Here is the standard caveat: It is dangerous to read too much into any friendly result. It is especially dangerous to do so when it's the US men's national team's January camp friendly. There was an extra layer of "hold on a second, let's take a deep breath..." in this year's version of the annual game, Sunday night's 7-0 destruction of Trinidad & Tobago, given this particular T&T side was littered with semi-pros who hadn't, thanks to the pandemic, stepped on the field since last March.
So don't dive in too far.
At the same time, don't choose to read nothing into it, either. I do think that the most we can learn about what happened with the US over the past month came from the roster cuts and XI decision (more on each in a bit), but the game itself can still speak.
Here's what it said:
Patterns of play
The mark of a good team is the ability to create repeatable, high-level chances based upon well-drilled and purposeful movement of the ball, and of the players off the ball. For the US over the past year, we've seen significant progress in that regard, whether it's from central midfield or via the fullbacks pushing up. Colorado left back Sam Vines has proven particularly adept at getting up high and then picking out runners with that left foot of his:
The first clip in that sequence is from last winter's friendly win over Costa Rica. The second is from the December win over El Salvador. The third was from Sunday night. In each case this pattern of play put a US attacker into the box at a sprint, and twice it resulted in goals.
That's just from Vines, but it applies just as much when it's the right back pushing up, or when it's either the defensive midfielder or one of the center backs stepping to the midfield stripe and being able to pick their head up. The front five — the US attack out of a 2-3-2-3 shape these days — make complementary runs based upon both where the ball is as well as their positions in relation to each other, which is the nature of positional play.
- If the center forward drops back, then the wingers pinch in and make direct runs to goal.
- If the wingers dive inside, it's the center forward's turn to stretch the field.
- If the winger stays wide, the near-side attacking midfielder will make an inside run to penetrate the defense while either the center forward drops back, or the weak side attacking midfielder slides over into a true No. 10 spot.
This T&T team was bad, and that El Salvador team was bad, and the Panama team the US beat back in November was bad, but you don't score 19 goals across three games with three significantly different lineups based solely upon talent differential. You do it by having a plan and executing it.
Will that plan work against a better opponent? Well, the US aren't going to drop seven on Mexico or Costa Rica. But it's worth remembering they did really dominate that friendly win vs. the Ticos 12 months ago, even if the scoreline was close, and controlling games against Concacaf opponents is a good way to eventually qualify for the World Cup.
Turning that control into goals on a regular basis is what the best teams in the world do. The US aren't there yet, but Gregg Berhalter is clearly trying to put them on that path.
The depth chart
Nobody's about to push into the first XI based upon a January camp, but I think it's worth noting Vines, Aaron Long, Jackson Yueill, Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola, the five players from this group I'd call "regulars," all started and played well. Because while you can't win a long-term gameday 18 job in January, you can sure lose one.
Jonathan Lewis might've learned that at this time last year, when he was beaten out by Uly Llanez for the starting role. Neither guy is going to displace Christian Pulisic on the depth chart, but fighting for the spots behind him is a real thing. Lewis presumably outplayed Chris Mueller and Benji Michel this past month and while that doesn't guarantee anything going forward, it does provide a benchmark for all three of those players, as well as Llanez, Tim Weah, Konrad de la Fuente and a few others they know they have to hit if they want to get into the rotation and potentially push Arriola or Jordan Morris out.
Miles Robinson, I'm guessing, outplayed Walker Zimmerman and Mauricio Pineda. Aaron Herrera was likely better than Kyle Duncan. Kellyn Acosta did more to earn it than Cristian Roldan, Tanner Tessmann or Andres Perea.
Acosta's presence, by the way, should give heart to the likes of Jeremy Ebobisse, Eryk Williamson and Djordje Mihailovic. Acosta had been out in the cold for nearly two years, and now he's played in two straight games. I don't think the door will be permanently closed for anyone who's out there performing with their club team.
Or, in some cases, not performing. Jesus Ferreira, who had a miserable season for FC Dallas, might be a special case in this pool since he's really a natural false 9, and he's now showed as much in his two caps. Two goals and three assists is absurd no matter the opponent or situation, but his best bit of play didn't even show up in the boxscore:
I don't love false 9s, as I think playing without a true center forward usually muddies up attacking patterns and generates fewer good looks. That certainly wasn't the case on Sunday, though, as the US were much smoother and more dangerous with Ferreira leading the line than when he was replaced by Daryl Dike.
Again: Long-term, this probably won't mean much. But short term, both now have a clearer idea of the level they've got to hit. The competition in the player pool demands it.
Ok, so everything I just wrote was through the full USMNT lens. You can view this camp very differently if you want to peer through the Olympic qualifying lens, since Olympic qualifying is now less than two months away. Making the Olympics is obviously not the priority for the US this year, but it's clearly a priority, which is as it should be.
The US Olympic qualifying team is likely to be composed exclusively of MLS players since MLS players are likely to be the only ones released by their clubs for the tournament. Six of the starters on Sunday were age-eligible for the qualifiers (born January 1, 1997 or later), and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to imagine US U-23 head coach Jason Kreis sees those six as the likely core of his team. That group includes Herrera, Robinson and Vines on the backline, Yueill at d-mid, and Ferreira and Lewis up top.
Nothing is guaranteed, but there are meaningful games about six weeks away. What happened in this camp will surely inform the decisions Kreis makes in that camp to a decent degree.
So let's go back to the top: Don't read too much into the result itself, as it's just a friendly. But I do think it's fair to read a bit into the way the result was achieved, and — if you're looking at it from an Olympic qualifying perspective — who were the guys out there achieving it.