Gregg Berhalter’s first tournament with the USMNT has come and gone. The US lost 1-0 in the only game where they were even remotely tested. To be frank, the whole tournament was ugly. The US never really looked that good and a lot of judgements on Berhalter and his process have already been made. I’ve got some thoughts below.
This tournament was a failure
When Gregg Berhalter named his 23 man roster for this tournament he made the expectations crystal clear. This tournament wouldn’t be about building for the future. This tournament wouldn’t be about giving younger players vital international experience. This was solely about winning the 2019 Gold Cup.
Berhalter picked who he felt were the 23 best players right now. He stressed that by including Michael Bradley and leaving 19 year old striker Josh Sargent at home in favor of Jozy Altdiore and Gyasi Zardes. He even said that while Sargent would be the striker of the future, he wasn’t at the level of Altidore and Zardes right now.
Altidore and Zardes offered almost nothing for the US throughout the tournament. I’ve lost count of how many chances they each flubbed (Altidore missing a one on one early in the final will resonate for a while). The US’s biggest attacking threat came predictably from midfielders Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. I can’t tell you that the US would have won if Sargent had played instead of those two, but I can say with confidence they would likely had still made the final. The difference is Sargent, and the team, would be better off down the line.
The only positive thing I could say about Berhalter in this tournament is that, eventually, he realized that Matt Miazga is one of his two best defenders. How long will it take him to realize that (when healthy) his best CB partnership is John Brooks and Miazga? That’s a different question.
Mexico fielded their B+ team for this tournament. They left some of their best players at home simply to give them rest. According to Berhalter this was the US’s “A” team. Mexico got some younger players some experience, the US didn’t. They also showed that the gap between their B+ side and our A side is pretty big.
That’s not a good look for Berhalter.
Michael Bradley’s time with the USMNT is over
Yes this is obviously a line from 2017 but this actually pre-dates that Trinidad game. Bradley was terrible throughout qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. He played with the urgency of someone who knew he couldn’t get dropped (under both Klinsmann and Arena). His lack of urgency and pace clogs the midfield and slows the entire US team down.
There were arguments for why Bradley should remain with the team – most notably the one that his experience would be vital for the young players on the team.
Bradley was poor throughout the tournament and even worse in the final. All his “experience” didn’t make up for his lack of pace, which was exploited for Mexico’s lone goal. All his “experience” didn’t make up for his excessive amount of turnovers, which Mexico were very wasteful with and should have won by several goals.
Bradley’s “experience” has always been overrated (his reign as captain is exactly the US’s worst period in the past 30 years). Now it’s a detriment to the team. He had a great run with the national team from 2007-2014 and that shouldn’t be forgotten. But every time he puts on a US shirt in 2019 and beyond, we come a little closer to forgetting.
The US needs Tyler Adams
As I mentioned above, the US’s biggest attacking threat came from midfielders Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. That was fine against the terrible opposition CONCACAF was throwing at them, but was exposed as soon as they played a real side like Mexico.
Due to Bradley’s immobility, McKennie was forced to sit much deeper in midfield to protect the defense. That prevented McKennie from pushing up into the attack, which became a problem getting forward when none of the MLS players the US had on offer were anywhere near the level of Pulisic.
A healthy Tyler Adams can sit at the base of the US midfield. The USMNT can get away with one immobile defensive midfielder against most of CONCACAF, but when you play real teams you have to have more flexibility.
Berhalter’s substitution of left back Daniel Lovitz made sense
Between the 61st and 64th minutes with the score 0-0 Gregg Berhalter made the following substitutions: Gyasi Zardes for Jozy Altidore and Christian Roldan for Jordan Morris. With seven minutes to go and needing a late equalizer, Berhalter replaced left back Tim Ream with… left back Daniel Lovitz.
A day later Berhalter is still getting killed for these substitutions, specifically his choice to bring on Lovitz when needing a goal.
Now, I’ve got serious questions about his choices to bring on Altidore and Roldan (rather than say Tyler Boyd who was fantastic early in the tournament), but the Lovitz substitution actually made sense from a tactical standpoint.
Tim Ream is one of those guys who I’ve always liked but also should have played his last game with the national team a few years ago. He’s a center back that can play left back with the caveat that he’s among the less mobile left backs out there.
Again, against most CONCACAF teams that doesn’t present a problem but when you play Mexico they can exploit it. The US accounted for this by having left winger Paul Arriola essentially play as a wing back to give Ream more cover.
By removing Ream in favor of the much more mobile Lovitz, the US was able to not only push Arriola higher up the field, but push their left back up as well.
Of course, if the outcome of your substitution is “this allows Paul Arriola to push higher up the field” that’s a problem in it’s own right, which brings us too…
It’s time to face the truth about Paul Arriola
Arriola was a bright young attacker when he broke into the national team under Jurgen Klinsmann. Like many young players he never fully reached his potential.
Arriola’s ceiling at the international level is Alejandro Bedoya. That’s not just OK, that’s very good! The Bedoya role (also known as the Jesse Lingard/Ji Sung Park role) is very important in international football and every team can benefit from one. The problem on Arriola’s side is he’s just not there yet.
The problem on the other side is the manager has to realize that’s what the player is. Like Bedoya, Arriola will put in a shift every time out there. He’ll chime in with a big goal every so often but if you actually rely on him to be a focal point of your attack, you’re screwed.
When it comes to these types of players coaches can’t be blinded by the big nice goals and try to give them a more attacking role. Their value is in the work-rate they’ll provide the team. Arriola is only 24 (or is he already 24?) he’ll still get better, but he’ll get better as a worker, not an attacker.