It was a very, very bad loss. Not because Canada are a bad team – the US have lost to much worse teams this past decade (Guatemala, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago) – nor because the stakes were particularly high (the losses to those above teams all came in World Cup qualifiers, and Jamaica won in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinals as well).
What made it bad was how slow and defensively disorganized the US were all over the pitch, and how soft and uncompetitive the US were in central midfield. Michael Bradley and Cristian Roldan were put in a no-win situation by Gregg Berhalter, asked to play 2-v-4 basically all night against Canada's box midfield. But even so they were just overrun by their Canadian counterparts. Sam Piette and Liam Fraser are good players, but they are not prime Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz.
Against the US, they looked like it.
So here's a list of things that I want to see from the USMNT for these upcoming Nations League games, in which they host Canada in Orlando on Friday (7 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN) and then travel down to the Cayman Islands to face Cuba next Tuesday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, TUDN):
1. Change the defensive shape
At some point it has to be recognized that the 4-4-2 mid-block is too passive, too prone to losing numerical superiority in central midfield, and too simple to game plan against (hence Canada's box midfield). Berhalter has to put another guy in there.
I'm open to seeing how the US look defensively in a 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot. Or Berhalter could invert the triangle and go with a single pivot in a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1. Either way, it's time to get more numbers there.
2. Change the defensive function
Can you think of a single dangerous transition moment from the past half-dozen games? Can you remember a single time the US won the ball and then just immediately vamos'd into the attacking third?
Neither can I. The US plan under Berhalter is to bottle teams up in that mid-block, force a turnover, and then methodically go about breaking them down with the ball.
When you can do that, that's good! But if everybody already knows you're doing that, and is planning to stop you from doing that, and you don't have a Plan B, then that's bad! That's how you get absolutely punked by Canada!
More than anything else, the modern game is about transition moments. The US in 2019 do not do transition moments. It is weird, and it is worrisome, and it is wearing me out. Win the ball and run.
3. Return the Punking
Canada out-toughed, out-swaggered, out-coached and out-Concacaf'd the US in October. It was a pure beating, a one-sided lesson in aggression, game-planning and will.
And if you're a member of the USMNT, a national team that had not lost to Canada for 34 years prior last month's embarrassment, you can not let that stand. You have to go out there and, first and foremost, win the rock fight. Yes, soccer is a game of high strategy and subtle tactics and nuance and beauty, but at its heart it will always be a physical competition. Those Barcelona teams that played the most gorgeous soccer anyone's ever seen? To a man they'd push you in front of a bus if they thought it would give them an edge. To a man they went out there not just with the desire to play their game and impose their tactical will, but to dominate and demoralize their opponents.
The US have too often looked like they were going through the steps of an academic exercise, just processing information and forgetting that there was a sporting competition happening around them (or maybe "to them" is a better way of putting it). Tata Martino had El Tri just press the US into oblivion back in September, and John Herdman simply wouldn't let the bedrock principle of the academic exercise – Bradley's long diagonals to the flanks – be a thing.
The US got punked. The players played soft, confused and frustrated.
Here's the XI I'd like to see:
A few notes:
• Jordan Morris looked exhausted after MLS Cup, but with Christian Pulisic officially ruled out, he will have to step up for the USMNT, while Tyler Boyd is an off-the-bench option.
I have my doubts about Yueill's ability to do some of the physical work required of a No. 6 – he's become good at winning the ball in a scrum, but isn't one to cover much ground or inflict much pain (yet) – but I think this is a fairly easy call. If he does well, great! If he doesn't... well, at least it's a useful data point for evaluating a young, high-upside player in the pool.
• A more traditional look would have Alfredo Morales as the No. 6 with Weston McKennie and Yueill as dual No. 8s. You could also talk me into Sebastian Lletget as the more advanced, left-sided CM, McKennie as the No. 8 and either Morales or Yueill on the bench.
• Yes, I went with Reggie Cannon over DeAndre Yedlin. As with Roldan and Bradley, there has to be accountability for a performance as poor as last month's. Plus Yedlin's defensive inattentiveness has not lessened over the years.
• Tyler Adams and Timothy Weah have returned to training. Zack Steffen, Paxton Pomykal and Miles Robinson will be healthy come January. Richie Ledezma is on the verge of breaking through into the PSV first-team squad. Duane Holmes continues to impress at Derby County. Bobby Wood is playing actual minutes again, maybe. And the U23s – who also have a camp this week – are stacked.
Help is on the way.
Here's the roster:
|GK||Guzan, Brad||Atlanta United|
|GK||Johnson, Sean||New York City FC|
|GK||Turner, Matt||New England Revolution|
|D||Cannon, Reggie||FC Dallas|
|D||Lima, Nick||San Jose Earthquakes|
|D||Long, Aaron||NY Red Bulls|
|D||Lovitz, Daniel||Montreal Impact|
|D||Yedlin, DeAndre||Newcastle United|
|M||Lletget, Sebastian||LA Galaxy|
|M||Morales, Alfredo||Fortuna Düsseldorf|
|M||Roldan, Cristian||Seattle Sounders|
|M||Trapp, Wil||Columbus Crew SC|
|M||Yueill, Jackson||San Jose Earthquakes|
|F||Morris, Jordan||Seattle Sounders|
|F||Arriola, Paul||D.C. United|
|F||Sargent, Josh||Werder Bremen|
|F||Zardes, Gyasi||Columbus Crew SC|