The USMNT competed in their second Gold Cup match against Trinidad and Tobago and removed some demons. This was the first time since THIS night in Couva, only the second competitive match, which has since denied the entire national team. There were a handful of players playing that night: Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola, all at the start XI. Pulisic said it himself, he played with a chip on his shoulder. The players had something to prove and they went and proved it.
Berhalter put up an unchanged lineup after Guyana's 4-zero pounding and it worked. The team opened a little stale. The USMNT was able to reach the finish and take a few shots, but nothing close enough to actually take the lead. At the other end, however, Trinidad was able to exert real pressure, leaving the field during the break and seriously testing Steffen with a few long strikes. The US could have dominated the ball and the shots, but T & T were there to make a game of it. That is, until the US has met. After beating a free-kick against a wall, Pulisic picked him up again and set a perfect cross for Aaron Long to hit the back post. After fifteen minutes, Zardes made it two. From then on, the router was on and the score jumped to six, all from the Run of Play. For too long, at least as Klinsmann fought against Guatemala and Jamaica, the small teams looked at the USMNT and said, "Do you know what, maybe we can take them." We saw Guyana trying to go to the USA a few nights ago. Well, this result was a first step in restoring the old status quo, rebuilding the reputation of the USMNT so that the small nations fear they will perish at six-zero.
And so here are some insights from this six-goal ad.
From A to Zardes
So Zardes started another game and, you know, he had a really good game. I know a lot of you like to beat him for his limitations, but since the resident guy is always pointing out when Zardes is actually playing well, it's my job to point out that he actually played it well. Today I do not really want to talk about his excellent working speed, his one-touch finishing or his (much improved) first touch. Let's come to the question of how Zardes got involved in the game.
If you waited, you could tell from the beginning of the game that Zardes played differently than usual. He usually keeps a fairly high line, pushes the center back to the back, usually stays away from the ball and runs to convert flanks and cuts into one-touch goals. However, this time Zardes did not stay on the ball. He spent much more time returning to midfield and coming into possession. There are a lot of things that, say, Jozy Altidore, would do, but not at all what we saw of Zardes. This was important as it helped to disengage the center-back from the center-back, force them to make a decision and either clear the space in front of the center-back and have Zardes play games, or move up to mark and place for Pulisic, Arriola, to create or Boyd to run. In the past, there was reason to suspect that if Zardes passed the ball in space outside the line, he would bounce ten feet off his foot and hit a defender directly. But that's not 201
There were some adjustments in the second half. Zardes landed on the ball and got more time. You can see it in his first goal. Zardes gets on the ball and puts it in the box. Trinidad and Tobago must make a choice since he stands in front of the backline. Either a central defender approaches and tries to win the ball (which would probably cause Zardes or Pulisic to get in), or he has a central defender in the middle and takes the ball. T & T decided it was time to move on. Cordell Cato came in to close the ball. That in turn brought Michael Bradley into space. Zardes threw Bradley a back pass, which discovered the (very high) run of Nick Lima and put him through. Nick Lima got on the ball and put in a cross and Zardes pulled the trigger. It was a beautiful sequence and a great example of Berhalter's philosophy. You can see how the possession of the ball draws the defenders out of the position and gives the USA room to attack.
I'm not done with Zardes, though. I want to spend a moment and see what Zardes does. I have both goals here and both show exactly where Zardes is running. Whether high up in the field or in the pits, Zardes picks exactly the position where he can split the center-backs. In his first goal, after returning to Bradley, Zardes immediately took his position a few feet from the backline. The moment the ball on the flank is switched to Lima, Zardes is on the move and runs hard towards the goal … and then the goal.
With his second, Zardes makes the same run, only much higher in the field. At the beginning of the clip, Zardes is already in the running with Pulisic on the ball on the wing and ready to run directly to the goalkeeper when a ball is played in front of him. Instead, however, Pulisic cuts inwards. The young Chelsea winger draws the attention of the entire T & T defense and takes one of the center-backs one step forward. And this is when Pulisic plays a simple slip ball in Zardes. Zardes responded to Pulisic's run by pushing AWAY off the ball, but remained between the center-backs. As a result, Zardes has plenty of room to choose Pulisic. And he just picks an absolutely gorgeous curler in the back of the net.
Successful and bright attackers are attackers who perform such simple runs over and over again, always knowing where they are outside the ball in relation to defenders. I learned this stuff by watching Robin van Persie play. And Zardes learned it as he watched Robbie Keane play. Why is Zardes getting more and more time to play? Because he does these runs all day, every day. He makes them even when they are not noticed and rewarded by his teammates. And he does it when things are going well.
The Texas Kid
Do you know who has decided to defend Gyasi Zardes? Weston McKennie.
McKennie had a good first half. After McKennie was noticeably absent from Venezuela and slightly improved against Guyana, he resumed where he left off and started the game against T & T with a slight improvement. He fought a few more tackles than in the first game, went and challenged a bit more and had one or two peaches. But he was not as involved as you really need.
And then things changed in the second half.
At first McKennie moved a little deeper. He started getting more involved, more balls, more floor cover and more good passes. And then Zardes came into conflict with some T & T players. McKennie flew out of nowhere, directly opposite the opposing players, ready to fight to defend his team-mate. It gave him a yellow card (and he should see it because another yellow will cause him to miss a match in the next two games), but it was great to see it. Here's a 20-year-old player who comes in with fire in his eyes and is ready to defend his teammate. You could take a look at the kind of fight and passion that brought players like Dempsey and Jermaine Jones into the team. And from then on McKennie was determined to put his mark on the game. Now he was EVERYWHERE. He linked passes across the field and dueled with T & T players whenever they thought about leaving the field. He was string passes and breaking games and shots. His rebounding shot led to Long's second and sixth goals. I mean he almost got a kick on his bike. McKennie was absolutely in flames, the sort of midfield presence that this team has been missing for years.
I said at this time for some games that this team needs someone who wins the ball in midfield. Tyler Adams is the penciled name for this job, but with his injury this role has remained unfulfilled. And I have repeatedly called McKennie as a candidate to cover this area. He did not really do that in the first 30 minutes. Trinidad was able to break all too easily and come down the field, with Long and Zimmerman and Steffen forced to break off the attack and reclaim the ball. But after that? McKennie came into the game and locked it. From then on, T & T had almost nothing left, and one big reason for that is McKennie.
Mix and Match
There were a lot of great achievements in this game, but the best came from the biggest star. Christian Pulisic scored a goal and two assists. But he did not really have the best first half. He was a bit slow to get in touch, did not take dribbling players and did not make the most concise runs. But at the end of the game he did the following:
What happened? Well, there were a few adjustments made throughout the team.
For starters, the match did not have the often ridiculed RB / CM role. Instead, Nick Lima played more as a modern full-back. He actually did this for a couple of games and it shows Berhalter's willingness to work from the original plan. But that was not the only craft. I have already mentioned how Zardes got more on the ball and how McKennie got into it. But also Pulisic has changed something. Over the course of the game, Pulisic spent more and more time on the left wing. It is no coincidence that the opener came from Pulisic, who picked up the ball on the left and flanked it. Instead of starting centrally, Pulisic drifted to the left and cut in the entire second half. And it brought with it dividends as Pulisic regained his self-confidence and buried Trinidad.
But that was not the only change. Tyler Boyd has been a particularly bright spot throughout the first half. He had not quite tied his shooting shoelaces, but he was by far the brightest and most active player in the attack, cutting in and making concise runs. But Berhalter took him out in the 60th minute. What's happening? Well, aside from the possibility / likely that Berhalter wanted to protect Boyd, the MLS staff members who reviewed the game pointed out that the change responded to how T & T changed their approach. I've mentioned many times how teams since 2014 have discovered that squeezing Michael Bradley stifles the USMNT's ability to hold possession and kill the team's attack. Now, after T & T fell behind and was on the way to elimination, T & T set about following Bradley. And the US responded with Jordan Morris, a fast winger who did not cut like Boyd, but stayed wide and pushed the field up. In the attempt by T & T to move forward, there was space that Morris (and Pulisic, Arriola, Zardes and Lima) could exploit. Morris took this room in spades and got two templates for his problems. In response to a winger, T & T corrected and tried to cover the floor. And that relieved Bradley's pressure.
The US needed to figure out how to deal with it when Michael Bradley was targeted. I've said it before, but it's very, very strange when teams appeal to low-profile midfielders for a selective press. If teams try to close down a player as deep as Bradley, they must send out multiple players. As a result, the defending team must make a choice, either to separate these players from the rest of the team (space between this line) or to move the entire team forward to maintain the distance (and thereby open space to the back)) , This means there is room somewhere in the field. But the US was SO dependent on Bradley to move the ball that when it was shut down, the entire crew was shut down. Many people then criticized Bradley for not handling the press. But even here it is strange to be pushed so deeply onto the field. Players in these positions are not expected to handle it perfectly. Instead, the road to victory is to play the press and exploit the space. The US has done that against Trinidad. And they have done well.
With this victory, the USMNT has reached the knockout phase of the Gold Cup. Thanks to Curaçao's victory over Honduras, the US does not have to deal with Los Catrachos in the tournament. Instead, Honduras are out and the US has to compete in the quarter-final with either Jamaica, Curacao or, more likely, El Salvador. If the US progress (they should really get ahead), they will play the winner of the second leg, probably the winner between Panama and Jamaica. This means that the USA had bad luck and in addition to the extremely favorable planned format only have to compete in the final against Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico or Honduras. I do not know anything about you, but with the way the team played in this tournament, I think the last run is the expectation.
The USMNT returns to contest their last group stage game against Panama on June 26th. A win or a tie will take them to the top of the group (thanks to the goal difference). Meanwhile, the USWNT are already in the knockout phase of the World Cup. You can see them playing Spain on 23 June.