Friday, October 22, 2021

USMNT’s slow start to World Cup qualification? Depends on youth and inexperience

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The player whose toes were responsible for the only World Cup qualifying goal to date by the United States men’s national team cannot legally buy a beer in his home state of New Jersey. He couldn’t have done this in Tennessee, the state where he scored the goal, if he was willing to celebrate, which he probably wasn’t.

The USMNT is trying to qualify with a group of players who were barely teenagers when FIFA made the indefensible, but no longer inexplicable decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in 2010.

The 1-1 draw against Canada in Nashville on Sunday night was as much a disappointing result as the performance of the players involved and the coaches who run the team. But seeing it as something of a surprise is surprisingly naive.

MORE: CONCACAF World Cup Schedule and Qualification

By choice and circumstance, the US coaching staff advanced through this cycle with virtually no seasoned veteran who had endured qualification in CONCACAF, faced its challenges and could be counted on to withstand the extraordinary pressure. The closest thing the United States has to such a player is Christian Pulisic, who is 22 years old. However, this process is unfolding with the most talented group of players in the history of the men’s program – players who are regulars at some of the best clubs in the world.

That youth can be counted on to produce both wonders and mistakes, but because few evaluations of international soccer can be subtle or nuanced, the USMNT’s failure to win either of its first two games was bound to be viewed as a calamity.

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Wonder: Aaronson, who will turn 21 next month, was called up to play a pivotal role against Canada because of the injury to starter Gio Reyna, and his task was complicated by the Canadians’ decision to employ a 4-5-1 formation that stalled . his defensive end with almost every available corps. America fought to create meaningful opportunities against this “park the bus” approach.

Aaronson finally took care of that in the 55th minute by pressuring a defender near the midline to get into space and create forward momentum. Kellyn Acosta finally passed the ball to Antonee Robinson, whose low pass in front of the goal was directed to the net by Aaronson to complete the play that began. It was a delusional moment for the United States. It should have meant more.

Clumsiness: Aaronson spoke to Fox Sports after the game and said of Canada’s approach: “They came here, they wanted to sit down, they didn’t want to play, and that was easy to see with the naked eye. It’s always hard to play against that. “Everything Aaronson said was true; the United States had 72 percent possession of the game. None of that needed to be said, however, and one can be sure the quote will be remembered. inside the Canada dressing room from now until January 30, when the teams meet again.

Wonder: Goalkeeper Matt Turner had a second straight start after a back injury kept Zack Steffen out of the draw in El Salvador and then a positive COVID test ruled out Steffen for the remainder of this international window. Turner has now taken command of the position, following his Gold Cup win this summer and then a shutout in El Salvador in the first qualifying game. He wasn’t to blame for Canada’s goal, and his deft parry from a dangerous 13-minute play by Canada by Alphonso Davies, which elicited a strong shot from Cyle Larin, was another impressive moment for the player who should now be No. From USA 1.

Clumsiness: Midfielder Weston McKennie, who might have generated some buzz against Canada’s negative approach, was suspended for a violation of team policy and was unavailable. Do you ever remember a male player who was disciplined in that way by US Soccer? There may have been nothing of the kind since John Harkes was eliminated before the 1998 World Cup.

According to McKennie, it took a global pandemic to produce the circumstance where his behavior would rise to the level of a team violation, but it’s not as if the COVID protocols represented some dark technicality. This has been the guiding force of the planet for 18 months.

Wonder: American coach Gregg Berhalter sent Sebastian Lletget into the void created by McKennie’s suspension. It seemed like this might be a scope, but let’s deliver one of their best and safest performances in a USMNT jersey. His clever control and the ball to Aaronson in the 40th minute nearly created an opening goal, but Pulisic’s shot slammed into the right post.

Clumsiness: The coach is also young. This is Berhalter’s first trip to qualifying from this perspective. You will need to learn faster. He had to remove right-back Sergino Dest due to injury in the 44th minute, but waited until the 83rd to make a series of strategic substitutions. With the American players tired and Canada sending out talented attackers Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan in the 65th minute, it was the Canadians who generated the best chances after Larin’s goal tied them in the 62nd minute.

Berhalter later (video below) did not offer a lucid explanation for his decision to keep Josh Sargent, Cristian Roldan and Konrad de la Fuente on the bench for so long. Remember, this qualifying tournament allows coaches to make five substitutions instead of the usual three. Berhalter seemed to freeze at this decision. It may not have been expensive; There is no way to know if the submarines would have generated a winner if they had played longer. But it didn’t help.

Because Canada ended up with a positive result, there were those who declared that John Herdman had outperformed Berhalter. It’s honestly easier to appear smart when one’s focus is playing not to lose, and even easier given the frequency with which Canada’s persistent failure – Canadians dove after minimal or no contact so frequently and effectively. who looked like they had taken lessons from Olympic medalist Alexandre Despatie – imposed a change of possession.

Although chances were not abundant against this defense, the United States generated five corner kicks and several dangerous free kicks but did little with them. The wonders and gaffes spread to everyone who participated in the USMNT.

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