June Window Creates Foggy Future For U.S. Men’s Soccer

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) played a total of four games during their June window. Two of those were friendlies, played against Morocco and Uruguay. The other two opponents were Grenada and El Salvador, as part of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Nations League.

A lot of credit is due to the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer) for scheduling worthy opponents for those friendlies. Both Morocco and Uruguay qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, just as the U.S. did. Even though both teams didn’t bring their entire A-Team, they provided enough of a challenge for the Americans that opted in to this camp.



Morocco Game (June 1st)

As stated above, not all the best players were available to play for these other squads. Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea and Youssef En-Nesyri of Sevilla were the two headliners that didn’t attend this summer camp for Morocco, but those two don’t make or break the team. En-Nesyri’s teammate at Sevilla, Bono, is an elite goalie and was there to play. Also, the €64.5M man from PSG, Achraf Hakimi, started and played 77 minutes before being subbed out.

Regardless of who was going to show or not for the Moroccans, the U.S. knew they needed to show up and deliver. They did just that by burying Morocco by a score of 3-0. A 26th minute goal by Brenden Aaronson set up by a beautiful pass across from Christian Pulisic put the U.S. up early.

Just six minutes later, Timothy Weah added to the lead with an absolute rocket off his right foot through Bono’s hands and into the net. To finish things off, Pulisic handed the ball off to his long time youth team partner, Haji Wright, who placed his penalty kick perfectly to the left side and into the net.

Overall a really good showing for the U.S. despite many missed opportunities, especially from striker Jesús Ferreira. Some analysts believe that even with the 3-0 scoreline, little could be taken away from the game, but that’s obviously subjective. Actually it added to the growing belief that Weah has locked up the right wing position and that Aaronson can be a real threat in the midfield, opposed to his natural wing position.



Uruguay Game (June 5th)

Of all the opponents in this window, Uruguay offered the toughest test. They boast quite a bit of everything in order to really challenge the young American squad. They brought proven attackers like Edinson Cavani and Liverpool’s newly acquired striker, Darwin Nunez. Also on the trip was long time goalie Fernando Muslera, and Uruguay’s all-time leader in caps for the National team, defender Diego Godín.

Even with all this talent, the Americans were able to go blow for blow with FIFA’s #13th ranked squad. They brought a ton of pressure which looked like a siege in the first 15 minutes or so, but just as quickly as Uruguay put the U.S. against a wall, the Americans swung right back to take possession of the game. Ironically for a 0-0 draw there was a ton of back and forth attacks and counterattacks, which gave many players some open looks.

No players got more open looks than the aforementioned Ferreira. Twice on crosses, one a headed attempt from Deandre Yedlin and another a low rip from Weah. His inability to capitalize on those chances is glaring because the main goal of this camp was to get some clarity from the nine spot. Not putting the ball in the net created quite a predicament for head coach Gregg Berhalter.

Some other observations from the game are that Joe Scally, the young and talented wing back, was able to get his first start in the red white and blue. At times he played overly aggressive, but that nature to push up created just as many good chances as it did bad. Also, Aaron Long with his pace at center back helped alleviate some questions at the position. It’s very possible that Chris Richards ends up taking the spot next to Walker Zimmerman at center back, but Long took on all the great attackers Uruguay threw at him.

The star for the U.S. was goalie Sean Johnson. Due to the surplus of goalies at a higher caliber than Johnson, he’s rarely been tabbed to man the net for the National squad. Berhalter rewarded Johnson for his dedication to the team by allowing him to play against Uruguay, and boy did he not disappoint.

His response to the early press of Uruguay was very mature and he tried to slow down the game as much as possible. Also he made some incredible stops in the second half to secure the clean sheet. His play gave Berhalter something to think about as he as already alluded to the hot hand being in goal in Qatar. Matt Turner seems to be the front runner in net at this point, but there’s still a long way to November.



CONCACAF Nations League Games

Grenada Game (June 10th)

It took a while for the far superior Americans to get going, but once Ferreira finally shook off the nerves of the last few games and found the net in the 43rd minute, the flood gates opened. He was able to find the net a total of four times, and Paul Arriola added one more for a 5-0 victory. The best goal of not just this game, but this window as well, was off a corner delivered into the box by Kellyn Acosta, and Ferreira smashed it to the top right corner.

Obviously inferior foes can bring out great statistics, but very few goalies would have stopped that shot. It’s a confidence booster for a young player who wants to be the striker on this squad in Qatar. He has a long way to go before that happens.

Other highlights of this game were how Aaronson was able to look comfortable in the midfield. One of Ferreira’s goals was actually off a pass from Aaronson across the box. He continues to press forward and make plays inside the box as a midfielder. Also, Luca de la Torre is emerging as quite a threat in the midfield as well, with pinpoint passing and flawless ability to strike with both the left and right foot.



El Salvador Game (June 14th)

The final game of the June window could have been a nice close to the summer camp, but CONCACAF seemingly has no grip on the regulations in Central American and Caribbean countries. In most areas of the world, a rainy night may force players to change the gameplan up a bit, though nothing like we saw in San Salvador. The pitch was a literal mud pit and players were forced to guess on every pass or bounce of the ball.

This was supposed to be a night to remember for Wright making his first start up top. Quickly it turned into a night to forget, as he couldn’t get any attack going due to the putrid conditions. The pitch wasn’t the only terrible thing out there, as the officiating was just as bad.

With no video assistant referee (VAR) there was no way to review and fix incorrect/missed calls. Numerous times, the El Salvador players got away with flops, purposely stepping on U.S. players and even what would have been a costly hand ball inside the box. That would have led to a penalty had VAR been used.

CONCACAF simply has to do better in these situations and find a way to enforce the pitch conditions and utilize VAR. It wasn’t all completely one sided, as a body slam out of frustration certainly should have resulted in a red card for midfielder Tyler Adams. Getting let off with a yellow was a makeup call for all the other bad ones, and the El Salvador management certainly didn’t like it.

In regards to match performance the two heroes were de la Torre and Jordan Morris. After goalie Ethan Horvath gave up a horrendous goal late in the first half, the U.S. was in desperation mode the whole second half. Midfielder Yunus Musah had his worst game for his country by missing three easy chances in front of net. Thanks to de la Torre playing a cross right to Morris’s head in stoppage time to end the game in a 1-1 draw, that felt like a win.



Final Thoughts

1. Nobody is in the lead for the striker position but Ferreira may have a slight edge. He has an ability that no other striker has, and that is his mentality to make runs into space that force defenders to follow. He’s created more chances for himself and even other teammates than other options like Ricardo Pepi, Wright and even Jordan Pefok. If he can find a way to keep putting the ball in the net, he’ll probably end up starting in Qatar.

2. Musah is viewed as a sure starter on the team, but he really has provided nothing in terms of the team scoring goals. In 18 appearances he has only two assists, both coming off of the boot of Sergiño Dest, who created his own shot on the play. His game is appealing and he’s a great player, but this El Salvador game showed he isn’t ready to put the ball in the net.

3. Nearly every backup defender position is up for grabs. Long and Richards will duke it out for the second starting center back slot. Outside of that, nobody has made enough good plays to be on the squad. Antonee Robinson and Dest are sure starters at outside back as long as they stay healthy. This should be something to watch in the September window on who gets to play.

4. de la Torre should be in the second row on the plane to Qatar. Unsung heroes exist for unbeknownst reasons, and de la Torre is certainly one of them. A meme was generated saying all the items that he needed to pack for Qatar was a baseball bat and a pair of black forces, and it’s so true. He is indeed “That Dude” and not only needs to be on the plane to Qatar but a sub in every single game.

5. Adams has to be the one to run the defensive mid slot. He constantly plays savior by going back to stop chances by the opposition. Any sort of midfield and forward combo in front of him should feel safe to press up with him coming to the rescue and rarely being caught out of position. Berhalter can bring Acosta as a Adams’ backup, but his obsession with Acosta has to be placed aside for the betterment of the team.



Bottom Line

There needs to be an emergence at the striker position during the September window. Relying on who is in the best form at their club is a huge gamble for the World Cup. Berhalter has done enough experimentation and needs to finalize his roster sooner than later.

Below is my generated lineup of what I believe is the best starting 11 at this point in time. However, if a striker decides to emerge, Gio Reyna (was rehabbing this window) slides to the midfield and bumps Aaronson out.

 

 

 

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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