Did you see the game on Tuesday? Four goals? That was absolutely nuts. Wow. That Sam Kerr really is something else.
Oh, wait a sec, I’m supposed to be talking about the men. Turns out, the USMNT also played a game, and a competitive one at that! The USMNT went and scored four goals (oh, that’s good!) to make their Gold Cup debut against ... [checks notes] ... Guyana? Um, ok. I guess we can talk about that. Just give me a second. I've still got the Women’s World Cup in my thoughts and I need to get my mindset ready to talk about the USMNT.
Sad puppies, sad puppies, sad puppies ...
Ok, I’m ready to go. Here’s what we learned.
The Big Boy(d)
The big performance came from the new Kiwi Yank, Tyler Boyd. In the first half, the USMNT were able to get a goal through Paul Arriola, when the DC United Winger rifled in a good shot past the keeper. However, they mostly played fairly tepidly, with only a smattering of chances and lots of stale possession. But Boyd was very clearly a bright spot. He connected some stellar passes well and repeatedly drove into the Guyanese backline. In the second half, he showed even better, apparently finding his shooting boots in the dressing room. Boyd bagged two goals and nearly got that second-half hat-trick. His performance was electric.
As part of the changes in the second half of the game, the team went way more direct. They still clearly wanted to hold possession and get the ball to the wings, but suddenly, it was way more linear. Michael Bradley began putting the ball out in front of the wingers far more regularly (he got an assist for his troubles) and Boyd took advantage.
Boyd’s game against Venezuela was, let’s say uneven, but we did learn that he can put in a good ball off a set piece. Against Guyana, we learned that he can also hit a pass to switch the field AND cut inside AND play a cutback, AND beat a man on the dribble AND shoot AND swap wings. With Pulisic firmly in defender’s plans to defend (read: kick), the team desperately needs more dynamic players that can thread a pass and beat a man. And Boyd actually looks like he might be the answer.
Still Missing Tyler Adams
Sure, the USMNT kept a clean sheet. Sure, Steffen only had to make one save. But that US defense looked awfully soft. Guyana’s attackers weren’t exactly world beaters — we are talking a slew of USL and other lower division level players — but they certainly made the US defense uncomfortable. The team gave them a lot of space in midfield, to run into and some tricky dribbling made the backline very nervous, even though there was a lack of end-product.
The problem is that Michael Bradley is not a dynamic screen breaking up plays before it reaches the center backs. Bradley is simply not that kind of player. He can make a tackle, sure, but he doesn’t have pace to cover that kind of ground that dynamically. He’s more suited to double teaming attackers and closing off passing lanes. With nobody else dedicated to breaking up plays in midfield, Guyana found space, just as Venezuela and Jamaica did before them. That right there is the space where Tyler Adams has to play.
I said this before and I’m going to say this again. Until the US can figure out who else breaks up plays in midfield, Tyler Adams is the most important player for this national team. Guyana couldn’t capitalize on it. But if the US makes the second round (which they really, really should and look like they will), they will run into teams like Mexico and Canada and Jamaica, teams that have good attackers and know to run into that space. The USMNT needs to figure out who is winning that ball back.
It could be Weston McKennie who does that job. Right now, he’s not doing it. I’m not actually really sure what McKennie is supposed to be out there doing. At times, he looks great winning challenges and threading smart passes and carrying the ball. But at other times, he looks completely out of the game. I mean, the US only won 46% of the duels against a team as weak as Guyana... with McKennie out there.
The Achilles Heel ... And Hamstring ... And ...
As of late, I’ve taken a turn at defending Gyasi Zardes (to my surprise). It’s pretty straightforward why. He consistently makes good runs, is a real physical presence (with both quickness and strength) and works his tail off. And he had quite the game against Guyana. I mean, who else scores that absurd no-look, one touch goal? But Gyarsi Zardes is a limited player. As Gregg Berhalter put it (though not with this tone in mind) “you know exactly what you are going to get [from Zardes}”. Zardes simply is not a technical player. He doesn’t beat defenders on the dribble. He doesn’t connect strings of passes together. I’ve compared his first touch to a brick in the past (because the ball bounces off him), but against Guyana, his first touch was more like wet sand. The ball just got stuck at this feet. But, really, I think this is an unfair ragging on Zardes. After all, we know what we are going to get from him. We already have our expectations. And he even bagged a goal. What more do we want?
Well, I want Jozy Altidore on the field.
Altidore happens to have a pretty good first touch. He happens to be a good passer. And he consistently puts himself in a position to connect with and make plays for the midfield. The only thing is, he’s injured. Again.
“Jozy’s a player that’s getting up to full speed,” explained Berhalter after the game. Berhalter entered the match with a plan to substitute Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley in the hopes of limiting needless minutes, leaving just one tactical sub available.
“When you have two planned subs, it becomes very tricky to start someone else that you’re thinking you’ll have to take off, so that was why Jozy didn’t start”
Right now, Altidore is clearly the first choice starter so long as he’s healthy. And that’s becoming a trend with this squad at the moment. Let’s stop for a second and count.
Tyler Adams missed this Gold Cup due to a chronic injury
Duane Holmes got hurt and got sent home
Ethan Horvath broke his finger (??!)
DeAndre Yedlin is hurt
John Brooks is out
Greg Garza is injured. Again.
Michael Bradley is returning from an injury
Christian Pulisic is returning from an injury plagued season
Aaron Long is coming back from injury
Weston McKennie is coming off a sprained ankle.
And, as mentioned, Altidore.
Congrats. You’ve got yourself an entire starting eleven worth of injured or recently injured players, positions and all, one that’s likely better than what we saw against Guyana.
And we saw that continue, with McKennie getting subbed out and Boyd looking a little worse for wear towards the end of the game. It seems that we shouldn’t be worried about it...
#usmnt manager Gregg Berhalter says that Weston McKennie “should be okay” and that he had “a little bit of a cramp.”— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) June 19, 2019
... but I’m worried about it. It’s very, very clear that the minutes of our best players need to be managed. Which happens to be in direct conflict with the fact that we need our best players to be playing with each other in order to develop with this style of play and begin playing at a quality higher than the sum of their talents. That’s a tricky thing to manage.
Look, I get it’s Guyana. It’s a small South American/Caribbean nation with fewer people than the metro area of Dayton, Ohio. But scoring four goals in a game is a good thing, no matter who the opposition is. Coming off of two bad losses, scoring that many goals is kind of a big deal. You can only play the opposition that you have in front of you and, unfortunately, due to the intrigues of CONCACAF, we got Guyana. So it goes. The good news is that the USMNT will have a sterner test — and a chance to excise some demons — against Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday. Meanwhile, the USWNT is playing their final group stage match against Sweden later today, so go check that out.
As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.