Being a USMNT fan usually involves seeing things that aren’t there, or at least things that could be there but aren’t yet. It’s usually what the team can develop into, or dreams of that glimmer being carried over to the full 90 minutes one day, or when an injured player or two returns or makes his international debut or switches allegiances, etc. Sometimes the results are enough , sometimes the performances are enough, but rarely do these two lineup for this particular national side.
At least until last weekend. USMNT, after hitting a cross-border laughing Mexico squad, and then just strolled past Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League final. Canada may not have the glitz or history of Mexico, but actually has some world class stuff players, a cohesive team and a solid structure. They had also beaten the Yanks in their last meeting, a World Cup qualifier in Hamilton a couple of winters ago.
The tables were turned this time, and perhaps the flexibility in the US was the most encouraging. Or perhaps the most encouraging thing was how many encouraging things there were. Against Mexico, the USA killed them with the ball, their energy and their dynamism. Against Canada, the US was happy to let them have the ball and dared them to break them down, while also simply burning the mud-in-the-tyres speed of Canada’s back three on the counter. It was the complete reverse of Thursday’s triumph, and the complete reverse of what the USA attempted against Canada in that qualifier.
While Canada had about 60 percent of the possession, they managed just one shot inside the box and created just 0.66 expected goals, while the U.S. piled up 1.94. It certainly helped that the USA got an early goal from a set piece from Chris Richards, who only played into their stick-and-move plan for the match.
It’s rare to see the USA simply outclass an opponent, and they did it twice in four days. Perhaps it also says something about the state of CONCACAF, given that this is the lowest Mexico could have ever been (they fired their coach after seven months in charge yesterday) and Canada in something of a transition from the squad that came to WC. But we haven’t seen the US just sit at the helm of the entire region in… well, ever, so it’s best to enjoy it. They reached a level that neither Canada nor Mexico could see with a telescope.
Across the field, you could pick one player who stood out over the two games. The big story heading into the conclusion of the Nations League was the introduction of Falorin Balogun as #9 and he did not disappoint. While there are still some connections and chemistry to be established with his teammates, his threat and runs at the opposition backline opened up all the space that Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna, or Tim Weah could dance through. His goal is a perfect example as Reyna’s first touch is a little loose, but no Canadian defender wants to step forward for fear of letting Balogun in. Which he did, anyway, after he completely horsed Canada’s Scott Kennedy:
It was Reyna’s second assist of the game and his first of the half the performance was basically magical. It was a shame he had to go off at the break after taking a kick to the calf, but nobody said it was going to be serious or long-term. Weah thrived in both games, eating up the space provided by Balogun’s running and Reyna’s magnetism of opponents. Pulisic had probably his best game for the national team against Mexico, and it says something that this American team didn’t even need him to do much against Canada.
Yunus Musah filled in capably as the deepest midfielder in Tyler Adams’ absence, though there will probably be sterner tests than an incompetent Mexico and a Canada team that simply can’t attack up the middle. Chris Richards was faultless in both games in the center of defence, Antonee Robinson looked like one of the Premier League’s best full-backs (which he is) for 180 minutes and Joe Scally came in for Sergino Dest against Canada and showed they have some depth. on the fullback hitherto undiscovered.
The USA fielded two World Cup teams in two different ways and used a larger roster of players to do it. They did it with great joy, which is probably the biggest feather in the cap of a Gregg Berhalter who created that atmosphere. It was a feeling that lifted many players out of indifference or indifference bad club seasons, like Pulisic or Reyna or Musah or Richards. These guys simply love being around each other and playing together.
They won’t have a game with anything at stake until November, when the next Nations League/Copa America qualifier will be. It won’t be much of a test and we won’t get to read about this team for a year when the real Copa starts. Maybe the USMNT just is biggest kid in the CONCACAF offseason. Or maybe they’ll give us a glimpse of what they can do against some serious hitters next summer.
See? Even when everything goes right, one still tries to imagine what could be with the USMNT.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.