An Uninspiring USMNT Leaves a Lot of Questions as It Qualifies for Copa America

It was more of the same for the USMNT as Gregg Berhalter’s side was defeated by one of the worst put together Trinidad and Tobago teams in recent memory in the second leg of the CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals. 

It’s never simple for U.S. Soccer and the United States men’s national team. In a two-leg CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals series against a woefully prepared Trinidad and Tobago side, the United States were once again uninspiring despite advancing to the semifinals and qualifying for the Copa America with a 4-2 aggregate victory.

Besides the initial 3-0 result in leg one, the U.S. did not show much as manager Gregg Berhalter’s game plan never prospered. In fact, it is the fifth game since his return that the U.S. showed little in the way of cohesion, quality, and tactics.

“We achieved the objective of this camp, which was to qualify for the Copa America, for the semifinals of the Nations League,” Berhalter said in his postgame press conference. “However, it’s not in the fashion that we would have wanted to.”

For U.S. fans, it was another gut punch as they continue to wait for the team to play to its potential instead of down to its opponents, a trend that goes back to the early Bruce Arena days.

Credit must be given to Trinidad and Tobago for giving it all they had despite the issues in their federation and that on paper they are several steps down from the U.S. Still, the fact that the Americans continue to not be able to properly break down opponents and play a fluid game that is effective against any opposition as of late is worrying.

The recent friendly against Ghana seems to be an exception not a rule for this squad, and it shows time after time.

A Lack of Glory

If this camp proved anything, it is that the U.S. drops down considerably when Christian Pulisic is not on the field. Gio Reyna, despite a few flashes, did not put the team on his back in either of the two legs and was substituted after Sergiño Dest’s inexplicable ejection from the second leg.

Speaking of Dest, for all his talent, his inability to stay focused has been an issue since his Barcelona days, something Xavi pointed to. In addition to needing to improve his maturity and tactical awareness, Dest is a liability in defense. A shift to becoming a true wing player would be interesting, however.

Matt Turner continues to mind the nets for the U.S. and should be the clear No. 1 for the foreseeable future, but Turner is not Kasey Keller or Tim Howard and is arguably the weakest U.S. starting keeper in decades.

Cameron Carter-Vickers on the other hand is showing that he can be the ideal center back partner for Tim Ream for the upcoming Copa America. CCV has been solid at Celtic and was very good against Trinidad.

Ricardo Pepi is an off-the-bench option, as he seems to always make something happen on a team that has little true bench depth to match its starters. Pepi and fellow striker Folarin Balogun have huge potential as a one-two punch, one starting and one off the bench.

So, What Now?

usmnt copa america

The USMNT will play its next match in March in the Nations League semifinal, followed by the final or third place match. Then all eyes turn to the proper preparation for the 2024 Copa America.

As things stand, the United States is a team that on paper is full of potential, but continuously struggles to live up to it. When compared to CONMEBOL, the U.S. is nowhere near the league of Argentina, Brazil, or even Uruguay, who are playing to great heights now under Marcelo Bielsa.

A bit further down the pecking order, it would be hard to say that the U.S. in a competitive match can defeat Colombia or even Ecuador in their current form.

The U.S. should be above Paraguay, Venezuela, and Chile, and the Copa America will be the true test to measure if Berhalter’s second stint with the U.S. has any potential at all.

The USMNT cannot continue to be this “project” or “team of the future.” The future is now. And what we have seen for a long time is uninspiring, boring, predictable, and at worst, straight up bad.

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