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USA vs. El Salvador, 2020 friendly: What we learned

The USMNT took on El Salvador with an MLS-heavy roster and walked away with a 6-0 victory. Here’s what we learned as the MNT went riot.

El Salvador v United States Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Gregg Berhalter called in one final USMNT camp to close out the year, with a roster almost entirely based from MLS ready to face El Salvador. The match itself was a fair bit less close than expected, with the MNT racing to a 5-0 lead within a half-hour. Add in a second half goal, and the team walked away with an astounding 6-0 victory.

As is usually the case with matches with such lopsided scores, it’s difficult to reach any significant conclusions. That was the case with the European-based roster versus Panama, and that’s the case here as well. Still, we’ll try our best and take what we can from this victory for the United States Men’s National Team. Let’s get started.

Beat Who is In Front of You

El Salvador was not good. Los cuzcatlecos couldn’t handle the USMNT’S passing movements, nor could they advance up the field in any meaningful way. It was completely lopsided, in spite of the fact that this was solidly a B team. Looking at how this game turned out, along with the last match against Panama, I can’t blame fans who might complain about needing to find better opponents. I personally feel that way myself. But, this is still the kind of CONCACAF opponents that the United States should expect to face in the group stages of Gold Cup and at times during World Cup qualifying. In fact, if the pandemic hadn’t hit, the MNT likely would have had to play El Salvador in World Cup qualifying. For the final round of qualifying, CONCACAF was going to take the top 6 teams based on FIFA rankings and stick them all in the Hexagonal to play each other home and away. In January, El Salvador stood as the 6th placed team (they actually still do), ahead of Canada (who got screwed by technicalities from the Gold Cup, but I digress). Is El Salvador actually in the top 6 in the region? Probably not. But it was failing to beat exactly this kind of minnow in Trinidad and Tobago that doomed the MNT at the final point in qualifying last time. The team needs to be able to win these games. And piling on goals is a good way to show that actual difference in quality.

But these routs are actually becoming kind of expected. Against almost all weak CONCACAF opponents, the USMNT under Berhalter has driven up the score.

3-0 v. Panama (2019 January Camp)
4-0 v. Guyana (Gold Cup)
6-0 v. Trinidad & Tobago (Gold Cup)
7-0 v. Cuba (Nations League)
4-1 v. Canada (Nations League)
4-0 v. Cuba (Nations League)
6-2 v. Panama (November Friendly)

The team hasn't been able to do it every time. But, for the first time ever, we are regularly seeing the team notably demolish weaker competition. For reference, in the 2017 Gold Cup, the biggest scoreline was 3-0 v. Nicaragua. In 2015, the only time the team even scored 3 goals was in a 6-0 victory over Cuba.

And driving up the scoreline has an effect on teams. The WNT has long made use of their intimidating reputation to force teams to play deeper and less aggressively from the starting whistle. The MNT getting just a tiny bit of that sort of rep is a good thing.

The Deep End

This was not even close to the first-choice MNT roster. Most of the USMNT’s best players play in Europe and were ineligible for this match since it falls outside of a FIFA window. On top of that, the team was missing players from MLS clubs that made it deep into the playoffs or who have upcoming Concacaf Champions League matches. So, no Jordan Morris nor Jozy Altidore. Out of the whole squad, the only potential starter there was Aaron Long. This was solidly a B team.

The big question is: Did that change for any player after this match?

No, probably not.

Look, it’s a rout over a weak team. You can’t really draw conclusions from that. But a number of players did press their case to be considered for future looks. Essentially the whole starting XI performed excellently. To put it in perspective, the USMNT played 2 consecutive camps with entirely different rosters (+ Sebastian Lletget and Sebastian Soto), and pulled out fantastic performances against two consecutive CONCACAF opponents. This is the deepest the USMNT pool has been in history.

And that bodes well for next year. 2021 is shaping up to the be an absolutely jam-packed year for the MNT. World Cup qualifying has been set at 14 games, eight of which will be played next year. In addition, there are the knockout rounds for the Nations League and the Gold Cup. And, with how absurdly young this entire talent pool is, there is also the Olympics and Olympic qualifying to consider, both of which will be U-24 competitions (between the last two rosters, 37 (!!) players who were at least called up are eligible for the Olympics). The MNT is going to need a deep pool just to be able to do everything. And being able to trot out a reserve team and still play to a respectable level is going to be a big deal in whether the team will be able to succeed in everything or will have to pick and choose their competitions.

Closing Thoughts

Berhalter is putting in a lot of effort on players with dual nationality. A lot of attention was placed on three or four players ahead of this camp, but I counted 12 players, including those who didn’t dress or missed the camp, who were dual nationals. Not all of those players are particularly likely or even eligible to switch (Sebastian Lletget, Bill Hamid, etc.) but I think this point is still worth making. This has been consistently emphasized since Berhalter took charge, with Tyler Boyd joining and Sergiño Dest committing himself to the team last year, while Yunus Musah was brought into the fold last month.

There’s a center back spot up for grabs. Aaron Long and Mark McKenzie could both push for a starting spot with a full roster. John Brooks is probably the best center back by a large margin, but he’s been prone to miss games in the past. The other spot is entirely open for whoever can take it. That empty spot could be up for Long to take, while McKenzie could push to be Brooks back up or similarly take that other spot. I will add, McKenzie’s passing looked pretty good.

Look at this sweet through ball from Sam Vines. I really don’t think Antonee Robinson hits that pass, at least not based off what we’ve seen from him with the national team.

Sebastian Lletget is probably going to be sticking around. He looks useful as a forward-driving midfielder. He’s very unlikely to be a starter, but he’s gotten a goal in consecutive games. You can’t knock that.

One player who could push to start in midfield is Brenden Aaronson. There’s one spot in midfield next to Adams and McKennie that’s open. We got a splendid first impression from Musah at the spot last month, but it’s far from clear that he’s the de facto starter. Aaronson could be a challenger for that spot. He got a goal and an assist on the night (both with Lletget, funnily enough). And he repeatedly showed decent vision from midfield. What we didn’t get to see enough of was how he presses. There’s a lot of talk about the need for a creative mid, but the way the team looks to be set up, what the squad really needs is someone who can press, connect the offense and defense, and get into the box. Aaronson’s going to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria this January after two years with the Philadelphia Union. We’ll have to see how he does in Europe, as well as with the rest of the national team next year.

Good for Chris Mueller to get two goals and an assist. Shame he didn’t get that hat-trick, though good on him for being so unselfish.

I’m glad Paul Arriola is back after a nasty ACL tear. ACLs are notoriously hard to recover from, so good for him to not just come back and play well, but to also grab a goal. Wing depth is pretty crowded right now. Pulisic’s name is written on the starting eleven in ink (at least when healthy). Jordan Morris and Gio Reyna have the opposite wing locked down. That leaves one depth spot open. And there are a lot of candidates for that spot based on the past two camps. Mueller gets a shout to be on there based on his performance. Same with Arriola, who has the added plus of being a familiar and friendly squad member, and of being extremely positionally flexible.

This was not a good camp to miss. With the pool getting deeper, it’s also getting more competitive. If you are an MLS based player in your mid 20s and you didn’t start this match, your national team career is in trouble. I’m looking at you, Kellyn Acosta. If you are an MLS based player in your mid 20s and you didn’t even get called up for this match without a good excuse, your national team career is probably over.

News broke during the match that World Cup Legend Paolo Rossi passed away. Rossi won the 1982 World Cup with Italy, scoring 6 goals on the way to both the Golden Boot for most goals and the Golden Ball for best player. Riposa in Pace.

That’s all from me. If you think I missed anything, put it down in the comments below. And, as always, stay safe.