On Wednesday night, July 3rd, the eve of our nation’s birthday celebration, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter declared his independence.
What independence? An independence from his “system,” thus freeing his best players to play and reaping the rewards with outstanding performances from his 20-year-old stars Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie.
The young veterans accounted for all of the U.S. goals, with McKennie recording the opener and Pulisic adding a brace. However, the dynamic duo provided so much more than just goals in the American’s 3-1 victory over Jamaica that sets up a marquee Gold Cup Final match versus Mexico, Sunday at Soldier’s Field in Chicago
With his young dogs unleashed, Berhalter made some badly needed changes to a lineup that had looked stale in a narrow 1-0 win over Curacao and his team responded with an effort that essentially repudiated the coach’s “all is well” narrative following the Curacao match.
USMNT played with purpose
Playing with a verve that hasn’t been seen by a USMNT side under Berhalter, other than in the 6-0 win over a dreadful Trinidad and Tobago side, the Americans came flying out of the traps Wednesday night in Nashville, swarming Andre Blake’s goal before cashing in after just nine minutes through Weston McKennie.
The goal was laid on by Berhalter reclamation project Michael Bradley, who sent a long diagonal to Reggie Cannon, who volleyed a pass to Jozy Altidore, who like Cannon, sprung from the bench for this game- as called for by High Press Soccer in our match preview! Altidore directed the ball to the onrushing McKennie and the Schalke man fired the home team into the early lead.
The U.S. was in unstoppable form, playing its best soccer in recent memory when Mother Nature intervened in the form of a lightning storm that halted play, and the American’s momentum, in the 16th minute.
When the sides returned after a lengthy delay it was the Reggae Boyz that benefitted from the respite as the Yanks struggled to find their pre-storm form. U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen continued his fine play with a big save soon after play resumed and the Americans gradually found their feet before heading to the locker room with that 1-0 lead intact.
Berhalter’s men started the second half as they had the first, fast, and within seven minutes Christian Pulisic followed a Jordan Morris shot with a rebounded effort to double the U.S. lead. In the 56th minute, Berhalter chose to reverse his striker swap, replacing Altidore with Zardes, in a move that we will generously assume was meant to protect Altidore from possible injury.
Zardes soon had the crowd gasping, and not in a positive way, when he missed badly on an open look just after checking in, and then again 10 minutes later when his turnover led to Jamaica’s only goal, on a play that also featured Matt Miazga getting beaten to a header by goal scorer Shamar Nicholson.
But the U.S. was quick to regain control of the match and put the result beyond doubt on a second Pulisic rebound, this one when the Chelsea man pounced on Blake’s save from Paul Arriola’s blast.
Berhalter is to be applauded for recognizing the need to make changes, and he was rewarded with good play from all of the newcomers to the lineup, including Miazga, who though lax on Jamaica’s goal, turned in an otherwise solid effort.
Cannon was excellent at fullback and has given Berhalter a lot to consider when he selects between Cannon and Nick Lima for the final. Altidore was the expected upgrade over Zardes that most expected and will hopefully be ready to go 90 against E Tri.
This Gold Cup was never going to be strictly about results or trophies for the U.S., not with the physical and psychological rebuilding job laid at Berhalter’s feet, but a place in the final against rivals and CONCACAF measuring stick Mexico is a good way to get started.