Thoughts & Players Ratings: USMNT downs El Salvador 1-0
March 28, 2023
THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL team qualified for the semifinals of the 2023 Nations League this summer with a 1-0 win over El Salvador on Monday night in Orlando, Florida. The performance was forgettable as the U.S. team was unable to generate a significant number of dangerous chances and for most of the game, was unable to convert on the times it was able to create.
A lot of credit, however, goes to El Salvador manager and former U.S. national team attacker Hugo Perez who was able to have his team fight hard and maximize its potential. His team was organized defensively and even forced the U.S. into a few occasions of emergency defending. El Salvador had the chances to score and change the narrative, but fell inches short.
The game changer was in the 62nd minute when Weston McKennie had the ball inside his own half. He spotted Ricardo Pepi making a run into his own third. McKennie hit a perfect, low-driving through-ball to split the defense. Pepi controlled it with his first touch and chipped El Salvador’s goalkeeper and captain Mario Gonzalez for a 1-0 lead.
Weston with the assist, Pepi with the goal, and The FC Dallas Agenda continues on. pic.twitter.com/ao8AhkvFnZ— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) March 28, 2023
From there, the U.S. team was able to see out the win and the U.S. team moved to two wins and two draws in its last four games against Perez’s El Salvador. Both wins have been by 1-0 scores.
Here are some thoughts about the game.
U.S. team struggled out wide
El Salvador came into the game with a tough defensive game plan of containing the U.S. team out wide. Typically, that is where most of the U.S. team’s chances originate. The U.S. team typically does not get many chances from the run of play through the midfield – typically Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams but in this case it was Gio Reyna in place of Adams.
The U.S team typically gets its chances from wingers Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah (in this game it was Alejandro Zendejas playing in place of the injured Weah) and fullbacks Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest.
The key to stopping the U.S. attack is to stop the team out wide. It’s easier said than done due to the talent level of the players, but El Salvador did a great job – particularly in the first half. Pulisic was off in the first half, Zendejas was poor, Dest was noticeable rusty, and Robinson’s final ball was lacking.
That alone kept El Salvador in this game. It took a one long and perfect pass from McKennie up the middle to bypass the midfield for the U.S. team to crack El Salvador’s defense
The U.S team improved in the second half, for sure. They had better chances but El Salvador was in this game for longer than expected because they contained the heart of the U.S. team.
Ream & Robinson worked well
The central defense tandem of Tim Ream and Miles Robinson were excellent. Their job became more pressure-filled as the game continued to be scoreless. But both players were experienced and calm in the back, both in possession and in defense.
It was a great story for both players. Ream, at age 35, continues to age like fine wine. It’s one of the more remarkable stories in American soccer and in the Premier League. He’s leading Fulham to a top 10 finish and is having one of the best seasons ever for an American in Europe. How long can he go at this level? No one knows, but it’s great to watch while it lasts and maybe he stays on through the Copa America.
For Robinson, he is still recovering from his Achilles tendon rupture and the early returns this season in Atlanta have been impressive. In this game, he played very well and should continue to be in the mix moving forward.
Subs changed the game
The U.S. team won this game on depth. Pepi scored less than a minute after coming into the game. Luca de la Torre and Brenden Aaronson were important to keeping up the attack. As El Salvador tired and suffered a downgrade going to their bench, the U.S. was able to sub a La Liga and a Premier League starter into the fold to make it harder.
Both players were effective winning the ball in dangerous positions to continue to pin El Salvador back.
Between Pepi, de la Torre, and Aaronson, the U.S. team was able to score and keep El Salvador from getting on the front foot offensively.
Matt Turner: the Garden State goalkeeper controlled his backline well and had a few nice tosses into the attack that should have resulted into more dangerous opportunities: Rating: 6.5
Sergino Dest: A few nice dribbles aside, he was noticeably rusty and was contained by El Salvador: Rating: 5.0
Antonee Robinson: The Fulham left back often has a big responsibility to connect with Pulisic to open up the left side – which is key to the U.S. team’s attack. It didn’t happen tonight. Robinson’s final ball was lacking and he did work as well with Pulisic as he normally does. Rating: 4.5
Tim Ream: An excellent veteran presence on the backline. He kept the team calm while it struggled to create chances for the first hour: Rating: 7.5
Miles Robinson: Similar to Ream but only replace experience with top athleticism. Having athleticism in the back is important and it will be interesting to see if Robinson can continue to get back to his 2021 level. Rating: 7.5
Weston McKennie: He was sloppy in the first half but better in the second half. His pass to Pepi on the goal was a game changer. It’s tough to contain him for a full game. He’ll always find a few moments to be dangerous. Rating: 6.0
Yunus Musah: He was smooth on the ball and gives the U.S. a presence up the middle. In a game like this when the team is struggling out wide, Musah becomes more important. He still needs more goals and more assists but his skill on the ball is very useful t. Overall, he helped keep El Salvador off the ball and pin them back defensively. Rating: 6.5
Gio Reyna: The Borussia Dortmund playmaker was moved into the attacking midfield position as opposed to out wide. He was dangerous on two big occasions – forcing a big save in the 23rd minute from Gonzalez and then hitting the post in the 47th minute. It wasn’t a dominant performance and he’s capable of more, but it was still effective. Rating: 6.5
Christian Pulisic: The engine to the U.S. team was mostly contained. In the first half, he was clearly off. In the second half, he was better but El Salvador resorted to fouling him. That would be okay if he was then more effective with his set piece deliveries. Rating: 5.5
Alejandro Zendejas: Playing on the right wing, Zendejas was ineffective. Was he nervous? Was he trying to do too much? He was completely out of synch and was removed at the hour mark. Rating: 4.5
Daryl Dike: The big West Brom forward drew some fouls and El Salvador was clearly focused on stopping him. But overall, he didn’t make the impact he wanted. Rating: 5.0
Ricardo Pepi: Instant impact from the minute he came on. His lovely finish on the goal seemed to give him confidence the last 30 minutes. But this is exactly what you want from a substitute forward in a close game: Rating: 8.0
Brenden Aaronson: Replaced Zendejas in the 60th minute and was an upgrade on both sides of the ball. Rating: 6.0
Luca de la Torre: The Celta Vigo midfielder replaced Musah in the 71st and was sharp with his passing – which helped link the midfield and the attack better. Rating: 7.0
Taylor Booth: Also came into the game in the 71st minute. He had a few moments where he moved into the attack well but was generally quiet. His best moment came on a looping pass inside the box that set up Pepi for a good chance. Rating: 5.5
Johnny Cardoso: The Brazilian-American from New Jersey made his sixth appearance for the national team as a late cameo in stoppage time. Rating: NR