USMNT concludes successful 2021 with lethargic 1-0 win over 10-man Bosnia
December 18, 2021
THE UNITED STATES national team concluded a solid year with an entirely forgettable 1-0 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina on Saturday night in Carson, Calif. The game was actually decent through 40 minutes, but after an Amar Begic red card it turned into a lethargic, bunker-filled game that was rescued by only a Cole Basset winner in the 88th minute.
U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter named a starting lineup that was of little surprise has he said that the main purpose of this camp was to keep top domestic based players fit during their offseason with the January World Cup qualifiers approaching.
Walker Zimmerman, Matt Turner, Ricardo Pepi, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, George Bello, and Jesus Ferreira have all featured at varying degrees in the first eight World Cup qualifiers and all started this game. The biggest surprise in the starting lineup was Johnny Cardoso who has had uneven playing time for Internacional in Brazil but has drawn praise from Berhalter in the past. Cardoso arrived late to camp but still was able to earn the start.
Also returning to the starting lineup was Jordan Morris who was making his first national team appearance since tearing his ACL in February while playing for Swansea City. Morris was a key part of Berhalter’s plans before the serious injury and this game was an opportunity to evaluate Morris and his recovery while also allowing him to continue to sharpen his skills.
In the first half, the U.S. had a few sloppy moments but was the better team with the better opportunities. The first great chance of the game came when right back Brooks Lennon played a ball centrally that was close to Pepi, but the FC Dallas striker could not connect for a shot. Morris had two good chances before the end of the half with the first coming when he had a point-blank header from close range off a cross from Ferreira, but it was saved nicely by Nikola Cetkovic with his legs.
Shortly before the half, Cardoso played a ball into the box that found Acosta. Acosta’s flick-on header sent Morris into the box but Morris was unable to get around Cetkovic.
The red card in the 39th minute was a scary moment as Begic came in late with a violent tackle on Acosta that could have resulted in a serious leg injury. Acosta, however, was able to eventually get up and continue playing.
The second half was tough for the U.S. team. Bosnia shifted to a 5-3-1 formation that was very compact. As a result, the game shifted from being open in the first half, to being a complete bunker in the second half.
The U.S. team had almost all of the possession but had few opportunities to score. That changed in the 88th minute.
On the play, Bryan Reynolds swung a ball in from the right side. His cross caused a small scramble, but Gyasi Zardes won the ball back, played it to Jonathan Gomez who hit a shot from the edge of the 18. Belmin Dizdarevic, who replaced Cetkovic at the half, fumbled the shot. It fell to Cole Bassett who slammed the ball home just minutes after taking the field for his debut.
The U.S. team finished 2021 with 17 wins, a Nations League trophy, a Gold Cup trophy, and sit second in the Octagonal round of World Cup qualifying with six games remaining.
Here are some thoughts on the win.
The red card killed the game
The 40th minute red card to Bosnia was that last thing that Gregg Berhalter wanted to have happen. In a competitive game, it puts one team at a big advantage. In a friendly, it destroys what both teams set at to accomplish in terms of tactics, implementing a style of play, and it runs the anticipated flow of the game.
“I think the worst thing that happened was that they got that red card,” Berhalter said afterward. “When they went to 5-3-1 there was no space between the lines, and we didn't move the quick enough."
The U.S team played well in the first half and were creating opportunities with decent ball movement. In particular, the team was effective attacking down the right side with play from Brooks Lennon, Jordan Morris, and Jesus Ferreira. There were several times the team was getting behind lines, creating number advantages, and having openings for crosses.
This dried up in the second half as Bosnia was very compact, willing to sit deep, and concede most of the possession. That was clearly not the game that the U.S. team was prepared to play.
Jordan Morris made his first appearance for the national team since tearing his ACL in February. The Seattle native had more to gain from this game than any other player on the roster.
Still making his way back, Morris showed he is still not yet at his 2019/20 form, but he is getting there. In the first half, he was the most dangerous player on the field and was effective getting behind Bosnia’s backline. He should have buried a point-blank header but was a tough player for Bosnia to contain.
In the second half, he did not have the same level of impact before being subbed out in the 78th. Part of that was fatigue but part of that is that he is not the type of winger who thrives in games against compact opponents - even before his injury. He thrives in open games and in space. The game simply changed to a manner that didn’t fit his strengths – especially as he is shaking off rust.
Overall, however, it was a good game for Morris. By all accounts, he impressed in camp and had a nice first half against Bosnia – which is a more accurate reflection of how most games are played. Morris needs to be a bit sharper with his final ball, but his ability to get behind lines and into space is close to where it needs to be.
Pepi struggles add to No. 9 concerns
It was a tough game for Ricardo Pepi who wasn’t every able to get going. It was understandable given his layoff, but it came at a tough time given that there is a ton of attention on him. Earlier in the day, he was named U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year for 2021 and transfer rumors continue to link him to giant European clubs.
In this game he wasn’t able to take advantage of any of his chances and his passing and hold-up play were also off. Berhalter stressed that Pepi just needs to get into a rhythm.
“With Ricardo, again it's trying to protect the guy,” Berhalter said. “We believe in Ricardo, we believe that he's a very good talent. We believe that he's got a really high ceiling, he's very good goal scorer and for him it's just about getting a little bit of rhythm. He's been off also for a while. His last game for the national team was in against Jamaica, before that, Mexico. Then he has been off with Dallas not making the playoffs. It's been stop start for the guy. I'm sure this break is going to help him refocus and get ready for January.”
But it also raises the possibility that the U.S. team will not know who its starting striker is heading into the January World Cup qualifiers. Josh Sargent is struggling in Europe, Jordan Pefok is only now rounding back into form, Gyasi Zardes is also out of a rhythm, and Berhalter hasn’t yet shown confidence in Daryl Dike.
Bassett’s big moment
It wasn’t the hardest goal Bassett has scored but it was a winner and it came in his national team debut. After the game, Berhalter said that assistant coach Anthony Hudson was pushing for Bassett to get into the game earlier because Hudson (who coached Bassett in Colorado) believed in his ability to create and finish goals.
Berhalter added that Bassett was showing a nice ability to finish chances all camp.
Berhalter on Cole Bassett and his finishing ability. "We were seeing that during the week with his finishing ability and he show that again tonight." #USMNT— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) December 19, 2021
But it also caps a great story as Bassett is one of the more promising 2001-born American players but has had to fight through a lot recently. He was expected to be part of the U-20 World Cup team in 2021 but that cycle was cancelled due to COVID. In the spring, he was cut from the U.S. U-23 team and he wasn’t sharp to start the season for Colorado.
After a tough start, Bassett turned 2021 into a great year as he emerged as a strong player for Colorado and helped the club finished first in the West. Now he gets his U.S. national team debut and scored the winner.
When speaking to the media afterward, Bassett showed a lot of maturity discussing his struggles, his success, and his ambitions.
“For me it's always being able to bounce back from the setbacks and never get too high and never get too low,” Bassett said. “Coming into this year, I was in December camp I was kind of at a high…[At the start of the season], I started the first couple games but didn't have very good games there. I got benched after that and that was kind of my wake-up call for the start of the year. From then on, my mentality - it's always been outwork everybody else, stay focused and kind of just have a stronger mentality than most people. As the year went on I kind of grew into that role in Colorado and I felt the trust that Robin Fraser gave me. It gave me a lot of confidence to go throughout the year and perform well and help our team finish first in the West.”
“I want to be in this January camp,” he added. “I want to try to push for one of the qualifying rosters, and I know a lot of people would say that's it's going to be pretty tough for me, but I think throughout my career I've always been kind of one that went under the radar. For me, that's fine and I'll try to continue to push for that.”
The Starting Lineup
Matt Turner: Made three saves in the first half, but none were particularly challenging. He didn’t need to do much this game but was competent whenever called into action. Rating: 6.0
George Bello: It was a nice start to the game from Bello who was active and involved early. As the game wore on and the U.S. dominated possession, he tried to force the game a bit and made some sloppy passes. He also slipped in the second half to give Bosnia a decent counter. Defensively, he made some nice recoveries and won all his duels. Rating: 6.0
Henry Kessler: The New England Revolution defender did his part in the game. He made no real mistakes, and his passing was decent. He helped the U.S. team keep a high line in the second half and contained Bosnia effectively. Rating: 6.0
Walker Zimmerman: The captain was one of the best American players on the day. When the game was 11v11, Zimmerman aerial after aerial for clearances to easily contain Bosnia. He snuffed out counter-attacks well and played like the experienced veteran Berhalter wanted. Rating: 7.5
Brooks Lennon: The Atlanta United right back started off very strong and was very active in the attack early. He should have had an assist to Pepi in the first half and he worked particularly well cutting inside. Defensively he was okay, but he had one foul that conceded a dangerous free kick in the 30th minute. In the second half he clearly faded a bit and wasn’t as effective against a compact defense. Overall, it was a good debut. Rating: 6.5
Johnny Cardoso: The Internacional central midfield looked sharper than his initial outings with the U.S. team shortly after play resumed from the COVID shutdown or with his outings with the U-23 team. In the first half, his passing range was effective and he connected on a few long balls that helped the U.S. attack – particularly Morris. Defensively, he also snuffed out the rare Bosnia attack. He faded as te game wore on but was generally solid. Rating: 6.0
Kellyn Acosta: It was an inconsistent game from Acosta. He was better in 11v11 when he was able to contribute more defensively and in an open game. He was uncomfortable when it came down to breaking a bunker and his set piece deliveries should be better. Rating: 5.0
Cristian Roldan: In the first half, Roldan was part of some slick build-ups. His passing range was nice and he worked well in certain occasions in the second (particularly on the combination that sent Reynolds down the right side into the box). He tired in the second half and had a heavy touch that ended a promising counterattack. He finished with a solid 5/6 with his long balls, won 6/9 duels, and drew three fouls. His final ball or his shot regularly let him down, however. Rating: 6.0
Jesus Ferreira: Yet another player that was effective in an open 11v11 game but struggled helping break down a bunker against a 10-man opponent. Ferreira should have had an assist when his cross found Morris for a point-blank header. He was also a reason why the U.S. team created repeated chances down the right side in the first 40 minutes. Rating: 5.5
Jordan Morris: He was the game’s most dangerous player in the first half and played the game the way he should – getting behind lines, finding open space to go directly at defenses, etc. He should have buried his header on the cross from Ferreira. The second half didn’t suit his style going against a bunker but he was impressive in that first 45. Rating: 7.0
Ricardo Pepi: The FC Dallas forward was very rusty and bumbled the first really good chance of the game when he couldn’t get on the end of Lennon’s spot-on delivery in front of the goal. In the second half you could see the frustration start to build and throw him off his game. Rating: 4.0
Gyasi Zardes: Replaced Pepi and his teammates weren’t able to get him the ball much in the bunker. He was a part of the goal, tracking down a loose ball and sliding it to Gomez for his shot. Rating: 6.0
Jackson Yueill: He wasn’t asked to do much defending (typically his weakness). His 39/40 passing (with 31 completed passes coming in the attacking half) was good and he sprayed some nice long balls. He was part of the build up to the goal when he fed Reynolds for the cross. He wasn’t ideal breaking down Bosnia’s bunker but he was good, typically getting it out wide from deeper positions. Rating: 5.5
Bryan Reynolds: Played with some energy off the bench after Lennon tired and his athleticism helped as Bosnia tired. He sent in the cross on the winning goal and while it didn’t directly result in a dangerous play, the ensuing scramble eventually led to a shot which caused a rebound for Bassett. Rating: 6.0
Cade Cowell: The San Jose teenager brought energy to a lethargic game. He wasn’t a part of anything too dangerous but helped raise the game’s tempo. Rating: 5.0
Cole Bassett: Was part of the scramble and scored the winner. The ball fell to him and it wasn’t a difficult finish, but he still made the impact that Berhalter wanted. Rating: 6.5
Jonathan Gomez: Had a nice moment when he was able to have a shooting lane after getting the ball from Zardes. His shot wasn’t too hard but it was strong enough to force a rebound. Rating: 6.0