What we learned from the USMNT victory over Costa Rica in WCQ

Written By Harrison Hamm on October 14, 2021

The USMNT came off the loss in Panama on Sunday needing three points.

Gregg Berhalter had rotated much of the squad, to damaging effect, and had saved some starters for the home game against Costa Rica. That game, with an XI looking quite similar to the one that dismantled Jamaica pretty thoroughly last week, would be a pressurized one.

We can be happy about the result. The US looked pretty solidly the better team for almost the entire game and won 2-1 on an own goal created by Tim Weah. Most of the players played well, and the lineup looked like it made sense together.

Here’s what we learned.

The attack looked likely — with a couple of weaknesses

The strength of the US attack, even with Timothy Weah starting instead of Paul Arriola (due to a last-second injury), is ball-pressure and creativity. They draw their creativity from the periodic midfield flourishes of Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah and, mostly, from the full back tandem of Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson. Dest sparks good moves with his searching moves inside and attempts to break through. It was his brilliant left-footed strike that drew the US level.

As much as the US controlled possession and generated some good chances, they had difficulty separating from Costa Rica. The issues came down to the similarity of the strikers’ runs. Weah, Brenden Aaronson, and Ricardo Pepi have to find a way to diversify their runs and ask tougher questions of the Costa Rican backline, which like the rest of Costa Rica looked old and slow.

They looked better in that department when Gyasi Zardes entered. The US should hope that some of Zardes’s vision will rub off on the 18-year-old Pepi.

Nonetheless, the attackers each looked good individually, particularly Weah and Aaronson in addition to Musah and substitute Gianluca Busio in the midfield.

The defense rebounds from early goal

Costa Rica scored just a minute into the game, which gave the US a good scare. The goal came from a run down the left side against Dest, some poor marking by the US in the box, and questionable goalkeeping from Zack Steffen. (Starting Steffen over Matt Turner for the apparent purpose of rotation is not what I would have done.)

From there, the US’s young backline looked mostly fine. Miles Robinson recovered wonderfully to save himself after a bad giveaway. Dest and Antonee Robinson were active in the attack.

US grinds out three points

This game did not necessarily come easy to the US. They fell behind early and did not manage to find any consolation goals to evade the very real possibility that Costa Rica would scrap out a late equalizer. Anything less than a win would have been a bad result for the US. They risked entering a November home qualifier against Mexico in third.

The US lack of threat on set pieces continued to hurt them. Better delivery would help, although it’s not clear what the solution is. They also have to find Ricardo Pepi more in the box than they managed in this game. The substitutes were mostly good, although Matthew Hoppe didn’t pose much of a threat after he entered for Weah.

This team will get Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic back in November. Reyna adds a valuable bit of quality in the midfield, and Pulisic is a big boost of attacking creativity. John Brooks is another useful center back, although all of the central defenders used in this window have made a good case for themselves.

Overall, it’s another good performance from what was close to the US’s A-team. Aside from areas of improvement, they should keep doing what they’re doing.

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