This set of USMNT friendlies looked a little bit dicey on paper. All three of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams were scratches due to injuries, so the team was missing it’s most talented core of players. Instead, there was a plethora of relative unknowns. Last night’s match against Peru seemed a bit more daunting given the 4-2 loss to Colombia and the departure of Zack Steffen just a few days earlier.
That said, the United States went in and really showed some guts and pulled out a draw. In truth, a draw probably was the more equitable result, given that Peru utterly dominated possession, racking up over 60%. But the USMNT generally was the more threatening team for most of the match and would have walked away with a 1-0 win if it weren’t for a moment of lackadaisical defending late in the game. With that said, here are my takeaways.
The USMNT may have been thwarted in the midfield and denied control of the game, but the team was absolutely shut-down in defense. And the gentlemen responsible for so effectively protecting the gate were Aaron Long and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Carter-Vickers was more composed than he had been last year, or even 6 months ago. He’s always been able to physically dominate over attackers, but for this game, he more wisely picked his moments, leading to a very clean game. But the real revelation in defense was Aaron Long. Long was every bit as shut-down as Carter-Vickers, possibly even more so with Peru targeting down the left in the first half, but he also was great on the ball. Carter-Vickers has clearly improved in his passing, but Long was the real defensive distributer here. If the USMNT can find a way to hold more possession, then those skills will really pay off.
But while we are talking about defense here, we should probably take a moment to reflect on how many good center backs the USMNT has. Right now, the starters are probably John Brooks and Matt Miazga. But there’s also Long, Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream, Tim Parker, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Justen Glad, among others performing in MLS. the team has a glut of good centerbacks. That’s not the case at fullback. Rightback ought to be tied up by DeAndre Yedlin, but he was largely responsible for getting caught napping at the back post and letting in the equalizer. He’s pretty consistently shown that, even though he’s regularly playing in the English Premier League, he lacks a bit of the necessary defensive awareness. Reggie Cannon, the young player who Yedlin subbed on for, did much better on defense, but still wasn’t as solid as the center backs. On the left, there remains a gapping hole. Ben Sweat managed to just about hold on for most of the game, but he was clearly challenged by Peru, particularly in the first half. Robinson, in contrast, has shown both that he’s much better going forward than Sweat (or any of the other options we’ve tried out wide), but very weak in defense. Granted, it’s been the likes of James Rodriguez and Douglas Costa who have been scorching him, but still, that side needs to be defended. At what point does fullback get deemed too much of a liability? When does the USMNT try out a back 3 with such a deep group of central defenders?
Amon Among Men
One of the more unknown players making his debut against Peru was Jonathon Amon. Amon, of Nordsjælland in the Danish top flight, represents yet another teenager with some good prospect for helping out the national team. The team has been in need of a winger, particularly with Pulisic out for almost the entirety of the past year with small injury after injury (I will not comment on whether those little injuries were a bit too convenient for Dortmund or not). And Amon at least seemed game to throw his hat in the ring. He didn’t get too many chances, but he looked bright and lively when he did get a chance to run. And he nearly set up an absolutely gorgeous goal.
It doesn’t quite come off, but it came so tantalizingly close. An earlier ball or a better pass from Amon, and the USMNT would have bagged a beauty. And that’s the kind of thing that a player of Amon’s age learns. At just 19, he’s got time to figure out exactly when to make those plays. But time’s not something that the other competing players in the pool necessarily have on their side. The likes of Kenny Saief, Fafa Picault, Kekuta Manneh and Julian Green (whatever his position may eventually be) need to take notice. Amon’s already doing some things that some of those other guys aren’t. In particular, he’s tracking back and contributing defensively. If he can put the rest of the pieces together, those other players won’t have a place in the starting line up.
Weah of the World
One player who WILL be penciled in, though, is Tim Weah. Weah had another bright outing, making slashing runs all around the field and connecting well with the other players. Even though he’s just 18, his quality stands out. He made the perfect run on that play with Sargent and Amon above and almost buried it in. However, the team’s lack of possession is letting him down. The team needs to hold the ball more and let players like Weah get a chance to show what they can do. That doesn’t mean that the team can’t be a counterattacking force. That doesn’t mean that the team can’t be good on set pieces. But right now, those are the only things the USMNT seems to have been able to pull out of its arsenal and actually get goals with, the Colombia game notwithstanding. And if the team can’t get enough possession, we can’t even get into the dangerous places where we can actually win those set pieces or launch those counter attacks.
However, there were brief moments where we could see that the team could play some ball. We saw that the team could play out of the back with intricate touches. It’s possible. It might not be the case that the next manager, whether it’s Berhalter or not, will decide to put together exactly that kind of smooth play. But, especially with the return of Adams, McKennie, and especially Pulisic, we saw that play was at least possible.
What do you think? Was there a lesson that I missed? Did somebody stand out that I left out? Tell me about it in the comments below.