Analysis: USMNT concludes September with lackluster 0-0 draw vs. Saudi Arabia
September 27, 2022
THE UNITED STATES national team played Saudi Arabia to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday to conclude what was a very disappointing September international window where it failed to score a single goal and scoring opportunities were very few and far between. With this being the last game before the World Cup opener, the team will be short on momentum and confidence heading into Qatar.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter elected to make several changes to his starting lineup than the one that lost a 2-0 decision to Japan on Friday. Sergino Dest moved from right back to left back while DeAndre Yedlin started on the right. Walker Zimmerman and Aaron long continued to partner in central defense. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie remained in the midfield while Kellyn Acosta replaced Luca de la Torre. Up top, Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic were on the wings with Ricardo Pepi starting up top.
Nothing really worked for the U.S. team and the game was very lackluster from start to finish. Even when the U.S. team came to life, on occasion, the biggest story is that there was no final product. The killer pass, the threatening shot, the big move to get past the defense – none of that happed or even looked close to happening. A 0-0 draw seemed like the most likely result in the first half.
I’ll have a lot more to say about the U.S. national team in the days and weeks ahead. But just focusing on the immediate lessons from this game and window – here are just a few thoughts.
With the U.S. team playing its final game before the World Cup and coming off a clean sheet loss, it would be expected that there would be intensity. The U.S. team badly needs a spark to provide some momentum and source of confidence.
But that didn’t happen. The U.S. team came out flat and there was no urgency. Yes, there wasn’t a packed house or a lot of media attention that make it easy to get up for games. But as a sense of pride and sense of a massive tournament approaching, the team wasn’t able to play like a team with a lot on the line.
Pefok was a big winner
Jordan Pefok wasn’t even on this team, but he was the big winner. For one, when he was left off the roster, it was the most talked about and asked about decision for Berhalter. More than any player on the team, Pefok’s absence dominated headlines. It’s easy to see why as Pefok won the Swiss Super League Golden Boot in 2021/22 and is now scoring regularly for a Union Berlin team that sits atop the Bundesliga.
Berhalter talked about the profile of forwards he wanted, and it didn’t seemed like Pefok matched that. That would be understandable if the other forwards selected were all playing well, but the U.S. team scored no goals over 180 minutes.
The center of attention will likely center around Ricardo Pepi who was the controversial selection for this roster as he only recently ended an 11 month scoring drought for both club and country. But Pepi’s numbers in this game were not good. He played 59 minutes and only had 17 touches. He didn’t register a shot, completed just five passes, and was not part of the build-up of any scoring chances.
Pepi’s passive effort will only fuel the controversy of leaving Pefok off and Pepi is also failing to play up the profile that Berhalter wants.
It wouldn’t be surprising now if Pefok, Ferreira, and Sargent are the three forwards heading to Qatar.
Midfield is still lacking
Like against Japan, the midfield was the biggest area where the team came up short. Tyler Adams was a lot more improved from the Japan game, especially on the defensive side, but he had a shot early in the first half which he hit at the keeper.
Kellyn Acosta was a surprise start give that his best role with the U.S. team is when he serves as a backup to Adams. When he fills in for the other more advanced No. 8 players (in this case Luca de la Torre or Yunus Musah), it is less effective. Acosta’s best contributions in this game were defensive, but he was given this start because de la Torre was also struggling.
Weston McKennie continues to struggle. He had costly turnovers, and his final ball simply wasn’t there. He isn’t having a good start to the season for Juventus and, unfortunately for the U.S. team, his club form is carrying over to the international side of his game.
But more than the individual problems, the sum or the parts falling short is the big story. Whether it’s Adams-McKennie-Acosta, or Adams-McKennie-de la Torre, or any combination with the subs of Johnny Cardoso or Malik Tillman, nothing is working. The midfield isn’t functioning well among a variety of different lineups.
Returning to their clubs, McKennie’s form needs to improve. That seems like part of the critical path towards improvement form this window and building towards possible success in Qatar.
Fullbacks were decent
Among the few positives that the U.S. had on the day, the fullback position was a strength against Saudi Arabia and it also provided some clarity on the depth chart.
Sergino Dest shifted from the right side to the left side and looked very comfortable. The backup position to Antonee Robinson at left back probably doesn’t need to go to a left-footer.
DeAndre Yedlin’s crossing isn’t always consistent, but he had a good defensive performance and was aggressive in getting up and down the right side in the first half. It was a game that improved his stock to go to Qatar.
Joe Scally was probably one of the biggest winners with a very good 31 minutes off the bench at right back. Berhalter hasn’t seemed willing to trust Scally but this game should certainly help.
With Reggie Cannon and Sam Vines not playing well against Japan, and with Yedlin and Scally impressing, I would say that the four fullbacks with an inside track to go to Qatar are: Dest, Robinson, Scally, and Yedlin.
Some other thoughts
Pulisic returned to the U.S. team after missing the Japan loss with an injury he picked up in training. He had a few very impressive moments where he showed his skill when he had space in the open field. His final ball, like others on the team, never really set up any big goal scoring chances.
Gio Reyna’s health continues to be a major concern. Even if it is just precautionary, it seems like things are very touch and go with him. He’s very talented, but his inability to stay healthy makes him very unreliable.
Paul Arriola was far from perfect in this game, and he wildly hit a shot over the bar, but he still was a net positive. Like always, he was one of the most energetic American players and the U.S. team needed that. He also tracked back and made multiple important defensive plays.
Walker Zimmerman missed a few passes, but was also an overall positive for the U.S. team. He hit a few very good long-range passes out of the back that helped get the U.S. into good attacking positions. Defensively, he helped with the clean sheet.
It was a tough game and a tough window for Aaron Long whose passing was inconsistent and his defense was behind that of his partner, Zimmerman. Long benefitted from the injuries to Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers in this camp. With those injuries limiting his options, Berhalter opted to try to build up chemistry with Zimmerman and Long. Watching the form over the coming weeks is going to be telling to see how Berhalter considers his options.