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USMNT hopes to take valuable lessons from thrilling Mexico victory

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For many of the current U.S. Men’s National Team players, Sunday’s rivalry showdown against Mexico was the first of their careers, but Gregg Berhalter’s side gained several valuable lessons from an exciting Concacaf Nations League Finals triumph.

The USMNT claimed a first-ever Nations League title in Colorado on Sunday night, edging El Tri 3-2 and winning a first trophy overall since 2017.   While many of the current start on the USMNT roster got to celebrate domestic trophies with their clubs this season, the importance of beating Mexico and drawing them even closer to the top spot in Concacaf is something that should benefit this team going forward.

“It was important for this group to experience something like this,” Berhalter said post match. “We need to learn how to win these games. These games are very difficult, for us it was about having a game plan and executing it, but also its about the fight and spirit. To think we went down in the second minute it forced us to power forward and chase the game.”

“I give the guys a ton of credit for laying it all on the field and showing hearts of champions. They deserve tons of credit.”

It wasn’t similar to other United States-Mexico encounters on the count the game went to extra time, saw VAR rule in favor of two penalty kick decisions, and a backup goalkeeper come off the bench to make a 119th minute penalty kick save, but it did bring the same intensity and atmosphere as most rivalry showdowns between the two teams.

The USMNT overcame plenty of adversity, from fighting back from a second minute deficit to tying things up before the end of the second half. Ethan Horvath stepped in and made four key saves after Zack Steffen went off with a knee injury, while young stars Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Gio Reyna all contributed goals on the big stage.

After giving Tata Martino’s side only its fourth defeat since the Argentine took over in 2019, spirits are high heading into a busy second half of the year.

“I think it’s a huge step for this group,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said. “I think it gives us more belief that we can really move forward and play with some of the best teams. Mexico is a good team we know that, but it’s about who wants it more. Today we showed that we did want it more. It will go down as one of the best U.S.-Mexico games for sure.”

Like past matchups between the Concacaf rivals, there was a lot of energy and plenty of confrontations between the groups of players. There was eight combined yellow cards between the two teams, while El Tri midfielder Hector Herrera was lucky to not see red for a pair of dangerous incidents involving McKennie and substitute Timothy Weah.

El Tri head coach Martino was also sent off after putting his hands on lead referee John Petty at the VAR booth following his decision to upheld a penalty kick decision in the 109th minute. It was exactly what you would expect from a cup final in terms of emotions and it should help prepare this young USMNT group for both the Concacaf Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying later this year.

“The game against Honduras prepared us very well and we had to handle our emotions in that game too, and for some of us it was the first time,” midfielder Weston McKennie said. “Having a game against Mexico there was already emotions there, already intensity. To be able to handle it the way we did, to pull out a win was very important.

“As you guys can see, a lot of crowds and pushing and shoving. They seem to like to grab my neck [McKennie’s neck was grabbed by Herrera during a scrum in extra time]. It’s a rivalry thats been there for generations and will carry on for years to come. We got the upper hand today and we hope it stays that way going forward.”

Comments

  1. I’m still not a fan of this new tournament, but there were some things experienced that will hopefully have us better prepared for WCQ.
    1) Winning dirty. CONCACAF has it’s own struggles (poor officiating, hacking tackles, altitude, poor fields, etc…) and it’s good these young kids get a taste of it in a competitive match before WCQ in order to be better prepared.
    2) Ream is done. He may be a great locker room guy and provide experience to a very young team but he should never step on the field for the USMNT again. I’m fine with his inclusion in camps (if necessary) but actual game minutes should only occur if all other CBs are injured. Richards, Miazga, Robinson, CCV are all better options than Tim. While McKenzie struggled I’d still play him before Ream.
    3) Consistency is still a work in progress. Dest, Robinson, McKenzie, Reyna, etc…are still gaining experience and are going to have their ups & downs. It’s to be expected. As they become more experienced playing together under Gregg they’ll become more consistent and effective as a group.
    4) Depth. We appear to have real options at the attacking positions (Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, Weah, Musah, etc..), but the defensive depth still needs work. We desperately need a viable back-up to Adams.
    5) MLS players still have a part to play for the USMNT, just not in the starting XI. Their speed of play/thought just isn’t at the same level as the bulk of the pool. Hopefully the Gold Cup will help fill the holes in the player pool and get some of our younger players the experience that’s desperately needed. If Gregg call’s in a bunch of “his guys” (Roldan, Lletget, Yueill, Zardes, etc…) instead of players who have the ability to help push the USMNT needle forwards it’ll be time to consider replacing him as coach before he screws us like his mentor Arena did in 2017.
    6) Still not sold on Gregg as a coach at this level. Yes he was a good player, but he has very little coaching experience. Excluding his time as USMNT head coach he has 6 1/2 years of coaching experience, none of which were in top leagues. In that time he’s coached 239 matches (39% W, 31% D, 30% L).
    These are not very good numbers when you consider TaTa, excluding his Mex games) has 620 games (50% W, 25% D, 24% L). Gregg may have one the most recent head to head Vs. TaTa….but TaTa has the more proven ability.

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  2. What I learned is that people are pretty terrible. Mark McKenzie was greeted on his Instagram story with racist comments after the game. That’s not ok, good game bad game doesn’t matter. Players and coaches are human beings and no amount of money or fame they receive makes it ok to abuse their being. Nothing they do on the pitch, court, or field gives you the right to trash their character or deem them less than human. Stay classy America.

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    • I hadn’t heard about that abuse, but I agree with you. Your post was spot on. That kind of behavior really shows a lack of class and decency with some in our fan base, which is really disappointing. I just really hope it is an isolated event. The players need to know fans like those on this board and many, many others, while we may disagree on certain topics, are in agreement in rejecting that level of civility.

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  3. we learned that Berhalter can go toe to toe with Tata, even when Herrera red cards himself and the ref looks the other way, and then awards a terrible handball late on McKenzie that Guardado justly flubbed. Also starting a new CB pairing and formation…still overcame all the BS with Dest a non-factor and still searching for a 9 who can score goals. Not bad

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    • As much as I’ve decided to reserve judgment regarding Berhalter’s tactical acumen, what I think so many of the people who are so disparaging towards him fail to recognize is how united this group of kids is behind him. This match has the potential to be an inflection point in this team’s collective development and between bringing in new players and winning over dual nationals, Gregg has been really effective in molding a tight-knit, passionate group that really fight for each other.

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      • good call, like when Weston ran straight over to him and bear hugged him. on tactics, seems to me GB won some and lost some on Sunday, just like Tata, but there was a lot going on and that’s the way these thigns go, right? I thought we looked best defending in Mexico’s third and half of the field disrupting them to create chances, and restarts, but also in the build out when we broke their midfield line; that happened best after GB had us launch some longer balls to loosen things up, pretty much a newer wrinkle. All of that stuff above–the defensive shape and ideas, the restarts on corners and set pieces, the build out attack, the long balls to help do that–that’s all GB tactical stuff that was executed well enough. How many turnovers did Mexico’s back line have? we could have scored even more off restarts. But GB also played Ream at LB after switching systems and Tata torched him for it immediately with Lainez.

      • I agree with your points. With respect to Ream, I chalk his continued involvement up to two things: a) lack of depth, party due to injuries, and b) “veteran leadership”. My guess is that our World Cup roster (fingers crossed) will have one if not both Long and Richards as backline options in his place — even and especially if we start with a back three. And I’ll be happy to have Ream as a defensive coach when he retires in a couple of years. He’s had an excellent career, but the step he’s lost is a step that will be exposed against strong opponents.

    • When it comes to tactics I’m glade to see that Berhalter has dumped his ridiculous idea about having Adams play as a RB and then go to midfield. Still, I’m not convinced about his tactical acumen. But, I don’t know that he’s bad. My problem with his coaching is some of his personnel choices. I realize that we don’t get to see the players in practice, nor access to all the video that Berhalter has, but even given that, I think some of his personnel choices leave a lot to be desired.My position has never been that Berhalter is a bad coach, just that there were any number of others we might have gotten who are better.

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  4. I think the attacking options are there and have proved to be dangerous against everyone we’ve played recently. Not sure exactly what the best way to line them up is but I am feeling pretty confident we can score, and having a striker step up as a goalscoring threat is the final piece. Defensively, though, we are a bit of a mess. We have two great GKs and one great centerback. Hard to believe we have a starter for Barca and leftback is still our biggest weakness! Everyone knows it, and Mexico certainly went after us there. Those calling for Robinson are kidding themselves, he is just Dest lite, decent going forward but weak defensively. After this window, I am starting to think Acosta might be our best bet there if we go with four in the back. Going with 3 back gets Dest back on the field but we would probably have to move Brooks over left and play Miazga in the center. Yedlin was decent and Cannon is better than he showed but we need to be scouring the ends of the earth to find more leftback options.

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  5. Things we learned …

    1. The Tim Ream experiment is done. He cannot play for a USMNT that depends on a possession/skill type of play.
    2. Richards or Long are greatly missed and will both be welcome additions to this team when healthy.
    3. Pulisic and Dest CANNOT play on the same side.
    4. The formation still needs to be solidified.
    5. Mexico CANNOT defend set pieces (for the life of me I don’t understand why they don’t have players covering the posts on corner kicks)
    6. No Musah? I realize he was in a rough patch of form … but no minutes over the course of over 2 games plus extra time played?
    7. I would like to see Dike involved. He is, as they say, “A poor man’s Lukaku.” He would add an interesting dynamic to the 9
    8. Pulisic cannot do it all. He needs to rely on his team.
    9 Goalkeeper. Controversy. Horvath forced his way into contention for the #1 jersey for the USA – now he needs to get 1st team minutes at his club – or transfer to one where he will get them.
    10. Berhalter – Inspirational yes, but tactically a mess. I wasn’t pleased with his starting 11 vs Mexico and it showed early.
    11. MLS players still have a role to play on this team and Lleget and Acosta both showed their merit in the games prior to this. Although, Lleget mightily struggled vs Honduras.
    12. If we have no Tyler Adams .. the depth drops off the chart.
    13. Lots of room for growth.
    14. Ugly gets it done sometimes.
    15. Concacaf .. ugh.

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  6. Here are my lessons .1. Ream should not evben be called in . He’s about as useful as a traffic cone on defense. 2. McKenzie isn’t ready yet for prime time. One could overlook his first mistake, but then he went and did the same thing later in the half, saved by the fact that the pass was further up field and more central. I would suggest Richards, when healthy, be given a shot and then Miazga or CCV as possible subs. Maybe in a couple of years McKenzie can be the guy, but not now unless we are playing lesser teams.3. We need Pulisic to show up for 90 minutes. He basically disappeared for about 75 minutes during regulation. I remember once when he was fouled in the Mexican third and he sat on the ground waving h is arms as Mexico started a counter attack because the ref swallowed his whistle. Pulisic has played in CONCACAF before, he should know better than to expect a call and should get back into the game quickly instead of sitting there complaining. 4. Dest was disappointing. Perhaps he went into the game thinking he was superior to the opposition, because he got his pocket picked too often and didn’t seem ready for the level of opposition. You figure he has the ability, but was missing something in the mental aspect. 5. Robinson should be a regular at LB, with Dest and Yedlin fighting it out for RB. Cannon is suited best as a sub. 6. I think Reyna should play central and someone else should be at right wing. I’m not sold on Weah, there, though. A healthy Morris might be the best option , assuming h e comes back with the same pace as before. 7. Sargent is a decent player, but he doesn’t score enough. Give Dike chances to win the job. Siebatcheu also should get more chances, but I don’t know that he is the kind of attacker we want or need. 8. I(f Adams can stay helthy that will be a big help. Acosta may be the best option when Adams isn’t available, but I think we should consider others. 9. McKennie and Brooks are the 2 most important US players right now. Give McKennie freedom to roam when possible. Brooks should direct the back line and continue to be captain. 10. Both keepers seem up to the job. I would rotate them like we used to do with Keller and Friedel.

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    • 1. Really hope Ream saves us all announces Thursday will be his last match and he’s retiring from int. Football.
      2. McKenzie wasn’t even going to be on the roster if not for Richards and Longs injuries.
      3 & 4 Dest and CP will be fine.
      5. Robinson at LB would be fine. I know he looked good in that one match against Liverpool but he also has some stinkers. It’s not like there’s a lot of other options.
      6. I wouldn’t mind Aaronson, Reyna, and CP as the wingers and 10 and they’d just all switch in and out of the different spots it’d be hard to defend. I don’t think Morris will be back for qualifying he’s unlikely to play in MLS this season, the final qualifying window is March about the time he’d return for Sounders.
      7. I’d still take Gyasi over all of them but I know no one else thinks that way, good defensively, better finisher than Sargent.
      8,9,& 10 yup! Brooks wasn’t the captain this window. Wes, Zach, and CP. I think Tyler is the captain of the future, but I’d like Wes to be just so we can see him make more faces at the ref.

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      • Thanks for mentioning Aronson. I’d like to see more of him and forgot to mention that. I think that to this point he has shown more than Weah. I would like to see Weah get in a club situation where he plays a lot more minutes; he needs more playing time, IMO.

      • Two other things I( just forgot now. I didn’t mean to imply that Dest and CP don’t belong there, just that they had poor games and should have done better and should do better in the future. Also, I am a Zardes fan and think he belongs on the team as a back up winger or sub at forward. I’ve pointed out many times that he does a lot of little things that casual fans don’t notice but coaches appreciate.

  7. I didn’t like the idea of Nations League when it was formed, as it prevents the US from booking friendlies with more desirable opponents. But we did gain in a number of areas:

    – Playing in CONCAFAF is mostly ugly soccer. We saw that with Honduras, and we’ll see it again in WCQ. Poor fields, hostile crowds, substandard officiating. The US team got first-hand exposure to those conditions in NL before starting WCQ. Herrera gets a red card in any federation except CONCAFAF.
    – With 3 games per WCQ break, depth is key. We saw the areas where we need to build depth, thinking a backup for Adams, and another central defender for starters. Hopefully candidates emerge in the Gold Cup, a tournament that is nothing more than an audition for a spot on the WCQ rosters.
    – The team was able to effectively adjust formations during the game (Weah for Dest, with Acosta shifting back). With Yedlin playing well, we may see attempts to place Dest further upfield in future games. It’ll certainly take more repetitions to see improvement in shifting tactics.
    – If Turner plays in the WCQ and acquits himself well, we will have pretty good depth at goalie.

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    • CONCACAF Nations League was formed more as a response to when UEFA formed their Nations League. And with CONMEBOL and other federations busy with their WCQs and continental tournaments, we just have no other teams left to play.
      I think once Adams is healthy and is on the field, a lot of our issues we saw in the game (outside backs exposed, disjointed moving forward, center back isolations, etc.) would be fixed, or minimized.

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      • Colleen, I agree with the rationale behind forming the Nations League. It is better to have some competition than none. But the team benefits more from friendlies against Switzerland than Honduras in the long run.

  8. 1. Reyna: MVP, natural #10 type, help-out team-mates.\
    2. Ream: is done, no more caps! his experience is worthless lack mobility and speed.
    3. MCKennie: the real Captain and pure testosterone mind-set.
    4. Dest deserve get “ear yanked”(sub).
    5. MLS players like Acosta and Llegett are not good enough for this level.

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    • @Scott, I’m not a fan of Acosta, but to be fair he played admirably well & long enough before Adam came in on Sunday night. When Acosta shifted to LB, he was able to defend solidly against the speedy Diego Lainez and helped stablize our shaky left side defense while Ream was in there for 82 minutes.

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    • Acosta played well enough against the best Concacaf has to offer to currently hold the backup #6 spot for now, but berhalter should be open to someone else stepping up to grab that spot.

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  9. Take the emotion out of match and assess the performance.
    -US was not dangerous in the run of play in or around the 18 yd box. Set pieces saved the US! El Tri was very well prepared and defended aggressively just past midfield.
    -Both backs struggled to be outlets to play out of the back? Dest surprisingly not an asset and should be. Playing from the back is really critical for the US attack. Passes from the GK or CB to backs or midfielders is the start to breaking defensive lines and the next pass is what gets Pulisic, Reyna, Sargent, etc into dangerous areas. McKennie became a consistent outlet on the right side, either moving the ball with a dribble and pass. His willingness to take on pressure and make sound decisions kept the US in the match. The US really wanted to spring Yedlin up the right but never really materialized?
    -McKenzie needs to get used to a higher speed of play. He got thrown into the deep end and admirably battled. His second bad give away came with the ball on his right foot and Reyna made a wide open diagonal run. McKenzie saw it but hesitated and did not make the pass? Then relaxed and made a bad pass. Those diagonal passes are massive going over the defensive tactics and putting ball in a one on one situation. An accurate diagonal pass is a game changer against a team who wants to press you.
    -Outstanding grit and willingness to compete speaks volumes about this group.

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