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A closer look at the USMNT win vs. Costa Rica: Aaronson’s ascendancy, managing Musah, and more

There was an anti-climactic feel leading up to last Wednesday’s U.S. Men’s National Team friendly against Costa Rica, at least before the match kicked off. Just three days removed from the dramatic Concacaf Nations League final win against Mexico, the USMNT couldn’t have been blamed for still feeling the effects of celebrating an unforgettable win, but it didn’t take long on Wednesday to understand why the friendly still had value.

Whether it was players who didn’t get a chance to play in Nations League, players who only played sparingly, and some that did play but came away looking for some redemption, Wednesday’s 4-0 win wound up serving as the perfect cap to the four-game stretch the USMNT went through, starting in the Swiss Alps, then the Rocky Mountains, and concluding in Utah.

Brendan Aaronson came away as the top player in Wednesday’s win, but Tyler Adams showed why he is such an important piece to the puzzle that is Gregg Berhalter’s first-choice squad.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

The RB Leipzig midfielder had already showed that value as a second-half substitute against Mexico, but the way he dominated proceedings as USMNT captain on Wednesday served as an even more clear reminder of just what unique qualities he brings to the defensive midfield role, and why there is such a monumental gap between Adams and the other defensive midfield options in the pool.

In the ‘Players needing some redemption’ department, both Tim Ream and Mark McKenzie played much better against Costa Rica than they did against Mexico. And yes, obviously, the level of opponent and magnitude of the match was significantly different, but in the case of McKenzie, the match served to show what the Genk defender brings to the position with his excellent passing and combination of strength and quickness.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Ream was also miles better against the Ticos than he was against Mexico, and while that isn’t going to slow down the calls for him to be phased out of Berhalter’s plans, it does offer at least some evidence to support the idea that Ream could be useful against some Concacaf opponents, though maybe not Mexico.

The over-arching message from Wednesday’s win was the reminder of just how much depth the USMNT has compared to year’s past. When you consider that Berhalter could trot out a lineup featuring players from La Liga, Ligue , the Bundesliga and English Premier League who didn’t actually start against Mexico you realize just how many options Berhalter will have when things get serious again come September for Concacaf World Cup qualifying.

Here are some more thoughts on the USMNT win vs. Costa Rica:

Aaronson makes case for bigger role in qualifying

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Aaronson was limited to a 12-minute cameo in the Nations League last week, playing as a substitute in the semifinal win against Honduras, and while he didn’t get much of a chance to show just how dangerous he could be, Aaronson more than made up for that on Wednesday against Costa Rica.

The Red Bull Salzburg winger was active throughout, taking defenders on the dribble, delivering good passes and pouncing on a loose ball for the opening goal of the match to give him three goals in just seven USMNT appearances.

Aaronson showed his ability to operate both on the wing and centrally, as he took full advantage of the tactical freedom to float into different spots in the attacking third.

Aaronson’s quickness, confidence on the ball, ability to press and positional versatility make him a very valuable option for Berhalter, and while he isn’t likely to unseat current wing starters Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna any time soon, if he can maintain his starting role at Red Bull Salzburg in the new season and continue to improve, Berhalter will have to find a way to get him on the field more often.

Nations League exclusion doesn’t faze Musah

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As satisfying as last week’s win against Mexico may have been for U.S. fans, there was one lingering worry to the most forward-thinking of said fans: the future of Yunus Musah with the USMNT.

Musah didn’t play in the Nations League tournament last week, which was seen as a missed opportunity to cap-tie him. There have been conflicting reports about whether Musah could conceivably still represent another country given the fact he filed a one-time switch to play for the United States and then participated in four international friendlies with the USMNT.

Cap-tied or not, Musah did not look like a player who had suddenly grown disenchanted with the USMNT program because he missed out on two games. In fact, Musah was very visibly involved in the post-victory celebrations in Denver last Sunday, looking very much like a player who plans to stick around for a while.

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Berhalter alluded to as-yet-undisclosed factors having been at play that kept Musah out of Nations League, which would explain why he was not used.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, we didn’t feel like (Musah) arrived in the best conditions to compete in Nations League,” Berhalter said after Wednesday’s win against Costa Rica. “These are must-win games and it’s not easy to just throw guy on, when you have a game plan and when you’re trying to win.

“Having said that, we still believe in his talent,” Berhalter said. “I think he showed (on Wednesday) his talent, you know, his his line-breaking dribbling and composure on the ball. He’s gonna be a fantastic player. He’s also a fantastic guy and that’s why you saw his good attitude. He was really excited to see what that level was like, what the competitiveness of CONCACAF was like, and just excited to be part of the group.”

Musah showed off his quality against Costa Rica, including his ability to keep the ball and attack on the dribble. His smoothness in possession is impressive to see, and the poise he possesses for an 18-year-old is what has both Berhalter and USMNT fans so excited, and might we why those same fans are so nervous about losing Musah, if in fact that is still a possibility.

As far as Berhalter is concerned, he believes Musah’s relationship with the program is a healthy one and he expects the New York-born midfielder to be a USMNT factor for a long time.

“I think this is a relationship that’s going to continue for many years to come, because he’s such a talented individual,” Berhalter said.

Dike leaves a good impression

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Daryl Dike’s exclusion from the Nations League roster was an unpopular decision among USMNT fans who were eager to see him build on his outstanding loan spell with English League Championship side Barnsley, but the Orlando City striker still stayed with the USMNT throughout that tournament, and earned the start against Costa Rica.

Dike responded with a Man of the Match-caliber performance. He had a hand in helping Aaronson’s opening goal happen, he set up a golden scoring chance for Tim Weah that drew an outstanding save, then Dike scored his first national team goal with a well-timed run and composed finish.

“Daryl got an opportunity (on Wednesday), and I think he did really well,” Berhalter said. “The physical side of it was there. The movement behind the backline was there. The only thing I would highlight is potentially the movement in the penalty box. Really attacking crosses and getting on the end of crosses.

“Daryl’s a young player, and he has a ton of room to grow, and we’re going to be here and help supporting him to get there.”

Berhalter brought Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok to the Nations League at the striker position, but Dike’s impressive embracing of his role throughout the month had to earn him some points, as did his goal-scoring performance against Costa Rica.

To Dike’s credit, he did not let his Nations League omission get him down, and actually appeared to develop a good friendship with Pefok while celebrating the team’s successes throughout the week in Denver.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

“Of course I wanted to be included in the roster, but at the same time, I always look at the positives,” Dike said after the Costa Rica win. “I get to still be able to train with some of the top players in the world, I get to train under some of the best staff in the world.

“For me, two years ago, or something like that, if you told me I would be able to just to be in that position, just to train with these guys, regardless if I’m playing, I would have loved it.”

Dike’s summer could be a very interesting one. He is due to return to Orlando City, but his goal-scoring exploits in England could produce a transfer. If not, then Dike would have to be considered a leading candidate to be part of the USMNT Gold Cup team in July.

Cannon shows he can be a two-way threat

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When the Nations League semifinals were set to begin, Reggie Cannon was expected to be the starter at right back for Berhalter’s side, but the Boavista fullback wound up on the bench for both wins, against Honduras and Mexico, which raised the question of whether the former FC Dallas product had fallen out of favor.

Cannon did make appearances off the bench in both Nations League matches, but he took full advantage of his first start in June against Costa Rica, scoring a beautiful goal and playing an excellent match, showing off some good attacking characteristics to go with his established strength as a defender.

Part of the reason Berhalter went with DeAndre Yedlin against Mexico was due to Yedlin’s ability to operate both as a fullback and right wingback, two positions he has plenty of experience playing. Cannon has almost exclusively operated as a right fullback in a four-man defense throughout his career.

So has Cannon slipped down the pecking order, or should we expect him to be right back in the starting picture come September?

Cannon’s club situation could play a role in his standing. Cannon is drawing transfer interest after an impressive first season in Europe, and if he can secure a move to a top league, then Cannon would be better positioned to battle for continued starts at right back, where Sergiño Dest, Yedlin and Bryan Reynolds will be pushing for minutes when World Cup qualifying begins in September.

Antonee Robinson boosts his stock at left back

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No American fullback helped their cause in June more than Robinson, who started in the Nations League win against Honduras, then again in the friendly win against Costa Rica. The Fulham defender is clearly gaining the trust of Berhalter, who had long been believed to not rate Robinson due to a perceived lack of on-the-ball technical quality.

Robinson looked far more confident in his more recent USMNT appearances, including the Costa Rica match, where he helped set up the opening goal with an excellent cross into the penalty area that eventually turned into an Aaronson goal.

Robinson’s standing with the team is held up a bit by Dest, and where Berhalter will ultimately use the Barcelona fullback, but as Robinson solidifies his standing with the USMNT, it could help convince Berhalter to keep Dest at his natural right back position.

Robinson is another American player expected to make a transfer move this summer after Fulham’s relegation. The Everton academy product has been linked to Manchester City, and we shouldn’t forgot the transfer he nearly made to AC Milan before a heart defect found during his medical halted the transfer.

If Robinson can secure a move to stay in the Premier League, and earn regular playing time, then he just might be Berhalter’s starting left back come September.


  1. Quality Depth is something that the USMNT has struggled to produce for generations. In some respect we’ve been extremely lucky that in previous generations we’ve not had our star players often sidelined (Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley, Boca, Dolo, etc…). However, whenever they were injured we struggled to replicate their production. We usually had to insert someone of significantly lower talent/caliber and leverage players to help cover the weakness.
    We’ve finally gotten to a place where we have options/depth in the event that if something were to happen to a star player (knock on wood they stay healthy)…at least on the offensive side. We still need help with depth on the defensive side…but even there we’re making some good progress.

    Regarding the performance of some of the players in the Costa Rica match, and what that means for the future…
    Ream – may have been better against a disinterested CR, but he’s still not worth a roster spot. It’s time to move on and give time to someone who could actually benefit the team in 2022 (Richards, McKenzie, Miazga, etc..). They may be inexperienced and/or have issues in their game, but their defects can be overcome. Where-as Reams (Age & Speed) are just going to get worse.
    Lletget – Decent depth, but was exposed against Mexico & struggled with Honduras. Should not be in the starting XI, but still capable of being a bench player (for now). Not sure he’ll be around when the 23 for the WC 2022 is finalized.
    Acosta – A depth option for now, but has his limitations. Unfortunately we don’t have much competition right now. Adams is the clear # 1…than it drops off to Acosta, Yueill, etc… Hopefully someone steps up this upcoming season.
    Outside Backs (Dest, Robinson, Cannon, Yedlin, Reynolds, etc…) has options, but none are complete players. We have enough to talent but struggle with consistency and maturity.

    • I’m really interested in the GC roster, supposedly the GC provisional roster was due today but hasn’t been released yet. Maybe Concacaf is waiting until after WC Ocho qualifiers tomorrow. I heard the provisional has 60 roster spots including 4 GKs, so not sure how illuminating it will be. I’m sure there will be some vets like Lovitz that make the list that won’t make it barring injuries or transfers and some youngsters we really want to see but won’t because they make a move like Che or Dike.

  2. I think GB has a problem; either hedoes not include a couple very talented players or he finds a system that allows for them to be included (and not just for 30 minutes at the end of the game).

    Pulisic, Reyna, McKennie, Adams, Aaronson, and Musah; it is hard to deny they head the group of attacking and midfield players. You could even add in Weah. That is 6 or 7 players for 5 positions in GBs’s preferred setup. Dike, Pefok, and Sargent have made their own cases for center forward, Right now Dike seems to me to have the upper hand given his perfomance versus Costa Rica (don’t downplay CR, they may have finished 4th in Nations League, but they tied both Honduras and Mexico and lost only on PKs).

    At CB, Brooks, McKenzie and Miazga are good and the keepers both had great games; Ream is the only other left-footed CB, he is simply too slow for the international game, I think GB should get over his love of a left-footed player as a backup to Brooks.

    I thought the weakest positions for the US were outside backs (or fullbacks). Dest’s failure to track back vs Mexico could have been more costly than it was, he simply must do better tactically. Ream is too slow at fullback. Cannon and Robinson both had moments where they failed to get back in a timely fashion, but the US wasn’t punished for it. Yedlin seemed to have the best tactical sense, or at least he limited his forays forward, but I was not convinced by his overall play. Richards, we did not see due to injury but he is fast. The tactical problems are especially dangerous when both wingbacks (or fullbacks) get forward and fail to provide any defensive cover, they simply must play in ways that allow them to take up good defensive positions quickly if the US loses the ball.

  3. GB tried to outsmart Tata by going with 3 in the back. That didn’t work so he went back to 4 in the back, and we looked so much better. The interesting part because we started with 3-4-3 when we switched to 4, we ended up losing the so much loved single 6 role with dual 8s.
    I think is time for GB to start using the double pivot 8s and add an ACM (Aaronson). He can defend and set up the final attack.
    The new formation would be a 4-2-1-3

    • don’t think GB tried to outsmart anyone with the formation; he needed to cover the reality of our situation at the 6; much of the game’s tactics were about that I thought, and without Adams, did just well enough until his arrival. bigger deal is lack of depth at that one critical position, the 6, and all of the tactical gymnastics needed when Adams is not available imo, at least at this point

      • I think he did try to counter Tata. He is well aware of the criticism that Tata has his number.
        The bottom line is our 4-3-3 when played with the right people is a very strong lineup.

  4. Saying the Ream maybe can be serviceable against lower level Concacaf team means he is a waste of a roster spot. What these games have shown is that every field player on the roster will likely see the field during the 3 game sets. Every WCQ game is importantly and you cannot drop points because you have a defender that can’t defend. Ream can’t do it, better to bring someone in who at least has a chance of being competent. Richards when healthy should take his spot.

    • Yeah- I really like Ream, appreciate what he has brought to the national team, but… his time is pretty much done. Most of the “lower tier” Concacaf teams rely on bunker w/ counterattacks which exposes Ream’s greatest weakness. Add that his abysmal 1 v 1 defending in the box v Lianez and what is left? Hurry back Richards!

  5. I feel uneasy about Musah not playing, but not from a cap standpoint. He is just better than other options and is going to be a star. If we can’t see that, I’m not sure what is happening.
    Robinson in a 4 back or Dest as a wingback? That is the question.
    Aaronson might have to take Christian’s or Reyna’s spot. Not sure that’s possible.
    Weah could become our right-side defender.
    I like the 3 back, but I’m also liking a 4 2 3 1 backline robinson, brooks, makenzie weah mids adams, musah Mckennie wingers pulisic reyna forward dike

    • well Musah didn’t play much at all to end his club season,and was called out publicly by his club manager bc his attitude and play had dropped significantly after he signed his extension with Valencia, so it makes sense that he didn’t show up to camp in form and as a result GB decided to let him train to get back to where he was. THere is a reason why having the type of depth we have is a great thing, and it’s because in those moments when players are injured or are not on their game they can be sat to let others pick up the slack, and that’s what happened! I don’t know why this is still a talking point tbh, we won the game, but people are acting like if Musah would have played we would have rolled Mexico, wheb there is absolutely no evidence to that narrative!Is Musah one of our better CM, ofcourse, but if said player is not in form or if his head is not where it needs to be then he should be and was benched for the betterment of the team!

  6. In a March 15 article 5 Things to Know About Yunus Musah on Ussoccer’s Website. It says because Yunus did not see the field in the 2019 U17 European Championship he did not have to file a one-time switch with FIFA because he did not play for England in an official match at any level.
    If he did not need to file a switch he is still able to represent England, Italy, or Ghana as he has not represented any nation in an official (FIFA or confederation organized) match. In order for him to be cap tied under Article Five of the FIFA codes he needs to represent the US in an A Level (senior men’s national team) official match (FIFA or Concacaf organized). Once he plays for the US in an official competition since he has represented the USA in 5 friendlies he would no longer be eligible to file a one time switch to another country under the new Article 9 exception for players under 21.

  7. My observations–I wouldn’t be so forgiving of McKenzie’s mistakes. I think we should give some others a chance ahead of him and let him earn his spot back. Musah’s situation is much ado about nothing. If I were looking at it from his situation I would see that the US is an up and coming team that could become a major force. Unlike England, I/he will have more of a chance to play with the US and the other national team possibilities aren’t as good. The US is my/his best opportunity.Regarding Cannon, his stock hasn’t dropped, it’s just that we have 3 outside backs who are better. We are building enough depth that some good players are going to have to be left at home. For example, Sam Vines could be very good in the future, but we don’t need him now. I don’t know why Berhalter didn’t value Robinson much prior to these last few games. It was clear to me some months ago that Robinson should be our LB, unless we are determined to play Dest there. Finally, if Jesse Marsch is smart, and I think he is, he really should get Leipzig to buy Aronson. I think this kid has much upside as almost anyone else in our pool.

    • Robinson’s issues seem to be the stylistic fit with Berhalter. His stats from the past season show a guy who will get up and down the wing to put in overlapping runs and crosses, but his ball retention rating is very low. His defensive ratings are not impressive either.
      -Providing width for an inside left guy like Pulisic should be a big plus for him, but Dest technically is far superior. Berhalter seems to value the ability to combine in midfield more than the space creation of Robinson’s movement. Not to mention the en vougue tactic of the day seems to be having one fullback overlapping and one tucking inside to protect against the counter. That may be the idea with Dest at LB even though he didn’t really show that in the last 2 games.

      • “one fullback overlapping and one tucking inside to protect against the counter.”


        IF Robinson were 1.) more technically sound he would already have the inside shot at LB. His 2.)inability to play combos and 3.) retain possession in a pseudo LM/LW role is exactly Dest has the inside track for LWB.

      • Robinson performance vs CR still wasn’t that eye opening, he had the cross that led to Aaronson’s goal, more a hockey assist bc the initial pass was converted into a goal, but what he did have and continues to struggle with is turning the ball over in bad spots and few times he passed it out of play. He also continues to get caught up field too much, so if he can clean those things up we have a helluva player for the NT at a position that’s been hard to fill over the years with competent play(obviously aside from Beasley)

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