USMNT analysis

Thoughts & Ratings: defensively prepared USMNT wears down Mexico in a Dos a Cero win

It was a familiar scoreline as the USMNT defeated Mexico 2-0 to win its third straight Nations League title. Tyler Adams marked his triumpant return to the team with an amazing goalazo and Gio Reyna was an offensive star. But the best part of the win was the team's complete defense. ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks it all down. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 25, 2024
9:55 AM

THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL TEAM has won all three editions of the CONCACAF Nations League and the streak continued after Gregg Berhalter’s team defeated Mexico 2-0 in the final behind goals from Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna.

The first half saw the U.S. team with a patient approach in the first half and Berhalter came out with an interesting starting lineup that included Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, and Tim Ream – three players who have not been playing much for their respective clubs. Adams was making his first start at any level in over a year.

By now, everyone has heard about the 32-yard wondergoal from Tyler Adams just before the half. Then it was Reyna who doubled the lead in the 63rd minute when he pounced on a poor clearance and sent a shot in the near post past Guillermo Ochoa.


But here are some big takeaways from the game.


Stellar defensive showing


Everyone will be watching Tyler Adams’ goal repeatedly – for good reason. But the top takeaway for the USMNT in this game was the defense. It was absolutely methodical the way the team completely shutdown Mexico’s front line. Mexican wingers Chucky Lozano and Uriel Antuna had two of the most ineffective performances by attacking players in the modern history of this rivalry.

Specifically, Antuna's numbers were horrific. In his 65 minutes, the Cruz Azul right winger had just 11 touches and was 3/7 in passing with 0 shots. He was 2/6 in duels, 0/1 in tackles, he completed no dribbles, and drew no fouls while committing one. Then on top of that, he was skinned alive by Christian Pulisic on the play which create a chance that eventually led to Reyna's goal. He was then subbed out minutes later.

Lozano was slightly better than Antuna, but he was still very poor. He played all 90 minutes and was 12/25 in passing with two shots. He also drew three fouls and worked harder on the defensive outing. But still, the PSV winger was not good.

In shutting down the wings, the USMNT also shut down Mexico's forward Henry Martin who was starved for service and was just 5/11 in his duels.

For long periods, it seemed as if the game could have been 500 minutes long and Mexico would have no hope of scoring.

At the heart of this were great aerial performances from central defenders Tim Ream and Chris Richards. Richards won 5/6 of his aerials and was 4/4 in ground duels. Ream was 7/7 in winning aerials (and just 1/1 in ground duels. Combined, they were 12/13 in aerials, 5/5 in ground duels (17/18 in all duels combined).

The defensive outing the USMNT showed was a complete team performance. Everyone put on a good defensive shift, even players like Reyna where that side of the ball is not seen as a strength.


Credit Berhalter with defense


Berhalter was under criticism for the team’s performance against Jamaica in the semifinal where the team needed a miraculous equalizer in stoppage time before winning 3-1 in extra time.

Against Mexico, the script was flipped and Berhalter got the game plan spot on – at least defensively. Here is what Tim Ream told ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle after the game.

“"We knew they were predictable anyway. It's the most direct Mexico team that there's been, and that was discussed yesterday and today,” Ream said. “And so, we expected exactly what they did, and it played right into what we knew and what we were aware of. So, it may have looked predictable, but again, that's because it was. We knew exactly what was coming and we knew exactly how to make the game ours and how to hurt them.”

The U.S. team was flat out prepared for this game and they knew how to shut down El Tri’s attack. Ream makes this clear and gives evidence of how this team was prepared.


The attack still a work in progress


Defensively, the U.S. team was perfect. Then in the attack, the team relied on individual plays and Mexican mistakes to eventually find the breakthrough. Neither goal for the U.S. team came on great combination play or through passing and runs. The U.S. team played well offensively in extra time against Jamaica, but against Mexico the final ball was still lacking.


The U.S. team still needs to click more on offense. That is tough with a lot of uncertainty with the players right now. Tyler Adams is only in the initial stages of his comeback and, despite his beautiful goal, was only able to go 45 minutes. Johnny Cardoso still has to translate his club form to the USMNT. Gio Reyna is talented but is still in the abyss as far as his club situation goes. Malik Tillman is solid at the club level but isn’t there internationally. The center forward position meanwhile has several options in terms of players who are performing well for their club, but no one has taken firm grip of the starting job for the U.S. team. After a great outing off the bench against Jamaica, Haji Wright didn’t get much accomplished against Mexico. Meanwhile, it’s been a tough season on all levels for Folarin Balogun. Meanwhile, Yunus Musah still needs to add a dangerous final ball to put it all together.

The attack in the midfield and the center forwards position need work and chemistry among the front six isn’t great, but if the defense can play as well as it did against Mexico, then the U.S. team will have a shot in most games. It creates a high floor for this team.


USMNT stock watch


In terms of the ever-shifting USMNT player pool, these two games give us some evidence on players – for both good and bad.

Gio Reyna: Eventually his club situation will need to improve. He’s heading towards his third straight sub-1000-minute season. But this camp reminded us of the talent that is there and that he can still help this team.

Malik Tillman: Tillmann is still part of the USMNT, but is still yet to make a clear breakthrough despite his success at Rangers and now PSV. He will still get chances, but this camp was a missed opportunity for him. Eventually, he will need more production or else could be in trouble as more younger options emerge.

Yunus Musah: Musah has a lot of talent and he’s terrific with the ball at his feet. But as we saw with this window, he is at risk with losing his starting job because he’s not consistently dangerous with a shot or a final pass. He can play the No. 6, but now the U.S. team has two options with Johnny Cardoso and Tyler Adams. With Reyna also giving two long shifts this past camp, it shows that Musah is under pressure to provide more offense. He leaves this camp needing to improve.

Tyler Adams: Adams still has a ways to go with his recovery, but that goal was amazing. It will be talked about in the same manner as Benny Feilhaber’s 2007-strike against Mexico in the Gold Cup final. He leaves this camp on an emotional high and with a lot of momentum at his back. He means so much to this team. The merits for his call-up were questionable given his lack of minutes and few expected him to play as much as he did. But Berhalter was right with Adams and the captain left as a big winner this camp.

Folarin Balogun: If there was any hope that Balogun would use this camp to snap out of a tough season, it never happened. He started the game against Jamaica and he came off the bench against Mexico. He had a few nice runs here and there, but it never amounted to much. This is tough for him because so many other American forwards are chasing him (Sargent, Pepi, Wright, Vazquez, Pefok).

Haji Wright: Wright was sensational off the bench and he was fed outstanding passes from Reyna. Against Mexico he was unable to get going. With just 18 touches, 5/8 passing, and 0 shots over 66 minutes. The positives outweigh the negatives, however, and he gained ground on the competition. Yes, he plays a lot on the wings at Coventry, but he still cuts centrally so much that it probably doesn’t change Berhalter’s view that he’s a No. 9. He hasn’t sealed the deal for Copa America spot, but he’s in the mix.  

Joe Scally: The Monchengladbach right back is Dest’s backup right now. But he had a tough outing against Jamaica and didn’t play against Mexico. He’s still on the U.S. team, but he is in the position where he must improve or he could be in jeopardy down the road at being replaced by an emerging option.


Player Ratings

The starting lineup


Matt Turner: Turner wasn’t tested much, but he made the saves he had to make and safely handled balls into the box: Rating: 6.0

Antonee Robinson: Defensively, he made life miserable for Uriel Antuna. Worked hard to cover ground and open the game up for others: Rating: 6.0

Tim Ream: The Fulham central defender won all of his aerials and was great at defending Mexico’s direct play. His passing was not exceptional, but his defending was and he was mistake free: Rating: 7.0

Chris Richards: Had a tough mistake with a turnover in a bad spot (which Mexico failed to punish) but was solid regardless in dealing with crosses and long balls up the middle. Like Ream, his passing wasn’t always as sharp, but defensively he was solid: Rating: 6.5

Sergino Dest: The PSV right back returned from suspension and used his slick ball skills to put Mexico on their backfoot. His defense nearly let him down in the second half on one of Mexico’s best chances (which was missed) but Dest was very aggressive offensively to the U.S. team’s advantage: Rating: 7.0

Tyler Adams: It was surprising to see Adams get the start given how much time he has missed. Everyone will talk about his fantastic goal, but he also did well to neutralize Mexico’s ability to attack up the middle. It was a very good 45-minute shift: Rating: 7.5

Weston McKennie: The Juventus midfielder was a class above everything Mexico had to offer in the middle as he was strong on both sides of the ball – creating chances and defending well over 90 minutes. Rating: 7.5

Gio Reyna: Sporadic club minutes have not yet affected Reyna who capped a great international window with a second half goal to seal a 2-0 win. But Reyna was dangerous throughout and even defended effectively, which he is not typically known for: Rating: 8.0

Christian Pulisic: Mexico had their hands full defending Pulisic who nearly scored in the first half, and then skinned Antuna in the build-up to the second goal. Pulisic definitely threw Mexico off their game: Rating: 7.5

Tim Weah: Weah was quiet early but then forced two saves in the second half to see the U.S. team maintain consistent pressure: Rating: 6.5

Haji Wright: Wright never really got going in this game as he only had 18 touches, no shots, and was 5/8 in passing over 66 minutes. But he did bother Mexico, drawing four fouls and helping in the buildup to the second goal: Rating: 5.5


The Substitutes


Johnny Cardoso: The Real Betis midfielder replaced Adams for the second half and the team didn’t lose a beat: Rating: 6.0

Folarin Balogun: The Monaco forward had a 24 minute shift and only stood out once, when he was fouled during a run: Rating: 5.0

Yunus Musah: Musah played the last 11 minutes and only had 3 touches. The game was entirely disjointed when he entered with delays and fouls stopping any sort of flow: Rating: NR

Malik Tillman: Made a late cameo but wasn’t involved: Rating: NR

Brendan Aaronson: Like Tillman, also came in late but not enough to earn a rating: Rating: NR


Post a comment