Calamity in Canada: Can USMNT bounce back?

After a decent performance in Columbus on Thursday against El Salvador, there was a certain positive vibe around the USMNT. While there was some disappointing news for the US with Tim Weah unavailable for selection due to COVID protocols in Canada, the roster was still mostly the same going into a tough game in Hamilton against CONCACAF leaders Canada. Canada was missing two key players in Alphonso Davies and Stephen Eustáquio. While both teams created chances, Canada made the most of theirs and won the game 2-0 to stay at the top of the group. let’s take a look at how the USMNT’s Calamity in Canada unfolded.

CINCINNATI, OH – NOVEMBER 12: United States midfielder Weston McKennie (8) talks to forward Christian Pulisic (10) during a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying game between the United States and Mexico on November 12, 2021 at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

First Half

With such a quick turnaround, there was a question as to whether or not Berhalter would rotate anyone in the lineup. For the most part, it appeared that he was going with the same lineup as in Columbus. Matt Turner stayed in net with the back four of Antonee Robinson, Miles Robinson, Chris Richards, and Sergino Dest. The MMA midfield trio of Mckennie, Musah & Adams was selected again. Going into the game, the big question for the US was going to be who replaced Tim Weah on the one wing of the 4-3-3 and who would start up top as the striker in this system. To answer these questions, Berhalter decided to go with the reliable super-sub Brendan Aaronson on the wing to replace Weah and Gyasi Zardes to replace Jesus Ferreira up top. This was an interesting choice pregame as Zardes is not known as much for his speed and it felt like Ricardo Pepi would have been the better choice up top.

Canada went with a similar lineup to their first game with Borjan in net, a backline of Johnston, Vitoria, Miller, and Adekugbe. Their midfield had some quality and speed with Laryea, Kaye & Buchanan. The attacking trio was stacked with quality goal-scoring talent, throwing out Osorio, Larin, and David up top. Both teams weren’t messing around with their lineups and wanted the three points.

The first half was a lot of the same as the game against El Salvador, with the US dominating most of the possession and the other team trying to hit on the counter when they could. The difference between the game on Thursday and Sunday in Hamilton was that, unlike El Salvador, Canada wasn’t going to mess around with the chances on the counter. This was no more evident than on the goal in the 7th minute off of a bad goal kick from matt turner. The ball barely made it to midfield and Canada pounced on it immediately. Cyle Larin was given a great pass to hop onto and quickly turned miles Robinson around, leaving miles falling on the ground. Larin made no mistake with the space and fired home a quality chance by Matt Turner to give the home team an early lead.

This absolutely set the pace for the half as Canada was more inclined to let the US hold the possession and essentially bunker in when they could. The little chances that the US had in the first half was when they decided to unleash the speed they had with their fullbacks and Aaronson, but the chances created did not amount to much. The best chance that the US created was off of a corner, with Weston McKennie getting free and putting on a strong header towards the net, but Canada’s minister of defense, Milan Borjan, came up with an insane save to keep the ball out of the net. This was the best chance of the half for the US and the first half came to a close with the score of Canada up 1-0.

Second Half

With the US being down 1-0, most fans wanted to see some changes early or something done to break down the Canadian backline. The only success in the first half that the team seemed to have was when they stretched the Canadian backline with the pace they had and tried to throw numbers in the box. For the first 20 minutes of the second half, it seemed like the US was unable to really break down the Canada defense with the few exceptions being when they once again threw their speed over the top.

With that mindset, one would have thought that they would have kept the speed up top and tried to compliment that with even more speed. Berhalter decided to take off Tyler Adams, Brendan Aaronson, and Gyasi Zardes, replacing them with Kellen Acosta, Ricardo Pepi, and Jordan Morris. Tyler Adams coming off made sense because he appeared to take a knock, but the Aaronson move made little sense as it took off a lot of the speed that you had up top.

The US felt like they were close to something in the next 10 minutes, throwing on Paul Arriola and Reggie Cannon for Yunas Musah and Sergino Dest. Despite this creating a few chances, the Canadian backline held firm and seemed to repel any attacks that the US threw at them. With the US throwing everything that they could at the Canada goal to try and get an equalizer, it left a ton of holes in the US backline for a counterattack.

This came to fruition right at the end of extra time when Canada sprung on the counter-attack and Sam Adekugbe got a beautiful pass from Kamal Miller. Adekugbe had acres of space to run on in and finish a beautiful goal, capping off an impressive performance from the Canada squad. This was the last real play of the game and the final whistle blew, capping a poor US performance in a 2-0 loss to the group leaders Canada.

Three takeaways from the Calamity in Canada

Looking back at the game, one can absolutely say that the US did not really come to play. While they had the lion’s share of the possession, with a nearly 2/3 to 1/3 edge, they did not do anything with it. The three big things that seemed to really be questioned were:

  1. Selection of Gyasi Zardes up top
  2. Removal of Brendan Aaronson in the 69th minute
  3. Christian Pulisic’s play

Let’s get this first one out of the way. The selection of Zardes did not make sense given the pace that the US had on the field. This game absolutely screamed for Pepi up top as he and Aaronson would have been able to stretch the field. This was really the only pregame selection that seemed to generate a level of confusion.

The next two points can truly be combined as it was a bit of a headscratcher. Taking off Brendan Aaronson in the 69th minute in the middle of a triple sub seemed to come out of nowhere. The thing that Berhalter needed on the field was speed and to be honest, Christian Pulisic had a horrid performance and was slowing down the game while turning the ball over in key moments. The ideal sub here would have been to take Pulisic off so that a front three of Morris, Pepi & Aaronson could take multiple runs in behind and stretch the Canadian backline. With all that being said, this was not a great result from the USMNT.

Can the USMNT Bounce back?

The US did have some help in the form of Mexico drawing Costa Rica at home. At the same time, Panama beat Jamaica, now pulling second through fourth within 1 point of each other. Let’s hope the US can rebound from that awful performance against Canada by putting together a strong performance in Minnesota on Wednesday against Honduras. It certainly won’t be an easy task given the recent news of the Tyler Adams and Chris Richards injuries, but three points would go a long way into helping fans feel just a bit more comfortable about their qualifying position. Given all of this, it will certainly take a much stronger effort than we saw on Sunday to get the three points in St Paul.

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Mandatory Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire