Gregg Berhalter’s side earned two sleepy wins over two overmatched opponents. What, if anything, did we learn from the USMNT’s September friendlies?
And he has returned! Like a bad Star Wars sequel, Gregg Berhalter is back as the manager of the United States men’s national team. It’s a move that’s both surprising and not. Berhalter was the subject of much criticism throughout the USMNT’s World Cup campaign, in addition to the aftermath which saw an embarrassing airing of dirty laundry on both his and Gio Reyna’s behalf.
Many thought that the lackluster play on the field paired with the controversy off of it was enough to call it a wrap for the Berhalter era, but after a months-long search, U.S. Soccer had other ideas. If it’s a far-fetched scenario for you to believe in, you have to remember that this is U.S. Soccer we’re talking about here.
The federation is hardly one known for making big changes, especially over the past two decades. Not since it hired Bora Milutinović has U.S. Soccer had a manager that truly broke the mold and improved the squad. Not even Jürgen Klinsmann, who was a great philosopher, but woeful tactician of his own ideas, was radical enough to make a significant change.
Even with all the mess that was the tail end of 2022, Berhalter is back. His two continental titles, owning Mexico, dual national recruitment, and the fact the team played its best soccer at the World Cup was enough to merit his return.
Upon his arrival, U.S. Soccer did Berhalter a solid and booked two rivals that should be easy pickings. Uzbekistan and Oman put up little resistance in 3-0 and 4-0 respective wins, but the USMNT didn’t exactly paint Berhalter in glory as the score lines did little to reflect what really happened.
In both games the U.S. was dense, boring, and left it late to earn their wins. Uninspiringly, Berhalter assured the fanbase that it was the start of something new, but the team still seemed like it did for the better part of three years until the World Cup — lifeless and bland.
Lessons to be learned? Few but important. Here are some takeaways from the USMNT’s friendly wins over Uzbekistan and Oman, along with a look ahead to what comes next.
Folarin Balogun Cannot Play With His Back to Goal
Folarin Balogun is very effective when the play is set up for him to score, not for him to link up and free wingers. Whether it’s Christian Pulisic, Reyna, or Timothy Weah, whoever is on the wings needs to find the on-rushing Monaco striker, and play to his exceptional finishing abilities. Too often Balogun was played as a decoy striker against very weak opponents.
Kristoffer Lund: A Welcome Addition
The arrival of Kristoffer Lund is more good news as the Palermo left back adds much needed depth to a weak position on the team. It also gives Antonee Robinson some competition for this spot. Lund passed the test, but it will be crucial to see how he does against better opponents.
Ricardo Pepi, Super Sub
This is not a bad thing. Maybe Pepi doesn’t like it, but the U.S. system is set up for one striker, and having a capable one coming off the bench is a huge plus for a team that has not had that during the Berhalter era.
Christian Pulisic at AC Milan
The biggest concern for the USMNT should be hoping that Christian Pulisic keeps his starting position at AC Milan. After an electric start, Pulisic was a non-factor in the derby against Inter Milan, and was subbed off after 56 minutes. In his Champions League debut with his new club against Newcastle, Pulisic was a substitute, coming in for Samuel Chukwueze in the 61st minute. It would be in everyone’s best interests for Pulisic to continue to get significant minutes in Italy.
Looking Ahead: Germany and Ghana
The USMNT will play two much better teams in October, a worthy test for a team that needs to be evaluated against better opposition. With the squad losing almost a year in a nonexistent hiring process, the kid gloves are off and the team needs to start looking like a “contender” heading into Copa America, if they qualify.
Germany head to their match against the U.S. in a manager crisis of their own, and have lost of three of their last four. The Germans are a big name opponent that the USMNT, playing at home, has a near obligation to try and beat, or if they lose, at least looking good doing it.
Ghana is undefeated in 2023 and look to prepare for World Cup qualifying and will provide a unique test for the U.S. With a talented roster that includes Jordan Ayew, Mohammed Kudus, and young star Ernest Nuamah, this should be an exciting match.
Come October, the training wheels are off for the USMNT and Berhalter. It’s time to look a lot more like the 2022 World Cup version of the U.S. and not so much everything else before. It’s time to finally put this team on track.