USMNT camps concludes with two wins, and important lessons learned
March 30, 2021
THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL team wrapped up its international window with a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast on Sunday. Like November and even the two mostly domestic-based camps in December and January, the goal of this window was to observe the player pool, build chemistry, and monitor the depth of options at various positions.
For head coach Gregg Berhalter, the two games certainly helped with those objectives although making conclusions based on the opponents faced can be misleading. Jamaica was missing several key players and will be far improved in World Cup qualifying. Similarly, Northern Ireland had two World Cup qualifiers on either side of Sunday’s friendly with the U.S. team so many key players were rested as well.
Scheduling opponents in Europe these days for friendlies is quite hard but this presented an opportunity to get a large portion to the team’s core together. While the competition wasn’t high, it was worthwhile window for Berhalter and his team.
Against Northern Ireland, Berhalter experimented with a 5-2-3 formation and while the U.S. team was generally in control of the game, the players needed time to adjust to the formation and the team was not sharp for stretches. The first half goal from Gio Reyna (off a deflection) and the second half goal from Christian Pulisic (off a penalty he drew) was enough to withstand the late push from Northern Ireland.
The national team will be off for two months until a late May friendly against Switzerland – which will be its best opposition since Mexico in the 2019 Gold Cup final. The lessons learned from the two games in this window will help shape Berhalter’s thinking for the team ahead of the Nation’s League semifinal and final in June. Those games, in turn, will shape the approach for World Cup qualifying.
Here are some thoughts from the Northern Ireland and the past window.
It made complete sense for Gregg Berhalter to experiment with the five-man backline. The U.S. team has two attacking fullbacks in left back Antonee Robinson and right back Sergino Dest who are more effective pressed up the field. Second, the U.S. team has a decent number of promising central defenders where it can field three on the field.
It is a worthwhile experiment but at this stage it is not the team’s top approach. For one, if it has a front three formation, there are only two central midfielders operating in the 5-2-3. The U.S. team has depth in central midfield and reducing the number of those players on the field reduces its strength.
Kellyn Acosta played very well against Jamaica on Thursday but had a harder time than others with this formation. Antonee Robinson was really good in the second half but the first half was one of adjustment.
The only reason why the five-man backline makes sense for the U.S. team is give the fullbacks a better chance to push forward while providing them with defensive cover. It just doesn’t seem worth the costs of sacrificing a midfielder.
Robinson and Reynolds strong
The past year has shown that Sergino Dest is one of the top American players in the game. As a starter for Barcelona, Dest is also impressing with the U.S. team nearly every opportunity.
After Dest, what are Berhalter’s fullback options heading into the summer? Reggie Cannon struggled against Jamaica and it was predetermined he was not going to be part of the team vs. Northern Ireland. DeAndre Yedlin could make a return to the team as his transfer to Galatasaray is promising.
Against Northern Ireland, both Antonee Robinson and Bryan Reynolds made positive statements.
Reynolds, 20, earned his first cap for the U.S. team and played the second half against Northern Ireland and was very impressive getting into dangerous chances, rounding defenders, and passing well. If he can play somewhat regularly with Roma the remainder of the season, he could very well be Dest’s backup.
Antonee Robinson, meanwhile, looked far more comfortable with the U.S. team than any other time since Berhalter took over. Particularly in the second half, Robinson was effective getting further up the field.
The modern fullback role requires elite athleticism and Robinson and Reynolds are able to bring that element. Robinson is known but Reynolds checks a lot of boxes of what Berhalter or any other manager wants out of a right back.
Pulisic shows class
It’s been nearly 18 months since Christian Pulisic played for the U.S. team and he was easily the best player on the field against Northern Ireland over his 90 minutes. That came on the heels of a strong first half against Jamaica.
Against Northern Ireland, Pulisic left the impression that he could create something dangerous anytime he was on the ball.
- 90 minutes
- 72 touches
- 1 shot
- 1 goal
- 1 key pass
- 44/50 passing
- 1/2 accurate long balls
- 8/19 duels won
- 3 successful dribbles
This comes on the heels of improved performances with Chelsea in his past two games. If he can play well down the stretch in London, it would be a very positive development. To have the best American player playing well heading into World Cup qualifying would bode well for the team getting off to a strong start the in the 8-team tournament.
Musah and Aaronson impresses
Over the two games, highly anticipated Yunus Musah and Brenden Aaronson both looked to be players who will be huge additions to the team.
Aaronson came off the bench in both games and immediate boosted the offense. His final ball has been outstanding. His stock definitely increased over the course of this window. With the U.S. team set to open a World Cup qualifying campaign this year where three games could be played in window, Berhalter is going to need many play makers he is comfortable with and Aaronson’s value is high at the moment.
As for Musah, he’s lived up to billing – which is not easy to do given the excitement that came when he announced that he was committing to the United States. He’s been a very good No. 8 at all levels – winning the ball, passing, combining, etc. He’ll be a huge part of the team heading into qualifying.
Mixed to positive camp for many
For players that were involved in the duration of the camp, no one really played poorly the entire time. Some were up and down between both games while many were solid both games. No one’s stock really suffered.
Sergino Dest was probably the best player for the U.S. team over the course of both games. Gio Reyna was quiet against Jamaica but was far improved against Northern Ireland. Aaron Long didn’t stand out either way over both games. Chris Richards made a solid case over both games. Sebastian Lletget had a very positive impact with two goals against Jamaica and played well off the bench in the second game.
Kellyn Acosta had a rough game against Northern Ireland but was very good against Jamaica and that’s not surprising given his preseason form. Acosta also seemed to be uncomfortable with the 5-2-3 formation and losing another central outlet for his passing. Luca de la Torre was sharp in both games off the bench. Ff
Jordan Siebatcheu and Daryl Dike both had strong showings and both players serve the purpose of giving the United States a true physical presence up front that can athletically matchup against good central defenders while having the necessary skill. Dike’s movement in the second half against Northern Ireland was very impressive and the ability to be so fast at his size is truly unique.