The U.S. Men’s National Team only recorded two shots on target on Thursday night against Ecuador, but despite the low attacking output the USMNT attackers saw progress in the third match with Gregg Berhalter in charge, and the first with the full complement of players available.
“It’s just one game,” USMNT forward Gyasi Zardes said. “It’s a great opponent, but it allows to take the next couple of days to really get in and watch this game and progress. That’s the key word, and you’ll hear it from Gregg. Progress, progress, progress. I’m really looking forward to the next opportunity.”
Although the lack of shots is concerning, the connection between the attacking pieces in Berhalter’s lineup played well in spurts.
“I think we kept the ball well,” Christian Pulisic said. “I think we had some moments, but we didn’t expect to be perfect and we still have a lot of stuff we can work on. It was a good start.”
Pulisic was the focal point of the lineup, playing the left-sided number 10 role, and he admitted some of the pieces around him are still adapting to the complexities of Berhalter’s system.
“It’s just everything. Getting more familiar with the positions and just the speed of play and making it second nature so everyone is really on the same page,” Pulisic said.
For Zardes, who is used to playing under Berhalter from their one season together with the Columbus Crew, he understands what the manager demands out of the striker up top in the system.
As we saw on a few occurrences on Thursday, Zardes has to be fast with the ball at his feet with other players surging in from midfield into the final third.
“Those guys are extremely dangerous when they’re facing goal so if the ball comes into me, I have to find them right away,” Zardes said. “I’ve worked in Gregg’s lineup over the years and it was the same with Columbus where I try to find people really quick.”
“Effective players like Christian Pulisic, Sebastian Lletget and other guys on the right, I have to find their feet,” Zardes said. “Every time I touch the ball, if they’re facing goal, I have to get it to them because they can be more effective and more dangerous. Then I just have to get back into the box because the ball is coming to me.”
Thursday’s performance wasn’t perfect, as the USMNT could’ve received better production on the wing from Jordan Morris, but for the most part, the attacking players were positive with the gains made from joining camp on Sunday to the game on Thursday.
“The majority of us got in Sunday. For those of us that weren’t in the January camp, you’re overloaded with information and it’s difficult,” Wil Trapp said. “Knowing how much information was thrown at them and how well they adapted, I think it was a fantastic performance from executing and understanding. It’s not going to be perfect, but there’s a lot of things that went well to build upon.”
Even though the USMNT wasn’t perfect, it still found a way to hit the back of the net and pull out a victory, which is an important quality to build ahead of this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
Zardes, who scored the 82nd-minute game-winner, took advantage of one of the principles the USMNT focused on in the buildup to Thursday’s game.
“During the training sessions, we were looking for that open space so I checked my shoulder and was screaming for the ball and sure enough Tim Ream found me and I was open,” Zardes said.
With the tactical principles in place, and chemistry coming together in the final third, the USMNT has to build on Thursday’s performance and show progress can be made game-by-game with the big picture in view.
“(Berhalter)’s going to be the coach for a while,” Pulisic said. “He wants to implement a system and he wants all the guys that come into camp to understand it. It’s for the bigger picture and we know the big things he’s working toward.”