Monday, November 29

How the USMNT turned a horrible half in Honduras into a rare win back to World Cup qualification

The game clock had elapsed 90 minutes of regulation time and the result was already determined when Tyler Adams, once again traveling the distance with the United States men’s team, found himself in possession of the ball in the Stadium’s center field. Metropolitan Olympic. Why not go for another? There are not so many goals in football. Nobody complains about “raising the score”.

Then Adams pushed the ball down the middle, American teenager Ricardo Pepi forced a save from Honduras goalkeeper Luis López, and veteran Sebastián Lletget hit the ball into the net on the rebound to complete a great 4-1 victory that remained as the first for the United States in the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.

Who would have believed that at halftime in Wednesday’s game the Americans would close the night by focusing on goal differential?

MORE: CONCACAF World Cup Qualification Results and Standings

At halftime, it looked like 45 more minutes of similar football could lead to coach Gregg Berhalter (below) concentrating on his next job opportunity.

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There was a goalless draw in El Salvador, then a lost lead and a 1-1 draw at home against Canada. In between, prominent young midfielder Weston McKennie was suspended and sent home for violating team policy. And now the United States seemed headed for an empty night that could have put Berhalter in a position similar to Jurgen Klinsmann’s after back-to-back losses that opened the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. If the night didn’t start out like A must-win for the coach or team, it sure felt that way after how lamentable the USMNT’s performance was during the first half.

“We had a meeting and we talked about focusing on what we are doing,” Berhalter told reporters. “It’s completely understandable that fans aren’t excited about two points in two games. But he would not have condemned the classification. It was just a matter of preparing for the next game; that was the important thing.

“The mentality of the boys during the last two days completely changed. I think they are more relaxed and more focused. The atmosphere in the camp was really good. Despite all this shit that happened in the last few days, the boys’ spirits were extremely high. “

MORE: Explaining the Slow Start of US Qualifying

Berhalter’s decision to engineer an untested lineup in a rare formation that forced multiple players to perform unknown tasks led to a first half against Honduras that even its author could not love. It would not be accurate to say that Americans were lucky enough to be left behind just for one goal; Honduras didn’t create as many scoring opportunities. No, the United States was lucky that FIFA or CONCACAF or Lionel Messi himself did not burst onto the pitch and refuse to allow the group responsible for that crime against football to continue playing.

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The Americans were atrocious. James Sands, deployed as a defensive midfielder, looked as if he was playing USA Hockey’s right wing, without skates. He spent more time on his back than on his feet. Adams (above) was stationed on the right side instead of his usual spot as a deep midfielder and was burned when Diego Rodríguez set the goal in the 27th minute from Brayan Moya, who flew past defender John Brooks the same way he did. . Cyle Larin from Canada had done it three days earlier.

Exactly what Berhalter was thinking with his lineup and lineup selection is a challenge to explain. Far from the debacle that required a comeback, and a comeback almost unprecedented in USMNT history, he took an analytical approach to the failures of the first half. He seemed not to accept that the design was flawed, instead pointing to execution errors such as “our baseline was not moving fast enough” and was unable to earn second-ball opportunities by taking goal shots, as well as the team losing its spirit. after falling behind.

Berhalter chuckled when asked by a reporter if he felt the team would have been “on edge” had he returned home from Honduras with a loss, then apologized for the reaction. Having defeated Mexico in back-to-back tournament finals last summer, Berhalter presided over another rare USMNT achievement – this was only the third time in the program’s history that he rallied to win after conceding the first goal in an away tie. . They lost 26 of those games.

“Listen, even if we had lost the game, we would not have been out of the rankings,” Berhalter said. “There would still be 11 games to play. Again, there is the mindset that we are jumping on reaction. I think part of that was our fault for setting it up, what we wanted to do, be so open about it. [winning all three September qualifiers].

“At halftime, the message was: let’s get back to this game.”

MORE: What led to the suspension and firing of Weston McKennie?

Down 1-0 at the half, probably not as marked by what he had seen as USMNT fans were on Twitter, Berhalter made three personnel changes that effectively redesigned the formation and energized the attack. He eliminated Brooks in favor of Lletget, which meant the United States returned to a four-man back line and added an offensive-minded midfielder. He eliminated forward Josh Sargent in favor of Brenden Aaronson, who feels more comfortable as a creator. And left-back Antonee Robinson replaced George Bello, who had struggled during the first half, in the same position.

The difference was immediately apparent. After Pepi won the ball near midfield just three minutes into the second half, Robinson used his speed to go ahead and tied the game with a deflection. It took almost 20 minutes, but after veteran right-back DeAndre Yedlin replaced Sands, Yedlin found himself wide open on the right side with the opportunity to send a cross into the box, and Pepi (below) jumped over defense for a beautiful headline that gave America an edge.

“I felt like I was in a good place, so I got up in the air and headed the ball. I was ready for that moment, ”Pepi told reporters. “I was ready for that opportunity. I was waiting for the ball to get to me. I feel like everything was perfect. “

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Berhalter, who was never a popular choice as the USMNT head coach, has not lost in 13 consecutive competitive games. He led the team to the CONCACAF Nations League title as well as the region’s Gold Cup championship. He now has the United States, for now, in one of the three qualifying positions for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The United States, Canada and Panama have five points, but that last Lletget goal tied the others’ goal differential and put them ahead of Panama in total goals scored.

“Ideally, we were focused on slowing down the game,” Berhalter told Sporting News. “But if the space is open when you’re doing that, you have to take advantage of it. And that’s what we did “.

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