Team USA’s terrible September window to the Football World Cup raised several concerns about the team’s chances of qualifying for the Qatar Football World Cup. It also brought to the fore one old question: Does head coach Gregg Berhalter tweak the team to suit the players?
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In recent friendly matches with Japan and Saudi Arabia, this certainly did not look like that. The U.S. performed brutally in a 2-0 loss to Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany on September 23, throwing sloppy passes, completely failing to string together competent attacks and not recording a single shot on goal as they were completely outplayed.
Things improved in a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain on September 27, but the improvement after a terrible performance against Japan was not a high bar. In fact, the US started off decently, consistently in good positions during the first 20 minutes, but they failed to connect to the final ball.
Those promising opening moves mostly petered out in the last 70 minutes. The Americans broke their last full camp ahead of Qatar as they have not played in six of their last seven matches against Football World Cup-bound rivals since January.
After the Saudi Arabia match, Berhalter and the players struggled to explain why the US fell after their decent start. Berhalter cited some tension, some uncertainty and anxiety as reasons for the lack of performance, although 10 of the 11 players who started the match were on the brink of defeat for Qatar World Cup.
Midfielder Tyler Adams and centre-back Walker Zimmerman noted that the situation looked better in the first half, but both indicated that they felt the US did not have a clear enough idea of how to play through pressure. Christian Pulisic also seemed confused as to why the USA didn’t continue playing like they did in the first 20 minutes before the end of the match.
“I think we made a couple of adjustments in the second half that we probably didn’t really need, he said. I think we didn’t test them in the back that much. I thought we had some good moves, some good games in the first half and some good movement, especially down the left flank. For some reason I didn’t feel it in the second half.”
Some of the problems associated with these lackluster performances could improve if left-back Anthony Robinson, winger Tim Weah, midfielder Yunus Musa and centre-back Chris Richards, all of whom missed September training camp with injuries, returned to the Football World Cup.
But recent difficulties and player comments about a lack of ideas have made some people howl that Berhalter’s system isn’t right for his players. However, not many alternatives have been proposed. If that doesn’t work, which system would work best? Does one exist?
To answer those questions, a clear-eyed analysis of the player pool is required.
Generally speaking, the US is young and athletic, but as hard as it may be to read for some, it fundamentally lacks ball skills compared to many of the teams that will take part in the Football World Cup.
Defensively, centre-backs are largely untested against top level attackers. Zimmerman has performed well since joining the team in October last year, but his ability to initiate possession from behind is limited. Richards has every chance to start with him in Qatar, but only if he can recover from the injury that sidelined him at the September camp and get some game time ahead of the Qatar Football World Cup.
Cameron Carter-Vickers and Aaron Long are the other top contenders. If any of them start, the US will most likely fight their distribution from the center of defense. Tim Rome (or even John Brooks) could help solve this problem, but Berhalter doesn’t seem to think they are athletic enough to play on this team. This may end up in an error.
On the right flank, Dest has excellent ball control and can be very useful offensively, but he is not a very reliable defender. On the left flank, Robinson is an excellent athlete, a good attacker and a solid defender. He has been a regular with the US national team and has a lot of experience against top level strikers in England. He may not have set fire to the Football World Cup, but in Qatar he can be trusted. DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon and Joe Scully are likely candidates for the role of Dest and Robinson.
Midfielders are athletic, press well and can dominate fights if played well. Adams is a defensive beast, McKenny can be very destructive in a fight, and Musah can quickly disable opponents and take the ball in crowded central areas. For more know about Football World Cup Tickets.
However, they are not elite bystanders. Adams is actually pretty good with the ball, but he excels when he looks ahead and plays fast; getting the ball, turning and looking for a teammate is not his forte. Musah isn’t the best at finding the ball, but the 19-year-old does a great job of breaking pressure through dribbling alone.
McKenny, meanwhile, isn’t all that clean with the ball. He is at his best when relieved of too many line-up responsibilities and is a little higher up the field where he can cause havoc with his attacking attacks, pose a threat in front of the net, turn opponents in dangerous positions and not be responsible on the field was deeper. how he was against Japan when he looked uninterested and was extremely ineffective.
The winger is the strongest position in the US. Pulisic, Weah, Brenden Aaronsohn and Gio Reyna are all good options to start when they are healthy. They are all slightly different too.
For all his talent, Pulisic hasn’t been good for the US for most of last year. He has his moments, of course, but he plays best quickly and simply; holding high, directing the ball into the goal and running towards the opponent.
Weah was a solid classic right winger. He has great speed, handles defenders well, hits the ball fairly well and makes a good finishing pass. It is important to note that it remains high and wide, giving the US an excessive threat. Aaronsson is actually more comfortable playing in the center than on the wing. He’s not as offensively dangerous as Weah when he’s on the flank, but he’s incredibly pressing and good in tight spaces.
Reina, who, like Aaronsohn, can also play in the center, is the most technically gifted team. He has excellent eyesight, hits the last ball well and, as he showed at Azteca in March, is able to start with long solo slalom dribbles. Unfortunately, he also missed a ton of time with a hamstring problem. His injury history and the fact that he had to pull out of a match in Saudi Arabia after suffering yet another hamstring pain means he may be hard to trust for anything more than a World Cup super-deputy role.
Striker is a very problematic place. It doesn’t matter who Berhalter tried. Apart from two games by Ricardo Pepi last fall and a single game by Jesus Ferreira against Grenada in June, no one has been able to score a goal.
Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok and Brandon Vasquez have different profiles. Sargent is not the cleanest on the ball, but he can pair decently with midfielders and wingers, is physically fit enough to take on opposing centre-backs and be a viable outlet for long balls, moves well in the box and is able to press. Vazquez is the same player, although Berhalter never called him up. Pefok is more like a bully; he’s a good target, but he doesn’t mix well with teammates. However, he is a huge threat in the box, especially on set pieces and in the air.
Given all these strengths and weaknesses, it makes sense for the US to focus its system of play on pressing, physically dominating midfield, and attacking quickly and vertically through its talented wingers. These ideas highlight the strengths of the midfielders, provide some protection for the central defenders, and, in theory, allow the United States to attack through their very best players on the flanks.
For most of the recent US history, this is what Berhalter has been trying to do, though he sometimes seems to be obsessed with wanting the US to be more of a possession team than perhaps ideally would be. For more know about USA Vs Wales Tickets.
After a couple of big losses to Mexico and Canada in the fall of 2019, he did it mostly because of one 4-3-3 support formation. Typically, Adams will line up at the base of the midfield triangle, with Mousa and McKenny playing two eights in front of him. The installation was reliable in defense. The Americans can press out of formation very effectively. Midfielders are able to dominate their duels and prevent opponents from building through the center. When they win the ball, they are often in good positions to play it quickly and attack.
As in June, Berhalter could change his midfield by dropping Mousa deeper to play to the left of Adams and placing McKenny slightly higher and to the right of center. This gives Adams and the centre-backs a valuable additional outlet in the form of Mousa, who, as mentioned above, can break the press himself with his ability to dribble through players.
It also puts McKenny in a more natural role higher up the field. This is where he spends most of his time at Juventus. he’s at his best there. The same position also suits Aaronsohn if Berhalter wants or needs to make changes, which he should consider if McKenney performs at about the same level in Qatar as against Japan.
In June, these changes allowed the US to play better through teams without sacrificing much of their ability to win midfield duels or pressure their opponents. Musah was great in a deeper role, notably in the 0-0 draw against Uruguay.
The midfield shift could also make life a little easier for Pulisic. The Chelsea striker is the face of this team; ever since he was 17, unrealistic expectations have been placed on him. Sometimes it seems to depend on where he positions himself on the field, and Pulisic often falls deep in an attempt to try and hit the ball with the US, who sometimes weren’t good enough at finding him.
His temptation to take the ball and create something is understandable, but he is at his best when he dribbles the ball to defenders on the dribble or enters the box to convert a chance. Pushing Musah deeper and shifting McKenny to the right creates more space for Pulisic on the left.
He can find pockets between the lines in the half-space or on the sideline. That approach brought good results to Pulisic and the US attack in a 3-0 win against Morocco in June, when he seemed to be getting the ball higher up the field and colliding with defenders more than usual.
It would also be useful to play a striker who can actually stretch the backline or become a target. Against Japan, Ferreira was completely unavailable as a direct option. He continued to sink deep into midfield during his 45-minute shift, which helped Japan remain incredibly compact defensively.
Berhalter himself seems to think the aforementioned settings are worth it. He tried them in June and then again in the second half of the game in Japan. Had Mousa been available in September, we would likely have seen a lot more of the midfield’s adjusted form in this window. I think we will see it in the Football World Cup, especially against Wales and Iran, when the USA should have more ball than England.
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