Analysis: Turner, Zardes, and Robinson lead the USMNT past Qatar 1-0
July 30, 2021
THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL team is through to the final of the 2021 Gold Cup after a 1-0 win over Qatar in a semifinal game in Austin that was full of drama, big plays, back and forth action, and typical CONCACAF shenanigans.
The opponent for this game was Qatar team that is not deep but who can field a very competitive starting lineup and is the reigning champions of Asia.
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter went with the same starting lineup as he did in the win over Jamaica but Qatar was prepared in their tactical approach. In this game, Qatar emphasized clogging up the middle and limiting the touches of Kellyn Acosta – who is the primary link between defensive and attack. The U.S. team, without solid wingers on this team, struggled.
Qatar conceded possession for this game and was willing to be selective in the times it wanted to attack. That worked and the U.S. had most of the ball in the first half but Qatar had the better chances, by far.
The U.S. team’s best player in the game was goalkeeper Matt Turner and the Park Ridge, NJ native made some remarkable saves to keep the U.S. team in the game – once on a shot that deflected off James sands and another where he was forced to reach almost behind him to push the ball off frame.
In the second half, the U.S. team was far better but the most dramatic moment happened in the 57th when Qatar was awarded a penalty after VAR concluded James Sands was guilty of a foul in the box. The U.S. team protested and a scuffle ensued. This delay of the kick appeared to get into the heads of Qatar and Hassan Al Haidos missed the penalty over the net as Matt Turner hesitated to give the impression he was guarding the middle – which is where Al Haidos wanted to shoot.
QATAR MISSES ???? pic.twitter.com/aePfLElsZh— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 30, 2021
Following the penalty, the game leaned heavily in favor of the United States and Berhalter’s substitutes of Gyasi Zardes, Nicholas Gioacchini, Eryk Williamson all made the difference.
In the 87th minute, the U.S. team moved ahead when Williamson played Gioacchini into the box. Gioacchini got passed his defender, who fell down, and was able to find a streaking Zardes with a side-footed pass. Zardes made no mistake with the finish. Afterward the U.S. team was able to see out the game without more drama.
Following the game, the U.S. learned that it will face Mexico who defeated Canada in controversial fashion on a goal that was well beyond the allotted seven minutes (which was the amount of minutes awarded because of the behavior of Mexican fans)
Here are my thoughts on the game.
1-0 FT. #USMNT to the final— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 30, 2021
- terrible 1st half, solid 2nd half
- Turner was magnificent
- subs were excellent
- Sands, Dike, Arriola struggled
- for the final Zardes should start over Dike, Roldan or Williamson over Busio, Gioacchini over Arriola, Cannon over Moore.
This was a defining performance from Matt Turner who was the man of the match for his saves which kept the U.S. team in the game. He also implemented some effective head games on Qatar’s missed penalty. The team has so much confidence with him in net and he’s made it clear he deserves to be on U.S. national team’s roster for the top three goalkeepers.
“Coming into the tournament, we all thought Matt Turner was a good shot stopper, but he’s a gamer," Berhalter said. "He’s our Man Of The Match"
How high Turner is on that list will come down to Steffen and Horvath in England. Will either of those two play? How will Turner perform against Mexico and for New England in the months ahead? It’s obviously to his benefit that he’s the only top American goalkeeper with a starting job.
But Turner is a good goalkeeper and his story is remarkable in how he picked up the sport so late and struggled to get a professional gig. Once he turned the corner, however, his career has taken off like a rocket.
First half struggles
The U.S. team was poor in the first half and it’s easy to see where things fell apart – both offensively and defensively.
On offense, Qatar dared the U.S. team to attack from width by always have a defender close to Acosta. Acosta was the link up the middle and Qatar left space out wide and the U.S. team wasn’t able to exploit that. In particular, when the U.S. team tried to get it out wide, Qatar made multiple interceptions of passes to spring counter attacks. The U.S. team needed to be quicker in their distribution out wide and also needed more midfield support – at least temporarily – to be able to pass through the middle. Eventually that happened, but it took awhile.
Gianluca Busio, Paul Arriola, Daryl Dike, and James Sands all struggled in this game. The first three were all subbed out as the U.S. team raised its game. Sands, meanwhile, benefitted from Qatar tiring and not being able to attack with as much energy.
After the game, Berhalter said that at half he was most concerned with the team losing its duels and being out-worked by Qatar. While it is often a question of desire, some players struggle with duel winning and this is an area which Busio must improve in Italy to see the field and be effective for Venezia.
“There wasn’t any tweaks [at HT], it’s about desire... I look at the statistics & they won more duels. We gotta correct that. When we step on the field, we need to be competing... That was the message at HT… we need to be more ruthless when we go into duels.” - Berhalter #USMNT— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 30, 2021
Arriola, meanwhile, still does not look like the play he was before his ACL tear in 2020 and he still has only limited repetitions since then. Sands simply made too many mistakes in this game. It wasn’t just the conceded penalty, Sands was a part of Qatar’s best chances in the first half. He is one of the players who is hopefully using this experience to learn more about the game and improve. He’s had a nice tournament but this game will serve as, at best, a learning opportunity.
As for Dike, he clearly does not look at 100% and the shoulder injury he suffered against Canada really appears to be bothering him. He was not able to effectively use his physical size and strength to his advantage. There was a moment early in the second half when Hoppe sent in a cross from the left side that left Dike with a golden opportunity which he failed to convert. Zardes was an upgrade in many areas.
Qatar ran out of gas
Part of the U.S. team’s approach in this game was to use its depth and outlast Qatar – which is a decent team but one which also lacks depth. While the U.S. team was not able to use its possession edge to its advantage in generating chances, Qatar had to chase the game for stretches. Qatar is used to playing in heat, but chasing the game wore them down and their energy declined sharply in the early parts of the second half.
It was an effective strategy for the U.S. team even if it took Turner’s remarkable efforts to keep the game scoreless.
Substitutes changed the game
Berhatler was able to take advantage of Qatar tiring with a bunch of key substitutes. The U.S. team was already the better team before the subs came on but brining on Zardes, Gioacchini, Cristian Roldan, and Eryk Williamson really changed the team’s midfield and attack.
Roldan and Williamson were solid on both sides of the ball and the U.S. team was playing through the middle far more effectively – and this opened the game out wide as well.
Gioacchini was confident attacking from a wider position but also with making runs into the box. His physical strength against a tiring opponent made the difference and this was on display on the goal. Once he got past his defender, he had the skill to execute a well-timed pass to Zardes for the assist.
Looking ahead to Mexico
Berhalter will have a lot of decisions to make in the final. Some players who started the past two games are too important and will have to start against Mexico.
Matt Turner, Sam Vines, Miles Robinson, Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, and Matthew Hoppe are six players who are irreplaceable in the starting lineup of this group. James Sands had a tough outing against Qatar but without Walker Zimmerman, Sands is still preferrable to Henry Kessler or Donovan Pines.
The other four positions all have questions. Gyasi Zardes replacing Daryl Dike looks like a necessary replacement. While Berhalter could replace Dike by moving Hoppe centrally, the team still doesn’t have enough wingers. A Zardes for Dike straight swap is the likely bet.
When Berhalter said Williamson gave the team “ball winning” it seemed to perhaps hint that Busio might be replaceable in the starting lineup as Busio is still young and, most importantly, learning the traits of deeper midfield roles.
At right back, Shaq Moore has started every single game this tournament and that was not by design as Reggie Cannon tweaked his hamstring in training before the first game. Moore was terrific in the opening win over Haiti and scored a goal against Canada but Cannon is healthy and is a more experienced and athletic defender. That could be a necessity against Mexico but it will come down to how healthy and fit Cannon is by Sunday.
Replacing Paul Arriola in the starting lineup is an interesting choice. Arriola has struggled this tournament. It will be a big choice for Berhalter as Arriola brings leadership, experience, and is someone that will put in a strong defensive effort. That is important against Mexico but right now, Gioacchini brings more offense and the goals will need to come from somewhere.
The game against Mexico is extremely dangerous and things can unravel quickly. The U.S. brought a team of mostly reserves to the 2009 Gold Cup, advanced to the final against Mexico and the game was 0-0 at the half but the U.S. team was steamrolled in the second half en route to a 5-0 loss.
Even in the Nations League final last month, the U.S. fell behind 1-0 and Mexico thought it scored a second immediately after – only to have VAR overturn the goal on a very narrow offside call. If that goal stood, it could have unraveled from there.
The U.S. team needs to hang in there defensively – especially early – and limit the types of chances which Turner has, thus far, bailed them out in the wins over Canada, Jamaica, Haiti, and Qatar.
Mexico is the favorite, the U.S. team has a chance, but if they’re not careful it could get ugly.
The Starting Lineup
Matt Turner: The MOTM who simply kept the U.S. in the game in the first half and proved to be in Qatar’s heads during the penalty. Rating: 8.5
Shaq Moore: It was a tough outing for Moore who rarely got forward and was exposed on defense a few times. Rating: 5.5
Miles Robinson: Another fine defensive outing for Robinson whose athleticism was a huge asset defensively up the middle. Rating: 7.5
James Sands: Sands conceded a penalty in the second half and had too many errors in the first half – which were bailed out by Turner. Rating: 4.5
Sam Vines: The Colorado Rapids left back defended well and, while he didn’t get forward enough, was still effective in the times he did with some nice passing and sill on the ball. Rating: 6.0
Kellyn Acosta: The Colorado central midfielder defended well up the middle and gave some needed athleticism to the central midfield. Qatar tried to mark him out of the game in the first half but eventually Acosta was able to become more involved. He also provided leadership to the young team. Rating: 6.5
Gianluca Busio: Busio struggled to get involved in this game on both sides of the ball. Normally he’s on the ball a lot but despite the U.S. controlling possession, he had just 39 touches in 63 minutes. He won both of his duels but that low number of attempts shows limited involvement. He wasn’t dynamic enough. Rating: 4.5
Sebastian Lletget: There weren’t a lot of outlets for Lletget in the first half to advance the ball into the attack and the Galaxy midfielder drew some nice fouls but wasn’t key to any real attack. Then in the second half, he came to life with the arrival of the subs and helped contribute to the U.S. dominating the game the final 30 minutes. Rating: 6.5
Paul Arriola: The Californian offered little on the wings offensively in the first half and even as the U.S. team controlled the game in the second half, Arriola tired. Rating: 4.5
Matthew Hoppe: It was another good game from the Schalke attacker who had a few mistakes but helped the U.S. team when it was struggling. He drifted back into midfield to make things happen and he should have had an assist to Daryl Dike in the second half with a great pass into the box from the left wing. Rating: 6.5
Daryl Dike: The Orlando City forward appeared to not be even close to 100% from the shoulder injury he picked up in the win over Canada. He couldn’t control the ball well and his passing was off. His best chance came in the second half on a pass from Hoppe but Dike shot straight at the keeper. Rating: 4.0
Gyasi Zardes: As part of a trio of subs that came into the game in the 63rd minute, Zardes was a huge upgrade at forward. He moved well in the box and deservedly scored the winning goal. Rating: 7.5
Cristian Roldan: While not as impactful as the other subs, he still contributed to the U.S. dominating the game in the second half. Rating: 6.0
Reggie Cannon: Cannon came in for more and looked polished on both sides of the ball. He had 29 touches in 27 minutes and completed 22/24 of his passes – 70% of which were in the attacking half. He made a case to start against Mexico. Rating: 6.5
Eryk Williamson: Along with Gioacchini, Williamson came into the game in the 81st minute and was an improvement with ball-winning and ball control. He added more athleticism to the game that overwhelmed Qatar late. Rating: 7.0
Nicholas Gioacchini: 14 touches, one assist, 4/7 duels won, three drawn fouls, and 4/5 passing – all in just nine minutes. That is how to produce as a late-game offensive sub . Rating: 7.5