The United States national team is through to the finals of the Nations league, a 1-0 win over Honduras on Thursday night the latest test for this young team. Fans will want to ring their hands at the tightness of the fixture but this is CONCACAF and a determined opponent.
And while the Nations league still registers a collective meh in terms of excitement, the result means something. The team showed fight and resilience in finding a 90th minute winner.
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Three things we learned from the United States national team beating Honduras on Thursday night in the Nations League, none of which have to do with Josh Sargent.
1. The centerback pairing remains open – With Aaron Long out through the fall with an Achilles injury, the search for the central defense duo remains in the works. The definite here is John Brooks, who has been tremendous for the Americans in his last two outings. The knock on Brooks has been his struggles against CONCACAF opponents, where shifty and speedy attackers have poised headaches for the physically strong and imposing Bundesliga defender.
Against Honduras this wasn’t an issue as Brooks won his duels, controlled the area and carried the ball forward as the opposition increasingly sat deeper and deeper in their blocks.
But a compliment to Brooks wasn’t found on Thursday night. Mark McKenzie was solid but his distribution and positioning was suspect. Long is so good at stepping forward to neutralize an attacking moment while having athleticism to cover tons of space vacated when outside backs push forward. McKenzie is similar to Brooks in this regard and it didn’t mix well at times on Thursday night.
The best bet at centerback isn’t on this roster: Walker Zimmerman. What Zimmerman brings in terms of recovery runs and the ability to step forward and break up plays, is an ideal foil to Brooks. Zimmerman has 13 national team camps so this level shouldn’t be a surprise to him. His distribution as well could help the United States speed-up their transition moments.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom from the United States in their tighter than expected win in the Nations league semifinal over Honduras. But lessons clearly emerged.
2. Leadership is needed – This is a young team, the second-youngest the United States national team has ever fielded in a competitive match. And while that is exiting for the future of the Yanks, it is something to keep an eye on as this group heads into next summer.
Finding that right balance is important in team-building and this relatively young group doesn’t have a sound voice in the locker room yet. While there are established veteran players like Brooks who are respected, this team clearly needs a presence, even on the bench, that can calm down crucial moments and provide experience.
There has to be a voice, literally, to speak up and guide a group that is a touch naïve with a blend of immature.
Fans don’t want to hear this but a presence like Michael Bradley or Brad Guzan (as a third goalkeeper) could and would go a long way towards some much needed leadership on a very young team. The Nations League is a relatively big moment for the United States in terms of their development but it is nowhere near next year’s World Cup. A veteran voice or two will be needed to help a young team (and an inexperienced international coach) navigate tough moments.
The Americans showed resilience in finding a 90th minute winner against Honduras. But come qualifiers and potentially the World Cup, more of a spine is needed.
3. Make way for Musah – The win over Honduras was screaming for a player like Yanus Musah who could provide something on the dribble but also brings a high defensive work rate. While Jason Yueill is good at passing between the lines, Musah’s vision to make the simple pass and run into space was badly needed in a situation like Thursday night.
When Honduras hunkered down, they packed the middle and left the wings open for the United States, daring the Americans to become a crossing team. That isn’t how the Americans are built and the lack of opportunities created showed.
Musah has the ability to unlock these defenses but also help the Americans become a transition side. Given the technical ability and pace of the United States national team, it was disappointing to see them bog down so much when they had Honduras out of shape and stretched out.
Musah, very effective centrally when he plays East-West, could have been a transitional player of note for the United States against Honduras. They advance to the final of the Nations League where Musah could be very valuable against a tough Mexican side.