If you're a US men's national team fan you're probably still buzzing about the US U-20s toppling France by 3-2 on Tuesday in the U-20 World Cup Round of 16. It's the third time in a row the US have made the quarters, and it is a big deal. It is, in truth, a much bigger deal than anything that'll happen on Wednesday night when the US play Jamaica (7 pm ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN) in the first of two pre-Gold Cup tune-up friendlies.
Keep bathing in the glory of beating France in any World Cup (hopefully the USWNT will make it a double sometime in the next month) for a bit longer. But at the same time, it's worth turning our gaze toward this friendly for a bit.
Here are three things I'll be watching for:
Breaking Lines from the Backline
When Gregg Berhalter took over, one of the assumptions was going to be that he would transport the system that he used over the course of five seasons with the Columbus Crew whole cloth. That meant the fullbacks would bomb forward to create width, the center backs would flare wide, and the defensive midfielder would drop back in between them to ping long diagonals to the flanks.
Forget the fullbacks for a minute – we all know how wonky the RB/CM hybrid role is, and how the LB doesn't really overlap like a modern LB – and focus on the d-mid. It's somehow gone kind of unremarked that whoever's been put in that role (it's been one of Wil Trapp or Michael Bradley) has not dropped deep to orchestrate from the backline. It is an unexpected wrinkle.
It also puts pressure on the center backs to hit line-breaking passes of their own when the opponent shadows the US d-mid (which is exactly what I'd gameplan my team to do if I were playing against the US. Teams that let Bradley orchestrate lose badly, with Tigres and Club America in the 2018 CCL being two great examples).
Can the US defenders do this if the easy outlet to the d-mid isn't available? We know John Brooks can, but he's hurt and unavailable. Walker Zimmerman's been superb at this in 2018 & 2019 with LAFC, and this is his big chance to translate it up to the international level. Matt Miazga, Omar Gonzalez, Aaron Long and Cameron Carter-Vickers are all usually more conservative in the passes they pick.
No room for that this summer.
Doing Work on the Half-Turn
The point of those line-breaking passes is to find the two more advanced midfielders in the 4-3-3-ish set-up the US use in pockets of space between the opposing lines of midfield and defense. Berhalter calls them "dual 10s" but that's a little bit generous by my reading of both the form and function of the roles. The left-sided player can be characterized as a No. 10 for sure, while the right-sided player is much more of a No. 8.
Djordje Mihailovic (likely the starting 10, keeping the spot warm for Christian Pulisic), Weston McKennie (hopefully the starting 8) and Cristian Roldan (almost certainly McKennie's back-up) seem like the three guys from this game who will be in those pockets. Duane Holmes, who's making his USMNT camp debut, probably figures in this rotation somewhere, as will Jackson Yueill (who's not on the 40-man Gold Cup preliminary roster, which means this is purely an educational experience for the Quakes youngster).
When they get the ball in those spots on the half-turn, they have to be clean, decisive and dangerous. That's the whole point of the system. This needs to be better than a shot from 25 yards:
shifting to the senior team ahead of Jamaica, we'll need better in the final 3rd from our attacking mids over the next month— Scuffed (@zlebmada) June 5, 2019
this gif singles out Roldan but *nobody* in that spot has looked sharp since Berhalter took over, and we gotta be creating danger from those positions pic.twitter.com/Z2BsuFT0Ty
The Tyler Boyd Experience
Holmes, who is 24, plays all over the pitch, and has done so for a while in a relatively accessible league (the English Championship) is kind of a mystery heading into this camp. We might see him as an 8, a 10, on the wing or even at that RB/CM hybrid role. He really is a utility man.
Tyler Boyd is both less of a mystery and more of one. We know where he's going to play – he's a winger, and could end up on either side – but few people knew he was US-eligible before Brian Sciaretta started writing about him six months ago, and nobody knew he was in the process of filing a one-time switch from New Zealand to the US.
But he was, and he did. And now we'll get to see how a guy who's played relatively well for non-glamor teams in two pretty good leagues (Portugal and Turkey) will do when, presumably, walking into the lineup for the US. Boyd, going by the boxscores and highlights, was superb this year in the Turkish league, putting up 6g/4a in 14 games. He was less successful the previous couple of years in Portugal, putting up boxscore numbers similar to what Pedro Santos – you know him from the Columbus Crew – managed in a similar timeframe.
Would Santos be a US savior? Nah.
That said, Boyd fills a need (he's very good at eliminating defenders off the dribble) and it is entirely possible that a new team in a new league in a new system, combined with a little bit of growth as a person and a player (he just turned 24 in December) meant he's improved significantly in the past 18 months.
Wherever he falls on the spectrum, I'm VERY excited to see Boyd play. I can't remember the last time we had such an unknown quantity come into the US player pool, and I'm ready for the show.
One note: Neither Pulisic nor Tyler Adams are in camp yet. Berhalter gave them a little extra time for R&R after long and injury-plagued seasons.
Here's my lineup for the game tonight: