So USMNT fans and followers, did we see enough progress from Gregg Berhalter’s Gold Cup runners up? Or did the team’s 1-0 loss to Mexico confirm your worst fears and leave you wallowing in despair?
Let’s take a look back at the team and evaluate what we saw using my father’s patented “You’re not going to win anything with that guy” system.
Zack Steffen had a good tournament. Now he goes on loan from Manchester City to Fortuna Dusseldorfoff on the back of a fine Gold Cup. He earned three clean sheets and allowed just two goals over five games in his first full international tournament. So Steffen gets a YES from me in the “Can you win with that guy” rankings.
Can you win with Steffen? YES.
Sean Johnson shutout Trinidad and Tobago in his one outing, likely earning a measure of trust from the coach while Tyler Miller did not play.
Can you win with Jonhson and Miller? Incomplete
Let’s take the fullbacks next. I’ll start with some potential controversy.
Tim Ream is not a fullback to me. Despite some praise from other quarters for Ream’s efforts versus Mexico and throughout the Gold Cup, I rate Ream the fullback firmly in the “You are not going to win anything with that guy” side of the bracket.
Why? After a good first half, the final turned when Mexico coach Tata Martino made a simple switch of wingers, suddenly pitting Ream against Rodolfo Pizarro, a speedy and savvy vet, after Ream had enjoyed a good first half versus young Uriel Antuna, also quick but lacking in experience.
Ream was unable to deal with Pizarro, who turned him like a top to set up the lone goal of the match. Ream’s troubles forced winger Paul Arriola to drop back and help Ream with Pizarro, meaning that Arriola, so good a partner for Christian Pulisic in the first half, was no longer able to provide Pulisic with that attacking outlet, contributing mightily to the failure of the U.S. attack in the second half. So Ream is a NO.
Can you win with Ream? NO.
Reggie Cannon was perhaps the revelation of the tournament for the U.S. and his performance on both sides of the ball vindicated Berhalter’s decision to choose Cannon over Nick Lima versus Mexico. I still rate Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin as the first choice USMNT right fullback but was mightily impressed with Cannon.
Can you win with Cannon? YES.
I gave Lima and Daniel Lovitz grades of NO in the rating system prior to the Gold Cup and I will stand firm on that here, although Lima was solid throughout the tournament and could serve as a useful back up going forward.
At center back Omar Gonzalez is another that earned a pre-tourney NO and he did nothing to reverse that grade over the past three weeks. It is time for Berhalter to turn the page.
Can you win with Gonzalez? NO.
Matt Miazga was not quite as sharp as Gold Cup Best 11 man Aaron Long – a solid YES- but Miaga did enough to stay in my YES column, although he will have a battle on his hands to retain a starting spot if John Brooks ever gets, and stays healthy.
Can you win with Miazga and Long? YES.
Walker Zimmerman did himself no harm in this event. Can you win with Zimmerman? YES.
In the middle of the park, I called Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic automatics in the YES column back in June and that remains the case after both turned in fine Gold Cup performances, even allowing that McKennie did not have a great game in the final.
Can you win with McKennie and Pulisic? EMPHATIC YES.
Michael Bradley earned a spot on the official Gold Cup Best 11, along with teammates Long and Pulisic. I wouldn’t have gone that far, but Bradley showed that he is not done yet, although his lack of speed is a problem.
Can you win with Bradley? YES (for now).
What Bradley’s continued selection shows is that Berhalter has apparently lost faith in Wil Trapp, a player I rated as a NO pre-Cup, a rating I still believe is appropriate.
Can you win with Trapp? NO.
Christian Roldan did not see enough time to change my mind about his international prospects. Coming in I felt Roldan had yet to prove himself at this level, going out I still feel that way, though he may get there yet.
Can you win with Roldan? INCOMPLETE.
This Gold Cup came too soon for both midfielder Djordie Mihalovic and winger Jonathan Lewis, and their places on the roster should have gone to players better able to help the cause in 2019.
Can you win with Mihalovic and Lewis? NO.
Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris shared the right-wing position, with Boyd starting off hot before finding himself bypassed against Mexico, even while the U.S. was screaming out for some attacking impetus.
Morris had an up, and–but mostly down tournament. Maybe somehow makes his way back into his natural striker position.
Can you win with Morris? NO.
Can you win with Boyd? INCOMPLETE.
Which brings us to the striker position. Even with his hard to unsee miss in the first half against Mexico, Jozy Altidore should be the go-to guy for the USMNT. His hold up play and his passing ability, and even the way he got open on his missed opportunity, were all badly needed by the U.S.
He’s a massive upgrade over Gyasi Zardes and should get first team action until Josh Sargent ripens.
Can you win with Altidore? YES.
Can you win with Zardes? NO.
And what about Berhalter? An injury that prevented Tyler Adams from playing in the Cup landed Reggie Cannon a roster spot and we saw the FC Dallas 21-year-old grab his chance with both hands. Berhalter gets points for trusting Cannon against Mexico, for realizing that Bradley is still better than Trapp, and for guiding his team to the final in his first official competition as the national team coach.
But demerits must be handed out for his decision to play Ream at full back, his continued fascination with Omar Gonzalez, why Gonzalez over Miazga when seeing out a skin of their teeth win over Curacao, another demerit there.
And if the final versus Mexico was a game of two halves, then Berhalter, as much as his players, was played off the pitch in the second half after a good opening stanza for both.
Martino’s simple switch of wingers turned the game on its head and Berhalter never reacted. A quick change to Lovitz, or maybe Lima, who plays left back for San Jose, for Ream, might have slowed the Mexico attack, or why not bring Cannon over to continue mark Pizarro, as he had so successfully in the first 45 minutes.
Then there were Berhalter’s substitutions against Mexico. Pulling Altidore for Zardes in the 56th minute seemed like giving up. Roldan, and not Boyd, for Morris, seconded that emotion and Berhalter’s final move, pulling Ream for Lovitz and not an attacker while trailing 1-0 in the 83rd minute, had the feeling of a boxing trainer throwing in the towel to save his beaten fighter.
So, a strong NO then for the coach? No, actually. In his first official games as U.S. coach, Berhalter’s team was better at the end of the Copa Oro than it was going in. He will need to improve his roster selection as well as his substitutions. However, by moving on (presumably) from Trapp, and abandoning the inverted fullback when Tyler Adams went down, the former Columbus Crew boss showed some flexibility.
Can you win with Berhalter? YES (for now).