Answers Hard to Find as USMNT Top Reluctant Ecuador 1-0

Posted By Peter Nolan on March 22, 2019

The Gregg Berhalter era kicked off in earnest with Thursday night’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador in Orlando, Florida.

A pair of wins over Costa Rica (2-0) and Panama (3-0) in late January and early February didn’t tell us much about the USMNT, with only MLS players available to Berhalter.

Thursday figured to put Berhalter’s selection policy (our High Press Soccer predictions here: we were off) and his much-discussed strategy innovations to the test against Ecuador.

So, how did it work out?

The Tyler Adams fullback/midfield role

Former New York Red Bull Tyler Adams has moved on to Bundesliga big brothers RB Leipzig with the greatest of ease and he was fine last night, albeit against a second choice Ecuador side that, minus its best attacker (Ennar Valencia), chose to sit back and allow the home team time on the ball, rarely attempting to punish Adams on the transition from midfielder back to defender.

Berhalter certainly deserves time to implement his strategies but with the Gold Cup looming and given the time constraints imposed on National Team coaches, the question becomes: does Berhalter have that time?

Aaron Long shined at center back…

When I first saw the U.S. lineup I was surprised to see Aaron Long and not Matt Miazga lined up alongside John Brooks in the heart of the U.S. defense. Perhaps I should have noted Long’s captaincy in the post-January camp games as a reason he’d get the nod.

Miazga has recently gotten back on track with a loan move to English Championship side Reading, where he has played very well. However, Berhalter kept faith with the reigning MLS Defender of the Year and he was rewarded by a fine performance from the 26-year-old.

An imposing 6’2”, Long is built like the center back he is, but retains the pace and agility of the midfielder he came up as. Those skills were on display versus Ecuador when the U.S. shifted into a three-back set – Long, Brooks, and Tim Ream – when Adams moved up to the midfield with the U.S in possession.

When Adams found himself too far upfield on Ecuadorian counters, Long was left isolated in 1v1 situations, where he proved up to the task.

On Tuesday night, when the USMNT play Chile at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas, it will be instructive to see if Berhalter again goes with Long over Miazga.

…Pulisic failed to shine at center mid

Despite that $73 million transfer to Chelsea, it has been a tough year for Christian Pulisic. He has struggled with injuries, been usurped by Jaden Sancho at Borussia Dortmund (where he remains on loan), so U.S. fans were looking forward to seeing the Pride of Hershey in his first USMNT appearance under the new boss.

As promised, Berhalter played Pulisic centrally, in the number 10 role, where presumably he could influence the game more than from the winger role he plays for BVB.

And while Pulisic showed flashes, they were just that, flashes. It may have unfolded differently if Paul Arriola had finished a golden opportunity laid on by Pulisic in the 25th minute, but the DC United man fired directly at the keeper, a sequence that says more about Arriola’s lack of end product than it does about Pulisic.

Ecuador’s decision to play so defensively in a friendly was an odd one and it makes it harder to learn much from a third straight U.S. shutout. How anemic was the Ecuador attack? American keeper Sean Johnson faced zero shots on goal and just one in his general direction.

With a 0-0 draw seemingly in the cards, the home team found a fluky winner off the boot of Gyasi Zardes and an Ecuador defender in the 81st minute.

Berhalter has maintained that nothing is set in stone, players, positions, strategies. That presumably includes the much-discussed inverted fullback position the Adams played versus Ecuador.

On Tuesday night, the U.S. dominated without ever truly impressing, while Ecuador’s reluctance to come out and play frustrated those in search of answers.

Is Zardes good enough to lead the line at the international level? I don’t think so but Ecuador’s packed defense made it difficult to say. What about his Columbus teammate, Wil Trapp? He picked out some nice long range passes Thursday night as his opponents sat back, ceding time and space. How will he fair with a physical marker in his face?

Questions for another night, then.

Weston McKinnie Injury?

One final question came when Weston McKennie was stretched off in the 68th minute with a scary-looking ankle injury. How bad is it? How long will he be out of action?

We don’t know yet. What we do know is that McKennie is a big part of this team’s future and whatever system Berhalter installs, McKennie needs to be a part of it.

Match Notes

Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Ecuador
Date: March 21, 2019
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Orlando City Stadium; Orlando, Fla.
Attendance: 17,422
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Weather: 66 degrees; clear

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
ECU 0 0 0

USA – Gyasi Zardes (Tim Ream) 81st minute

USA: 1-Sean Johnson; 14-Tyler Adams, 23-Aaron Long, 5-John Brooks, 13-Tim Ream; 6-Wil Trapp (4-Michael Bradley, 59’), 8-Weston McKennie (15-Cristian Roldan, 68’), 10-Christian Pulisic (17-Sebastian Lletget, 62’); 11-Jordan Morris (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 68’), 9-Gyasi Zardes, 7-Paul Arriola (18-Jonathan Lewis, 77’)
Substitutes not used: 22-Ethan Horvath, 16-Daniel Lovitz, 19-Matt Miazga, 20-Corey Baird
Head coach: Gregg Berhalter

ECU: 22-Alexander Domínguez; 4-Juan Carlos Paredes, 21-Gabriel Achiller (capt.), 3-Robert Arboleda, 13-Beder Caicedo; 8-Carlos Gruezo, 20-Jhegson Méndez, 18-Jefferson Orejuela, 16-Antonio Valencia, 5-Renato Ibarra (9-Leonardo Campana, 46’); 7-Romario Ibarra (19-Jhohan Jullo, 71’)
Substitutes not used: 1-Maximo Banguera, 12-Pedro Ortiz, 2-Cristian Ramirez, 6-Cristhian Noboa, 10-Ángel Mena, 14-Xavier Arreaga, 15-Jefferson Intriago, 17-Ángelo Preciado, 23- Jackson Porozo
Head coach: Hernan Dario Gomez

Stats Summary: USA / ECU
Shots: 5 / 1
Shots on Goal: 2 / 0
Saves: 0 / 1
Corner Kicks: 6 / 1
Fouls: 7 / 4
Offside: 1 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Paul Arriola (caution) 56th minute
ECU – Jhohan Jullo (caution) 90+3

Referee: David Gantar (CAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Philippe Briere (CAN)
Assistant Referee 2: Michael Barwegen (CAN)
4th Official: Adonai Escobedo (MEX) Man of the Match: John Brooks

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Peter Nolan

Peter Nolan has been on the soccer beat for many years now, covering the United States Men's and Women's teams, from the SnowClasico to Azteca and back again. Along with the US national teams, Peter will provide insight into the MLS and NWSL, with a focus on the NY Red Bulls and NYCFC.

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