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USA v. Venezuela, 2019 friendly: What we learned

The game sucked. The US played sloppily and got sucker punched to a 3-nil defeat. And here’s an attempt at what happened and what we can take away from it.

Soccer: International Friendly Soccer-Venezuela at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

You ever get those times where you just question your own existence? Because, right now, I’m questioning why this USMNT team exists, or at least, why it exists like it it does now. And I don’t think I’m the only one who is getting some existential angst after seeing the US get curb stomped 3-nil by Venezuela. So I figured I’d turn to one of the best angsty bands from my youth, Linkin Park, and unpack a little. Let’s get started.

I Don’t Know How I Got This Way, I Know it’s Not Alright

The USMNT that came out against Venezuela, and against Jamaica before, is very, very clearly broken. The US had plenty of the ball but only put four shots on target. Instead, the team sent in ineffectual cross after ineffectual cross, throwing in 33(!!) that largely went absolutely nowhere. The team barely could get into the box. The defense was timid and flatfooted. And the press was non existent.

Look, you could see exactly what Berhalter wanted at times. The team is supposed to hold the ball, move it around through the middle third, find the wings, and put in dangerous chances into the box. And the team very clearly is improved at retaining possession. At times, the team is able to find those wings clear in space. You can see what the plan is supposed to look like. But it’s not working. The USMNT has consistently struggled to generate chances under Berhalter (well, since like 2015, but...).

The team was able to get a lot of possession against Venezuela, as they did against Jamaica, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Panama. But none of those teams wanted possession. No matter how the US played, those teams were going to be perfectly happy to sit back and let the US have as much stale possession as they wanted. It’s not exactly impressive to say that the US dominated possession when they were ALWAYS going to dominate possession. Trapp and Roldan and the centerbacks can hit whatever pass they want because the opposition is sitting back and letting them because they don’t care because the wingers can’t accomplish anything. And it’s telling that the one time when the opponent really wanted the ball, against Chile, the US conceded possession.

What’s worse, these two games against Jamaica and Venezuela have shown our Gold Cup opponents EXACTLY how to play agains us. Sit back and attack through the gut, because the US can’t actually get anything out of all that possession. The US had better be more dynamic in the Gold Cup with Adams, or else the USMNT is screwed.

Berhalter has been consistent on one of the big problems with the USMNT. Through three camps, he has pointed at fitness as a significant point.

At this point, I’m starting to wonder what “fitness” is a euphemism for. In January camp, it made sense, what with MLS being out of season. And it made sense in March, with the domestic league only just starting. But now, in June, the league’s been in action for months. The European based players ought to be match fit with their campaigns all having ended within the month. At some point, the players are as fit as they are going to get.

I’m One Step Closer to the Edge and I’m About to Break

Tyler Adams is far and away the most important player on the USMNT. Full stop.

If you take away nothing else from this game, take away that. Aside from the stupid error from Steffen /offside goal, each of the goals came from Venezuela being able to grab a turnover, putting the ball into the middle, and running up the gut. I was screaming at the field “WHO IS SUPPOSED TO WIN THE BALL BACK?” Because I have no clue who is supposed to win the ball back. Who’s job is it to defend the middle of the pitch, to recover the ball for the team hone they lose it, and harry and slow attackers while the defense tracks back?

It’s obvious that Wil Trapp is there to make passes out of the back — he’s never been the kind of a player to kill an attack on the break. But Nick Lima certainly wasn’t doing it. And Weston McKennie, the player who is used by Shalke 04 in the German Bundesliga and European Champion’s League as a physical omnitool, the same Weston McKennie renowned for winning headers and duels, that Weston McKennie was well up the field playing as one of, as Berhalter has previously put it, the dual number tens. As a result, he was nowhere near anyplace useful to recover on either of those two goals. That frailty in the middle got so bad, Venezuela realized in the second half that they could just stroll up the middle and mess around with the ball.

I don’t care who it is or whether they are playing in the center or nominally at right back. It needs to be somebody’s job to win the ball back. And it’s very, very clear that, without Tyler Adams, nobody is doing that job. If Adams can do it as a fullback, fine. But nobody else is doing this absolutely crucial job. And that seriously makes me wonder why it wouldn’t just be far simpler and more effective to just put him in the middle. If that means sacrificing Trapp and his passing range, if it means sacrificing Berhalter’s specific style of possessing and playing long balls to the wingers in space, then do it. If it means benching McKennie, then do it. Because SOMEBODY has to be winning the ball in the middle. That job MUST be done.

Help Me Leave Behind Some Reasons to be Missed

It’s been six games. I know it feels A LOT longer than that, but it’s only been six games and six months. This is only the third time Berhalter’s had the team in camp. And his record is currently 3-2-1. It feels like it’s been forever, in part, because the team had fallen so low in 2017 and was so stagnant for an entire year. But it’s not actually been that long. These two games have been bad, these two games have been dreadful, but they’ve only been two games. And there’s clearly some ideas there worth expressing, a real style of play that is actually worth building towards.

We’ve got the Gold Cup coming up. This was just the build up to that tournament, not the actual games that matter. We will need to see results, we will need to see some actual progress on this process. But we will actually finally see an extended runout with Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie all on the field at the same time. This is a sample size of two friendlies. It’s not a full or particularly meaningful sample size.

I’m Only a Crack in this Castle of Glass

Final thoughts:

The field was fine. There was a lot of (justified) concern about laying grass over turf but the field held up.

Josh Sargent should have been on this roster. He also would have been absolutely wasted out against Venezuela with that mess behind him.

Tyler Boyd seemed alright. I liked him well enough bursting down the flank, though his crosses lacked end product.

The kits would be much improved with dark blue shorts.

Altidore plays at striker differently from Zardes.

Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman are the only centerbacks on this roster who can walk away from these last two games without a bad performance. Cheers.

The USMNT will be back for their Gold Cup opener against Guyana in Minneapolis on June 18th. Till then, enjoy the World Cup.

I am so, so, so glad the USWNT is back in the World Cup tomorrow.