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USMNT analysis

Analysis: Pulisic shines as USMNT wins Copa opener, 2-0 over Bolivia

ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks down what he saw from the USMNT win over Bolivia with his second viewing analysis. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 24, 2024
8:00 AM

THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL team defeated Bolivia 2-0 on Sunday night in Dallas to mark a successful opening of the 2024 Copa America. The U.S. team was far from perfect in the game but an early goal from Christian Pulisic followed by a goal late in the first half from Folarin Balogun to seal the win. A win over Bolivia was always expected, but the focus is on how this team is building towards the tough opponents that await later. With that in mind, the team is still very much a work in progress.

The U.S. team started a lineup that was mostly expected based on the two warm-up friendlies with the lone exception of Tyler Adams returning to the XI in his first start for club or country since March. Also, Gregg Berhalter had been juggling his No. 9 but, in this game, Balogun got the nod over Ricardo Pepi.

Those two decisions turned out to be correct. Adams only played a half, but was sharp and helped get the ball forward. Balogun, meanwhile, looked in synch with his teammates – which is an area where he had been struggling. Meanwhile, Pepi had six shots after coming into the game in the 65th minute and missed some key opportunities.

The result now shifts focus to Thursday’s game against Panama. It’s still an important game but one where the U.S. team will be heavily favored. The key for that game will not just be getting three points, but building momentum and confidence for the Uruguay game and potentially the quarterfinals as well.

The U.S. would probably lose to Uruguay if it plays the same way it did against Bolivia. Costly mistakes will get punished by Uruguay and the U.S. team will have fewer chances to score. Bolivia was a great opponent for the U.S. team to open with. They’re the worst team in CONMEBOL and the U.S. now can build off a win. They are now two games removed from the ugly loss to Colombia.

There is still a long way to go for Berhalter and company, but the Brazil friendly and this win were steps forward. It could be a lot worse.

Here are some thoughts on the game.




The gameplan against Bolivia worked. In terms of creating opportunities, the U.S. team had 61% of the possession and had a 2.51xG compared with Bolivia’s .18. But it felt like the U.S. team could have had 2-3 more goals based on the opportunities they had.

Just look at the shot map:

Obviously, against better teams the USMNT must be more efficient. It is not rocket science. Opportunities to score will be fewer and further in-between and the U.S. will have to capitalize on chances that are easy – as well as score some that are more difficult.

There is good news and bad news on this front. The good news is that the U.S. team has more than enough talent to score more. It’s a mentality issue and an uptick in confidence can see the team score a lot of goals. There is nothing tactical or technically wrong and there is no sense in an analytical breakdown. It’s confidence.

That’s also the bad news. The U.S. team needs to start finding its grove before the tough games, not during them. The Panama game is an important opportunity to getting everything on the right track. The problem, however, is that if the U.S. team struggles against Panama it becomes one more concern they have to deal with when playing a team as talented as Uruguay.

Balogun deserves praise in this game. He had three shots over 65 minutes where two were blocked and the other was the goal. But in looking at the goal, Balogun got away with a poor touch but his decision making was smart. Instead of cutting centrally into two defenders to get the ball on his right foot, he cut wide to the left to create more space and got the shot off with his left foot.

Even more importantly, Balogun was on the same page as his teammates throughout the game. He was combining well and making smart runs. If this was a turning point for Balogun getting on the same page as his teammates, it’s a good sign.

Then you have Pepi, who left the game frustrated after missing chance after chance. As Mike Woitalla of Soccer America said, “Postgame, Pepi walked swiftly through the mixed zone with his hoodie drawn tightly around his face, in no mood to pause for the media on the other side of the barriers.”

Berhalter, however, was a lot more positive.

“I thought he had a great impact on the game,” said Berhalter. “In that short period of time, to have that many goalscoring opportunities, his running, his pressing, his hold-up play — for me he had an excellent game. Certainly, something for him to build on. I know he was a little disappointed after the game.”

This could be a big concern. Pepi is probably at a crossroads mentally for this tournament. The next time he is on the field he can either be angry and use that to his advantage. Or he can come out questioning himself and continuing to miss more and more chances.

Against Panama, Berhalter will probably continue to start Balogun and its hard to argue otherwise. Balogun is on the upswing and is addressing his area of weakness. But Berhalter might feel the need to get Pepi onto the field for extended minutes to give a chance to build up his confidence. It will be harder to do that after Panama given the challenging opponents.

Then there is Josh Sargent who made the Copa America team despite an ongoing ankle injury that has bothered him since he had surgery last year. He was forced out of Norwich’s two promotional final playoff games against Leeds and was unable to play in the two warm up friendlies. The ankle injury also forced him out of the Nations League games in March.

Sargent is saying all the right things now: “I worked very hard to get back to feeling good again. Foot and ankle are feeling good. Fitness, I’m working on it day by day.”

But it is hard to see him as anything other than a sub in this tournament. If Pepi turns it around, Sargent might have to wait until the fall before he is given a meaningful chance. He had a great season, but the ongoing injury have made it difficult for Berhalter to put him into a position where he is given a lot of responsibility.


Sloppy turnovers


The U.S. team was far from perfect in this game. Poor turnovers in the backline were responsible for giving Bolivia its best chances. Chris Richards had a tough game with his passing and Tim Ream also made some uncharacteristically poor mistakes. Richards was bailed out by Yunus Musah in the 59th, and in the first half, Ream had a pass intercepted that put Bolivia in a good position.

In the midfield, the team was not particularly crisp but they worked hard and covered for each other well on the defensive side.

But passing out of the back can and will get punished by better teams. Bolivia is a team that has lost 12 Copa America games in a row and they’re rarely a threat when playing outside of their high-altitude home field advantage.

The USMNT’s mistakes didn’t alter the scoreboard, but the team has some homework to do in the next few training sessions.


Pulisic the key


The U.S. team is not unlike how they were in the decade that began with the 2002 World Cup. During those years, just about everything ran through Landon Donovan. When he was good, the U.S. team was good – and he helped take the U.S. team to its highest levels at that time.


Christian Pulisic delivers at an astonishingly consistent rate, and this always gives the U.S. team an advantage of having its best player be at his best. It’s very easy in the international game to have elite players distracted by the club side of the game. But Pulisic is always locked in with the USMNT where there are major tournaments taking place.

In this game, on the heels of up-and-down warm-up friendlies, Pulisic came in and set the tone right away that the U.S. team was not going to fail to get a positive result.


Fullbacks were strong


Another big takeaway from this game is that the U.S. team is getting what it wants with having its fullbacks push forward. Joe Scally was one of the bright spots in the friendlies and he continued his positive form against Bolivia. Antonee Robinson had a very rare bad against Colombia but responded well against Brazil.

Both Robinson and Scally were quiet in the first half but in the second half, both grew into the game very nicely. For the last 45 minutes, they were the best USMNT players on the field.

Robinson, in particular, was responsible for setting up two of Pepi’s best chances to score. He was able to get past his defender and into open space where he is always extremely dangerous.

Scally’s rise has been arguably more important because there were a lot of questions about him. He has always been a backup for Dest and he came into this tournament after a poor Nations League semifinal and an mixed season for Borussia Monchengladbach. With Dest out, Berhalter said in May that he had to “figure out” right back. Scally’s performances have gone exceedingly well considering where the team was with right back less than a month ago.


Player Ratings


The Starting lineup


Matt Turner: The Nottingham Forest goalkeeper only had to make three saves, which all were from outside the box. He didn’t help with the team’s uneven passing out of the back. Rating: 5.0

Antonee Robinson: He didn’t stand-out in the first half, but grew into the game nicely in the second alf and created some of the team’s best chances: Rating: 7.0

Chris Richards: He wasn’t tested much defensively but Richards was off with his passing in this game and his turnovers would have been costly against better opponents: Rating:4 .5

Tim Ream: Slightly better than Richards and he helped bring a veteran presence to the game. But still missed some passes he normally makes: Rating: 5.5

Joe Scally: Like Robinson, he had a nice second half. He drew three fouls and was 7/8 in his ground duels: Rating: 6.5

Tyler Adams: Made his first start for any team since March and was effective in his 45 minutes of action. Playing defensive midfield, he was good in pushing into the attack: Rating: 6.5

Weston McKennie: Unfortunately picked up a yellow card and will now need to be managed in the coming games. But it was a quiet game for McKennie who didn’t make much of an impact in his 78 minutes. It’s getting to be a little bit of a concern as he had a strong season but tailed off in the final month too and is now in limbo at the club level. Is that a distraction? Rating: 5.5

Gio Reyna: It was a good game from Reyna who has struggled for minutes at the club level. He had some good moments in this game and helped in the build-up to a few chances, but it wasn’t a huge impact: Rating: 6.0

Christian Pulisic: Pulisic put his stamp on the game early with a great goal that immediately made Bolivia come out of its shell. He then assisted on Balogun’s goal. As is often the case, he was at the heart of most of the important moments for the U.S. team: Rating: 8.5

Tim Weah: The Juventus attacker was very active in this game and continues to be effective with his chemistry linking the midfield with the attack. Even when he’s not on the scoresheet, he is very useful in applying pressure: Rating: 6.5

Folarin Balogun: This was the best he has looked for the U.S. team since joining. It wasn’t just in scoring a nice goal but he seemed to be working well with his teammates and was not just replying on individual moments of skill or strength: Rating: 7.0


The Substitutes


Yunus Musah: Replaced Adams to start the second half and, while known for his offensive skill, was useful with his passing and in his defense: Rating: 6.0

Johnny Cardoso: The Real Betis midfielder came into the game in the 65th minute for Reyna and was useful in possession when Bolivia was trying to press: He was 17/18 in passing, 3/3 in tackles, and 5/5 in ground duels. That is solid for a team trying to manage a two goal lead. Rating: 6.5

Ricardo Pepi: A very complicated player to rate. Do you see him as a player who was active, involved, and helped to be part of six scoring chances? Or do you see him as a player who couldn’t finish any of them when he should have? It’s unfair to say he was bad because a player doesn’t get that involved by doing everything poorly. He wasn’t invisible or connecting with his teammates. But a forward has to bury at least one of his chances. Rating: 5.5

Luca de la Torre: Came into the game for McKennie in the 78th minute and had 10 touches with 7/8 passing. But when he came into the game, it was just seeing out the win: Rating: NR

Brenden Aaronson: Came into the game in the 84th minute: Rating: NR




Gregg Berhalter: The USMNT manager got the lineup correct and finally managed to have Adams back again. The team’s attack wasn’t a problem. 20 shots but plenty of chances to score is good, even against a bad team. It’s up to the players at that point. But the team’s spacing out of the back and the connection between the midfield and the defense is a reason for concern. Also, how does he get to not be so reliant on Pulisic?: Rating: 6.5


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