With another shutout, USMNT keep gaining confidence in defending

PHILADELPHIA -- While the focus on the US national team was a relative lack of offensive chances in a narrow 1-0 win over Curacao, the defense somewhat quietly pitched a shutout for the fourth straight game in the Concacaf Gold Cup on Sunday night. 

In doing so, goalkeeper Zack Steffen and the back line passed their toughest test to date in a game where Curacao had as many shots on goal — five — as the Americans faced in the three previous group stage games combined against Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana.

“I think that every game is different and every game unfolds in a different way but one thing I’d say is that we haven’t been conceding high-quality goal scoring opportunities and that’s been a real positive of this group,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I think when we get pushed, when we get in a low block state, the guys have performed well defending in the penalty box, defensive set pieces have been good. I think one today was a little bit iffy but other than that it’s been okay.”

Steffen recorded his third clean sheet of the tournament with his five saves on Sunday. He had four saves combined in the first two group games, while New York City FC's Sean Johnson made just one in the 1-0 win over Panama. Curacao’s 15 shots came just five shy of the total Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Panama fired off in the first three games against the mostly untested US back five. 

“We haven’t allowed too many chances in our box,” said defender Aaron Long, the New York Red Bulls regular who made his third start in central defense on Sunday. “I think in our own box we’re doing very good with marking up and defending crosses and things like that and obviously Zack is a big plus for us.”  

Steffen’s best stop on Sunday came in the 84th minute, against Leandro Bacuna's rocketed, long-range shot that was headed toward the upper left-hand corner of the net. 

“It gives us confidence knowing we can grind out 1-0 games, keep a zero and limit the other team’s chances,” Steffen said. The key has been “anticipating the opponent, staying locked in, trusting one another and staying connected and compact,” he said. 

The fourth consecutive shutout in a single Gold Cup tournament matches a US record from the 2002 tournament and is the longest shutout streak in any competition since the US put up a zero in six straight games from June 8 to September 10, 2008. 

In addition to his back line, Berhalter credited Christian Pulisic, who wore the captain’s armband for just the second time, for his work on the defensive side of the ball. 

“Everyone defends and everyone was doing a lot of work tonight,” Pulisic said. “That was what was required today and in the end it was a shutout so we did our job.”