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USA at Cuba, Concacaf Nations League Group Stage: What we learned

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Things were different... but some were the same

Soccer: CONCACAF Nations League Soccer-Cuba at USA Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After a solid win in Orlando, the US changed gears and went to the Cayman Islands where they were hosted by Cuba. It was a typical Concacaf affair with a sparse crowd, disaster of a pitch, and OK, but not great soccer from both teams. The US changed gears and with Cuba playing a turnover prone style, kept possession and ended up winning easily 4-0. While the result was good, there are some things we can learn.

The US really isn’t going to press

It was an away game and it was a match the team needed to win, but it was against Cuba. The US hasn’t shown much desire to press any opponent under Gregg Berhalter and that was on display once again. If it was going to happen, Cuba would have been the team to do it against. Their passing was sloppy and the main strategy they seemed to have going forward was get the ball and try to run really fast past the American defenders. Rather than do much of anything to press and force turnovers, the US was happy enough to contain the Cuba attacks or sprint back and cover on counters when the home team could muster them.

Berhalter’s subs are still... odd

In what seems to be a pattern, the US made a sub that didn’t really seem to address what was happening on the field. In the past, memorably against Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, the Stars and Stripes have had trouble putting together possession through the midfield. This was the case once again for stretches, especially opening the second half, against Cuba. Rather than add a central midfielder, DeAndre Yedlin came off for Reggie Cannon. The sub paid off and Cannon helped set up a goal, but this was as puzzling at the time as the move to bring in Daniel Lovitz against Mexico last summer.

We still haven’t seen the best version of this team

What would that look like? Well, Tyler Adams would be on the field - that’s for sure. It looks as if there are places on the field where there are legitimate position battles, or at least places where Berhalter likes players in certain situations. A young Sergino Dest started in Orlando, but made way for veteran Daniel Lovitz away from home. Tim Ream keeps playing in defense in a system that demands solid passing... and his passing is less than solid. Jozy Altidore has been injured a bunch (still, again, still). Meanwhile, others like Antonee Robinson and Tim Weah haven’t been with the senior squad. The stars will really have to align for those players to be called in, and it’s almost getting difficult to see when that will happen before World Cup qualifying gets started.

The buildup in the back is still iffy at times

Possession. Having the ball. Usually it involves short incisive, accurate passes that make it difficult for the team not in possession to hold off attacking sequences. The US hasn’t really made this work under Berhalter consistently. One part of that is the play between the defenders and goalkeeper in the buildup. It’s slow, the passes are at times off target, and sometimes when the situation calls for a player just clearing the ball because of pressure, attempts at shorter passes are still made with less than ideal results. Against Cuba, this looked like an opposing player nearly intercepting a pass between a defender (often times Tim Ream) and Brad Guzan. Against Mexico it looked like the US being unable to get the ball out of their own half.

It may be that the players aren’t up to the tactics and the ones that are missing callups would be, or that the tactics just aren’t good either, but this needs to be addressed. Winning the Nations League means going through Honduras and then beating either Costa Rica or Mexico, so the competition will get tougher in the coming rounds and mistakes like these will have worse consequences.

Jordan Morris is pretty good

The Seattle attacker is coming off of his best season in MLS and is stepping up for the national team also. In a league that heavily favors international players in attacking roles, Morris could start for any team in MLS. His speed has always been obvious, but he’s also becoming a better passer, has a nice touch, and can beat the keeper as he showed against Cuba. Not only that, but he’s pushed Tyler Boyd down the depth chart on the left. It’s been great to see for Morris and promising that he’s able to grow his game in MLS and after missing a year due to injury.

Next up for the US in January camp so... the stuff about the players that are called in and buildup will probably be inconclusive until the Nations League semis...