Following Saturday’s win over Uzbekistan which was hardly as impressive as the final scoreline, the United States Men’s National Team will be looking for a more convincing performance against Oman on Tuesday night in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The final score of Saturday’s 3-0 win by the USMNT over the Uzbeks was a bit flattering for the hosts, particularly considering that a full 87 minutes of largely ineffective dominance came between Tim Weah’s opening goal and the injury-time strike from Ricardo Pepi to wrap up the game.
A penalty conversion by Christian Pulisic in the dying moments did bring the final to the type of scoreline that most fans would have expected considering the comparative gulf in talent and standing between the two teams. However, it was hardly the performance that would ease any latent fears about head coach Gregg Berhalter having a difficult run in his second World Cup cycle in charge of the team.
While the USA did utterly dominate possession, holding the ball roughly two-thirds of the time, Uzbekistan still amazingly took more shots than their hosts, while forcing keeper Matt Turner into a pair of saves, and generally forcing the American back-line into the role of being the main stand-outs from start to finish.
Turner’s heroics won’t be available for Tuesday’s game against Oman after he returned to England due to his daughter’s birth, putting Ethan Horvath, his backup at both the club and national team level, in charge between the sticks.
Berhalter had few, if any new tricks up his sleeve on his return to the sideline after a long break, putting out a very standard 4-3-3 starting lineup that any fan or pundit could have easily predicted when the roster was announced close to a week ago.
His subs did pay off in the end, whether due to tactics or fatigue on the part of their opposition; Brenden Aaronson’s lay-off to Pepi for the 2-0 score was beauty-in-simplicity, and the on-loan Union player also linked up with late entrant Malik Tillman several minutes later to trigger the penalty call that Pulisic eventually converted.
The silver lining of it all could be that the productivity of the more central play from Aaronson and Tillman in the final minutes, combined with an arguably bigger talent gulf to Oman’s entirely domestic-based squad could give Berhalter the confidence to be a bit more adventurous on Tuesday.
Whether this means a simple rotation of several players within the pre-defined tactical set, or a true shift of tactics from the opening whistle remains to be seen. It would be a fair expectation that the players who went the full 90 minutes on Saturday – Tim Ream, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, and Pulisic – will be first in line for a rest.
With Joe Scally also an early departure from camp for personal reasons, this likely puts Kevin Paredes in the running for his debut at right back. A rest for Ream would be well-deserved, which could also prompt Berhalter to entirely change his center-back pairing to Mark Mckenzie, who played decently in the final half-hour, and Miles Robinson.
The midfield arrangement is where the biggest tactical overhaul, if any, could occur; a preferred move from many fans would be the deployment of Tillman in the center, albeit in a far more advanced role directly behind the strike force.
It is a near certainty that Tanner Tessmann will get the start in a more defensive/holding role after Luca de la Torre’s fractured nose put his participation of any kind in doubt. Putting the uncapped teenager Benjamin Cremaschi in a starting role might be a step too far, which would see one of Musah or Weston McKennie retain their starting role.
Up front, Folarin Balogun only played a half against Uzbekistan and is due for more time on the field, although he might switch roles with Pepi after the Texan impressed in his half of action. The typical front three could see Pepi or Balogun flanked by Aaronson and one of Pulisic, Weah, or Cade Cowell.
Should Berhalter opt for two in the front as has occasionally been seen, then a Pepi-Balogun pairing would be a sight to behold.
On the other side of the ball, Oman essentially brought a squad that is fully comprised of players from their domestic Oman Professional League. Led by veteran Croatian coach Branko Ivanković, the team was not too far from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, finishing one point out of the spot that would have put them into a playoff against the United Arab Emirates for the Asian Confederation’s fifth spot.
Similar to Uzbekistan, they will see their chance to qualify for the extended 2026 field as something tangibly within reach, with the upcoming Asian Cup in January 2024 being a major test of their steady improvement as of late under Ivanković.
The game will kick off at 8:30 pm Eastern time, 7:30 pm local time at the Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota.