The USMNT entered the semi-final against Qatar on the backs of three 1-0 wins against teams that could be considered not Concacaf minnows. It’s been fine, really, and that’s OK! Without a first choice roster the Americans have managed to shut down some pretty decent attacking teams and reached the semis.
Along the way some questions have been answered:
What’s the depth look like? Basically OK, at center back Miles Robinson and James Sands look legit. Shaq Moore maybe jumped Reggie Cannon on the depth chart and I guess Sam Vines might play some backup left back or something. Other stuff is a little more unsettled. Gianluca Busio and Kellyn Acosta are OK, neither is really going to step in and do what Tyler Adams does. Also, surprise! Matthew Hoppe can play left wing in a pinch, neat. Also... it seems like Yueill is out of the picture.
What about center striker? Nobody wants to play center striker for the national team it seems like. Josh Sargent hasn’t exactly impressed in the role and Daryl Dike is either really missing having good wingers or might not be the guy. At least in this tournament, Berhalter isn’t just throwing Gyasi Zardes out there to start.
But nobody seems to care about that, there’s a strawman that we’re all after. A beautiful question nobody is asking: WHY ISN’T THE BEST TEAM IN CONCACAF WITH ALL THE PLAYERS IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE BEATING EVERYONE 4-0 IF GREGG IS SO GREAT AND WASN’T JUST HIRED BECAUSE OF HIS BROTHER EVEN IF THAT MIGHT HAVE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT?
Oh right, Matt Turner is a good goalkeeper - we learned that too.
Anyway, the USMNT lined up like this in a 4-3-3.
For Qatar, where 6,500 migrant workers have died in the last decade, the team lined up in a 5-3-2.
In the end... the game resembled a midweek MLS game between the Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps. It was genuinely surprising that there weren’t more exchanges where the teams headed the ball back and forth at midfield 10 times. Overall, it was fine. Gyasi Zardes scored the game winner and the USA is headed to the final to take on Canada or Mexico, but probably Mexico.
Gifs of highlights and words about the game
Here’s what I thought might happen before hand, just for posterity.
Qatar seems pretty yolo when it comes to going forward so I’m hoping to see an open attacking game for the USA but it’ll depend on if the midfield can connect with the attackers, this really has been an issue the whole tournament and Gregg and the players need to fix it— Parker Cleveland Guardians (@AekprrAcdeellnv) July 29, 2021
The midfield didn’t. Still, give Qatar credit. The visitors made it very difficult for the USA to break them down and when they got the ball Qatar broke with speed and in numbers to at least work a shot for their effort.
The first good chance of the game came thanks to a linebreaking pass by James Sands that found a Qatari attacker, it got turned into a good shot on goal that went wide. If Sands keeps that up he’ll have a long and successful career in MLS. He followed that up by almost scoring an own goal.
Matt Turner made an awesome save on a counter by Qatar.
The USA dominated possession throughout the half while Qatar sat back and absorbed pressure. Despite that, Qatar was winning the shots count as the Americans kept a high line with the center backs nearly at the halfway line in possession. Still, the Yanks mostly passed it back and forth and side to side until either Moore, Vines, Arriola, Hoppe, or Busio, who was playing fairly wide on the left side, would make a run or just try to do something individually. The Americans did have a penalty shout when Kellyn Acosta was suplexed in the box on a corner, but it wasn’t called. It wasn’t really nervvy, it was more... weary.
As far as a heat map, the USA owned the midfield area, but not the part you can score from - this is what it looked like.
James Sands’ tough night continued as VAR determined that he swept the leg of Akram Afif in the box giving Qatar a penalty. If any kids watching wanted to know how to play center back, doing the exact opposite of whatever Sands was doing all night would be a good start. Before the penalty there was a fight and more Concacaf stuff and then this happened.
It was pretty funny, welcome to Concacaf Qatar.
At this point the guys nobody likes but do pretty well for the USMNT came on with Gyasi Zardes, Cristian Roldan, and Reggie Cannon (not Cannon, people like Cannon) entering for Dike, Busio, and Moore. The Stars and Stripes looked somewhat more threatening, but still didn’t create much. In the 81st minute more changes came as Erik Williamson and Nico Gioacchini came in for Arriola and Hoppe.
Then it happened. American hero Gyasi Zardes scored the first goal of the match, he even did it on purpose.
This is the best part of the goal for me.
Who doesn’t love it when a guy points at where he’s going to kick the ball, then he kicks it there, and someone is there to kick it into the net.
Anyway, with the lead, the USMNT went about securing the victory which took a long time because THERE WAS NINE MINUTES OF INJURY TIME, but actually TEN MINUTES OF INJURY TIME. Qatar kept shooting wildly at goal and missing as the United States saw out the win and earned a trip to the Gold Cup final.
It wasn’t a great performance and outside of Matt Turner making some nice saves and Nico pointing at where he would pass the ball, there weren’t that many transcendent moments in the game. Still, it’s a win, for the B team against the first choice of an opponent that recently won the Asian Cup. Bring on El Tri, or Canada, but El Tri probably.