Despite taking all three points against El Salvador, last night’s performance by the USMNT was far from perfect, as an at-times wasteful attack was bailed out by a moment of brilliance by defender Antonee Robinson.
In statements to the press following the one-goal, shut-out victory, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter spoke about how the play of his full-backs offer a clear-cut strength to his general tactical approach.
“We call our full-backs our superpower of our team because they produce,” Berhalter resolutely stated following the game, emphasizing, “they give assists and goals.”
He was quick to spell out the impact of their production, “If you look at World Cup qualifying so far, our full-backs have contributed heavily. Sergiño [Dest] has goals and assists, Anthony Robinson has goals and assists, DeAndre Yedlin has assists.”
“Our fullbacks are great for us, and they’re a big part of how we play, especially when we’re dropping our midfielders lower.”
Tactically, he detailed how, beyond those instances when the outside defenders are directly involved in scoring the goals, they are often the first point of penetration into the opponents’ danger zone, setting up the board for the midfield trio to take over.
“We put an emphasis on our full-backs arriving in the penalty box because we know we have that midfield line supporting them, and can clean up anything that comes out in the top of the box.”
Berhalter freely admitted some degree of dissatisfaction with Thursday’s performance, pointing out the two general weaknesses which any viewer would have seen, particularly during the opening 45 minutes.
“I wouldn’t say this is, this was our best game,” he pensively evaluated. “We didn’t finish enough of our chances that we had, [and] I didn’t think our press was connected as it needed to be. You could see that we were away from each other for awhile.”
The former defender was particularly introspective about how positioning and poor link-up play through the middle often left them with limited options to break down the final, resolute El Salvador defense which had plenty of time to organize itself around the penalty area.
“Looking at some things we could have done better, I think we lacked connection in our pressing,” he pointed out. “There was too often that there was too much space between our lines, and we weren’t able to make that next play on the pass when pressure was broken.”
“I didn’t think our midfield line was connected enough to our forward line as we’re pressing, so that’s something that that can improve.”
He elaborated on this aspect, in particular pointing out how they attempted to fix the issue after halftime; which did ultimately help them create the game-winning goal by Robinson.
“As we get players closer together in terms of distance, we’ll be able to make those passes and maintain those connections offensively,” he described.
“At times in the first half, the distances between our midfielders [were] too far apart and the team was disconnected a little bit. So we adjusted that a little, got them a little bit closer together, got them a little lower to connect with the center backs.”
One of the noticeable issues that limited the team’s forward impetus on Thursday was a general lackluster performance by their star attacker, Christian Pulisic.
Whether due to a recent lack of form by the player, the inability of the tactical approach to best utilize his talents, or some combination of both, Pulisic was for the most part ineffective on the left wing. Before being pulled in the 65th minute, he only managed a single shot, and frequently had the ball in situations where he could not maintain possession.
Berhalter recognized this issue, and was clear on how they aim to resolve the issue for the upcoming games against Canada and Honduras.
“Regarding Christian it’s just about him finding his top form and really finding ways to get him in front of goal, because that’s where he really shines.”
“When he’s in front of the penalty box is when he does his best work.”
Nevertheless, a win is a win, and the three points further increased the already highly likely chance that the Americans will be one of the final three teams to gain automatic qualification.
“We’re still in very good position in World Cup qualifying,” the coach assessed about the overall standing of the team. “The three points were vital at home and we achieved that, so [we’re] happy.”
“Now it’s time to to regroup and come up with a plan to attack Canada.”
Berhalter and his team are back in action on Sunday night, when they cross the border to take on first-place Canada in Hamilton.