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USMNT aiming for bounce-back performance against Costa Rica

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The U.S. men’s national team hasn’t had much time to dwell on Sunday’s disappointing World Cup qualifying loss to Panama, and the good news for Gregg Berhalter and his squad is the knowledge that a win on Wednesday against Costa Rica (7 p.m., ESPN2) will give the America six points from three October qualifiers, which would ensure them a top-three position heading toward November’s qualifiers.

The USMNT is facing the pressure of delivering a response following Sunday’s flat performance against Panama, knowing that a loss to Costa Rica would drop the Americans out of the top three spots in the Concacaf stands, the positions that would ensure qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

“A win puts us in a brilliant spot at the end of this [three-game] window,” USMNT left back Antonee Robinson said. “There is definitely pressure on the game. There is pressure on all the games because of what’s at stake at the end of it — qualifying for the World Cup. That sort of pressure we enjoy.”

Robinson is one of several players who should return to the starting lineup on Wednesday after Gregg Berhalter made seven changes to the squad that beat Jamaica last week. The lineup the USMNT deployed on Sunday in Panama delivered one of the worst showings of Berhalter’s time as USMNT coach.

“Regarding the Panama performance, we looked at it with the group, we discussed it with the group, and we were off, make no mistake about it,” said Berhalter. “It was not a good game by us. I think we were a little bit slow getting to our positions to press, were late too many times pressing, which causes problems, and it causes a lot of energy on your group. Offensively, I didn’t think there was enough movement off the ball. Our expected goal value was very low in that game, which is an issue.”

Squad rotation was one of the main talking points from Sunday’s defeat, in which Berhalter made seven changes to the starting lineup. Standout stars from last week’s 2-0 win over Jamaica, including Ricardo Pepi and Brenden Aaronson, were dropped to the bench while Weston McKennie and Antonee Robinson did not travel due to separate reasons.

The attacking front of Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, and Tim Weah failed to make much of an impact in the final third while fullbacks Shaq Moore and George Bello rarely got an opportunity to deliver dangerous crosses into the box. It was a lackluster performance from the Americans offensively, and although they came out on the losing end, Berhalter stands by his decision to rotate players.

“In terms of squad rotation, one thing I want to make completely clear is when I took responsibility for the result the other day, it was not aimed at the choice of players, because we believe in every single player in this squad and I don’t regret in any moment playing that lineup,” Berhalter said. “I regret more our performance and some of the attacking adjustments we could have made in that game to be more mobile, to be moving more, but not personnel.

“We say we’re a group, and we say we’re a team, it’s the ‘next man up’ mentality,” Berhalter said. “And unfortunately, we didn’t get it done. But this game we’re hoping to have a much better performance.”

Costa Rica has won its last three World Cup Qualifiers against the USMNT and following a 2-1 comeback win over El Salvador, the Ticos will be brimming with confidence. Luis Fernando Suarez will not have the option to use Joel Campbell or Jose Ortiz following their exit from camp due to separate reasons, but Costa Rica still boasts some top-level veterans to leads Wednesday’s attempt at another win in the United States.

Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges both scored against El Salvador while Kendall Waston and Francisco Calvo are two experienced veterans in the backline. Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas continues to be one of the best at his position in Concacaf, making several important saves through the opening five matches to date.

“The strength of the Costa Rican team is their experience,” said Berhalter. “They have their players that have been through this before, they know exactly what it’s about. And that’s an advantage for them. [Keylor] Navas, I think is one of the best goalies in the region. They’ve got an experienced backline, with Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges they have experienced midfielders.

“To me, it’s a team that knows exactly how to get this job done,” Berhalter said. “There’s no surprise that they found their way back into this thing, because it’s a resilient team and a difficult team to beat.”

A Costa Rica win would move the Ticos ahead of the USMNT in the Octagonal standings, and drop the Americans out of the top three, while a USMNT victory would give the Americans at least a four-point cushion in the top three.

Comments

  1. One thing that’s absolutely maddening about this US team under Berhalter is that it doesn’t have any kind of a playing style. Every time it looks like Berhalter announced the starting 11 and just told the players to go out there and play. They almost never play as a team, there is almost never any offensive cohesion. Just a bunch of guys thrown together for a kickabout in the park. Which might at least partly explain why the team is almost always so poor in the first half. Given the level of talent, this may still be enough in CONCACAF play (there have been some good results), but it will not work outside this region.

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    • It does have a playing style. It’s what we saw against Jamaica. That was the style. What we have been seeing is that the Gold Cup team is not great at executing it. I was yelling at the TV exactly what GB says in the article – the press was slow, late or not in sync. That press is a big part of the style that is suppose to be played. When it is not executed it leaves holes and space for the opponents to exploit. Then in the offensive have there was not enough movement and playing too slowly allowing defenders to step to the ball or in passing lanes. This is the drop from Nation League squad to Gold Cup squad. His mistake (if there was one in prioritizing resting best players for the home game) was leaning to heavily on the Gold Cup guys assuming they could handle the away WCQ competition. But in nay case the team has a style. It’s just the upper echelon of the pool are the only ones who can pull it off effectively. The rest win buy loosely attempting the style while playing scrapping and defending well.

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      • there is a reason pressing college hoops teams are usually entertaining cerebral cinderellas people like until eliminated in the round of 16 by a state school or traditional powerhouse with a good coach. it’s a punch down strategy that works on undisciplined semi-athletic teams. it was not that they didn’t press panama fast enough, it was panama at least early on was playing high tempo and with athletic speed where they couldn’t be caught. pressing works with cute, lazy, sloppy, or slow teams that fart around the back or stumble over their feet. if you play fast or play smart you blow right by it. just like when UCLA destroys adorable Princeton in march madness.

        ironically, Panama was incredibly wasteful once past the press, we just spent all our personnel choices on an ineffective press and thus couldn’t keep up with a team that managed 1 home score that looked like an own goal to me. i don’t get other than as some sort of soccer IQ flex why people keep saying what didn’t work was pressing. what looked like it was missing, to me, was an offensive concept and a personnel package to execute it. otherwise a single road goal allowed is often enough for a tie or sometimes a win.

      • personally i think there are 3-4 styles. there is 433 berhalter possession corner flag ball last seen against canada. there is the looser 433 with more directness of honduras and jamaica. there is this pressing thing we did for gold cup and panama — though people miss the gold cup team had a better frontline (nico, hoppe, etc.). and then there’s the wild 343 thing for the mexico final. you can then make distinctions amongst those, we looked better in both the mexico final and honduras quali game after subs. until then, it looked shaky.

        the issue this time, to me, is we took some selection risks, and we abandoned the direct attacking thing for the pressing thing, and the question is can he get back to coherent direct soccer with a dangerous 11, or perhaps even go nuts 343 and see who wins end to end, or does he try some variation on berhalter ball or pressing with his hustle favorites. i think panama was a healthy corrective that his summer streak of a faltering offense getting that 1 goal every time, can’t be relied on in quali. if he wants to butt heads with his guys for 90 and hope, this is no longer gold cup. we have road games. we have first choice lineups. you have to show up with some danger in tactics and personnel and put the fear of god in the opponent.

  2. We were also CONCACAFed near the end of the Panama game when the ref didn’t add extra mins from all the antics of stoppages here and there in the winding minutes. Only 7 mins of extra time when the head injuries to both players took almost 10 minutes? I think an equalizer was imminent had there been a few mins added.

    You would never see this crazy stuff in US sports. Only allowed in Central America.

    Reply
    • I’m not sold an equalizer was in the books, but I too was annoyed that the ref didn’t add any extra time. He kept pointing to his watch each time something happened as if to indicate he was going to add more. But 7 min and 7 sec the whistle came

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    • But Aaronson has to put the ball in play. You are in the waning minutes of stoppage time, losing, and not showing any urgency. I am not surprised he blew the whistle. Same thing happened to England against Italy at the end of regulation or maybe one of the extra times. Saka passed the ball backwards. I knew when he did that ref was going to blow the whistle. Had Aaronson thrown the ball in right away he may have given US one more chance to attack.

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  3. personally i find all the “faith in a man” rather than “faith in results” stuff concerning. isn’t the idea of the faith to deliver the results? we are in a tenuous spot in the table at the moment.
    at a loss for how the UCL fanboys can cite all their numbers and then excuse our performance, that should be contradictory. so these are big games, the two traditional powerhouses, and this one is a bit of a potential “trap” game as well, little weaker on paper than usual, not much offense, but tough defense. so can he churn out the quali result like he churned out the rehearsal result. and then mexico after that.

    tangentially, also find it contradictory the fanboys talking our pool up but also canada’s, who has far less talent in numerical terms. there is only one “gold” medal. we can’t have a golden generation but also canada. personally the fact we’re below a floundering mexico with this talent pool grates, but worse, when are the UCL fanboys equating a team with a couple UCL talents with a loaded team, going to get cranky that (a) despite the very paper talent they like to discuss, we’re ending up within a point, and there is quiet talk maybe canada is the one who emerges this cycle — like they are that much older — or (b) you hand a coach this much talent and it looks bad and is perched on cliffedge in 2nd? i’d think that the fanboys would be more and not less attuned to the incongruities of our pool vs our results, and be the loudest and not the quietest.

    i mean, part of the defense of the man for years has been that his critics want to turn this back into kickball. i don’t think that’s accurate but yet that’s precisely what your dude did sunday…..

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    • for comparison’s sake, Bradley averaged 2.0 hex ppg towards 2010, JK had 1.83 hex ppg over 2 cycles, Arena had 1.82 hex ppg over 3 cycles (including 1.5 ppg towards 2018), Sampson had 1.7 hex ppg towards 1998, and the US had 1.375 ppg in a 5 way round robin for 1990, which I think was all or mostly Gansler. Berhalter to date is at 1.6 ppg in the Ocho after averaging 1.67 through the first window. If he wins he catches up to Klinsi and Arena including their nightmare days. If he ties or loses he’s at roughly Arena 2018 (miss) or Gansler (miracle advancement from a small group) numbers in the abstract, and it would probably look similar in the actual Ocho table, too. With Mexico next in a pair of games where we hit midway and start back down the hill to the end. Must-win. Or at least should be.

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    • Statistically, I don’t think the situation is tenuous yet. If you follow traditional logic that winning at home and tying on the road gets you to the world cup, only Mexico is in a better position to qualify than the US right now. US is only 1 point off the target whereas Canada is 2, Panama 3, Costa Rica 5, Hond and ES 6, and Jamaica 7. I understand your dislike of the coach, player selection, and on-field performances as they are well documented but if US wins today, as they should, they would be sitting in a very good position after 6 games. If they can’t beat Costa Rica at home, they probably don’t deserve to go, but they still wouldn’t be in a terrible position. I feel for you; you are stuck between rooting for the team you like and wanting a new coach but you probably don’t get a new coach unless the team you like does bad so it is kind of a catch-22. I doubt they would try to keep Berhalter for the next cycle even if they qualify and do well in world cup since history has shown that doesn’t work too well in most cases. I think I’ll drink a few beers during today’s game to dull the pain just in case … I think I’m more nervous now than I ever was as a player.

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      • the current 1.6 ppg includes home and road contests. all due respect to the “well, but normal operating order is we win at home, see what happens on the road,” hmmmm, he hasn’t beat anyone above 7th place in the table yet, and he tied canada at home. i think this team is exceptionally talented and being wasted. i think we should be hauling points. is where i am coming from. but the ppg and results say this is not even at the “bradley” type level where they in fact consistently churn the home wins and road ties where i can brush things off. if he can make canada home and panama away isolated incidents, fine. but you do that more than once and you’re bruce cycle 3 or klinsi. put up or shut up. and my point with the numbers is if it goes well, he veers towards the low end of numbers of successful predecessors. if not, he’s objectively down in the zone where the coach either got fired or we lucked out and were happy to be in italy. to be clear, statistically, that’s the win every third game zone, not the 3 home and 1 away zone. if you actually do that, run the math, that’s bradley’s 2.0 ppg.

    • results aside(ofcourse they matter), people continue to forget how young our team is, in age and in world cup qualifying experience, so while Greg has to do a better job of setting up the team personnel wise and tactically, gaining experience during this phase will benefit the team tremendously! There is no way we lose this home game, and after winning it we’ll be in a cushy position to qualify

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