box and had his shot blocked by a lunging defender near the six-yard box.

Over the last 10 minutes, the U.S. took control of the game with Uzbekistan down to 10 players due to injury. At the beginning of stoppage time, Ricardo Pepi’s blast from just outside the box finally gave the USMNT a 2-0 lead. Two minutes later, substitute Malik Tillman was fouled in the box and Christian Pulisic converted the penalty with almost the final kick of the game.

Here are some thoughts on the game:


Bunker busting approach needs work


The 2026 World Cup will feature 48 teams, so there will be a huge drop off in quality among the group. This will not be simply a collection of the best national teams on the planet. Teams like Uzbekistan will now be the types of teams the USMNT will need to be prepared to face. Namely, teams that might not have a lot of quality, but defend with incredible tenacity, and look for offense to come when they capitalize on turnovers.

The U.S. team is well versed in CONCACAF play where this is sometimes the approach, but there are better teams in the AFC that have this approach – and the USMNT rarely faces teams like this. It was a good lesson.

Over its last 15 games, Uzbekistan has conceded more than one goal only twice. Over the last year, the team has conceded just six goals.

Typically, the U.S. did what it had to do against these teams and score early. Against CONCACAF teams outside of the top group, that’s the recipe for a blowout. But Uzbekistan was not thrown off its game despite conceding early. It stuck with its original game plan, including having a five-man backline – which seemed to take the U.S. by surprise. In turn, this threw the U.S. team off its game.

The U.S. team was plagued by the one thing it absolutely should not do against teams like Uzbekistan, it turned the ball over in dangerous spots.

"We gave the ball away in some tough spots. That was the first thing," Berhalter said. "The second thing is when we were building, we were methodical about our buildup trying to attract the opponent. I thought then we lacked the speeding up the attack once we broke through that front five and that could have been better.”

The U.S. team seemed content with trying to be possession dominant as opposed to being ruthless in attacking Uzbekistan’s back-five formation.

"If we had to take our time to draw out their defense, and then find someone once we break their top five, then we need to speed up the attack," Berhalter explained. "We need to have numbers getting forward, we need numbers entering the penalty box, we need runs behind the backline and I thought that's what we lacked at times."


Missing Tyler Adams


This game was a good advertisement that the U.S. team still either needs Tyler Adams, or it needs to find a player who can do what Adams does. Against Mexico and Canada in the Nations League, Yunus Musah filled in admirably for Adams. But against Uzbekistan, Adams was missed because of the nature of the game. The U.S. team was trying to push forward and control the game but was left in bad positions after turnovers. Adams is such an important player in defensive transition and the U.S. team was exposed in transition too many times.

"And then the other thing I'd note is that our press after [we lost the ball], defensive transition, needs to get better,” Berhalter stressed. “I think we gave them too many opportunities to get behind us when we could have been positioned better to win the ball immediately after we lost it."

Obviously, this is typically not as big of a problem with Adams. But Adams has had injury problems and there is always a question over who the backup for Adams is or will be. Kellyn Acosta was the backup last cycle, and he wasn’t selected for this camp. But games like this also show why he’s still not out of the picture either. It would be better if he was a more effective passer, but he does get back and defend the transition well.

There are other options after Adams that the U.S. team is trying to work with. Johnny Cardoso was called into this camp but had to withdraw because of an injury. There are other options too. But it is a concern because defensive transition is a problem. It was a problem against the Netherlands at the last World Cup (with Adams being the culprit) and Uzbekistan highlighted it is still needs to be a big priority for Berhalter to address.


Substitutes worked


For the most part, the substitutes for the U.S. team played well and helped elevate the game. Ricardo Pepi scored. Brenden Aaronson assisted on that goal. Malik Tillman drew a penalty. Kristoffer Lund, in his USMNT debut, pushed the game forward at left back after Uzbekistan switched from a back-five to a back-four towards the end.

Yes, Uzbekistan was tired and was reduced to 10 players just before the end. But the subs really provided a nice killer instinct to end the game.

It wasn’t an ideal game for the USMNT but a 3-0 win will typically not be entirely negative – and this game was not entirely negative for the U.S. team. The killer instinct from the subs was both a good thing and an important thing as Berhalter seeks to have a deeper player pool that he can trust in important moments.

"I really, really liked the mindset in the last 10 minutes of the game," Berhalter stressed to open his postgame media. "You could see the guys still wanted to push. It wasn't about holding onto the 1-0. It was about getting aggressive. As they moved to a back four, we had more space and I liked that the guys wanted to attack it.”

Berhalter acknowledged plenty of the weaknesses in the game, but it was correct to point out that the U.S. team, led by the subs, sought the killer dagger to end the game.

The proof will come next summer in a major competition at the Copa America over whether Berhalter trusts players outside of the top 14-ish with important roles in big games. It will be a process to get to that point and this was a good step towards building that trust.


Turner the MOTM


Without question, the MOTM in this game was Matt Turner. I don’t always agree with whoever U.S. Soccer names as a MOTM in USMNT games, but they clearly got it right here.

It’s hard to make big saves in games where your team is expected to win, the game is closer than expected, and the goalkeeper has to keep his favored team atop. That is the mark of a good goalkeeper you can build your team around.

As the U.S. team’s transition defense deteriorated over the first half, Turner was there to ensure his team’s somewhat unjustified 1-0 lead held up. Just before the international break, Turner had his most important career moment at the club level when he kept a cleansheet for Nottingham Forest in a big 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This came on the heels of Forest bringing in a keeper who could challenged Turner for the No. 1 spot.

But games like this show why it is important that Turner keep starting at the club level. He came into camp confident and focused. It is no surprise that is how he played in this game.

On another note, Turner will be leaving the USMNT camp as he awaits the birth of his daughter in England. Either Ethan Horvath or Drake Callender will start Tuesday's friendly vs. Oman.


USMNT Plater Ratings

The Starting XI

Matt Turner: The No. 1 goalkeeper made a bunch of saves that proved to be the difference and he bailed out his team’s poor transitional defense multiple times. Rating: 8.0

Sergino Dest: The PSV fullback had effective moments in this game. He made a good cross on a dangerous first half chance, he was part of the buildup to the second goal, and he had a dangerous shot blocked midway through the second half. He worked hard defensively too. Rating: 6.5

Tim Ream: He had some nice interceptions and tackles but was also beaten for pace on good Uzbekistan chances. Rating: 5.0

Chris Richards: The Crystal Palace defender showed his talent and his rust. Overall, he was better on the day than his partner, Tim Ream, but he had a few avoidable fouls too. Eventually was replaced in the 64th minute. Rating: 5.5

Antonee Robinson: He improved defensively as the game progressed and was a big reason why the U.S. team’s defense started to limit counter-attacks. Robinson won 8/11 ground duels, 2/2 of his aerials, 3/3 of his tackles. Offensively, he had five successful dribbles, but it rarely led to anything dangerous. He didn’t seem to have great chemistry with Pulisic – which shouldn’t be the case given their long history together. But defensively, he was essential. Rating: 6.5

Luca de la Torre: The Celta Vigo midfielder had a nice start to this game before an injury to his nose forced him out in the 35th minute. He forced a save and made an excellent tackle in the box to prevent an Uzbekistan scoring chance. Rating: 6.0

Yunus Musah: The new AC Milan midfielder was strong in possession but didn’t have much of a killer instinct with his chance creation or aggressive dribbles to turn possession into chances. Rating: 6.0

Weston McKennie: The Juventus player was essential to the creation of Weah’s opener when he controlled the ball deep in the box to set up his teammate for both club and country. He nearly had an assist when he set up Balogun’s shot off the post. He wasn’t disposed over his 81 minutes and was the best field player in this game. Rating: 7.5

Christian Pulisic: The best USMNT player could best be described that he was invisible for long-stretches but also had his moments. He converted his penalty, he nearly set up Weah in the second half, and his cross found McKennie (who set up Weah) on the first goal. Rating: 6.0

Tim Weah: Finished his chance early to set the tone of the game. He drew the most attention from Uzbekistan’s defense. Rating: 6.5

Folarin Balogun: The new Monaco forward was clearly rusty after not having much of a preseason during the transfer window. He hit shot off the post, that he would bury most times, and seemed to be frustrated before his prearranged substitution at halftime. Rating: 5.0


The Substitutes


Tanner Tessmann: It was a tough assignment for the Venezia midfielder from Alabama because he had to enter the game as an injury replacement in the first half for de la Torre. He had a tough turnover that set up a Uzbekistan breakaway. He improved as the game wore on but it was clear he was still trying to build up chemistry with the group as he is a newcomer. Rating: 5.0

Ricardo Pepi: He replaced Balogun at the half and seemed to be a little more comfortable with the group. He didn’t have many touches but he had the best one in the game when he fired home a wonderful stoppage time goal from outside the box for a 2-0 lead. Rating: 7.0

Brenden Aaronson: Came into the game in the 64th minute and was part of the needed killer instinct to send Uzbekistan packing. He provided the assist on Pepi’s goal and played the ball to Tillman for his move into the box which drew a penalty for the final goal. Rating: 7.0

Mark Mckenzie: He came into the game with Aaronson in the 64th minute and replaced Richards. He didn’t have that much to do as the U.S. team had stopped most of their turnovers but he did completed all 18 of his passes. Rating: 6.0

Malik Tillman: He came into the game in the 81st minute and only had nine touches but he drew a penalty to see off the game. Rating: 6.0

Kristoffer Lund: The new Palermo left back made his USMNT debut and did well to push the ball forward into the attack when Uzbekistan shifted from a back-five to a back-four. The Danish-born Lund did well to take advantage of the added space. Rating: 6.0


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