USMNT analysis

Analysis, thoughts, & player ratings: The USMNT caps September with 4-0 win over Oman

As he does after every game, ASN's Brian Sciaretta rewatches the performance and offers up his thougths, analysis, and player ratings. For this game, the U.S. received an improved performance to end its September window with a 4-0 win over Oman. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 13, 2023
9:05 AM

THE UNITED STATES national team defeated Oman 4-0 in Minnesota to complete its September international window with two friendly wins over Asian opponents. For 90 minutes, the outing was a significant improvement from the 3-0 win over Uzbekistan on Saturday.

The U.S. took control of the game early and immediately began to create chances. In the 13th minute, the team broke through with some excellent ball-movement. Weston McKennie recovered the ball after Christian Pulisic slipped. McKennie sent a long and accurate pass into the box on the right side to Tim Weah. With his first touch, he teed up Sergino Dest for a shot. His shot was saved by Ibrahim Almukhaini, but the rebound fell to Folarin Balogun for a tap-in.

For the remainder of the half, the U.S. team controlled the game but couldn’t find a second. Eventually the goals started to come. In the second half, the U.S. team put the game with three goals in 21 minutes via the substitutes. It started with a Brenden Aaronson free-kick that featured a number of mistakes from Oman – from the wall to the goalkeeper. Then Ricardo Pepi had the goal of the night in the 79th minute when he took a pass from DeJuan Jones and hit a low driving shot from just outside the box that found the back of the net. The final goal was an own goal when Kevin Pardes broke down the right side and sent a low cross towards Pepi. Before Pepi could tap it in, Oman’s Khalid Al Braiki turned it into his own net.

The U.S. team finished the window with two wins and a combined 7-0 scoreline. Meanwhile, Mexico struggled against Uzbekistan in Atlanta and conceded a late equalizer in a 3-3 draw.

Here are some thoughts on the win.


Very few mistakes


Following the U.S. team’s 3-0 win over Uzbekistan that left many underwhelmed, Gregg Berhalter said that the biggest area of concern for him was the careless turnovers. Those turnovers sprung many counter attacks for Uzbekistan which were only bailed out by either missed shots, blocked shots, or saves.

In this game, the U.S. team made a complete reversal and made no dangerous turnovers. Oman had very few chances to spring counter attacks. In particular, the midfield trio of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Malik Tillman moved the ball around with easy and any missed passes were not costly in terms of gifting Oman anything the other way.

In terms of improvement, this was huge.


Central defense in transition


Berhalter said after the game that he gave the “game ball” (equivalent of the team’s MOTM) to both central defender – Miles Robinson and Chris Richards – because he felt the defended very well whenever Oman would try to aggressively attack or counterattack. He believed they helped eliminate Oman’s possessions early, and long before they ever amounted to anything dangerous. But there was a lot of talk about transitional defense in this window – both in how it wasn’t great against Uzbekistan and how it was improved against Oman. But moving forward, this will continue to be an important topic and next month the quality of opponents will be significantly raised in Germany and Ghana, so it will be important that positive momentum from this game continue.

Central defense is completely up in the air with this team right now and the truth is that there really aren’t many young options knocking at the door (that’s the topic of a separate article but there is a huge generational gap developing at that position with few 2001-born and younger options). The pool of players in central defense is set but there is a lot of parity and some concerns with this group which include Richards, Robinson, Tim Ream, Mark McKenzie, Walker Zimmerman, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Auston Trusty, Matt Miazga, and Erik Palmer-Brown. Those players comprise of the player pool for central defense. There are opportunities and concerns over each of them.

In this game, Richards played well and had a nice window. But the concern will be over his lack of minutes at Crystal Palace. Good outings for the national team are certainly possible if a player is on the bench for the club, but consistency is another issue.

Similarly, Robinson had a nice game as well, but he looks set to leave Atlanta United after the season. Mark McKenzie replaced Richards and he is in a good situation at Genk for his minutes, but can he transition that over to consistently playing well for the national team? Then you have Tim Ream. He will soon turn 36 but has been playing incredible soccer over the past year. At some point, his level will drop. He’s doing a great job staying at a top level, but it’s always “proceed with caution” with him.

Leaving this camp, we still don’t have a set order with central defenders.


Wearing Oman out


Another factor that went into the U.S. team winning this game was simply wearing Oman out. The team’s passing was so efficient, and it was equally distributed from the right and left sides of the field.

Here is an interesting statistic. Left back Kristoffer Lund had 85 touches over 90 minutes. The two right backs (Sergino Dest and DeJuan Jones) combined for 88 touches. That presents a clear picture that the U.S. team was comfortable going down either side of the field. Top teams will still defend that well, but against opponents where the U.S. team has a big edge in talent, it will help the U.S. team pick opponents apart throughout the 90 minutes.

It also shouldn’t be discounted that this was a big reason why the U.S. team was so strong in the second half and why the substitutes performed so well. The U.S. was moving the ball from side to side and Oman was chasing. When the fresh legs came into the game, Oman had been chasing for a long time and was both tired, and thrown off its game.


McKennie’s distribution


While Berhalter gave the team ball to central defense, there was a great case that Weston McKennie was the MOTM. His diagonal passing was deadly accurate and he was a huge reason why the U.S. team was able to get the ball from side to side. In total, he was 15/18 in his long range passing (35+ yards) and that was how the U.S. was able to go from side to side.

That passing clearly gave the U.S. an edge and it directly resulted in the opening goal in the 13th minute.

McKennie was the best U.S. player over the entire window. Against Uzbekistan, he made some turnovers but was also creating chances. In this game, he was putting it all together.


Getting Balogun on the same page


The center forward hierarchy has always been a big question mark for this team. Every window, there is serious discussion over it. Heading into the World Cup, it was always talked about.

Now there is a little more comfort in the position. Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi are good options for now, but nothing is written in stone either. Pepi has delivered for the team in 2023 but he is likely only going to see limited minutes at PSV if Luuk de Jong is fit.

For Balogun, the issue with this team is chemistry. Most of this core group of the national team has been together for so long that the chemistry is steady. But Balogun is still a step behind in being on the same page as his teammates – or visa versa. As Berhalter noted in the press conference, Balogun made several important runs that were not picked up. It’s still a work in progress but having Balogun fully integrated will stabilize the front six of the national team’s starting XI.


Window’s winners


This is not the same thing as saying who were the team’s best players. McKennie was the best player for the U.S. team this window. But McKennie is a starter for the team as long as he’s healthy.

The winners of the window were those who improved their standing within the team.

Ricardo Pepi: Was the team’s most effective forward this window beyond Balogun. But Pepi will not be playing much at PSV and he will have national team competition inside of the coming year when Sargent and Dike are healthy, or if Haji Wright or Jesus Ferreira get hot, or if Brandon Vazquez continues his form now and after he moves, or if Jordan Pefok finds his groove again. But if Pepi continues to produce for the national team, he’s going to continue to get the call.


Brenden Aaronson: hybrid attacking player might have had some luck in his free kick goal against Oman, but he was very good off the bench in both games. There will be young players pushing for him, including his brother, in the years ahead. But he has a big edge.

Kristoffer Lund: The team’s new left back from Palermo made a “good first step” (according to Berhalter) in claiming the role as the team’s backup left back spot behind Antonee Robinson. In this window he played over 100 minutes and showed some qualities while also making few mistakes.

Miles Robinson and Chris Richards: When there is not a lot of clarity in central defense, these two played well together using their athleticism. Both missed the World Cup due to injury and both are in the team now. But when the central defense pool has a lot of parity, good performances are always important. Richards needed this because there were so many questions about his lack of playing time at Crystal Palace.


Player ratings


The starting XI

Ethan Horvath: Horvath had very little to do in this game. What he did do, he did well enough: Rating 5.5

Kristoffer Lund: It was a decent first start for Lund who was eager to get forward, although he wasn’t very successful. Defensively, he did his part and limited his mistakes in possession: Rating 5.5

Miles Robinson: Aside from an early foul which gave Oman a free kick from 30 yards, Robinson did well defensively and stopped Oman when it attempted to push forward. He won 10/14 of his aerials, 4/7 of his ground duels, and 3/4 of his tackles as evidence of his strong defense: Rating 7.0

Chris Richards: like Robinson, he was effective in the backline to break up Oman’s plays before they became dangerous. In his 71 minutes, he won 8/9 of his aerials to limit Oman’s ability to create with balls into the box. Rating 7.0

Sergino Dest: the PSV right back was effective in the attack in the first half. His shot created the first goal. Unfortunately for Dest,  in the second half he missed two very good chances. But overall, he was tough for Oman to stop. Rating 6.5

Yunus Musah: Playing a deeper position, Musah was very comfortable on both sides of the ball – winning possession, dribbling, getting the ball forward. He helped the U.S. command possession and the pace of play: Rating 6.5

Weston McKennie: The Juventus man was the best player on the field. His long-ball accuracy gave the U.S. team multiple points of attack, and he made Oman chase the game for long stretches. He opened up the game for his teammates in an impressive outing: Rating: 8.0

Malik Tillman: Getting the opportunity to start in place of Luca de la Torre, Tillman was smooth with the ball in the attack and helped to facilitate for others: Rating 6.0

Christian Pulisic: It was forgettable game for the U.S. team’s best player, who is reliably good in big games but hit or miss in friendlies. Nothing much came from Pulisic from the run of play and he was taken out at the half ahead of the big Milan derby: Rating 5.0

Tim Weah: The Juventus wingback was at his usual wing position for the U.S. team and he had a good game. He set up Dest’s shot on the first goal. He played the ball to Jones on Pepi’s goal. He set up a chance for Dest, who simply missed. But Weah had a good game and a good window: Rating 7.5

Folarin Balogun: Playing just the first half, Balogun was in the right place at the right time to score the opener. He also was dangerous with his runs, many of which were not picked up by his teammates: Rating 6.5


The Substitutes

Ricardo Pepi: The PSV forward missed two chances soon after coming on, but grew into the game nicely. He scored a very nice goal in the 73rd minute and he certainly would have scored the team’s fourth goal had it not been turned into the goal by a defender for an own goal: Rating 7.0

Brenden Aaronson: The Union Berlin winger was a step up from Pulisic in this game. Sure, his free kick was lucky but Aaronson brought intensity to the attack and allowed the U.S. team to pull away: Rating 7.0

Benja Cremaschi: The Inter Miami teenager looked a little nervous initially in his first cap but he nearly picked up an assist when he set up Dest, whose shot in the box went wide to the left. He then played a nice ball to Kevin Paredes on the fourth goal, an own goal. Rating 6.0

Mark McKenzie: When McKenzie came into the game in the 71st minute, Oman was tired and chasing leaving McKenzie with little to do defensively. He completed 8/10 of his passes: Rating 5.5

DeJuan Jones: The New England Revolution fullback played the final 14 minutes, completed 16/17 of his passes, with one being an assist on Pepi’s goal: Rating 6.5

Mark McKenzie: When McKenzie came into the game in the 76th minute, Oman was tired and chasing leaving McKenzie with little to do defensively. He completed 8/10 of his passes: Rating 5.5

Kevin Pardes: The Wolfsburg winger made the most of his debut when his attacking run set him up for a final ball in the box that was either going to be an assist to Pepi or an own goal, and it was an own goal: Rating 6.0


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