Jeff CarlisleFootball correspondent in the United States6 minute read
AUSTIN, Texas — Eighty-one minutes into Thursday’s day Concacaf Nations League quarter-final first leg Trinidad and Tobagothe poverty index for UNITED STATES the men’s national team was in full red line.
The United States had been playing with the power play for over 43 minutes, dominated possession to the tune of 75% and had nothing to show for their efforts on the scoreboard. The offense was virtually unguardable for much of that time. Even VAR seemed to work against the USMNT, denying them the penalty originally awarded in the 60th minute when Weston McKennie was shot in the box by T&T Daniel Phillips. The United States’ night seemed to come to an end in the 75th minute, when two T&T defenders were injured – essentially giving the home team an 11-8 advantage – and they still couldn’t create a goal. occasion. aim.
So with nine minutes remaining, the United States was looking at a real possibility of qualifying for Monday’s second leg in Port of Spain with an aggregate score of 0-0. Given that the Soca Warriors eliminated the United States from qualifying for the 2018 edition, world Cup the last time the two teams met in Trinidad, it was enough to shake American fans.
Fortunately for the United States, a combination of T&T fatigue and more brutal attacking methods allowed the home team to step up a gear. Ricardo Pepi, Antonée Robinson And Giovanni Reyna each scored in seven minutes to clinch a 3-0 victory, giving the United States some breathing space before the second leg. “I felt like we didn’t panic at any point,” Robinson said after the game. “We just knew we had to keep going and I feel like this team is really good at that.”
There is reason to be optimistic and worried. This game was another example of the United States’ difficulty getting past an overmatched opponent who used a low defensive block. The USMNT followed a similar scenario in a September match against Uzbekistanwhen two late goals, with a man in the lead, clinched a 3-0 victory. While the penchant for late goals is admirable, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the success against the Soca Warriors was more down to the visitors’ resilience than the USA’s brilliance.
The home team certainly made life difficult, especially in the first half. Manager Gregg Berhalter blamed this on a “lack of precision” in the final third. But the United States looked almost too comfortable in possession and were determined to try and score the perfect goal. “We were actually just trying to get the ball over the line,” the defender said. Tim Réam said.
Reyna seemed determined to take as many touches as possible rather than playing quickly. Malik Tillman was simply nonchalant at times, lulled into a false sense of security by the easy possession the United States maintained. THE PSV Eindhoven The man didn’t seem to realize that this was a match that was going to become more of a street fight, and he had to adapt. He never did.
What the U.S. really needed was to mix up their attack more, with heavy-handed methods like extra shots from outside the box. A more direct game, at the right time, could have allowed the attacker Folarin Balogun to get behind the T&T defense more easily. In the second half, the first approach worked, increasing the pressure on the visitors and even resulting in a goal thanks to a long-range strike from Robinson.
It’s an approach that creates inner conflict for Berhalter. He is a man who has long favored the game of possession, sometimes to the detriment of the team he coached. When the subject of longer range shots came up, he said: “It’s not something we like, but I think the opportunity was there and we didn’t take advantage of it often.”
It’s certainly not the highest percentage play a team can make. But the reality is that the United States needs both approaches, the leather approach and the lace approach. Hitting longer shots can have the effect of pulling a bunker team like T&T a little further from its shell, which has the effect of creating a little more space for the intricate patterns Berhalter loves. Subsequently, it was generally agreed that the home team had been too slow to recognize that this was what the game demanded.
“We have the players to be complex. We know that. It does the trick on the other side,” Ream said. “Can we cause problems by shooting from outside the box? Surprise; we scored one with ‘Jedi’ (Robinson.) So yes, it’s something we need to do more often, not to mention in one way or the other.”
Of course, it helps that Pepi keeps leaving the bench with his hair on fire. His goal was the seventh he had scored for the United States this calendar year, five of which came as a substitute. No striker worth his salt wants to start the match on the bench. But for now, Pepi as a super-sub isn’t a bad card to play, and the player seems willing to accept that this could be his role in the future, at least for now.
“I worked really hard for this opportunity and for these moments,” Pepi said. “It’s my mentality that has motivated me so far, and I just have to take on my role. If my role off the bench is my role, then I’m going to take it on.”
The United States realizes it is halfway to its goal of reaching the NLC semifinals. Taking care of business on Monday will have the added benefit of securing qualification for next summer. Copa Americawhich remains the best competition the United States will participate in before the 2026 World Cup, which it co-hosts with Canada And Mexico. Yet the experience of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup leaves an undercurrent of worry, even with a three-goal lead.
“I wouldn’t say it’s relaxing and the cigars are out and it’s over,” Ream said. “We still have to go out there and do a job and we want to win. I think the ultimate goal is to win as many games as possible and so that’s our mindset.”