USA 1, CHILE 1

5 thoughts on the U.S. Men's National soccer team

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Not all matches are created equally; a friendly in soccer can very often be overlooked. The history of exhibition games in other sports may lead the casual fan to believe that a friendly in soccer is just that.

In a span of five days, the US Men's National team hosted two exhibition matches vs. top South American competition; which to a team riding a new identity is very much needed for self-evaluation.

1 Nation, 1 Team is the new slogan; unity will be required at all levels to fulfill that.

Timing

The moment in which things happen in life isn't always predictable. In the sports realm, that truth holds much more weight with the uncertainty behind the day to day happenings within that world. After being named the new manager in December, Gregg Berhalter's timing couldn't have come at a better time. A team searching for an identity, not from a talent standpoint but more from a tactical aspect as skill and youth is spread all around this roster.

I love what he brings to the USMNT as he isn't afraid to experiment and put players where he truly believes he can get the best of them. Undefeated in his first four games as manager (3-0-1), the impressive number has to be 289, the minutes the team went without conceding a goal under Berhalter before finally surrendering one to Chile.


Youth

I mentioned the youthfulness of this current roster and that's something you hear with a voice of optimism when looking at the present state of the National Team. 26 years, 7 days was the average age of the starting eleven vs. Chile. The average age on the last US squad to qualify for the World Cup in 2014 was 27 years-296 days, over a 1.5-year-old difference. But what stands out from that team are some of the leaders were much older at that moment with DaMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey all in their early 30's.

The Golden Child

Speaking of youth, Christian Pulisic became the fastest USMNT player to reach ten goals at 20 years, 189 days. The party was short lived as a right quad injury forced him to leave the game, but not before leaving an imprint on the scoreboard. When he was on the field, things seem to operate more fluidly as his first touch and ability to turn up the field and go is what motors this team. The German Bundesliga has served him well as you can see how it reflects in his game play. He loves to get the ball in space and make defenders chase, sometimes hurting his final touch. Chelsea agreed to pay Dortmund 64 million euros for the American phenom but loaned him back to the German side for the remainder of the season. A move to the English Premier League might be best for Pulisic but staying on the field is still a significant concern. He's been limited this season after tearing a calf muscle late last year and a then a thigh injury in February. Berhalter has shown some concern over the reoccurring injuries, ''I think you look into the why, and you do an inquiry as to why it's happening, and you make adjustments,'' Berhalter said. "I think he's at a top club and going to a top club. We have very high-level medical personnel on our side, and we'll get it right.''

Passing the Test

In Berhalter's first few matches the team faced off vs. Panama and Costa Rica, netting five goals and keeping two clean sheets in the process. Many wanted to see a bigger sample size against perhaps slightly better competition. The CONMEBOL is known for a more physical type of play, and the tactics teams bring combined with the number of foreign players and skill sets are a step ahead of the CONCACAF. Ecuador is currently ranked 58th in the FIFA world rankings while Chile is 13th in the world. Against Ecuador, the game plan would be different as they faced a team they knew they could take possession from and ended up doing just that dominating 62% of the ball while having five goal attempts compared to the South American's 38% with one shot on goal. The USMNT would go on to win 1-0.The next test came with a quick turnaround facing a tough Chilean squad that brings a pressing style of football. They press high and make your defenders play out from the back or clear it turning over possession frequently. The US was out dominated on ball possession 34-66%, but much of that was expected with the manager making seven changes. In the press conference, Berhalter expressed the confidence gained in his players to be able to adapt quickly and learn to play with each other with different tactics and minimal practices in between.

Grade: B+

Overall, with the feel and attitude, the manager had in the post-game conference, I consider the overall performance in the two matches a success. Not only on the scoreboard, which won't be remembered but more of the ability to play vs. tougher opponents in short periods, something that will come in handy in International tournaments where you have to adapt to foes in short periods of time. The team still lacks some things I would like to see slightly different, for example vs. Chile much of the balls were played out wide down the flanks, mostly the left side but I notice a lack of size outside of a couple of players to play that way so often. Operating this way, Gyasi Zardez was forced to make runs into the box while having to beat multiple defenders to the spot through the air, on balls that never got there. Resulting in wasted energy on pointless runs.
After the match, both coaches and players were exhausted in the locker rooms. Many commented on the first half taking a ton of energy from both teams explaining why the 2nd half was so close and tight leading to minimal scoring chances.

I love where this team seems to be headed at the moment. Change is sometimes needed to bring out the best of peoples abilities, with Berhalter, I believe we got just that.

Credit: Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo broke a seven-match winless streak with a 2-0 win against Minnesota United FC on Wednesday night at BBVA Stadium. The win is the first at home since July 3 against the New York Red Bulls and the first victory in league play since July 20 at Toronto. The result also marked the first win under Interim Head Coach Davy Arnaud.

Here are five observations from the September 11 result on "First Responders Night."

1) A win long worth the wait

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy but it was a much needed result to break free from a bad spell. More so than ending a seven -match winless streak, it was about the team turning around a stretch that saw them winless in 17 out of their last 20 dating back to May. Yes, the Dynamo began the season undefeated in 7 of their first 8 matches - the best start in franchise history. Cool. Anybody who was being honest in their analysis knew the team benefited from a home-heavy schedule to start the season and that the most challenging part was on its way.

Before the start of Wednesday's match, the club had a record of 2-12-1 (W-L-D) since returning from the Concacaf Gold Cup break. It was a similar summer dismantling to what happened in 2018, except that had makeup applied to it in the form of a U.S. Open Cup title.

After the team's shortcomings failed to be addressed, the team began to head towards its fifth playoff absence in six seasons. What the future holds is still to be seen but at least, for one night, Dynamo supporters were rewarded with the sweet taste of victory.

2) Making the switch to a two-forward formation

The 4-2-3-1 formation that featured two wingers and a lone forward had run it's course. It stopped working for the Dynamo a few games back. Truthfully, it was always a formation meant to favor the two speedy wingers Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. The results were always going to be less favorable once players without the characteristics of Elis and Quioto, i.e. Memo Rodriguez, Tommy McNamara, etc., began to be inserted.

For whatever reasons, Davy Arnaud continued some of the habits of previous manager Wilmer Cabrera. That included playing in the 4-2-3-1. Arnaud had switched to a 4-4-2 during his debut as the interim, where the team came back from 0-2 down to a dramatic 2-2 home draw. He opted not to repeat the two-forward lineup in the two matches after.

Whether being forced by circumstances (the potential sale of Mauro Manotas and the international FIFA break may have played a part), Arnaud finally went to a lineup that placed his two best attackers on the field: Mauro Manotas and Christian Ramirez.

The resulting win may be a coincidence of that change but the Dynamo looked their best under Arnaud's tenure as head coach.

3) Alejandro Fuenmayor features in first MLS match since June

The 23-year-old defender was one of the better additions to the team during the 2017/18 offseason. The Venezuelan even started in 21 of 22 matches, the sixth most starts on the team. This season, he fell out of favor with former manager Wilmer Cabrera and thrown into the doghouse.

Fuenmayor had featured in 429 minutes and five MLS matches prior to the encounter with Minnesota. It was as if he was played out of necessity for lack of other options. In the Leagues Cup match in late July against Liga MX side Club America and on Wednesday night, Fuenmayor showed why he is one of the better players on the roster.

What happened in the past is done. What happens going forward is in the club's control and, given the proof over the last two seasons, Alejandro Fuenmayor has to be part of the team's plan for the future and the present.

4) Joe Willis matches career-high for wins in a season

Goalkeeper Joe Willis has been one of the more solid performers this season despite the blunders everyone remembers from his performances at Cincinnati and at Philadelphia. He's been a workhorse for the Dynamo. With the win against Minnesota, he matched a career-high nine wins in a singular season and could reach double digits before the year is over.

5) Arnaud turns the corner

Time will tell if Davy Arnaud's interim tag will be removed. As of now, he's the leading candidate for the permanent head coaching job. The biggest benefit that was always going to come from him was the union of the locker room. Now with his first win in hand, Arnaud has five matches to prove why he deserves the gig.

Dynamo player of the game: Mauro Manotas

A game-winning goal and an assist for Manotas makes him the Man of the Match. In every period of turmoil throughout his time in Houston, Manotas has been one of the few voices that gives it to you straight and doesn't spit cliches. That's the same personality he goes on the field with and that's why he's one of the league's better goalscorers.

Next match:

Saturday, September 14 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC (9:00 p.m. CT, KUBE57/TeleXitos 47.2)

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