Top Stories

The USMNT and Berhalter were taught a lesson in draw with Canada


The final score was even at 1-1, and the points shared were also the same, but to best understand why Canada can walk away from Sunday’s World Cup qualifying draw against the U.S. men’s national team feeling much better than the Americans, you need only recall two scenes from the second half.

The first consisted of Canada coach John Herdman turning to his bench and deploying star attackers Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan in the 65th minute of their match. It was clearly a pre-planned deployment, and one you could see coming the moment Canada’s starting lineup was announced.

The second scene to recall was later in the second half, after the 70th minute, the USMNT had just seen a promising counterattack thwarted by an off-the-ball foul by Tyler Adams, and soon after Alphonso Davies was seen favoring a leg, suffering a knock that would eventually force him off, much to the delight of the American defense. Canada had already made three substitutions by that point, including the aforementioned double-sub of David and Buchanan, yet Berhalter stood pat, all five substitutions in hand, and waited for the moment to make changes.

Berhalter waited until the 83rd minute, which left Josh Sargent, Konrad De La Fuente and Cristian Roldan little time to make an impact.

The reason these two scenes are notable is because in them we saw one coach being proactive, and having a well thought-out gameplan come together, while we saw another coach be reactive, and ultimately react later than he should have.

The final result was a performance that exposed both a young team, and its coach. As much as it shouldn’t be a complete surprise a team as young as the current USMNT squad might have some growing pains adapting to the grind of World Cup qualifying, the “still learning the ropes” excuse will only ring more and more hollow as time goes on, especially if other teams in the Octagonal figure out the tough terrain more quickly than the Americans.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

You need only look at Canada for an example of a team that responded quickly to a painful lesson. The home draw against Honduras last was bitterly disappointing, but the Canadians responded with a resolute performance in Nashville. Herdman deserves a lot of credit for having the humility to pass on the chance to simply deploy all his attacking weapons from the start in an attempt to stand toe-to-toe with the Americans, choosing instead to go with a defensively-sound 5-4-1 setup that frustrated the Americans, and left the attacking threat to Alphonso Davies’ speedy forays, while he kept Buchanan and David fresh for a second-half attack.

The Canadian game plan worked perfectly, and not only secured the road point the Canadians came to Nashville to grab, but very nearly earned the visitors all three points.

Meanwhile, the U.S. attack that had such a hard time in El Salvador on Thursday once again struggled badly to find solutions to crack Canada’s defensive wall. Once you factor in the struggles of the defense, which was exposed on multiple occasions by Canada’s speedsters, it’s tough to look at Sunday’s USMNT performance as anything but a major cause for concern.

In a vacuum, Sunday’s result would have been one the Americans might have been okay with surviving, especially given how many times Canada set up golden chances only to waste them, but what made the draw a panic-inducing result is the fact it came three days after the 0-0 draw in El Salvador, leaving the USMNT sitting on two points from two qualifiers, and sitting outside the automatic qualifying places for the World Cup.

It might seem extremely premature to even be talking about the standings when you consider the Octagonal consists of 14 matches, but tell that to fans who remember all too well what happened the last time the Americans began the final round of qualifying failing to win either of their first two matches.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

The good news for the USMNT is that the Octagonal offers more margin for error than the old Hexagonal, with the four extra matches offering more points to grab. The bad news is there are more teams in the mix who can figure things out and potentially make a run at the top-three automatic qualifying spots, like Panama, which has jumped out to a surprising four-point start to qualifying.

What matters now is how the Americans respond as they prepare for a difficult road test at Honduras. The absence of Gio Reyna, the USMNT’s most creative player, certainly hurts, and McKennie’s uncertain status for the match, and the circumstance surrounding his suspension, continue to cast a dark cloud over the September qualifiers, but there is still enough talent on the U.S. team to win in Honduras.

The question now is will this U.S. team and its coach take the lessons learned from its opening draws and respond with the kind of performance expected from them when qualifying began, or will we see yet another lackluster performance to complete the kind of disappointing September few could have envisioned back when the USMNT was raising trophies in the summer?


  1. This lesson should have been understood by Berhalter when he lost to Canada in 2019 for the first time since 1985.. The USMNT was better under JK. It was a mistake to fire him. He qualified for the 2014 World Cup and advanced out of the group stage and narrowly lost to Belgium and I’d wager he would have qualified for Russia had he not been fired. This program has moved backwards and it’s not even enjoyable to watch this team.

    I believe the MLS based players would be better suited for WCQ because they play against a similar level of competition every week. I don’t think the EURO based players can handle the physicality. What we need for qualifiers are battle tested warriors who will go out and battle. Euro players like Dest and Brooks should be on the World Cup squad but qualifiers should be left to players with something to prove.

    The smart play would be to bring back JK. He’s familiar with the program and could step right back in. The next best option would be to bring in either Brian Smetzer, Greg Vanney or Somebody like Peter Vermes who might light a fire under these spoiled little boys.

  2. I’e been supporting this team since the 1970’s. I wanted to make that clear. We used to cheer when our USMNT would string 4-5 passes together in those days. We as Sunday league players played better than they did and wondered why some of us weren’t called up. There were no online, WiFi or YouTube outlets. When I see this imp McKinnie do this to the USMNT I have to raise my arms in disgust. Does he really know how many sacrifices were made to further the game in this country.

  3. Somebody tell Berhalter Honduras is only good for 45 minutes. Press, press, press. Put Sands at the 6, Bello at left fullback and Pepi out wide. Ya picked young players for a reason, they don’t know any better so let them run forever and go win 3-1. Your two goals down to Panama and one to Canada.

  4. my deal is this. the snobs wanted a coach to play attractive knockaround soccer. it is that? no, we look like a mess. setting aside my defensive critiques. the rest of us were sold that this would elevate the team even beyond where it had been, much less qualifying. in which case, cold bloodedly, where’s the beef? nope. this will be lucky to match what previous teams did, we’re now falling back to maybe with some room he can qualify us. he’s bruce arena then. no thanks. last, to me this was always a fashion choice and now everyone in the region has adopted similar fashion, with sometimes more effective coaching. this has ceased to be a competitive advantage, if it ever was, which i don’t believe. this was one issue i always had with this argument, was the idea that whatever New Thing our coach tried, like it would remain exclusively our intellectual property, and no team would imitate it, or spend their time figuring out ways to throw wrenches in it. most good war planning assumes another team playing the game. we don’t.

    to the extent people are saying we will have no time to actually coach people, this is bunk. as with nations league group play, we can — and likely will — camp offseason MLS players for a few weeks before winter quali windows. that would serve to keep those players fit — regardless who coaches — but could also be used by a new coach for talent eval and system implement.

  5. BTW

    For all those blaming Yedlin on for Dest. Dest stinks defensively and already was torched for a goal, Larin just didnt take the goal on the wide open cross and completely exposed US D

  6. Hmmmm, I hear you Ives

    But dont forget. Each one of those player is wearing the bra monitor. They know exactly where the player is biometrically. We dont. and when the coach subs out the hot winger “too early” or doesnt sub quickly enough. Maybe he has a guy that is gassed and we just havent seen the effects yet…or in this case, maybe the guys out there is who he wants out there and all are still performing physically.
    with all the Roldan hate, you would thinking everyone would agree with that.

    or maybe they just want to hate GB?

    • I’m not sure they have access to that in real time. I think when Erickson collapsed this Summer it was brought up and said they don’t. I’m not sure if the person knew for sure or was just speculating though.

  7. While I agree with the general conclusions Ives makes, the fact is that Canada scored before he brought on the subs not after. Also, they scored because Dest had to leave due to injury and Davies beat Yedlin on pace and that is what set up the goal, not any coaching maneuver. Let me be clear that I agree that Berhalter has shown a lot of shortcomings, but I think sometimes people will ignore facts in order to prove their point. What Berhalter and his players should have learned is that they should adjust their tactics to fit the personnel on the other team. And, I will ask again. How is it that young men in their early 20’s who make a living playing professional soccer, can’t handle more than 60 or 70 minutes of soccer, even if it is in Nashville? Hell, when I was 25, 26 I don’t ever remember getting tired playing soccer. When I was in the service I spent some time in Texas in the summer and I would play indoor handball for an hour and a half when the temperature was over 100. We had to run a mile and half for time when I was there and I was relieved because it was overcast that day and “only” 95. Because of my handball playing, I lapped all the other guys in my group and I’m not an athlete. I have no sympathy for guys who can’t play for 90 minutes when you have a 15 minute rest period in the middle and lots of times during the game with stops in play.

    • Berhalter has his ‘system’ that likes to talk about. His system is no good and he is no good. He needs to take his analytics and shove them up his ass. Good old know how and gut feelings is what is needed here. Grit and guts for this match, something he is is short supply of.

  8. Excellent article. Canada did deserve the result with solid game management. Had we snuck a goal in right at the end to get 3 points, I think fans would feel just as worried. BUT, a prediction: this team surprises everyone with a 2-0 shutout in Honduras. The panic ebbs slightly until the next round.

    • the schedule is easier next set of 3 but so many of these games are in substantial chunks you commit to several further games each month he lasts, and the potential for further disaster exists. he screws up another 3 and we’re almost half done with quali. you can’t swap coaches mid-window if game 4 or 5 is also bad. and the thing to me is we have never looked good so i want the team quarantined and under new treatment. new selection eyes. new formation and tactics where maybe they look free and interactive and not like bored prisoners. competent defensive selection. and more pointedly, i get we tend to fire coaches only when the wheels come completely off, but where do you see this going if he does manage to squeak through? what would you expect from us in qatar playing like this? there is risk, new coach, sees them a week each window. but GB at this rate it will be can we get 3rd spot behind mexico and honduras.

  9. John Herdman used a very similar game plan that the Canadian women used to beat the US at the Olympics: Bunker 11 behind the ball as long as needed, and break with speed when you get possession. The Canadian women had very few scoring opportunities but scored the only goal on a PK and went on to win the gold medal.

    Herdman knew he had an advantage with his bunker strategy with Davies, Give credit to Herdman and his much improved Canadian men’s team. They gave Mexico a battle in the GC semi-finals, and play with confidence. This US fan thinks this Canada team is good enough to grab a ticket to Qatar.

    Not to make excuses, but the opening WCQ schedule was unusually hard, with 2 long distance away games to Central America sandwiched between a very good WCQ opponent. In contrast, Canada has 2 home games and no travel south of the US border. Games in Central America means substandard fields, hostile crowds, and teams who treat the game against the US like the WC final.

    Winning in CONCAFAF depends on grit, effort, and mental toughness. The games are often not attractive, but are often frustrating. The players are now getting a crash course in how to play and win in the WCQ. For Wednesday, the US needs to match Hondura’s intensity, so a draw is realistic.

    This US fan thinks, barring a multitude of unexpected injuries, that the US will make the cut. A deep roster makes a difference in the long haul, and will make the necessary adjustments.

    • the problem is our tactics and formation are aspirational — like we want to make a style change and show off — where most everyone else’s tactics and formation are designed to maximize points and advancement chances. we want to belong and be in a club. they want to win a soccer game. if you noticed the nations league 343 or our gold cup team defense have disappeared and we’re back to proving a point in his 433.

      what got lost when the euro snobs seized the apparatus is tactics are usually derived from assessing personnel and deploying them to get a result, not forced upon a roster to make a point.

      • If he actually called in players that can dribble or pass under pressure which is what he said he wanted his tactics would be fine. He’s gone back to Arena players to play possession style. Either the passing needs to be quicker or you need to be able to turn and go by the defender. Why is are midfield always under so much pressure? Because they are too predictable! It wouldn’t matter what tactics you use if take that long to pick a pass or you only pass back if under even light pressure.

  10. And apparently he only calls yueill smh, we need wingers in case either pulisic or konrad go down or switch to a 3 5 2 Robinson and yedlin in the wings. Finally how about just getting the result and let honduras have the ball and counter attack?

  11. Agree with SBI take on Berhalter, the criticism is fair. His game management seems to be the weakest part of his skillset, and that might be a problem in international soccer. I’m sure every youth coach in America could have seen that our players were gassed at the 60 min mark. I can think of no defense for not making at least 2 subs at that time. It should have been planned regardless, because we do have a third game to play, that we now need to win! Sargent came in with some serious energy and started to finally link our attack, but it was far too late. If this is a recurring problem and we are gonna stick with Berhalter, could we hire a “tactical” assistant? Like we did for JK. Cmon US Soccer.

    • the problem with hiring someone to play a “new way” is they hem themselves in tactically by ascending to the job on those terms. there is a reason most teams hire a winner who can adjust as opposed to a theoretical, unproven zealot. all he can say is you don’t play my style correctly. personally i think it’s obnoxious to pretend he understands soccer better than the rest of us and can teach us how we have to change our ways. it’s a political bumper sticker. he’s a mid table coach. if he was tapped into genius they would have won a few MLS Cups like sir alex won europe at aberdeen.

  12. So a coach who never really won anything in MLS keeps having deer in the headlights moments on the international stage. Gee, who would have thunk?
    Our talents deserve a more seasoned and proven world class coach. Time will tell but so far not so good.
    Don’t really care for the summer trophies – a miracle win vs Mexico first thanks to an amazing goalkeeping display and then a tournament of B and C sides. It was all smoke and mirrors like beating up on crappy teams ins friendlies.
    If we lose in Honduras time for a coaching change. Too much talent on this squad for it to be a wasted with a hyper conservative coach of neophyte tactical acumen.

    • people forget arena won gold cup in 2017 just months before blowing up quali in trinidad. people who love the euros, i think like 1 team in recent history won the euros then world cup. it matters less than people think. if anything it can make a coach arrogant and stubborn that he has it sorted precisely when he needs to be hungry and creative.


Leave a Comment