Five Pre-Gold Cup Takeaways from the USMNT



Wednesday night was busy for the United States Men’s National Team. The Stars & Stripes played their first of two tune-up games ahead of the start of the Gold Cup, and the last friendly before the roster was finalized to 23 men. What follows will be some of my thoughts on both the deeply frustrating 1-0 loss to Jamaica, and the 23-man final roster.

Best Moments Come From Out Wide

The Red, White & Blue started the game brightly, managing to release players down the wings who subsequently were able to put balls into the box. Paul Arriola and Cristian Roldan both got to the byline early and delivered dangerous crosses that ended up being the Yanks’ best chances for most of the game. Even Josh Sargent’s flukey chance with time winding down came as a result of a deflection off a ball played in from the wing. The problem was that those chances were as good as it got for the U.S.

Final Ball Lacking

One of the biggest issues on the night was that once the Yanks got the ball into the final third things broke down time and time again. Whether it was playing through the middle or trying to attack from out wide, the U.S. repeatedly failed to get the final ball right. While they repeatedly were able to get crosses into the box, too often there would only be one or two players to aim for and the ball wouldn’t find one of them. When it came to trying to pick the right pass in central areas, either the recipient of the ball would lose possession, the pass wouldn’t find its mark, or there simply wouldn’t be a forward pass to make. The team seemed to sorely miss the presence of a creative player who is able to dictate play from deep and pick the right passes to play around the 18-yard box. For much of the night the team looked bereft of ideas in the area of the field when it needed them most.

Sloppy Play Abounds

Even in other areas of the field there was plenty of sloppiness and perhaps even rustiness on display. Loose passes, losing possession cheaply, and failing to close players down the way Wil Trapp did on the Jamaica goal plagued the U.S. all night. For some players who haven’t played a competitive game in three or so weeks since the end of the European seasons it was a little more understandable. But for guys like Trapp, Paul Arriola, and even the normally assured Zack Steffen, who have been in the throes of the MLS season, it was bewildering to see. Not to make this the Pick on Wil Trapp Show, but for someone who has done a lot to improve his stock in his recent national team outings, his showing was all the more disheartening.

Few Surprises on the Final Roster

In the end, the final 23-man Gold Cup roster doesn’t necessarily have a ton of surprises on it. The usual suspects are there with the inclusion of big guns like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie coming as a shock to literally no one. What is interesting is the fact that a lot of players who were probably on the bubble going into Wednesday night didn’t necessarily do a lot to improve their stock. Djordje Mihailovic was dreadful aside from a couple smart passes, and Antonee Robinson looked very much like a square peg forced into a round hole system-wise. The exception for me was Duane Holmes, who quite frankly was a breath of Alpine-fresh air upon entering the game. He was lively on the ball and off it, didn’t hesitate to take on defenders, passed the ball well, and even got back defensively a few times. I was very happy to see his name on the roster, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was his second-half performance, albeit in limited time, that punched his ticket.

One Surprise Omission

For my part I was a little surprised not to see Sargent’s name on the final roster. While he didn’t have his best game on Wednesday night, his hold-up play was good for the most part, and he tended to make good decisions with the ball the few times his teammates actually managed to get it to him. That was the problem though, as I spoke about above the U.S. had so much trouble getting the final ball right that Sargent was starved of service for long stretches of time throughout the game. Gregg Berhalter did speak about how Sebastian Lletget’s injury meant losing his ability to provide depth at multiple positions, and said that after losing Lletget the coaching staff no longer felt they could carry three out-and-out strikers. It does end up being unfortunate though, since Sargent will now miss out on both the Gold Cup and the U-20 World Cup, as many thought his omission from the youth squad meant he was a lock for the senior tournament. Such is the way of things though, and while the good news is that the striker is only 19 and should have plenty more opportunities, it’s still a shame

There you have it — my thoughts on both the Jamaica game and the roster that the U.S. will bring into the 2019 Gold Cup. Sunday’s match against Venezuela should provide a much better measuring stick of what we should expect to see from the national team in the tournament.

While we don’t yet know whether Berhalter will play what he perceives as his best XI or choose to experiment again, at least the team will be comprised of players who will be along the ride for the tournament. As always, keep it right here at The Mane Land for the duration of the tournament as we’ll have you covered with recaps of every USMNT game.


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