The U.S. Men’s National Team looked out of its element on Thursday night at Wembley Stadium. The Americans lost 3-0 to a clearly superior England side that outclassed them in every phase of the game.
Their defense was routinely out of position and they struggled to catch up with England’s attackers. American midfielders struggled to find open players as they couldn’t find space in the English defense. Overall, the USMNT didn’t look like it was a team. Instead, it was a collection of individuals that couldn’t communicate effectively and couldn’t move well off the ball.
If there’s one thing that head coach Dave Sarachan stressed as an issue after the game, it was that lack of movement and communication in both attack and defense.
“Some of it is the technical abilities of players, but I also think a big part of possession and doing better with the ball is having options and being in our spacing and movement,” the coach said in the post match press conference. “You’re still starting some different players and different combinations and it’s still a work in progress when you only have a few days to sort of prepare.”
All anyone needs to do to prove Sarachan’s point is look at England’s first two goals. The first one was a wonderful shot from Jesse Lingard, but he got the chance because of the poor positioning by the USMNT defense. Three defenders track Dele Alli as he carries the ball towards the corner and then along the endline towards the penalty area.
Center back Matt Miazga is the worst offender here as he ball watches Alli and completely loses track of Lingard wandering into the top of the box. He was so wide open that he had time to receive the pass, take a touch, and line up a perfectly placed curling shot into the top corner.
A similar situation unfolded two minutes later. Three defenders key in on Callum Wilson and Jadon Sancho in a small area at the top of the penalty area, and nobody has eyes on Trent Alexander-Arnold out wide. He was Jorge Villafana’s responsibility, but the left back is caught ball watching and Alexander-Arnold has himself an easy finish to make it 2-0.
Both those plays can be snuffed out with better movement and communication on the part of the back line.
“They challenged us with a lot of interchanging, with a lot of movement and I think our communication and our movement was slow,” Sarachan pointed out. “I think that allowed for them to make chances. I think it’s not a lack of effort. It was more in terms of just having a better tactical understanding and shifting and moving in a way would allow our players to have better numbers around them and I didn’t think that was as good as it’s been.”
The lack of movement and communication can also account for the lack of any real linkup play going forward. Christian Pulisic was basically a one man team when the USMNT had the ball and that was due to his teammates inability to find open space off the ball.
Although there were moments of brilliance, particularly in the second half, there were few chances where it looked like the Americans would even come close to scoring a goal.
“You saw it at times tonight when we were able to play a little bit, that there were options for players on the ball,” Sarachan said. “With a team like England tonight where we got stretched and now we win it, there aren’t a lot of options. So now you get a little impatient to force things. Whereas when you have better numbers around the ball, the ball can move a little bit more and there’s flow. So I think it’s a combination of some guys need to be better quality and I also think it’s a matter of just making sure out combinations of movements are such that there’s better options.”
Sarachan and his team now have a few days to sort out their issued before taking on a tricky Italy team on neutral soil. While they were playing a talented team on Thursday night, it’s comforting to know that a lot of the negatives from the match were self inflicted and pretty fixable. If the team works better with each other and communicates more effectively, that game against Italy will look much better. However, if they don’t, they will close out 2018 with a set of very poor performances that will only breed more impatience in a fanbase that’s tired of seeing ugly performances from their national team.