- There's little reason to believe what the U.S. trotted out vs. Jamaica will resemble anything it does at the Gold Cup–and that's a good thing after the Americans suffered their first defeat of the Gregg Berhalter era.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a Concacaf Gold Cup tune-up that wasn’t really much of a Gold Cup tune-up—and for the USA, that’s a good thing—Gregg Berhalter suffered his first defeat at the helm as the Americans fell, 1-0, to Jamaica.
The U.S. was soft, tentative and disjointed and created almost nothing offensively. But with its Gold Cup run not set to begin for another 13 days, there’s little reason to panic. It’s almost impossible to imagine that the team Berhalter fielded Wednesday in the nation’s capital will resemble the one that’ll compete for the Concacaf crown, either in terms of performance or personnel.
Here are three thoughts from the national team’s debut at D.C. United’s Audi Field.
This isn’t what we’ll see at the Gold Cup
Wednesday’s inexperienced and ineffective lineup was shaped significantly by circumstance. Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams still haven’t arrived in camp. Pulisic isn’t expected until Thursday, and Adams won’t come in until June 11, after the Sunday friendly against Venezuela.
Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris and Aaron Long are nursing hamstring issues. It’s nothing that should keep the trio off the Gold Cup roster set to be unveiled Thursday morning, but it kept them in street clothes in D.C. Jozy Altidore, Weston McKennie and Gyasi Zardes (foot injury) are recent arrivals who also didn’t dress, and Sebastian Lletget, who would’ve likely played in Pulisic’s absence, remained in Los Angeles with a hamstring injury and will miss the Gold Cup, Berhalter later confirmed.
As a result, save a rearguard that included goalkeeper Zack Steffen and defenders Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez, Berhalter’s team was a whole more fringe than core. In fact, one of Wednesday’s starters, San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Jackson Yueill, isn’t even on the 40-man preliminary Gold Cup roster, from which the final 23 must be drawn.
For the likes of Josh Sargent, Djordje Mihailovic, Cristian Roldan and Paul Arriola, international minutes are international minutes. But none played particularly well, and any Gold Cup time they get will be alongside different teammates in what most likely will be a different formation.
A different look doesn’t click
Berhalter departed from his usual 4-3-3 here, instead opting for something that looked like a 3-4-2-1, with wingers Arriola and Antonee Robinson able to alter the shape and emphasis. Arriola spent most of the evening as a spectator, adding one to the crowd of 17,719, and Robinson struggled against Jamaica and FC Cincinnati defender Alvas Powell. Will Trapp, Yueill, Roldan and Mihailovic manned the middle, and had difficulty connecting passes in the offensive third or closing down Jamaican looks from mid-range. The latter issue wound up costing the USA the game.
The Americans’ possession advantage was a tease—most of it was in midfield or among the back three. The USA didn’t take its first shot until the 43rd minute. It was a looping header from Robinson that was well high. And the second didn’t come until the 69th. The lack of a player who could hold the ball and bring teammates into the game was telling. Pulisic or Lletget would’ve helped. Roldan simply isn’t a No. 10, and Mihailovic, while skilled, doesn’t yet possess international-caliber decision making.
“We lacked speed. We lacked aggression in the final third. When you talk about when the ball’s wide, there should be four guys in the penalty box, and we only had two half the time,” Berhalter said following the loss. “It was good that we got to see how this formation can work and then individually, some guys you could tell that I think the moment of, “OK, am I going to make the [Gold Cup] team or not’ was wearing on them. And that’s never nice.”
Steffen, Miazga and Gonzalez were fine. No one else in the the Americans’ very Russian/Czech-looking uniforms made a case for Gold Cup minutes.
“The effort was OK. But we performed poorly tonight,” Berhalter said. “There wasn’t going to be many decisions made solely on this performance. I think we should reiterate that. The roster was pretty much intact from our point of view.”
A few highlights
It was bad, but not entirely so. The Reggae Boyz’ win was deserved and their goal was brilliant. After testing Steffen from just beyond the penalty area several times with no success, Shamar Nicholson, a reserve forward who plays in Slovenia, found some space opposite a slow-reacting Trapp and hit a perfect, dipping blast over the helpless U.S. goalkeeper. It was Nicholson’s first senior international goal.
The man of the match for the USA arguably was substitute Duane Holmes, who made his national team debut as a 66th-minute replacement for Roldan. Holmes was born in Georgia but moved to England with his mother as a child. The 24-year-old spent the past season at Derby County, and pulled off some of the best attacking moves of the evening for the sluggish U.S. In the 70th, some nice, tight control from Holmes put him in position to feed Arriola for a dangerous cross. A minute later, Holmes hit a nice cross of his own after adroitly settling a corner kick.
The USA nearly tied the game in the 88th, and again it was Holmes who was the catalyst. He hit a low, hard ball to Sargent, who was able to turn and push a shot toward the corner that was saved by Jamaica’s Andre Blake.
Berhalter complimented Sargent later on the turn and on-target shot (the USA’s only one of the night), and of Holmes, the manager said, “Duane performed well. What you see from him is exactly what you saw at Derby County. He has this mobility. He has an aggressiveness. But he also has good technical ability in tight spaces. I thought he performed well tonight.”
Those were the U.S. highlights. On an evening with so few, Berhalter obviously took notice.