By Clemente Lisi – AUSTIN, TX (Jun 13, 2022) US Soccer Players – The USMNT is close to wrapping up its FIFA window of friendlies and Nations League matches. After Tuesday’s road game against El Salvador, the Americans will play two more September friendlies before the start of the World Cup. The games played over the past two weeks gave us the chance to see part of a unique process en route to Qatar 2022.
The big picture takeaways are plenty of positives for coach Gregg Berhalter to work with over the coming months. The US defeated Morocco handily by a score of 3-0 and followed that up with a tough scoreless draw against Uruguay. After the two friendlies, the USMNT opened up its Concacaf title defense this past Friday with a 5-0 rout of Grenada (four of those goals from Jesus Ferreira) in their last match on US soil before the World Cup.
“Overall, pleased with the whole group and the mindset,” Berhalter told reporters in Austin following the Grenada win.
The Americans put in a solid showing over the past three games, a prelude potentially of what’s to come in Qatar as a new generation of US players attempt to get the team into the knockout round. The USMNT is in Group B along with England, Iran, and Wales, who only recently qualified after defeating Ukraine in a playoff match.
With three games in the books and one to go, here’s a look at what we’ve learned.
Plenty of options at goalkeeper
The USMNT has always benefited from strong goalkeeping, and this year is no different. Over three games, Berhalter used Matt Turner against Morocco and Grenada and Sean Johnson for Uruguay. What we learned, some could argue we knew already, is that there’s plenty of depth here. The key will be who Berhalter will start come November.
It’s not much of a controversy. Berhalter can take three goalkeepers to the World Cup, and all need to be strong. Red cards and injuries still happen at the World Cup, so any backups need to be just as good in difficult situations. We saw that at last summer’s Nations League final, and it’s once again a strength for the USMNT.
What about that left back position?
Left back has been a trouble spot for the USMNT in the past. For a variety of reasons, holding down left back for the United States hasn’t been straightforward. That’s changing, but it still raises concerns. National Teams, like clubs, are often defined by their last outing. Memories are short, and that’s something to be aware of here.
Antonee Robinson played well against Grenada, always on the front foot and providing cover at the back. More importantly, he sent balls forward and was essential in the attack as well. It’s the type of two-way play that makes the US strong on this side of the field for the first time in years.
Zimmerman remains a rock in the back
Center backs are so important and the US has found both talent and consistency with Zimmerman. His place in the depth chart should come as no surprise after his performances over World Cup qualifying. After all, the Nashville SC star has captured back-to-back Defender of the Year awards in 2020 and 2021.
While goalkeepers get much of the credit for shutouts, Zimmerman was key for the US against Uruguay, arguably their toughest match during this June window. But clearing balls and making tackles was not all Zimmerman accomplished in that game. He also completed 51 out of 58 attempted passes, an 88% success rate, and that is also what makes him a wonderful center back.
Midfield looks solid
Berhalter has spent his time as US coach building the depth chart with both MLS stars and those playing abroad. His 4-3-3 formation relies heavily on the midfield, and that’s not a bad thing.
It’s all about managing the buildup, and it was great to see Weston McKennie back in action after a mid-season injury with Juventus sidelined him. While he works towards full fitness, McKennie is showing why he’s such an important component of this offensive engine. Against Uruguay, he played in the middle alongside Tyler Adams and Yunas Musah, showing how much of a difference they can make in an attack oriented setup against a top tier opponent.
Converting chances will be key
The US scored eight goals in three matches, giving up none. Those are numbers to be proud of, regardless of the opponents, going into the El Salvador game. Berhalter’s squad is showing that their version of the press can work against a variety of opponents.
Creating goals is essential, and so is how they’re created. For example, Ferreira’s second goal against Grenada came after 19 passes, the most since 2015. It is exactly the type of buildup that all US fans would like to see more of going forward. It’s a very good sign that this team can do just that in these key pre-World Cup tests.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The changing perception of soccer in the United States
- Preview: The 2022-23 Concacaf Nations League
- The USMNT faces an interesting June schedule
- 5 USMNT players closing out interesting seasons in Europe
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com