The USMNT closed out a June camp that went better than anyone could have expected. The team’s final outing was a 4-0 win against a weak and tired Costa Rica side, but the result still served as the exclamation point on a two-week stretch that we’ll likely look back on as a turning point in Gregg Berhalter’s tenure:
- The team won a trophy (Nations League)
- They beat their archrival to do it
- The USA won three of four matches played (all against future World Cup Qualifying foes)
- They showed they can win ugly: in different ways and under different circumstances
- Every player except for third-string goalkeeper David Ochoa got minutes
But most importantly, the leaders of this young U.S. team finally took ownership of it. It took all of them being in camp together—Christian Pulisic (22 yrs), Weston McKennie (22 yrs), Tyler Adams (22 yrs) and Gio Reyna (18 yrs)—and then also being the primary reason the U.S. won games that actually mattered. All four played a major role against Mexico.
“We made a statement to the rest of CONCACAF that we’re here and we’re winning games the way we are, and we’re here to stay for a while,” 20-year-old Brenden Aaronson told the media after the Costa Rica win. “It’s awesome for the group.”
Of course, the story would’ve been a lot different if Honduras scored first in the semifinal. But as it turns out, the USMNT is rolling again and it also reconnected with its fans and reignited their passion for a team that let so many down when it failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It’s taken a while to restore that faith, but there’s a real sense that it’s finally back. That enthusiasm should only continue to build with more meaningful games coming up—Gold Cup in July and then 14 World Cup qualifiers—in advance of the 2022 World Cup in 18 months.
“What I think [connects with fans] is playing meaningful games,” Berhalter said earlier this week. “More importantly, it’s that the fans get to know the guys a bit better by seeing them play and really getting to understand that these guys are competitors. It’s the youngest group that U.S. Soccer has ever played in a final [vs. Mexico], but they’re still able to claw their way back into games and win games. And that’s what’s important.”
The USMNT camp also handed down five important verdicts as far as how the team is managed and constructed in the future:
1. Center forward competition is on: It’s a three-man race right now: Josh Sargent, Jordan Siebatcheu and Daryl Dike. Berhalter said as much post-Costa Rica. It’ll come down to form and individual playing style as to which of the three will start matches. That’s why the clubs that Sargent and Dike join next season (if they move) will have a huge impact as to what their next 18 months look like.
2. Mark McKenzie won starting central defender spot: He started all four matches and on balance his play was reliable outside of the most glaring error, which will no doubt serve him as a learning experience for the future. With Aaron Long out, the right center back role should be McKenzie’s job.
3. Tyler Adams is the starting, deep-lying mid: He does things at that position that no one else in the player pool can and it has a domino effect on the rest of the team’s play. And if it’s not Adams, starting, Jackson Yueill and Kellyn Acosta together is the next best alternative.
4. Brenden Aaronson is a lock on this squad: The Philadelphia product may not start every game, but he’s definitely won his place on every gameday roster as long as he’s healthy. He offers this team so much, whether it’s as a starter or off the bench.
5. Ethan Horvath is the No. 2 behind Zack Steffen: This is not an overreaction to Horvath’s game against Mexico. He’s always been sure-handed and unfazed between the pipes, and it served him well in Nations League. Now he just needs a club that’ll make him a starter. New England’s Matt Turner, an obvious No. 3 choice, will continue to make his case at the Gold Cup.
USA Player Ratings vs. Costa Rica
Ethan Horvath: 6
Except for the odd backpass or a hopeless shot or two from Costa Rica, the birthday boy really didn’t have too much to do. After the night he had against Mexico, it’s probably deserved.
Antonee Robinson: 6
He was aggressive getting up and down that left flank. The end product wasn’t there on this day, but he showed the kind of desire and energy you want out of your left back.
Tim Ream: 6
All-around tidy performance, mainly in possession. He kept the ball moving and even picked out a few long diagonal balls to stretch the Costa Rican defense.
Mark McKenzie: 7
In his fourth straight start in this camp, it was another smart, composed performance from McKenzie, who went 45 minutes. Even the yellow card he picked up was a smart play. But the highlight was the sensational lines-breaking pass to Dike on the second U.S. goal.
Reggie Cannon: 6.5
Solid work in the first half to help defend and close down players. Then he turned it up in the attacking end after the halftime break, scoring his first U.S. goal (with his left foot!), and joining in multiple attacking moves.
Tyler Adams: 7
It feels like everything was right again with Adams in front of the back four. The captain was the omnipresent, do-it-all central midfielder that this team relies on. This Costa Rica team didn’t challenge him, but he still showed how important he is to team defense and build-up.
Sebastian Lletget: 6.5
There may not have been any single memorable play you associate with Lletget’s performance, but that’s kind of the point with him. He does what is required and he does it at a high level, seemingly without tiring. His temperament, leadership and general disposition on the field is such a good fit for this young team.
Yunus Musah: 6
This match was an example of (a) why there’s a segment of U.S. fans pushing to have him start, and (b) also why he’s not been starting. His skill, control and dribbling are exceptional, but his decision-making, movements and reading of plays was sometimes off. He drifted in and out the match, but he’s only 18 and has plenty of time to mold his game.
Brenden Aaronson: 7
Similar to the first half against Switzerland, his work rate, sprints, pressure and his overall willingness to make things happen are all difference-making qualities. He attacks spaces and his goal came from one of those instinctive runs. He did fade in intensity in the second half, as did the rest of the team given the ballooning score, but he was still quality.
Tim Weah: 6.5
He was electric. But it wasn’t just about the energy he brought when he was on the ball. He was determined and decisive with his movements, whether they were in central or wide positions. There was an edge about his game on this day which ensured he was involved and productive.
Daryl Dike: 6.5
He was probably itching for this start after being left off the Nations League roster and sticking around in camp all this time. But he played within himself and let the game come to him. He made the plays he needed to make, including a cool finish on a run that beat the offside trap for his first U.S. goal. One area of improvement, according to his coach: his in-the-box runs need to be better.
Walker Zimmerman: 6
He may have only arrived in camp the day before (as a replacement for Matt Miazga), but he didn’t hold anything back when he came on at halftime. He brought his usual hard-nosed defending, never afraid to give up his body when necessary.
Jackson Yueill: 6
The Earthquakes midfielder can depart camp on an upbeat note, coming on for the last half hour with the result in hand.
Jordan Siebatcheu: N/A
The U.S. had dropped its intensity by a few notches by the time he came on at center forward. It was a cameo marred by a right knee injury which he tried to play through, but eventually forced him off.
Gio Reyna: N/A
Came on for a bit of a run out. He earned and scored a penalty three minutes after entering the match, but the game didn’t demand anything more.
Kellyn Acosta: N/A
There was little to highlight about Acosta’s appearance, especially with the U.S. ceding possession to Costa Rica for the final stretch of the match.