The USMNT closed up their June camp with a friendly against Costa Rica. This match was always going to be a bit overshadowed by the final against Mexico on Sunday, with many players forced to rotate. But the team nevertheless put on an excellent performance, comfortably thumping Costa Rica 4-0.
Quite honestly, this one’s really hard to talk about. While this was (mostly) Costa Rica’s A team, they are significantly out of form and looked like a team that needed a break after losing both the semifinals and 3rd place match on penalties. While the US rotated, they still brought a lot of energy to the game and that translated to a good performance. But performing well doesn’t necessarily teach us new things; it can reinforce things we already know. For the most part, that was true for this game. That said, I do still have a few notes for you to check out. Let’s get started.
Mark’d for Greatness
Mark McKenzie had a rough match against Mexico. We can talk about how good he was at winning the ball and his distribution, but the fact remains that his mistake leading up to the Mexican Goal in the 2nd minute overshadows everything. A mistake like that sets the tone for the whole team for the whole game. Fortunately, the team rallied and was able to overcome that initial mistake. But that’s a deeply demoralizing mistake for a young player to make.
To then be racially abused both in the stadium and on the internet, seems to me to be nothing short of devastating.
McKenzie needed some support to show that he can do it at this level, and that he belongs here. Berhalter needed to show some confidence and support his player, by fielding McKenzie, he did just that. In the post-match press conference, Berhalter had this to say:
Regarding Mark... I came out of the Mexico game being extremely proud of Mark and the way he handled himself and the way he came out of that game. He didn’t need to play another minute today and I still would have been proud of him. But to get him back on the field, and I talked to him before the game about raising [sic] the intensity of this game ... He started all three games and had a tremendous effort and, you know, I am really proud of him for how he handled himself this camp.
Getting back on the field after all of that is hard. Getting back on the field and keeping your concentration up and performing well is extremely hard. Nonetheless, McKenzie did just that. This is the kind of play that a center back only makes if they’re really paying attention.
DARYL DIKE'S FIRST USMNT GOAL pic.twitter.com/00NAke0vNq— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 9, 2021
McKenzie cut out the entire Costa Rican team with that pass. And for his hard work and diligence, the team was rewarded with a goal.
Forward and Back
We’ve got a few position battles brewing, one each at striker and goalkeeper.
Josh Sargent received the lion’s share of minutes at striker over the previous 4 games, with Daryl Dike missing out on the Nation’s League squad entirely and Jordan Siebatcheu (referred from here on by his preferred name, Pefok) serving as a substitute. However, while he has shown to occasionally make dangerous runs, Sargent hasn’t really been effective as a goalscorer. He didn’t score at all in the three games he played in over the past few weeks. In contrast, when given their opportunities, both Dike and Pefok managed to get a goal. For the time being, Sargent is the starter, and that pole position is justified by his high work ethic and the quality league he plays in.
However, Dike and Pefok both have strong qualities about themselves, too, including the aforementioned better strike rate. In particular, Sargent appears to be weak as a hold-up player, giving his competitors a chance to take his spot by performing with that skill.
On the other side of the pitch, we’ve got the question of whether Steffen, up to now Berhalter’s preffered starter, and Horvath. Horvath, of course, came on against Mexico and demonstrated excellent shot-stopping skills to help the team win the final. With Steffen out with a short-term injury, Horvath stepped back in and played against Costa Rica, where he did well, albeit with far less to do. Neither player plays consistently with their club team. Horvath in particular has been poorly treated by Club Brugge and will be leaving this summer after his contract expires. If he can get a move to a club that consistently plays him, he likely will have a strong shot at taking the number 1 role.
This Group can Take World Cup Qualifying
In this 4 game international window, the USMNT has played — and beaten — Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Under CONCACAF’s ranking system, that’s the 1st, 3rd, and 4th ranked nations, respectively (the MNT is currently ranked 2nd). According to FIFA’s rankings, Jamaica pips Costa Rica for the 3rd spot in the continental rankings, but that’s three of the US’s top 4 regional competitors.
We are going to face all three of these nations in World Cup Qualifying. We already know that Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras have automatically qualified for the final round of qualifying, the Octagon. They are joined by the US and Jamaica. We don’t know quite know who the 3 remaining teams will be, but that list was narrowed down this past week to 6 participants who can qualify through a play-off match. These are the play off match ups, with the winner advancing.
St. Kitts & Nevis v. El Salvador
Haiti v. Canada
Panama v. Curaçao
Of this list of teams, we have beaten all of them under Berhalter except Haiti and St. Kitts & Nevis. Assuming El Salvador and Canada win their playoff matches, the USMNT will have already played and beaten every single team they face. What’s more, the MNT will have beaten most of these teams in official competition. The MNT beat Curaçao, Panama, and Jamaica in the 2019 Gold Cup. They beat Canada in the group stage of the Nations League. And they beat both Honduras and Mexico in the knockout stages of he Nations League. We have a record that shows we can do this.
That doesn’t mean that the US is going to just walk through qualifying, that there won’t be down moments or struggles. While the MNT has beaten almost all of their regional competition, they’ve also lost a few games. We lost to Canada and Mexico in official competitions. And we lost to Mexico and Jamaica in friendlies. What’s more, there’s still the question of how well the team does away from home. There are still problems to be addressed. But we can’t let that overshadow the excellent record we do actually have.
If we can continue to see this version of the team up through qualifying, we are going to do extremely well.
Tyler Adams just elevates this team so much with his defensive presence. He has just such a well developed ability to read the game and identity both threats and opportunities to win the ball back. And he does this at a speed so much higher than anyone else. When he’s on the field, the entire rest of the team is just freed up to play at a whole higher level.
Brendan Aaronson looked very, very good. At this point, Pulisic and Reyna have the wing positions locked up, but Aaronson most certainly looks like a good backup option.
Yunus Musah looked good. I get why he wasn’t fielded in the Nations League matches (he doesn’t offer much of a direct offensive presence), but he’s just so comfortable on the ball, it makes me wish he did get at least a few minutes against either Honduras or Mexico.
That’s it for me. As always, we want to know what you thought of the game and of my thoughts. What did I get right, what did I get wrong? Let’s talk in the comments below.