USA 1, CHILE 1

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

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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.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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