During nearly 89 eventful minutes Thursday night, a long-awaited young US men’s national team struggled to master the fine margins that often define rivalries and determine elimination matches. Facing an experienced and courageous Honduran team in the inaugural semifinal of the Concacaf Nations League, favorite USA was in the game but never really controlled it. And after missing several promising scoring opportunities and nearly falling behind, a penalty shoot-out was looming.
Then came the welcome breakthrough. Substitute forward Jordan Siebatcheu, playing in his fourth senior international, scored an inaugural goal for the United States that is arguably the most significant in the two-and-a-half years of coach Gregg Berhalter’s tenure. A loss in Denver would have been hard to bear considering the talent, potential and time this American team has enjoyed. It would have mitigated the positive momentum quite a bit. Instead, the Americans won 1-0, surviving and advancing in the true sense of the cliché to Sunday’s final. There, they will play against Mexico or Costa Rica. This weekend’s winner will lift the new Nations League trophy and build welcome confidence before qualifying for the World Cup this fall.
“We would have liked to have scored more goals and won more comfortably, but that is not the reality. You will see all kinds of results and difficult games. [in Concacaf], and that’s part of it, “Berhalter said afterward.” These guys need that experience, so I’m really happy with how the game went, really glad that we had to go through this, because it’s a great learning experience. “
Siebatcheu’s goal began with US central defender John Brooks, who had an active night and set up the winning play with a flyover pass to the right side of the penalty area. There, Weston McKennie nodded toward the center, where he jumped just past Brenden Aaronson before Siebatcheu dove in and placed a header out of reach of Honduran goalkeeper Luis Lopez.
“That’s why we put Jordan in, because we know he is a force in the centers. We know that he fights in the penalty area, good physique, and he gave us the advantage we needed,” Berhalter said.
It was an objective that changed the trajectory and the narrative. This semifinal appeared destined for penalties. A setback at home in the USA’s first competitive game since fall 2019 would have rekindled some of the doubts that arose back then. Instead, there is a final to prepare for and hopefully a bit of clutch, pedigree of great games and experience will now lay on the foundation that Berhalter has been building.
“It was the first tough and really official competitive game we’ve ever had,” forward Gio Reyna told CBS after the game. “Just to show the resilience and character of this group, scoring a goal at the end was nice to see.”
It is not yet clear how important, important or meaningful a Nations League title would be. But Thursday’s game was clearly not friendly – that was clear seconds after kickoff, when Brooks and Honduras star forward Alberth Elis shared contact and then looked down after Elis fell into the American half. The United States has feasted on Concacaf opponents in recent shows, winning four games from November to March for a combined 23-3. Honduras presented a different level of competition, however, and had the experience, athleticism and opportunism to create nervous moments for the hosts.
Berhalter made three lineup changes that started well in Sunday’s friendly loss in Switzerland. The obvious ones were the insertion of the two UEFA Champions League finalists from the United States, striker Christian Pulisic and goalkeeper Zack Steffen. The tactical move was the displacement of defender Sergiño Dest from left to right and the deployment of Antonee Robinson of Fulham on the left. The result was an American XI who was the second youngest to take the field in a competitive international, and one who created and ceded numerous opportunities.
Concerns about the durability of Pulisic seem to have faded a bit this spring. The 22-year-old, who suffered repeated muscle setbacks last year, has been constantly available to Chelsea since late February and said this week there were no concerns about his fitness following the Champions League final and the long flight. to Denver.
“Going from one competition to another is what I’ve been doing all season,” he said. “It’s having to constantly refocus and prepare for the next game and quick deliveries. It’s something I’m used to. … I was playing at the highest level and I also feel ready and excited for the next game. “
Pulsic started from the left but floated relatively freely, often entering to find the ball or create new passing patterns, or trading with Robinson or midfielder Sebastian Lletget in a (usually unsuccessful) attempt to throw Honduras off balance. Pulisic had a brilliant scoring opportunity in the 30th minute when Reyna slid it down the left. However, Pulisic failed to get around the Honduran goalkeeper and the opportunity was wasted.
That was one of several close calls during an open, often frantic first half. The United States had more of the ball, as expected. But Los Catrachos were a threat against them, also as expected, and they pushed and chased well enough to deprive the Americans of a lot of pace in possession. The visitors were especially disciplined at the rear, and the United States midfielder trio of Lletget, McKennie and Jackson Yueill (starting in place of the recovered Tyler Adams), were relatively calm. Berhalter’s forwards and wings had been the main attack engineers before the game’s winner.
“Honduras was very compact and they wanted us to play central and I think we did it too often,” Berhalter explained. “We played in the center, we lost losses and we started transitions. I think that sometimes we lacked balance in midfield. We could have been more stable and get them out a little more.”
The USA should have moved on in just the sixth minute, but Reyna capped a brilliant dribbling run through the Honduran penalty area with an inaccurate shot rather than an easy pass to a wide-open Josh Sargent. About 20 minutes later, Sargent was worth a goal on the defensive end when he cleared a header from Elis at the net. Steffen had left his line and was saved by the Werder Bremen forward, who used the back of his head to prevent the ball from entering. Sargent then forced a save with a well-hit header, and Elis nearly connected with a teammate on a dangerous cross. The opportunities continued after the break. In the 51st minute, Steffen corrected his first-half mistake when he ran to reject Anthony Lozano on a breakaway.
“We expect good competition at Concacaf,” Pulisic said Wednesday. He and his companions had it.
The game became more hectic as Honduras introduced several substitutes and fatigue and play began to play a role. The orderlies made numerous appearances as Hondurans milked the watch. In the 78th minute, Berhalter brought in Aaronson, Siebatcheu and Reggie Cannon and eliminated Reyna, Sargent and Robinson. It seemed to be about fresh legs rather than new tactics, and in the final seconds, those fresh legs paid off. The determined Honduran rearguard was finally defeated, and the United States had found a way to overcome a challenging game.
“We advanced to a final, so I think we’re happy. This game is exactly what we needed. When you think about the level of competition, the competitiveness of the game, some of these guys have never seen that before,” Berhalter. saying. “For the guys to have to compete and dig like that in altitude and heat, they did a fantastic job.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.