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The USMNT ‘Golden Generation’ takes aim at its first trophy as Honduras awaits

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DENVER — The collection of players on the U.S. Men’s National Team roster for the Concacaf Nations League stockpiled trophies during the past club season in an unprecedented way, and now will try to carry over the trophy-winning habit to the USMNT.

The first step toward that first trophy for the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ takes place on Thursday in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals against Honduras. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen and Sergiño Dest headline a group that is very young, but also unquestionably talented.

It is a group that is also brimming with confidence after having won a combined 12 trophies among the 23 players on the roster, capped off by Pulisic winning the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea last Saturday. That sort of success has this American squad believing it can lift a trophy together on Sunday, even if the more-experienced Mexican National Team enters this week as the favorite to win the competition.

“I think for our group the goal is winning this tournament,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters on Wednesday. “We know what is at stake and we also know what is at stake later this year, but for now we just have to focus on what we can control.”

First thing’s first, the USMNT must defeat Honduras, which is a considerable underdog, but is also aware that it has beaten the Americans before, and can take some inspiration from the Honduran U-23 Men’s National Team’s win over the Americans in Olympic qualifying in March, a win that sent Honduras to the Olympics and dropped the United States from Olympic contention.

“Anytime you can play meaningful Concacaf games there is going to be pressure, but we have been in situations like this before and we are ready for what we will see from (Honduras),” Pulisic said. “I am excited for the opportunity to be back and hopefully can help make an impact with the guys.”

The USMNT will play its first competitive match since November of 2019, when a pair of wins against Cuba and Canada secured the team’s place into the final four.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Nations League finals by a full year, and the Americans wound up going a full year before anything close to resembling a full-strength team was able to take the field.

A pair of March friendlies became the first chance for Gregg Berhalter to see his budding collection of top-end talent, as well as the recent 2-1 friendly loss to Switzerland, but now Berhalter will have his chance to see his young stars in matches that actually count.

“We are excited to get back to competitions,” Berhalter said. “It’s like any game you set your team up, especially in a tournament format to be ready for your opponents threats. [Alberth] Elis is a dynamic player, we know him well from MLS and he also plays with Reggie Cannon at Boavista.

“We know they will look to hit us on the counter and with transitions. We’re going to have to be cautious in a way, but we’re also going to need to play how we want to play and that could mean pressing high to avoid those counters.”

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

There are still some question marks regarding the starting lineup Berhalter will use on Thursday night, with the defensive midfield role a key one. Tyler Adams continues to recover from a back injury, and while it can be seen as good news that he wasn’t replaced on the final roster, his lack of playing time in the past month will likely limit any contribution he winds up making.

“So Tyler is working his way back,” Berhalter said. “In terms of his availability, we’re still working through training today to see if he can play a part. Signs are looking good for him though, and he is making progress.”

Berhalter will also have to decide whether to start Matt Miazga or Mark McKenzie next to John Brooks in central defense. Miazga has the experience edge, but McKenzie’s quickness could see him chosen against a fast Honduras attack.

Then there is the fullback position, where Dest’s struggles at left back against Switzerland revived the questions about whether he should be used only at right back. If Berhalter stands pat, then Reggie Cannon will stay at right back, but if Dest moves back to his natural position, then Antonee Robinson will get the nod in what would be a cap-tying appearance for the English-American fullback.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Whatever the final lineup winds up being, it will be heavily favored against a Honduras side that does boast some dangerous attacking weapons, but also has a defense that is likely to struggle with the dynamic threats in the U.S. attack.

The Catrachos might take some confidence from knowing their U-23 team defeated the U.S. Under-23 team in a match that kept the Americans out of the Olympics, but Honduras will be facing a much different challenge on Thursday in a star-studded U.S. lineup eager to start winning trophies together.

“We are ready to go, we’ve been waiting for the opportunity to play in competitive matches again and we know what we are up against,” Pulisic said. “Honduras is a team we have familiarity with and know some of their guys, they are going to make it tough for us, and we just need everyone ready to go to work for the team.”

Comments

  1. This is a really big game for Dest, if he starts. Really hoping he can have a bounce back defensive performance, because he was dreadful on that side of the ball against Swiss. If he isn’t capable of being an outside back in a back four, then he can only get on the field as a wingback, and that isn’t how Berhalter has been setting up the team. His skill on the ball is amazing and he is great going forward, so I really hope he can learn to be better with defensive positioning.

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  2. Honduras isn’t the Swiss but this game has importance and pressure, hopefully USNT youth will learn to deal with this, Beerholder will learn how to deal with our players, Beerholder will line-up intellgent formation and tactics will help our youthful players.

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  3. My worry is that the US will attack ferociously a the start, Honduras will score on a counter about 10 minutes in and then park 10 players near or inside the penalty area, defend physically and foul as frequently as needed. That will be the worst scenario for the US and it will make for a horrible game to watch.

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    • agreed Dennis. we have to convert the early chances we generate with the early push, and we can. no need to over extend to get that done and risk giving up numbers on the counter today since that’s Honduras’ best chance to score most likely, jmho. discipline in the decision making will be fun to watch

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  4. This team has a bunch of individual talent. That cohesion is always the challenge for any national team coach. I’m still concerned with that disjointed defense when teams counter.

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    • For most of the players in the starting line up, unlike USMNT teams of the past, which were stocked with MLS and relegation-fodder talent, the talent on this national team won’t actually be as good as on their club team. Thus they can’t just expect their USMNT teammates to make as many great individual plays on offense and defense as their club ones to bail out the team. Everyone has to step up their individual effort from how they normally play. There’s no Messi, Ronaldo, Haaland to put away a half chance. The backline isn’t quite the quality seen in knockout rounds of Champions league (Brooks excepted).

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      • Blokhin, great points! This shows when Dest throws up his hands at Aaronson for not being in the right spot or Reyna crying after not being spotted for a pass. Also, that there’s no proven goal scorer on this team. No one had more than 5 goals for their club this last season (except Siebatcheu). As another poster mentioned the other day – our “stars” are mostly role players at their respective clubs. They definitely need to step up and give the effort of those MLS relegation battling USMNTs.

      • Dest might want to look in the mirror and get his butt into the right spots, same with Gio…they were both out of position defensively last game more than any others and were a big reason the counter attacks were so successful against us. if we press, which we will, Gio has got to put out 100% defensively, and he didn’t come close to that effort required last time out. If he wasn’t one or the ‘golden generation’ (barf emoji) folks here would have ripped him for being just MLS grade, but becasue he’s in Europe playing for Dortmund, he gets a full pass. I am expecting his effort to be much better. Our ‘golden generation’ doesn’t need any prima donnas throwing up their hands and whining and crying to their teammates about not getting a ball or whatever. NONE of them deserve to be let off the hook for that

      • And yes, I did see Dest play in the knockout rounds of Champions League, versus Mbappe. So did his coach. There’s a reason Dest’s best position over a full season turnout out to be as a wingback with three CBs, or as a wing versus an outside back with two CBs. So no, I don’t rate him to be as good of a defender at his spot, as I do Brooks at his spot.

    • Definitely good points. That’s why I pointed that they need that ability to play as a group and understand one another better. For example, Netherlands is a team with talent, but lately have had that trouble playing together. I can remember Chile in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America tournaments with only a few star players (like Vidal who was the engine but not main scorer) but they played perfectly as a team. This USA team is still young, and again, yes, there’s some great talent in certain positions, but can it all be put together? Hopefully we can see that happening on a consistent basis.

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      • England has this problem in the 00’s and 10’s. All these players from PL and Champions League winning teams underperformed for the national team as a group. USMNT was the opposite, always punching above their weight.

    • This team is super young but the talent is there. Striker is a bit unknown but really all this team will need is someone who has decent touch and makes smart runs because the midfield is loaded with guys who will create tap ins for forwards if they can play off the forward and the guy gets to decent spots. The issues with this team I think are mostly explained by their youth. If they mature as you’d hope/expect this team is going to come to dominate Concacaf and do damage in major tournaments. And the Crazy thing is there is more talent in the pipeline. We could very well see the US finally come into being a legit soccer power in the next 10 years. CP, McKinney, Adams, and Reyna has proven to European Powers that young American talent can be made into top tier platers. This is why guys like Reynolds and Che are getting acquired by teams like Roma and BM. It’s also the reason more and more high quality dual national prospects are choosing the US. The writing is on the wall.

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      • CP ate Dest’s lunch too, many have. that’s not the point. the point is that he has defensive responsibilities in a National Team setup that are different than club…they are different. Bringing one’s club persona to the National Team that rests on any laurels established at one’s club instead of proving it with their National Team, sucks. Innumerable examples. Different team, different ask. Of course, I hope they all go off today! Totally capable to do it, I want to see that too, wherever they club

  5. I wonder what a back line of Dest Ream Brooks Richards would look like, that way Dest can switch during the game from right to left with Ream sliding to left back and Richards coming into the center.

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  6. I would frankly expect this team to put at least three or four past Honduras unless they just manage to just totally park the bus, ugly up the game, and gunk the park up. Honduras is not good right now and they are frankly WAY outmatched. If the USMNT shows up at all and not jet-lagged and flat as day-old Dr. Pepper this one is likely over at halftime.

    Mexico is likely going to prove very different, of course.

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