The US opened their World Cup Qualifying campaign focused on one thing: redemption from the disaster that was 2017. While fans may be quick to hit the panic button after a summer of success and 4 years of anticipation, a point away from home in the opener of this final qualifying stage isn’t anything to panic about–not yet at least.
I think we all know how incredible Gio Reyna is at this point, but wow. The US didn’t show all that much going forward, but Gio once again showed why he could very easily be our best player by the time Qatar rolls around. The first half was a little bit quiet, although he did nearly register an assist, swinging in a great ball from a free kick which Miles Robinson failed to finish. He came out a different animal in the 2nd half, gliding past defenders and once again nearly registering an assist as Weston McKennie nodded just wide from close range. 6/9 dribbles completed and 2 big chances created whilst playing out of position (I’m a firm believer he’s a central player) is not a bad showing.
The hero of the Gold Cup, Miles Robinson wasn’t able to replicate his goal despite being gifted a great chance in the 1st half. Outside of that, we may have found our 2nd-choice center back for the foreseeable future. Robinson’s ball progression was good, albeit sloppy at times. In his defense, everyone was incredibly sloppy, so his play looked more refined in comparison to many others. Robinson always seems in control when defending 1v1 and his ability to progress the ball impressed. The defense was solid all night long, largely because of Robinson being in control at all times. Hopefully a John Brooks-Miles Robinson pairing is deployed in one of the next two games, as that may be our best pairing right now.
Konrad didn’t dazzle, but there were flashes of that incredibly confident and direct winger that we’ve seen for Marseille this season. There was one particular moment in transition where he accelerated past 2 or 3 defenders before laying it off to Josh Sargent, who took too long to shoot and the chance was wasted. I think Konrad can truly be a difference-maker off the bench against somebody like Canada or Mexico with a more stretched field.
I thought Josh Sargent was really, really good. That may be an unpopular opinion, but I was really impressed. He’s always going to give you that work rate and pressing ability, but I thought his overall play was really good. He dropped in and picked up the ball numerous times and sprung a few attacks that way. He also had a few nice turns and runs in behind to stretch the defense, and nearly scored as his volley bounced just wide of the right post. Fans are going to get tired of the goals and assists not showing up, but I thought the service was really poor for most of the game–he’s bound to find the net if the service is cleaned up.
I’ll go to war defending Weston McKennie but it really wasn’t his night. 3/14 on duels, an ungodly number of sloppy first touches, and numerous poor giveaways. He nearly saved his performance with a goal, but his header was just wide as the US squandered another great chance. Weston is a special player and an integral part of this team’s success, so a bounce-back against Canada would be massive.
Another player I love, another disappointing showing. Sergiño Dest struggled to make a real impact going forward. Playing on the left as a right-footed player isn’t easy, and I still believe his strongest performances come on the right (not to mention Jedi on the left–don’t get me started) but even out of position he could’ve been better. I expect the whole team to rebound against Canada, but Dest needs to shine.
Brenden Aaronson ghosted for large portions of this match, and it highlighted 1 key switch Berhalter has to make. Aaronson’s slight frame makes it really difficult to compete in the middle of the park in CONCACAF. He can put his 1v1 dribbling on display as a winger without the physicality needed to play centrally–so why not swap Gio Reyna into the middle, where he belongs, with Aaronson on the wing playing direct and finding goals? This is still a learning process for the entire team as well as Berhalter, but the details should be ironed out somewhat quickly if we want to qualify with ease.
Overall Match Thoughts
I thought the first ~10 minutes were really encouraging, and then the last 35 minutes of the first half were terrible. We couldn’t keep the ball, we couldn’t take a controlled first touch, we couldn’t play out from the back, and the El Salvador high press was wreaking havoc. The array of poor touches almost made it feel like the team wasn’t focused. Lazy passes killed numerous attacking opportunities and nearly gifted a few chances the other way. Despite all of the negatives, we created something like 1.6 xG compared to just 0.3 from El Salvador–if one of those headers goes in, the conversation today is totally different.
I also don’t think this is a reason to panic. I could feel the stadium shaking through the TV. The atmosphere was electric and CONCACAF away games are never an easy task. Add that to no Pulisic, Brooks, Steffen, and a team full of first-timers in terms of World Cup Qualifying games, and you’re bound to get some struggles. The real worry comes if Berhalter can’t rally the team for a big performance at home on Sunday. Home matches are where qualifying is won and lost and 3 points is absolutely necessary. A 7 point window would be a great start, but there has to be a sense of urgency after missing this opportunity against El Salvador.
My absolute biggest takeaway, though, was that this team is really deep. 3 years ago, no Pulisic was equivalent to certain doom. Now, there’s enough depth to be comfortable with essentially all 25 guys on this roster playing heavy minutes, along with some guys that aren’t even on the roster. Sure, the result didn’t come with Pulisic out, but there was a lot of positive takeaways despite the draw.
The US faces Canada on Sunday, September 5 at 8pm ET/7 CT.
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Main Image Credits- Embed from Getty Images