The day has finally arrived! After over a year of waiting the new, permanent USMNT head coach took charge of his first game. The Yanks played Panama in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday night where both teams were sporting B/C teams (At best both teams were only playing 2 starters).
Before we start, here are a few reasons this performance should be taken with a grain of salt: 1. These are not the most talented players in the US pool. 2. Most of these players are learning a new system 3. Few of these guys have played together for club or country (5 players made their debuts on Sunday night), 4. All of these guys are in preseason form, and 5. Panama played like trash. With that said, here are my notes from the game:
They looked like Columbus defensively, and that worked pretty well. That is, in defense, the team fell into a 4-4-2 with Djorde Mihailovic joining Zardes on that “2” line. Panama wasn’t much of a threat going forward so stopping them was not a hard test. Nonetheless, it is good that the US passed that test.
Offensively, the shape varied from Columbus. In Columbus, Trapp and Artur shared the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder and a defensive midfielder as they sat behind Higuain who was the pure creative midfielder. This was in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Trapp and Artur on the “2” line and Higuain at the center of the “3” line. For the US on Sunday, Bradley played as a pure defensive midfielder behind Mihailovic and Roldan who shared the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder and creative midfielder. This created more of a 4-1-4-1 with Bradley as the “1” between the “4” lines and Roldan and Mihailovic as the two in the center of the midfield “4” line. This makes sense as Bradley is a more complete defensive midfielder than any player in camp was a creative midfielder. Here’s some figures to demonstrate:
Columbus’ 4-2-3-1 (2018 roster names)
Afful – Mensah – Abubakar – Valenzuela
Artur – Trapp
Santos – Higuain – Meram
Lima – Zimmerman – Long – Lovitz
Baird – Roldan – Mihailovic – Ebobisse
Then in defense Mihailovic would join Zardes up top and Bradley would fill his spot of the “4” line to create a 4-4-2 block.
The offense was creating plenty of chances, but wasn’t putting them in the back of the net. In the first half the US created 8 solid scoring chances and only scored on one of them. The second half had another half dozen unfinished chances. Again, see the above caveats. Offense takes a lot of chemistry so I think that.
Michael Bradley had some nice line-splitting passes, and covered ground pretty well. In my opinion he’s a better passer than any other defensive midfielder in the player pool. Canouse and Adams are slightly better than him defensively, but Bradley’s endurance is starting to drop. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Bradley should either be getting subbed-on, or subbed-off for any of his appearances. Use the other minutes at that position to groom his replacement. Berhalter did sub Bradley off for the last 7ish mins and brought on Trapp. I would have preferred Canouse but I won’t cry over a late sub in a friendly.
I appreciate that Long was the captain, not Bradley. First it’s a really bad look to give Bradley the armband; it says “this is more of the same” which is not the branding US Soccer is going for. Second, it would also look bad if Berhalter gives the arm band to any of his Columbus boys. Third, Long has an incredible soccer story going from 2016 USL Defender of the Year to 2018 MLS Defender of the Year in 2 years. I’m sure his journey has humbled him, and that he’ll never let his personality get in the way of the team.
The fullbacks got involved. Berhalter want’s his fullbacks to play as pseudo-central-midfielders/distributors. Very few teams in MLS use the fullback position in this way and its why Columbus’ fullbacks (Afful, and Valenzuela) are some of the best in the league. Lovitz and Lima both played that role well, Lima better than Lovitz.
Steffen was better than Johnson, but to be fair to Johnson it’s weird for a ‘keeper to get subbed on in the 75th minute. And Johnson had some nice distribution and didn’t let in any goals so he wasn’t terrible.
Ramirez put away the one opportunity that he got and had a nice turn-and-pass to Lletgett, meanwhile Zardes didn’t put away 5 or so chances he had. I think Ramirez is now officially higher on my striker depth chart than Zardes. But since Zardes knows Berhalter’s system well I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps getting call-ups.
The wingers all looked more like Ethan Finaly, not Justin Meram (Finaly and Meram were Columbus’ wingers in 2015). Ebobisse, Baird, and Lewis played well. Arriola didn’t do much in his cameo. All of them stretched the field, finding that inside lane wherein Berhalter want’s his wingers to operate (Watch a 2015 Ethan Finaly highlight reel and you’ll see what I mean by “inside lane”, it right on the edge of the 18-yard-box). But rarely did any of them cut inside to create with the central midfielders like Meram would do for Columbus. Perhaps that is more due to a lack of space since there were two “attacking” midfielders (Mihailovic and Roldan) rather than one.
Both centerbacks were solid. Zimmerman had better passing but I think Long was stronger defensively. I wouldn’t be surprised if Berhalter goes with similar pairings going forward. That is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose one CB who’s a better passer and one who’s a better defender. However it was concerning how many passes we turned over in our own half. Perhaps that is due to having only Bradley in front of the defense rather than two players.
I’m low key in love with Djorde Mihailovic. Not only was his goal a welcome relief after a shaky start to the game, but he looked threatening in the final third all game. I hope the Chicago Fire play him higher up the field this season.
Roldan had a solid performance but I think he would have operated better deeper in the midfield, next to Bradley. Perhaps if Berhalter can find a creative midfielder capable of holding the load on their own than Roldan can slide back next to Bradley.
I look forward to see how this group performs against a sterner test next week against Costa Rica! Check back for more analysis then!
Sidenote: The stadium was practically empty (like 6,000 people in a 60,000 plus person stadium). There were complaints of expensive tickets (the cheapest tickets were $32, up in the nosebleeds). If I recall correctly, US Soccer talked about raising USMNT ticket prices last year in order to help raise funds for academies across the country making them cheaper for players (I have a distinct memory of this but cannot find the source so don’t quote me). In theory, this makes a lot of sense; take money from the people who are willing to spend it and use it to subsidize those that can’t afford to play the game. In practice, it means the USMNT plays in front of smaller crowds, which also probably means less revenue. This also does not bode well for the MLS Expansion hopeful in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s is worth noting that their USL stadium only seats 5,000 … perhaps that has something to do with the low attendance on Sunday. We’ll see what Saturday brings against Costa Rica in San Jose (19,000 capacity Avaya Stadium).