The USMNT’s World Cup qualifying campaign began with a loss to Canada, and the result has been a stark reminder of how much work needs to be done before the team can be considered a serious contender for Russia 2018.
In the United States men’s national team’s 1-0 Gold Cup win against Canada on Sunday in Kansas City, Kansas, positives were hard to come by.
With the victory in the group stage finals, the United States clinched first place in Group B with a perfect 3-0-0 record. In practice, and depending on Sunday’s outcomes, the United States will likely escape a meeting with Mexico until the final on Aug. 2.
But the Americans must first get there, and based on their performance against their northern neighbors on Sunday, that is far from certain. Instead of putting up a dynamic effort, the United States came in second place, with Canada appearing to be the most likely to score in the last 60 minutes.
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“There was a lot of pain,” said Gregg Berhalter, the United States manager.
Later, he said, “Overall, we accomplished our group phase aim, were the winning group, had the greatest goal difference in the group, and we made it to the finals. The emphasis is now entirely on the quarterfinals.”
Shaquell Moore converted Sebastian Lletget’s low centering pass only 20 seconds into the game, and the game was off to a good start. For the following 15 minutes, the United States rode that wave of momentum, with James Sands’ hybrid position as a center-back in defense but a midfielder in possession posing some problems for Canada.
Canada took control and the bulk of possession after emerging from a hydration break in the 30th minute. The United States’ loss of defender Walker Zimmerman to injury 10 minutes into the game didn’t help things, particularly because Zimmerman is one of the team’s few veterans. However, Canada forward Ayo Akinola suffered the same fate in the first half, with Cyle Larin following Akinola on the bench only eight minutes into the second half. Despite this, the Canadian midfield had the upper hand, with Tajon Buchanan appearing particularly threatening no matter where he was positioned.
“I felt the Americans were able to give [our] back five difficulties,” stated John Herdman, Canada’s manager. “Clearly, Gregg [Berhalter] had put in some effort to just put Lletget in uncomfortable situations for us.”
“However, I believe we reacted at the water break, and we were able to move into a 4-4-2 in that three-box, three attacking, and we began to take control of the game.”
The American defense line held up fairly well throughout the encounter, but it did benefit from some forgiving officiating from Adonai Escobedo. Matt Turner, the goalkeeper, had to make three saves. Miles Robinson was named Man of the Match, while Sam Vines and Sands were also impressive. Throughout the game, Robinson put out several flames, demonstrating his ability to defend one-on-one.
“I believe Miles has moved us to the next level,” Berhalter said, “and now it’s about a knockout game.” “Can he recuperate today, and then replicate that kind of performance in a knockout game?”
In a performance that doesn’t speak well for the remainder of the Gold Cup, the United States had to depend on Shaquell Moore’s early goal to scrape out a 1-0 victory against Canada. USA TODAY Sports/Denny Medley
Sands’ exit from the back grabbed the eye, but he struggled to recover at times throughout the transition.
The lingering picture of the day, though, was of the United States chasing the match, and throughout the final hour, Canada (405 attempted passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research) held a significant possession advantage over the United States (263 passes attempted).
Berhalter blamed the U.S. team’s difficulties on the heat temperature at one point, saying that “decision-making under these circumstances, you become pressured.”
He also stated that following Moore’s score, the Americans had to control the game for the next 89 minutes. To be clear, the circumstances were the identical for both teams, and a 1-0 lead after 20 seconds placed the United States in a position to control the pace. Granted, it was Canada’s responsibility to commit numbers in advance, but that should have provided the US with some transition chances.
So, what’s the problem? Gyasi Zardes and Daryl Dike’s connection play was poor, and the same could be said of the passes they received. This was also a day when the US battled to reclaim control after it had been lost. In terms of the grittier elements of the game, the United States did not do well. That was shown by the United States losing against Canada in tackle percentage (33.3%), duels (44.1%), and aerials (44.1%). (36.4 percent ).
The contest reflected the group’s relative inexperience more than anything else. Going up against Martinique is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to play against a Canada squad that seems to be on the rise.
“We have a youthful, naïve, innocent squad; players who haven’t played in too many tough CONCACAF games,” US midfielder Cristian Roldan remarked. “The competition is different, as is the refereeing. As a result, we must improve our game-ending strategies.”
The United States will now have a week to prepare for the quarterfinals, when it will face either Costa Rica or Jamaica. There will be no simple way out in any case.
The United States had trouble facing a muscular opponent with offensive components that might threaten in the Canada game for the second time in three games. This youthful American team is learning on the fly, and it can be confident that it is doing so while winning games.
The Americans will work hard to ensure that this trend continues into the knockout rounds.