Maiz: USMNT shows promise for 2022


Nick Maiz, General Assignment Reporter

American soccer fans are going into this World Cup cycle excited for the young talent that the United States men’s national team has at its disposal. However, many had concerns at multiple positions on the pitch, specifically the striker and the center backs. The midfielders also need to show that they can dominate opponents with possession at full strength and create numerous chances going forward. In the past, the U.S. has had trouble finishing chances and shutting out teams it should handily beat.

Against Wales, the U.S. was very disappointing going forward, with only one shot on target out of seven taken. However, the U.S. dominated time of possession and connected on 87% of its passes which means the midfield controlled the tempo of the game. It is a good sign that the strength of the team succeeded, as Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams showed why they are playing at Champions League-level clubs. The backline also held strong against Wales. John Brooks, Matt Miazga and Zack Steffen each played a huge role in the shutout, highlighted by Steffen’s point-blank save in the 63rd minute. Wales is currently ranked No. 20 in the world by FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. To draw them 0-0 is not bad, considering the U.S. is No. 22.

Against Panama, the U.S. conceded early with miscommunication on who was supposed to mark the cross and no one really challenged the header by José Fajardo. The U.S. started Tim Ream instead of Brooks, which may have impacted the play on the backline, but shaky defensive sequences are almost expected for U.S. fans who have watched the team for a long time. Expect coach Gregg Berhalter to make it one of his missions to cut down on the inconsistencies defensively. The U.S. shouldn’t be giving away easy goals to weak opponents. 

The U.S. bounced back very quickly and dominated possession in the midfield and once again controlled the tempo of the game just ten minutes later. The third goal highlights what U.S. fans want to see from this team. It showcased Sergino Dest’s skill, Adams’ vision, and McKennie’s grit. His tremendous effort to keep the ball in and cross it to Miazga resulted in a header back across goal to Gioacchini, who put his body on the line as he headed it in for his second goal of the game. McKennie’s effort on that goal set an example for the rest of the young U.S. team. This is a friendly game and he is a borderline starter for Juventus, yet he is giving this team all he has as a true one-of-a-kind player that could become one of the U.S.’s best ever. 

The second half started slow and the U.S. lost momentum, as Panama applied pressure on and found the U.S. conceding again. A Panama goal may have been offside, but the U.S. rebounded again. This is exactly where the U.S. can have problems; it is not enough to only play well for eight minutes in each half. Not every game will be against a country at the level of Panama. This team should be the best team in CONCACAF along with Mexico and the Americans need to get over the hump of the round-of-16 at a World Cup. With Berhalter getting closer to the end product of his desired starting 11, this team is talented enough to do just that. However, they will not get away with disappearing for a large portion of the second half without getting punished by a team like Uruguay, Croatia or Holland.

The substitutions by Berhalter not only impacted the game, but showed the fans that there are more options that this U.S. team has to offer. Richard Ledezma crossed the ball in to Sebastian Soto twice for two scores. Both players look like promising rotational pieces going forward with plenty of room to grow.

Overall, the U.S. looked incredible going forward against Panama, but the point many people will make is it’s only Panama. the U.S. is supposed to beat up on them. That’s an easy conclusion, and they have many flaws with consistency everywhere except the midfield that can sink this U.S. team on any given day against any given opponent. However, this U.S. team solidified where production will come from in multiple positions. 

Defensively there are question marks, but some promise. Zack Steffen is a solid goalkeeper, and the center back pairing of Miazga and Brooks can work. The best fullbacks on the team are Dest and Reggie Cannon, both elite crossers. Both of them play really well going forward. Antonee Robinson and DeAndre Yedlin have their moments too, so it is safe to say these two positions are strengths and have depth. Defensively, there are occasional blips of miscommunication when it comes to marking, especially with the center-backs. This needs to get cleaned up and they need to build chemistry. Unfortunately, no one knows if that is even a guarantee in wake of COVID-19.

When the midfield is anchored by Adams and McKennie, the U.S. is hard to beat. Additionally, Yunus Musah was everywhere and showed poise when he was on the ball dribbling the length of the pitch. The 17-year-old still has the option to play for the England senior team, but Berhalter is giving him playing time, something Musah clearly isn’t close to getting with England. If Musah chooses to play for the U.S., this midfield three has the potential to be the identity of this team and could dominate important games in the future. 

When star player Christian Pulisic is healthy, Giovanni Reyna and Pulisic are one of the best duos on the wings in the world. Reyna showed his class in the Panama game and because of the game time he is getting with the Dortmund senior team, he can only get better at 17 years old. 

The striker question could be answered with the emergence of Gioacchini and Soto. Both players need to be in the right place at the right time and don’t need to do much more. They will undoubtedly get the service, as both fullbacks are elite crossers and multiple U.S. wingers and midfielders are great playmakers themselves. If they can continue to get on the end of the service from their teammates, the U.S. could be an exciting, high-flying team in every competition. 

The next goal for the U.S. should be to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and not many players on the team sheet against Panama are over the age limit. Steffen, Brooks, Ream, Sebastian Lletget and Ethan Horvath are the only ones over 24 and only Brooks, Steffen and Ream started against either Wales or Panama, who will both be able to send their entire first team to the Olympics. Pulisic is only 22, and if he is healthy, the U.S. is a dark horse contender for a medal. If that happens, the U.S. could be looked at as a powerhouse in the sport for the next two World Cup cycles. Although, they need to do something no other U.S. team has done in recent history: win big games.

Nick Maiz is a general assignment reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @MaizNick.