Editorial- Four years to the day of the USMNT loss against Trinidad and Tobago that kept them out of the 2018 World Cup, they travel to Panama City in hopes of keeping their spot atop the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Table. With four games under their belts, we’ve learned a lot about this squad. Let’s take a look at three key things we’ve learned over these four matches, and how it will impact them going forward.
USMNT: Three things we’ve learned so far
1. Tyler Adams is their most valuable piece
That’s right, I said it. Tyler Adams at the six in their midfield is the key. It is entirely necessary for that man to stay there. In Thursday’s matchup against Jamaica, his passing display in jump-starting the attack was nearly perfect. He made 51/55 passes, and all 51 were considered “accurate.” Six of the 9 long balls he played were accurate and throw in a key pass, and you’re good. He won 12/14 duels, and helped ball retention and tempo setting from deep. Positionally he’s always in the right spot and easy to find for teammates who might get into trouble. Throw in what we saw from Adams at right-back for 50ish minutes against Honduras, it was clear that he needs to be in the midfield.
Adams helps every aspect of what Gregg Berhalter wants this team to do and playing a more direct style instead of trying to dribble through everyone and combine suits his game style more. Throw in how free it allows McKennie and Musah to play in front of him, and Adams at the six unlocks a much higher ceiling for where this USMNT squad can go.
2. Ricardo Pepi…need I say more?
Ricardo Pepi has three goals and two assists in his first two games as a USMNT player. I won’t go on about the records and stuff because he’s going to smash them all anyways. There are things that Pepi has in his game that didn’t start serving Chris Wondolowski well enough until he was nearly in his 30s. Bear with me, I am not calling Pepi another Wondo. But he gets the movement, timing of his runs, and where to run at a level that I don’t know if I’ve seen from a USMNT striker since Wondo. For a while, the USMNT striker pool has been made up of a lot of guys who each have one thing to bring to the table that the other doesn’t. Jozy was the closest thing to a complete product we ever saw, but injuries ruined what we could’ve had from him over the prime of his career.
Pepi is that guy though. He has the clinical finishing, the off ball movement, the playmaking ability, and the ability to hold up and bring others in. The biggest thing that Pepi possesses is an understanding of when each of his traits is needed. It’s something you can’t teach, it’s just a sense and understanding of what the game needs in that moment. We’ve seen it from his time at FC Dallas, and he’s still tearing up MLS with a much less skilled supporting staff than what he has with the USMNT. If he continues at this level, watch out. The pure striker is something that has been absent from the USMNT in the past few years, and if Pepi is going to be that guy, then all aboard the hype train.
3. The USMNT backline is probably better without John Brooks
John Brooks was a big culprit of the goals scored against the USMNT during the last window. Anything coming down the side of the right-back and in was a wash as Brooks refused to check his shoulder time and time again. Honestly, the USMNT was lucky Canada didn’t get a few more goals because Brooks wasn’t paying attention to runners in behind. Enter Walker Zimmerman into the conversation, or Mark McKenzie, or … you get the picture? If you have a spatially aware center back next to Miles Robinson, you’re going to be A-ok. Brooks and Robinson just didn’t work together and that’s fine! Brooks is still a very good defender, but right now, Miles Robinson is playing like one of the best defenders in CONCACAF, and he’ll stick. Gregg needs to figure out who plays next to him, and right now, everyone other than John Brooks is working.