Earnie_stewart_and_gregg_berhalter_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_together_on_usmnt_bench_-_january_2019_-_john_dorton John Dorton/ISI Photos
USMNT analysis

Questions abound after two woeful USMNT efforts ahead of Gold Cup opener

Gregg Berhalter's tenure as head coach is at a cross roads. The team is playing poorly and how will Berhalter respond? ASN's Brian Sciaretta takes a look at the issues
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 10, 2019
6:00 AM
THE UNITED STATES national team suffered a severely disappointing and potentially demoralizing start to the summer with two awful losses in its pre-Gold Cup friendlies. The first was lethargic 1-0 loss to Jamaica. Then on Sunday it lost 3-0 to Venezuela in woeful effort that was both confusing and seemingly lacked heart.

The opening goal against Venezuela was off a terrible error from Zack Steffen who attempted to play the ball up the middle but sent it straight to Jhon Murillo who was easily able to make the U.S. pay with an easy assist to Salomón Rondón. Real Salt Lake’s Jefferson Savarino doubled the lead on poor defending on a play that essentially was made possible off a throw in. Then Rondón rounded out the scoring when he got on the end of a long ball and was able to cut back past Aaron Long for a close shot past Steffen.

The game was a total mess of for the U.S. team. All three goals came in the first half and while the second half was slightly better for the U.S. team, Venezuela had taken its foot off the gas pedal and were in cruise control.

Here are more notes from that game.

Questioning the system

Right now, it’s all about the system. Of course, the player pool isn’t great right now but the truth is that there aren’t many shocking snubs on this roster that another coach wouldn’t have made that would have made this roster dramatically better. Josh Sargent is certainly arguable but he’s a teenager that has played 159 minutes for Werder Bremen (while not playing with the reserves) since the Bundesliga resumed from its winter break.

There are debatable players like Antonee Robinson, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Erik Palmer-Brown but their absence isn’t what is holding the team back.

Berhalter has actually done a nice job adding to the player pool with the first time U.S. call-ups of Tyler Boyd and Duane Holmes who are quite talented and ready to contribute.

But the system seems, at least right now, to be overly complicated not able to get the most out of players.

Cristian Roldan is a competent player but for Seattle he is not a creative force. That is the job of Nicolas Lodeiro. In this system, Roldan is doing Lodeiro’s role.

Weston McKennie has played every position in the book for Schalke (which isn’t helpful) and this past system it was a mess. Now with the national team, he is also in a system that isn’t functioning. It is easy to see his quality but hard to tell his role.

The biggest problem with the system is in the center of the field. Everything seems to be centered around Wil Trapp but Trapp isn’t that kind of a player. Whenever the U.S. team has been at its best, historically, it has had solid and dependable No. 6 options that would take care of defense first. At the 2002 World Cup, where Berhalter was a starter, Pablo Mastroeni famously shut down Figo. Bob Bradley had great performances from Rico Clark at the Confederations Cup, and Maurice Edu at the World Cup. Even Jurgen Klinsmann’s teams were at their best when Kyle Beckerman sat behind Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to prevent opposing teams from setting up camp in the midfield.

Berhalter right now isn’t getting nearly enough defensive bite out of his defensive midfield. Trapp is actually a gifted passer who can hit long-balls. But that isn’t going to be enough as a lone No. 6 if he isn’t there to stop other teams from moving at will through the center of the field. Berhalter is asking Trapp to do way too much right now.

Tyler Adams is the logical choice to start as a lone No. 6 since he has that kind of motor to cover a lot of ground and break up plays, keep possession, and get the ball forward. The decision to have him at right back seems to be counterproductive it drains the team of their best option at their weakest/most critical position.

Yes, Yedlin is hurt but Nick Lima is a suitable option at right back at the moment after moving beyond his poor start the season. Lima is comfortable in that position and it’s natural to him. If that is the case, why does Adams need to be there?

Right now, the system seems to be very complex – made harder by the fact national teams are never together for very long. It seems harder because no one is in comfortable positions at the moment and roles are getting ignored.

Will Berhalter simplify?

Most players in the U.S. pool right now, both based domestically and abroad, play in a variation of a 4-3-3 or sometimes a 4-4-2. Berhalter is using a 5-4-1 or a 4-1-4-1 but with complex roles.

It will be interesting to see how much struggling Berhalter is willing to endure before he considers changing his system to fit the players? Or does he believe that the system will begin to take root and the team will be able to play to its potential?

Unfortunately, the team is not tested much outside of CONCACAF games and friendlies tend to be a difficult gauge.

When you look at the system the U-20 national team played at its recent World Cup campaign, it was far simpler and gave players freedom in roles they were familiar. It could have gone farther but it fought hard still put together some very nice wins.

Moving ahead

Moving ahead, things will have to change quickly for Berhalter and the team. It is hard to say if the players were confused and struggling with the new system, or that they didn’t believe in it. The results were obviously disappointing but the team seemed to play with a lack of passion.

Even if the player pool improves with talent, it won’t matter much unless the team plays to its potential. On paper, it had a lot more talent than Jamaica but Jamaica was better. Venezuela has some good players but the U.S. should have enough talent to not get blown out at home. It’s playing below the sum of its parts which makes the problem not about the players, but about the coaching.

The next few weeks will be critical in showing improvement in total team efforts. The group stages of the Gold Cup can be poor but can the U.S. still not play down to the level of its opponents? Then as the level of competition improves, can the U.S. dominate? The early returns don’t show any reason to feel optimistic.

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