We USMNT fans have been dreaming for a while about what the team could be with the influx of young stars plying their trade in Europe over the past two years. Problem was, it had been more than 500 days since the national team played a game with anything riding on it, thanks to the pandemic. Can’t know what you have for sure until you see it put in a boiler.
That came to pass last night as the U.S. beat Honduras 1-0 in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. It was every bit the definition of a spotty performance.
At times the U.S. looked dynamic and flashy in attack, but for most of it lacked urgency to break down an obstinate Honduran side. The midfield… wasn’t really a midfield. Honduras cut off any pass to Jackson Yueill, who didn’t really look for the ball much anyway. Weston McKennie just ran around a lot, and Sebastien Lletget didn’t really do anything to make people stop wondering why Yunus Musah wasn’t playing. All this meant Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic were picking the ball up 50 or 60 yards from goal and having to run through the Honduran defense to create anything.
The other worrying facet was just how open the U.S. were at times defensively, with Honduras pouring into space behind the fullbacks on the counter, or just going through and around the central defense of John Brooks and Mark McKenzie frighteningly easily. The U.S. could have easily been one or two behind at half.
The good news is that they found a way, which they’ll have to do throughout World Cup qualifying with matches jammed together so tightly and with the usual challenges that come with traversing the CONCACAF roadmap. They won’t always play well, but will have to get results.
McKennie’s running around pays off when he’s the late man in the box and not picked up, which is exactly what happened for the winner. And it wasn’t a surprise that it was defender Brooks playing him the ball to head down for Jordan Seibatcheu, given how absent the U.S. midfield was.
All of it sets up yet another encounter with the great blood rival Mexico in the final on Sunday. If the U.S. is as open as it was last night and the Tricolores might score a touchdown. But the thing about this iteration of the USMNT, is that they’re capable of their own fireworks, too.