The USMNT, playing without Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, and John Brooks, looked about as good as we’ve seen them this year in a 2-0 win over Jamaica at home.
They limited Jamaica to under 0.30 expected goals and looked especially convincing in the second half. Ricardo Pepi scored both goals.
As we know, a 2-0 win at home over Jamaica is pretty much the bare minimum. But the US didn’t slog to a victory — they looked energetic and in sync, and a number of players stood out with very good performances, all of which we’ll get to. They executed Gregg Berhalter’s emphasis on verticality and scored both goals by getting out into space.
Let’s take a look at everything we learned and what it means.
An average first half turns into a dominant second half
The first half, unlike previous monotonous halves that the US has produced this cycle, was far from a disaster. There were two instances, including one 18 seconds into the game, in which the US had good shouts for a red card, both for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Mark Clattenburg, on the ESPN broadcast, emphatically stated that both should have been red cards. But with an inexperienced referee and no VAR, Jamaica escaped.
Those two controversies overshadowed the US’s lack of chance-creation. They spent too much time lumping crosses into the box, and while they were clearly trying to play the ball through the lines, they weren’t quite connecting. Their chance creation out of midfield was lacking.
From the second half kickoff, though, they looked utterly dominant. It’s not that they were doing all that much differently — tactically, it was the same set-up, with the same goals: hit passes through the lines and get the best attacking players (especially Brenden Aaronson, Sergino Dest, and Pepi) into the right places. They were sharper all over the field, and it paid off with Dest assisting Pepi on the first goal.
One of the most notable shifts came from the midfield. The highly-anticipated trio of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah had been a bit too passive dribbling into space and creating chances. Musah in particular, known for his skill and cleverness on the ball, settled into the game. He ran at Jamaica’s backline and collapsed the defense, a constant struggle for the US, and it was his run and pass to Dest that led to the first goal.
✌️ Games. ✌️Goals. @Ricardo_Pepi9, full speed ahead.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) October 8, 2021
The second goal came down the opposite side, with Antonee Robinson finding Aaronson on a run through the backline. Getting the front three of Aaronson, Pepi, and Paul Arriola running like this on a counter-attack is exactly what Berhalter was talking about when he emphasized verticality:
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 8, 2021
Aaronson was the US’s best and most threatening attacker on the night.
Ball-pressure and defense
We have learned that this US team is very good at suppressing their opponent’s chances. In this game, they allowed only one threatening shot, which was parried away by Matt Turner, and pretty much kept Jamaica out of the attacking third for almost the entire game. The backline was very solid defensively (even Dest!).
The US is outstanding at pressuring the ball and keeping it in front of them. They are not an outright pressing team, though they kept a high defensive line against Jamaica as one would expect. They are moreso adept at cleaning up messes in midfield and stepping quickly to ball carriers. Adams and McKennie are legitimately world-class at that sort of dirty work, and the US plays ample players who count forcing turnovers and playing defense as top skillsets.
Aaronson, playing in the Red Bull system at Salzburg, is very good at creating counters with pressure. A big reason that Arriola is on the field is his tireless defense — he’s a great complement to Dest, who is known for his attack-first approach. Musah was putting in good work alongside Adams and McKennie.
In attack, it helps that the US is so effective at cutting down passing lanes and taking the ball away. It helps keep the ball cycling and the opponent pinned deep.
Much has been made about the US’s development as an attacking team, and whether they have enough chance creation. It’s clear that their biggest strength is denying chances and limiting opposing attacks.
US find crucial rest
It’s important that with three games in a week, the US finds a way to rotate the squad and keep players fresh. A 2-0 second half lead against Jamaica was the perfect opportunity. Adams, Musah, Dest, Pepi, and Aaronson all came off as subs. All of those players are good candidates to start on Sunday in Panama.
It was also a good opportunity to get players experience on the qualifying stage. Luca de la Torre, who earned a call-up thanks to his quality play with Heracles in the Dutch Eredivisie, got some time, as did Timothy Weah.
It’s a quick turnaround to Sunday, and the US has to carry over as much of this second half form as possible.