With 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying on the horizon, now is a good time to evaluate where the U.S. stands.
Currently in the world rankings, the Americans sit at #20 while rival Mexico is nine spots ahead at #11. Even though that tabs them as the second best team in CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) the numbers mean nothing when the players take to the pitch.
That rang true on Sunday night as the U.S. was able to absorb the blows from Mexico, erasing goal deficits twice en route to a 3-2 victory and the CONCACAF Nations League title. Manager Gregg Berhalter has been really experimenting with his squad, even implementing five defender formations with high pressing wing backs. At times, there looked to be no chemistry but in the blink of an eye, the U.S. was out on the break.
Berhalter will undoubtedly take the win but knows his team can’t continue to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly like they did against Mexico. Careless plays like the fully wrapped present of a goal Mark McKenzie gifted the opposition in the first minute, are exactly the short comings that kept them out of the World Cup in 2018. It’s almost certain that this team will play with a chip on their shoulder and punch their ticket to Qatar next summer in the qualifying matches.
There’s simply too much talent on this squad to just get there though, and we’ll touch on that in the future. Let’s take a look at what is going well for them, what is bad and what is really promising.
The midfield of this team is world class and is set for at least the next decade. Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie is a star in the making and ready for the moment. He backs down from absolutely nobody on the pitch and brings intensity, leadership and elite finishing ability inside the box, creating two goals with headers vs Mexico.
Other likely starters to join McKennie in the midfield are Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah. Adams is such a silent assassin who has developed into a solid defensive mid for his German club team, RB Leipzig. His presence brings a wave of confidence when he’s out there as he gets everyone on the same page to help the back line keep shape.
With Musah, the U.S. got away with one of the biggest steals in FIFA. Ultimately he had four choices in Italy, Ghana, England and the U.S. on where he would continue his international career, ultimately choosing the United States. He has so much potential at only 18 years of age and can beat defenders on the dribble. This attracts so much attention to him and allows others to make runs behind the defense.
Miscommunication and lack of focus by defenders are a massive issue. At times it seems like the U.S. defenders play skittish, and resort to always playing the ball back towards the keeper. There’s no problem with playing the ball back to regroup but there is no movement or plan of attack after. It’s usually kick the ball back to goalie Zack Stefan and watch him launch it upfield or out of bounds for a turnover.
For some reason when they give up a goal, they turn up the heat. The potential is there with the back line but it should take a whole half for them to get it together. At the World Cup against the best teams, they won’t always be able to dig themselves out of a hole like they did against Mexico.
“Captain America,” better known as Christian Pulisic, and his team Chelsea won the most illustrious club trophy in the sport as they brought home the UEFA Champions League title. This was the first time in history that an American has been on a team that won the trophy. This is just one of the many players who are playing meaningful minutes for European club teams.
Why is this so important? Well, because this shows that the U.S. finally has players that are good enough to play on the grandest of stages with the best competition. In the past, there was such a large percentage of players that were home grown and only played against Major League Soccer (MLS) talent, which is nowhere near the caliber of premier leagues across the pond.
Maybe the most talked about player for this team is Giovanni Reyna. The legacy of the former United States captain, Claudio Reyna, now lives on in his ultra talented son. Another 18 year old who in just eight USMNT appearances has netted four goals. Playing for German squad Borussia Dortmund has elevated his play immensely, already making 47 appearances for the club.
Other rising talents that are playing meaningful minutes in their respective premier league teams are center back, Chris Richards (Hoffenheim) and left wing back, Sergiño Dest (Barcelona). Dest is a for sure starter for this team as he can push the occasion on the left side and has a beautiful in-swinging ball off the right foot. Richards may be the most athletic defender in the U.S. arsenal and just needs more game time to show he belongs.