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Five CONCACAF Qualifying Thoughts on the USMNT and Dos a Cero, Tajon’s Almost Bike, and Panama’s Consistency

The United States have cemented perhaps their greatest calendar year ever of all time against rivals Mexico, while Canada and Panama continue to separate themselves from the CONCACAF pack.

Soccer: FIFA World Cup Qualifier-Mexico at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The hat trick is complete, for the first time since 1937 the United States Men’s National Team has beaten Mexico three times in a year in competitive matches (Nations League / Gold Cup / WCQ).

This was accomplished a variety of ways, most notably with a “B” squad in the Gold Cup stealing a title with an extra time set piece header, but there has always been one constant: Gregg Berhalter’s system.

I am still not a fan of the possession based 4-3-3 as I think the USMNT still plays too slowly from it, especially at the beginning of games, but against Mexico we saw the specific advantages of why this system does a lot of good. Do I still think the USA would play better and/or more consistent in a 4-2-3-1, yes, but the single pivot destroyed Mexico after the first half hour. More on the first half hour in a little bit...

GREGG BERHALTER DIDN’T GET IT WRONG AT THE START...BUT THE USMNT IS STILL SLOW OUT OF THE GATE

Tim Weah at right wing was masterful all night despite most thinking Paul Arriola was in line for a start (and his pressing against a pinned back El Tri side could’ve caused a lot of havoc if he did start), and once the USA settled in the midfield triangle took over.

In previous games in qualifying, fullbacks Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson did most of the threatening for the US going forward. With Yedlin at right back with Dest unavailable, the midfield was going to have to carry more of the attacking and creativity load against Mexico. This is where Weah starting on the right makes a ton of sense to balance out the threat of Robinson on the overlap on the opposite side. It also helps that Weah put in a man of the match performance right from the start. Also Yunus Musah is good at soccer. Like really, really good.

Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman continued their fine partnership from the Gold Cup and it honestly looks like Miles is the #1 CB for the USA right now. His all around game including recovery speed were noticeable throughout and Zim compliments him well by reading the game superbly to cut out chances.

Eventually, the midfield combination play started to dominate, and Mexico’s formation couldn’t cope. This doesn’t mean the US were perfect tactically or in their performance, but Berhalter most certainly out coached his counterpart Tata Martino and the second half dominance reflects that. Adams/McKennie/Musah were effective throughout and without the fullbacks bombing forward, they had to stay more central and work off each other and they did that very effectively.

Now, the USA were still very, very mediocre to start this game, giving up three of the best chances on the night in the first half hour before eventually taking control of the game. After the first thirty minutes and especially in the second half, Mexico effectively did nothing on offense. The numbers from the last hour are staggering:

The bad for the USA on the night were few and far between. Brenden Aaronson’s set pieces in particular were poor and the US as a whole failed to beat the first man on a lot their opportunities. Miles Robinson getting two needless yellow cards for tactical fouls will see him suspended against Jamaica on Tuesday and McKennie will miss out for yellow card accumulation. Ricardo Pepi wasn’t as isolated up top and did better to try and find more of the game but I still think a Dike/Pefok target man could do wonders for the US in the early going to help build and extend possession.

Now, despite those gripes at striker, Pepi does a lot of good up top without the ball and Pulisic immediately took advantage of Pepi’s position and movement with a center of goal run on the winning score as Pepi carried two defenders with him to the near post. This is perhaps a little bit of a rope a dope with Pepi being the only threat in the box for most of the game up to that point and Aaronson not being naturally that goal aggressive inside the six, but the US needs more runners in the box and can’t solely rely on their width to create shots and opportunities.

The combination play that lead to the second goal between substitute Jesus Ferreria (on his WCQ debut nearly made it Tres a Cero late) and Weston McKennie at the top of the box was masterful and even though the play was cut out, McKennie was already expecting the ball to end up where it did and he reacted first to slot home the second goal.

It was a comprehensive win of the likes we have not seen against Mexico this year in a match that got very, very testy at times (yes that was a red card against Aaronson) but the US for the most part kept their composure and it showed. The US weathered the storm and we need to address the main reason why the USA got to have another Dos A Cero.

ZACH STEFFEN BROUGHT HIS SHOT STOPPING GLOVES

Look, we here at the Matt Turner USMNT Stanning Capital of the world in New England will always defend our guy. But Steffen was great in the early going, tipping away a shot around his far post and then stonewalling a breakaway. One horrific El Tri miss on the half hour mark of the first half was the effective end of the Mexico attacking chances but the US should’ve been down 0-1 after that breakaway if not for Steffen’s intervention and Miles Robinson’s recovery to help out.

I don’t recall any specific moments of great distribution but Steffen did go direct to his midfielders and bypassed Mexico’s front three a lot which was very helpful as long term it continued to wear out the overwhelmed El Tri midfield. But it was the shot stopping where Steffen was needed early and it’s where he came up big.

Now, I still dislike Steffen’s decision making and execution coming off his line, in this case a second half punch out where he whiffed and took out Miles Robinson, but the US backline had the loose ball covered anyway. No, it wasn’t as bad as the Costa Rica header in the first minute but it wasn’t good.

If Berhalter is going to keep his guy at the #1 keeper spot, and all the griping we’re going to continue to do about it, Steffen has to clean up that area of his game the most in my opinion. Turner does pretty well at commanding his area for the US but more importantly takes those caught balls and very quickly gets them up field with roll outs or long throws.

That’s where I want my keeper in distribution, helping out with the transition, not in direct possession. We’ll see if Steffen gets the nod in Jamaica and improves on this aspect against what should be a Reggae Boyz team that should give Steffen a lot more work in the final hour.

JAMAICA UP NEXT

The Reggae Boyz nearly stole a win late in El Salvador only for an Alex Roldan equalizer to share the spoils and really but Jamaica up against it. There’s a sizeable gap between Panama in 4th on 11 points, and the CRC/JAM/SLV group at 6 points separate only by goal difference with equal 1W-3D-3L records so far.

Jamaica is up against it now, and it would have been very interesting to have their newer group of English based players in Michail Antonio, Bobby Reid, and Leon Bailey all available sooner for a side that has routinely done well in the Gold Cups but struggled to get into The Hex/Octagonal of late.

The USA has some interesting choices ahead due to those aforementioned suspensions to Miles and Weston. Chris Richards could get his first start for the USMNT and James Sands has been called in as centerback/holding mid cover for the match and should be on the bench.

The interesting issue is what to do at center mid without McKennie...

No, I don’t have a problem with Cincinnati Chili and yes, try the scrapple and goetta it’s good. But more importantly, I agree with Charles here. Busio is the best option as a straight swap in that #8/Mezzala role for McKennie but I wouldn’t mind seeing a 4-2-3-1 look to close out or even start this

If Pulisic is healthy enough to start I wouldn’t mind giving him an hour or so at the #10 in front of Adams/Musah either. More than likely that’s not realistic which is fine but I still think the USA ends this game in a 4-2-3-1 with a combination of Lletget/Arriola/Roldan in the attacking midfield roles to help close out the game. Sands

The US needs to get out in front early in this one and then rely on their bench players that didn’t play against Mexico to help close this one out. Arriola late on with no minutes so far this window to get the counter-press going sounds phenomenal to me. Whether or not the US can break their streak of meh game openings is another story.

OH CANADA

Three quick hits on a 1-0 Canada win. No, Keylor Navas doesn’t allow this goal but I think at some point good teams either create their own luck or take advantage of mistakes. You can decide what this was:

Tajon Buchanan be still my heart:

The scheduling and soccer gods really, really hate Mexico:

This is to be quite honest an absolutely brutal window for Mexico getting the USA and Canada on the road as their only two games. One or two points from those matches would not be unrealistic but the temperature on Tata Martino’s hot seat will go up if Mexico loses both of these games. At least he’s got a seat warmer for the match already.

A LOOK AT THE STANDINGS WITH NORTH AMERICA FEATURING LOS CANALEROS

Canada being unbeaten in their first Hexagonal, I mean, Octagonal in a while is damn impressive but I think deep down we knew the potential of that squad. This is also a pro-Tajon site and you’re welcome Canada.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised that a Panama team that did make the last World Cup and despite getting shelled, sent their golden generation of Jaime Penedo and Blas Perez among others fittingly off into the sunset, are still good, but such is the way of Los Canaleros.

They’re always solid and while they might not have the World Cup pedigree, they’ve always been near the top of the region and consistently do well at the Gold Cup and The Hex and were likely the best team eliminated at the group stage in this summer’s Gold Cup with that 3-3 draw against Qatar one of the best games of the tournament. So far in the Octagon, Panama has road wins at Jamaica and Honduras (Saturday coming back from 0-2 down late to win 3-2 which had never been done before) as well as a win against the USA and draw with Mexico at home.

Obviously Panama can’t match the depth of talent of their North American counterparts but Anibal Godoy of Nashville SC (who had the winner against the USMNT) is now a member of the “new” old guard for a team that honestly hasn’t missed a beat since the World Cup and is still a roster that has a lot of talent and is working in a new generation of younger players. Panama are exactly who we think they are and they should be getting a lot more credit for it.

No, Panama is never going to put up numbers like USA, Canada, or Mexico offensively, but they don’t have to. They’re going to force teams to score against them and right now, that gameplan is working working. Save for a 4-1 pasting in Canada last month, Los Canaleros have kept the scorelines low and benefited mightily from it. A home win against El Salvador on Tuesday could really cement their spot in the top half and have them be a legitimate threat for an automatic spot in the Top 3.