Three Takeaways as USMNT's 2026 World Cup Cycle Gets Off to Shaky Start

Currently, there are significant questions surrounding the US men's national soccer team. These questions pertain to coaching, key players, and team dynamics, among other issues that arise during the beginning of a World Cup cycle. 

While these questions may not have been fully answered during a recent match against Serbia, other important questions such as the team's overall strategy, player development, and depth can be partially answered through observing games like this. 

Wednesday's 2-1 loss against Serbia can provide insight into the thought processes of the team's decision-makers.

Keeping the Blueprint

Does this sound familiar to you? A 4-3-3 formation with a single pivot, high fullbacks, and an emphasis on positional play. 

If you have been following the US men's national soccer team since 2019, it should, as this was the team's strategy under coach Gregg Berhalter. It's worth noting that the team also employed a mid-block 4-4-2 formation against England and a 5-4-1 formation against Iran, but the 4-3-3 formation and the principles of play were the foundation. This approach is considered to be modern, focusing on winning the ball and maintaining possession.

On Wednesday, we saw a young and experimental US men's national soccer team attempt to execute a strategy of winning the ball and maintaining possession. The performance was not outstanding, with slow reactions and lack of coordination, as well as the typical mistakes that are common in January training camps.

However, it was not without direction and purpose. This suggests that a distinct style of play has been established and that all players, from starters to reserves, are expected to implement it. This type of consistency across different cycles is characteristic of the top teams in the world, even as the players and coaches change over time.

It should be noted that a single friendly match in January does not ensure that this will be the case for the US men's national soccer team in the future, and the team's direction could change if the US Soccer Federation decides to make significant changes to the coaching and management staff. 

However, as long as Earnie Stewart remains the sporting director, it appears that the team's strategy will be to build upon what worked during the 2022 cycle, rather than making drastic changes for the sake of change.

The Issues

To summarize the two goals scored by Serbia:

- The first goal was scored by Luka Ilic with a free-kick that took a deflection and went past the goalkeeper Gaga Slonina.

- The second goal was a result of a mistake by center-back Jalen Neal, who misjudged a long-ball, followed by a communication breakdown between Neal and left-back Jonathan Gomez, which allowed Veljko Simić to advance into the box and score the 2-1 goal.

Mistakes such as the ones that occurred in the match are not uncommon, particularly with inexperienced players and during the pre-season. These specific moments are not a cause for concern. What was disappointing to observe was the lack of coordination and reaction from the US players on defense during transition moments. 

The purpose of the structured roles and responsibilities in Berhalter's strategy is not just to maintain possession, but to ensure that the team is always in a position to quickly regain possession and immediately counter-attack with an advantage in numbers.

This defensive strategy was what made the US team successful in Qatar. While it was not expected that this team would execute it at the same level, it was disappointing to see Serbia frequently winning clearances and quickly counterattacking. 

Two players in particular, Aidan Morris and Alan Soñora, struggled in this aspect of the game, with Morris showing difficulty adjusting to his role as a single pivot 6, and Sonora being out of position often due to not following the team's strategy, which led to further failures in the team's defense.

It's important to note that this game does not determine the future of these two players in the team, as it is reasonable to expect improvement in their performance on the next match. 

Additionally, other players on the team also had poor moments in the game. However, if one is trying to understand why Serbia had so many opportunities to counter-attack and gain numerical advantage, it can be attributed to the lack of coordination and slow reaction in the team's rotations, which left the US with no chance to regain possession.

The Standouts

If I had to rely on one player from the US team to deliver a precise cross with a high-pressure situation, I would choose Julian Gressel. He is a valuable addition to the team against specific opponents. 

Brandon Vazquez had a few mistakes, but he also scored the only goal for the US team and created multiple opportunities by performing the basic duties of a center forward. He will continue to do so regardless of the opponent or the importance of the game, and I anticipate seeing him play a significant role in the future.

Kellyn Acosta's performance on the ball was not flawless, particularly in his passing, but once he came on as defensive midfielder, he played a key role in making the right rotations and making the necessary passes to keep the team's movement flowing. 

The Cade Cowell that we saw in this game was vastly different from the Cade Cowell that fans of the San Jose Earthquakes have seen throughout the disappointing 2022 season. The Cowell they saw was often hesitant or not visible on the field, while the Cowell in this game was consistently dangerous off the ball, understanding the system and the spaces it creates, and decisive on the ball. If luck was on his side, he would have scored a goal.

It remains to be seen how much of the performance against Serbia will carry over to the next game and how significant it will be in the long-term, as the bigger questions for the team still need to be answered.

Post a Comment

Lebih baru Lebih lama