Analysis: USMNT begins Gold Cup with lackluster 1-0 win vs. Haiti
July 12, 2021
The game opened in frantic pace with both teams having plenty of open space. But after the first five minutes, the U.S. team began to take control and took the lead in the 8th minute when Shaq Moore hit a short pass into the box, Gyazi Zardes clipped the low pass up and it was headed home easily by Sam Vines.
In the 14th minute, the U.S. team suffered a tough setback when Paul Arriola was forced out of the game with a hamstring issue on a play down the right side. He was replaced by Niko Gioacchini.
After the 20th minute, however, Haiti began to find its way into the game and the U.S. team simply allowed too much space in the midfield. This allowed Haiti to occasionally get into the attack dangerously – either missing the net with a shot forcing Matt Turner into a save.
The second half was similar to the first. The U.S. team improved in the 60th minute when Gianluca Busio replaced Jackson Yueill and Daryl Dike replaced Jonathan Lewis. Minutes after these subs, Gioacchini hit the post and Busio forced a huge save from Haiti’s goalkeeper Bryan Sylvestre.
While the U.S. team was more dangerous on the day it still failed to capitalize on its chance and take Haiti out of the game. This allowed Haiti to grow into the game at times and have more chances than it should have.
Here are some thoughts on the game.
Midfield passing okay, defense an issue
The U.S. team’s midfield was actually good with passing and in possession – particularly once Busio came on. Sebastian Lletget was a perfect 69/69 with passing, was not dispossessed, and had four key passes (passes which set up a teammate’s shot). Kellyn Acosta was 53/57 in passing and was probably the U.S. team’s best player on the day. Jackson Yueill struggled with his defense and allowed to much space. Once Busio came on, he was also very strong with his passing – and was 28/31.
It made a good case that the top starting midfield trio on the team should be Acosta, Lleget, and Busio who were a combined 150/157 in passing.
The problem for the U.S. team, particularly with Yueill, was the inability to close down on the opposition and win the ball back quickly. Haiti’s midfield had too much time and space to pick out passes to play the ball into dangerous positions.
Lack of wing presence
A big reason for the U.S. team only scoring one goal in this game was the lack of wing play. Jonathan Lewis had a really tough first half and was not an effective outlet and attacking plays down his side often went lacking. Arriola’s injury really hurt the U.S. team’s cause as he is one of the few natural wingers.
Nicholas Gioacchini had some nice moments but was put in a tough position as a first-half substitute. He should have scored in the second half, but hit the post instead. Haiti did well to limit his touches after the left side was contained.
With Cannon also dealing with hamstring issues, Dike not at 100%, and now Arriola with hamstring issues - injuries are already a concern— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 12, 2021
This game reflected the U.S. team’s lack of depth on the wings for this tournament. Arriola is comfortable as a winger but he’s hurt. Jonathan Lewis still isn’t a regular starter for Colorado while Nicholas Gioacchini and Matthew Hoppe are more comfortable in the No. 9 position.
So when the U.S. midfield was able to pass and possess well, why weren’t more chances generated? A lot of that is due to the wingers failing to step up and not being the needed outlet. Haiti’s defense wasn’t stretched and was able to remain compact.
Central defense pretty good
A positive to take away from this game is that the central defense pairing of Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson was pretty good. It wasn’t an easy job either when the midfield often yielded too much space and the fullbacks were sometimes caught up field, but Zimmerman is a exceptional in the air and his distribution was solid. Robinson, meanwhile, has unique athleticism that can cover up his mistakes and the mistakes of others.
If Robinson and Zimmerman can get defense help, the U.S. team will be tough to score on.
Learning Lessons/moving ahead
It was a tough game but one that, at least, offered some clear learning lessons for Gregg Berhalter – mostly about the two biggest weaknesses in the game for the U.S. team: 1) Inadequate winger player and 2) defense in the midfield.
A big question Berhalter will want to ask himself is how to adjust to wingers being a weakness on this team. Will he want to continue to insert wingers into a 4-3-3 even through the wingers available aren’t necessarily wingers? Or will he want to adjust to a different formation?
He could try the 3-5-2 formation with wingbacks and two center forwards or he could try a variation of the 4-4-2 (possibly a narrow diamond) that would attempt to have the team move up the middle.
So far in his coaching tenure, Berhalter has been reluctant to use a formation with two center forwards – but in this tournament, this roster seems best for that. It seems more likely that the wingback formation would have a better chance of being used since he’s tried it now in the Nations League final against Mexico (successfully) and against Northern Ireland in a March friendly win. This would allow Sam Vines and Shaq Moore (or Reggie Cannon) to push forward into the attack while having defensive cover.
As for defensive midfield, that’s a problem for the full U.S. team whenever Tyler Adams isn’t healthy. It’s a full team effort and it can’t just be Kellyn Acosta, either. Cristian Roldan hasn’t always been great for the U.S. team but he typically works really hard on the defensive side and its having a strong season. A four-player midfield (which is uncommon for Behalter) with Busio, Roldan, Acosta, and Lletget would balance offense and defense but would be without wingers.
There isn’t an ideal solution. The team obviously has some individual talent but there are some clear holes.
The Starting Lineup
Matt Turner: The New Jersey native was a good shot stopper but was very nervy with the ball at his feet. Rating: 6.0
Sam Vines: The Colorado left back took his goal well but was caught up field on more than one occasion. He didn’t combine effectively with Jonathan Lewis – which was strange given that they’re club teammates. He completed his passes well, but more was needed defensively. Rating: 6.0
Walker Zimmerman: A good performance from Zimmerman in central defense who anchored his backline well. He was dominant in the air, was 80/85 passing, 3/6 with long balls, and 4/5 in duels won. He had to cover up for the lack of defensive presence in the midfield. Rating: 7.0
Miles Robinson: The Atlanta United central defender wasn’t as polished as Zimmerman in the backline but his athleticism in the backline helped. Rating: 6.0
Shaq Moore: In a game that cap-tied him to the USMNT, the Tenerife right back had a very solid game at right back – moving into the attack effectively, combining with teammates, and tracking back. Known for his crosses, he needs to be a little better there but overall it was a good outing. Rating: 6.5
Jackson Yueill: A few nice moments weren’t able to cover-up with what was a poor outing defensively from Yueill who allowed too much space, put too much stress on the U.S. backline, and allowed Haiti with too much time on the ball. Rating: 4.0
Kellyn Acosta: One of the few bright spots for the U.S. team. Acosta was very active in the midfield, his passing seemed to open up the U.S. team’s most dangerous chances. He had a bad turnover in the second half, which forced him into picking up a yellow card. But overall, was solid. Rating: 7.0
Sebastian Lletget: The LA Galaxy midfielder didn’t make any mistakes, but he wasn’t as dynamic as needed. He was a perfect 69/69 passing, was dispossessed 0 times, and had four key passes. He certainly wasn’t bad but he didn’t have any moments that broke the game open either. While he could have had an assist with better finishing, he didn’t dominate either – and part of that was made a lot harder without wing options. Rating: 6.5
Jonathan Lewis: A very tough game for Lewis who was unable to make anything dangerous happen. He made harder for the midfield to get involved. Rating: 4.0
Paul Arriola: The DC United winger started off decently but was subbed out in the 14th minute with a hamstring injury. Rating: NR
Gyasi Zardes: The veteran forward was effective in hold-up play for the U.S. team and forced a save in the first half. He was a bit on an island with wingers struggling. Rating: 6.0
Nicholas Gioacchini: It was a tough position for Gioacchini to come into the game early in the first half. He worked hard and did some good things in his 62 minutes. He musted four shots, hit the frame once, drew three fouls, and won five out of eight duels. On the other hand, he only had about 31 touches. Rating: 6.0
Gianluca Busio: A very promising national team debut for the Sporting Kansas City teenager who was an upgrade from Yueill. He brought some offensive bite that was lacking and picked the pace of the game back up. A little more is needed defensively, but he had a positive influence on the game and forced a big save early. Rating: 6.5
Daryl Dike: The Orlando City forward wasn’t involved much in his 28 minutes on the field with just seven touches and 2/3 passing. Rating: 5.0
James Sands: The NYCFC defender was quietly competent to help see out the win in his 14 minutes on the field. He was good in his distribution out of the back following the formation change. Rating: 6.0
Eryk Williamson: It was a limited outing for Williamson and the U.S. team was simply trying to see out the win for most of Williamson’s 14 minutes. Still he helped win and maintain possession in his perfect 5/5 duel winning, 5/5 in passing, and two drawn fouls. He didn’t have a lot to do, but he did it all well. Rating: 6.0