There’s no other way to designate the feeling of watching your nation finally overcome its history of a letdown with an enormous third win over its foes in 2021. Simply put, the USA Football World Cup team stunned us on Friday.
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I didn’t envisage manager Gregg Berhalter to pick one of his best starting 11’s yet. I didn’t suppose the players to come out of the gates violently pressing the Mexico backline. I didn’t expect the USA Football World Cup team to catch a break or two as Mexico let some chances go fragmentary.
But the one thing I can say I was counting on came in the 69th minute. Star winger Christian Pulisic ran onto the pitch for the USMNT for the first time since his injury in the first FIFA World Cup qualifying window. As a Chelsea fan as well as a USMNT fan, Pulisic is by far my favorite player, and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to stay quiet.
The USMNT star returned from injury and wasted no time making an impact. He came flying in out of nowhere to meet a cross in the box, large a header home in the 74th minute to give the USA Football World Cup team the lead and send the stadium in Cincinnati into a frenzy. The goal also sent me into a frenzy, as I ran around my apartment yelling louder than I should have.
Another goal from midfielder Weston McKennie sealed the deal, and the USA Football World Cup team claimed a third victory over Mexico in 2021. First, the USMNT had a visible planned game plan, something that we haven’t always seen in Berhalter’s time in charge. To know more about FIFA World Cup 2022 Tickets click here.
The USA Football World Cup team plays a full 90 minutes without any indication of what might’ve been the game plan. I’m so used to the impulsive free-for-all FIFA World Cup qualifying games where the attack has little cohesion and the defense remains sloppy. All of this being said, I have to credit Berhalter for finally coming out with aspirations.
The USMNT verified a clear strategy from the first whistle: They put on an aggressive press that forced the ball back to Mexico’s keeper and forced El Tri to make quick clearances that oftentimes ensued in a loss of possession. From there, the USA Football World Cup team was picking the ball up in advanced areas with numerous players ready to make runs. It just made sense. Berhalter placed trust in his backline to extinguish out counter-attacking chances, a risk that paid off.
The second key to the game was effecting in key moments. I know, I’m sounding like every football coach ever when I say that, but I promise I have more unique intuition to offer. In games where the team might not get more than two or three good looks on goal, having the composure to take those chances is the difference between a win and a draw or loss.
If goalkeeper Zack Steffen didn’t make a top-class save on winger Hirving Lozano’s low strike, the USA Football World Cup team would’ve fallen behind early and likely wouldn’t have gone on to win the game. The same thing goes for Pulisic’s goal: Had the chance been missed, I don’t think Mexico would have conceded its second goal.
Berhalter can only do so much to set the team up for success. It’s these moments of execution much like Pulisic’s penalty in the Nations League Final, or defender Miles Robinson’s extra-time header to win the Gold Cup Final that separate average teams from lethal teams. It brings me extreme joy to report that, as of now, the USMNT falls into the lethal category.
But slow your roll on the party train because it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in this window. In classic USA Football World Cup side fashion, the team played down to its opponent’s level in a 1-1 draw away against Jamaica.
USMNT fans were a little bit too high on the Mexico win in their assessment of the Jamaica game. I saw fans across social media coating off another lackluster performance in which the USA Football World Cup team very well could’ve lost.
This especially matters in CONCACAF play because some of the lower-level teams will do whatever they can to prevent defeat. The USA Football World Cup team hasn’t fractured the code on scoring when its opponents park the bus, and one goal from the opposing team, no matter how scrappy, can prevent the USMNT from getting a full 3 points.
After Canada’s dramatic win over Mexico, the USA Football World Cup team sits in second place in the Octagon with 15 points after eight games played. It looks as though Panama, Mexico, the USMNT, and Canada will claim the top four spots, although a lot can change in the last six matches.
With some key away stuffs coming up, the USA Football World Cup team has a chance to bolster its qualifying chances. For now, the team can rest easy knowing that 2021 was its year. For the first time in forever, the hope that I have for this team is unchecked, infinite, and no longer restricted by the displeasure of the past.
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