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Three Thoughts on the United States Nation’s League Title over Mexico

Beating Mexico is always at the top of the USMNT’s priority list for CONCACACF, but while this might be a benchmark win for a new generation of players, it was not the overall performance we should expect from this team and head coach. Then there’s the off field stuff...

Soccer: 2021 Concacaf Nations League Finals-USA at Mexico Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The benchmark for the United States in CONCACAF will always be defeating Mexico at every opportunity. Whether it’s a friendly, the Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying or this newfangled Nations League thing, notching a win over El Tri will never be a bad thing.

How important this game is/was for the players and coaching staff and fans will vary, but a the end of the day it was a final against our biggest regional rival and the USMNT won it. That counts for something. But the overall performance from start to finish was lackluster and conservative which in my opinion hamstrung a what should be a young and dynamic team.

This stretch of Nations Leagues games (including tomorrow’s friendly with Costa Rica) was more to gauge where the USMNT is with their roster regarding World Cup qualifying which is set to begin later this year. And for the most part we might still have more questions than answers and for me that comes from the head coach.

Gregg Berhalter got his tactics wrong in the final

Starting three centerbacks and two wingbacks is something the USMNT in theory can do. They have a lot of really solid fullbacks who can absolutely get forward and affect games and provide additional width. The problem is the centerback depth, which the US is still trying to sort out. Trying to lean on what might be your weakest or most unsettled position in a final of sorts is perhaps not the best idea, particularly throwing poor Mark McKenzie into unfamiliar territory of a three or five man backline and it showed early on. Not just McKenzie’s turnover that led to Mexico’s opener in the first minute, but all of the passing lanes and spacing were horrific for the US for most of the night. McKenzie shouldn’t bear the weight of that mistake, his head coach should by setting him up for that failure.

Berhalter did make changes and his team did grow into the game. But the starting formation caused to much stress for the US backline and forced a lot of long balls forward to an attacking line of Sargent, Pulisic, and Reyna who are not going to win a lot of aerial duels. The only formation that the USMNT should use that moves Pulisic out of the #10 role and into a winger role is a 4-4-2 since there are more than enough box-to-box center midfield type to not need Pulisic in the middle.

Overall, the USMNT being dominant on set pieces is a welcome sight to see, specifically Weston McKinnie who was a menace all night and would have been my man of the match if not for the heroics of Ethan Horvath (which I’ll get to next). If the US can add that set piece prowess to their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation I expect a lot of good things from the upcoming WCQ campaign.

Ethan Horvath Steals The Spotlight

Okay, we’re a little bit biased here at TBM, but if you needed a relief keeper off the bench with a possible penalty shootout looming, Matt Turner’s name might have been the only name on a potential list of PK saving specialists. Well now we have a second name on that list and probably not a moment too soon thanks to Horvath’s heroics.

Penalty save aside, Horvath’s command and presence of his box as well as timely saves were a welcome sight for a depth chart that sorely needed another option behind Zack Steffan. Fearless leader Sam Minton touched on this as well earlier, and while Horvath’s performance might be a detriment to Matt Turner’s minutes for the USMNT it does at least solidify what I think are the top three keepers on the depth chart.

Assuming that Zack Steffan is the #1 keeper (not counting any potential injury time) and Matt Turner was perhaps penciled in somewhere behind him, Horvath’s performance off the bench should at the very least round out the three USMNT keepers going into the early part of WCQ.

Obviously club schedules are going to vary for this year - Horvath probably won’t feature at the Gold Cup cause he has to go sign for a new club team, Turner might miss qualifiers in the fall due to the MLS Playoffs, and we still don’t know of any long term injury issues with Steffan. David Ochoa could be the extra call up following his Olympic qualifying campaign with the U23s and MLS veterans Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid are solid reserve options as well.

But on a personal level for Horvath, I hope that performance of the bench jump starts him to a solid club situation cause he’s proven to be a solid option for the USMNT but has just been lacking for games at the club level. If the USA’s centerback depth was the biggest worry on the depth chart, I might have put 2nd/3rd GK on the list right behind the CBs but Sunday settled that question.

CONCACAF’s Standards Have To Improve On and Off The Field

Bottles being thrown at players, racist chants that have been on going for years, internet cowards pulling off this crap:

Off the field there needs to be punishment to these individual perpetrators and the federations they represent. Not just fines, but games played in empty stadiums and point deductions from tournaments. These are not new problems for either the US or Mexico and there’s only one way to fix this culture: out it publicly and in a high-profile manner. If you can’t behave before/during/after the game, then you shouldn’t be welcome in the stadium at all.

On the field, I want to give center referee John Pitti and his VAR crew a lot of credit. I think they had three reviews, one for offside on Mexico’s potential second goal and then two penalties in extra time, and in my opinion they got all of those decisions right.

But the confrontation and fisticuffs also need to be put to an end. Hands to the face of an opponent should be recognized either by the on field crew or VAR and punished appropriately with a red card and multi-game suspensions. Most of these games should not end 11v11 for a variety of reasons and the referees somehow do everything in their power to keep the status quo rather than enforce the laws of the game and promote a safe playing atmosphere.

In five years this continent will be hosting the World Cup. It’s time to start actually doing something regarding these issues rather than providing lip service to the region and the world.