Thoughts as the USMNT returns to action with a 0-0 draw with Wales
November 12, 2020
THE UNITED STATES national team played Wales to a scoreless draw on Thursday in what was both refreshing and lackluster. On a positive note, it was good to see the team together and back in action. On the flip side, it was also a game where there was a lack of chemistry or cohesion on the offensive front. The scoreless draw should not have been surprising.
U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter set the tone at the start of camp when he said he was not expecting it to be a completely smooth game as there was only limited training sessions prior to the game.
Upon a second viewing of the game, that turned out to be the case but there were also long stretches where it was clear there was plenty of talent on the field as well. With more time, it should come together. Some players were clearly better than others in this game, but no one really played poorly.
While this game was highly anticipated by fans given the long layoff, it was still just a friendly and an opportunity for some experimentation.
Here were some of my thoughts.
Musah looked the part
The addition of Yunus Musah, 17, into the lineup was the most intriguing move by Berhalter. The highly rated midfielder from Valencia is a dual national who has yet to decide what national team he will play for and is using this camp as a chance to evaluate the United States set up.
Musah impressed against Wales and looked remarkably comfortable with the team given only a few training sessions with players he did not know.
Over 79 minutes, he completed 44/50 passes and had 60 touches. But he worked extremely hard in this game, ran a lot to try and make things happen, while also making very few mistakes. He drew two fouls, won a majority of his duels, and played defense.
It wasn’t just his skill that was impressive, it was his effort as well. Berhalter will have his work cut out for him to convince Musah to play for the United States but the upside could be very big.
Lack of a striker hurt
In this game, Sebastian Lletget played as a false nine and it was a highly unusual formation that is not typical for the San Francisco native. In the end, it showed.
Lletget did not play poorly in the game. Over 87 minutes, he had 50 touches, completed 28/32 passes, and had two shots – including a shot in the opening minutes of the second half which forced a nice save from goalkeeper Danny Ward. Lletget’s set piece deliveries were also pretty good.
But this formation needed Lletget to connect with his wingers in dangerous areas. That did not happen. Some of that is on Gio Reyna and Konrad de la Fuente, some of it is on Lletget.
It also requires chemistry – which is unrealistic for a player playing out of position at the false 9 and two wingers who are also making their respective national team debuts.
Brooks strong in certain areas
In some respects, John Brooks enjoyed a very good game against Wales. The tall central defender routinely hit very effective passes out of the backline.
- 90 minutes
- 85 touches
- 73/79 passing
- 7/11 accurate long balls
On the other side, his aerial game wasn’t nearly as good as it normally is in the Bundesliga or with the U.S. team in the past. Defensively in the air, or in 50-50 aerials, he routinely came up short in this area. His excellent passing somewhat covered up for this.
His central defense partner, Matt Miazga hit a few very good long balls (2/4) and committed four fouls (which gave up a few dangerous free kicks) but was also better in the air, duels, and 50-50 balls.
Adams remains key
Tyler Adams lived up to the lofty expectations in this one – he was the MOTM and the best player on the field for either team. His teammate Weston McKennie was close, but Adams was clearly the best in this game.
As is the case for when he plays for RB Leipzig, of the New York Red Bulls before that, whenever Adams touches the ball a lot, he has a good game. He doesn’t have many bad games, but when they do happen, it is because he was suffocated service and doesn’t touch the ball.
In this game, he played 71 minutes and had 78 touches. He was 58/67 in passing (87%), his long balls were slightly off (1/4), but he won 5/6 duels – which is outstanding. He was a complete disruptive force in this game, and that is exactly what Berhalter wanted.
Right vs. left attack
The United States team had far more success going up the right side, than the left. That was very obvious in the first half when Brooks and Miazga often looked to start the play by feeding Dest on the right, or playing it to Musah or Adams – who would then play it to the right.
It wasn’t the best outing for Konrad de la Fuente or Antonee Robinson although neither got to the point where they were a drag on the team. But Dest and Reyna clearly were more comfortable on the right side. De la Fuente, for his part, only 20 touches in 71 minutes. Meanwhile, Reyna had 61 touches in 79 minutes - reflective of a lot more activity.
Moving forward, a lot can and will change on the team. Pulisic will come in for de la Fuente. Reyna will likely shift into the middle for Musah (if he does not commit to the team), Morris will then occupy the wing. Center forward will be up for grabs too but Lletget will probably be a backup in the middle of the field.
Youth was served
In total, the U.S. started three teenagers in Musah, de la Fuente, and Reyna – who all made their debuts. Johnny, Owen Otasowie, and Nicholas Gioacchini came off the bench.
With this many debuts on this short amount of training, it was a productive game that accomplished a lot. There was clearly a lot of talent and if this were a club team and it was a very early preseason game, most people would be happy. There is a temptation to over-analyze the game but for what it was, it was good to have the team back.
And the final point with so many of the debutants is more or less a reinforcement of what was said before heading into this game – club form in the months ahead will largely determine the staying power for players to remain with the national team for big World Cup qualifiers.
Moving forward, U.S. Soccer needs to take full advantage of the U.S. U-20 and U.S. U-23 teams in 2021 because some players could really use that platform to bridge the gap to the full team as they begin to take on bigger roles with their clubs.