USMNT beat Trinidad & Tobago 3-0 despite 80 minutes of struggle

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Giovanni Reyna of the United States drives up the field against Canada during the first half of a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The USMNT won leg one of their Concacaf Nation’s League Quarterfinal tie against Trinidad & Tobago 3-0. That scoreline is flattering to the performance on the pitch for the USA. With a change in formation, some inexperienced attackers, and up a man for 52 minutes; the US needed a flash of brilliance in the last 10 minutes to score goals. Let’s look back at the match and dissect the tactics, the performance, and where the team goes from here.

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Giovanni Reyna of the United States drives up the field against Canada during the first half of a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

USMNT score three goals in eight minutes to win leg 1 of the Concacaf Nations League Quarterfinals

Coming into this match, there was so much excitement. This is the first real competitive match to begin preparations for the 2026 World Cup. Gregg Berhalter is back at the helm, and he is going to be tasked with getting this team to display heart, and play to their talent level. This first game did not show a lot of that, despite the hype surrounding the starting XI.

Fans were very very excited to see that Berhalter turned to a few inexperienced attacking players like Kevin Paredes (getting his first-ever start) and Malik Tillman. Unfortunately for them, the game did not play to their strengths. Even the experienced “starters” for the USMNT, like Weston McKennie, Yunis Musah, and even Folarin Balogun couldn’t;t impact the game against the Trinidad & Tobago low block.

The only players that looked to make an impact on the match were Gio Reyna in the middle of the pitch finding runs of outside backs Sergino Dest and Jedi Robinson to provide width. That seemed to be the only solution to break down the opposition, and it worked in the end against a T&T side that had to play a man down for 52 minutes.

The result is a 3-0 win with goals from Ricardo Pepi, Jedi Robinson, and Gio Reyna. However, the match’s dreadful nature is producing more questions than answers at the moment.

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ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 21: A detailed view of the United States Soccer Federation crest logo is seen in the player and team tunnel in game action during an International friendly match between the United States and the Ecuador men’s national teams on March 21, 2019 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

A 4-2-2-2 formation?

In Gregg Berhalter’s first competitive match in his return to coaching this team, he was short his two best attacking players Christian Pulisic, and Tim Weah; as well as his captain Tyler Adams. So how would he deal with the 99th-ranked nation in the World Trinidad & Tobago? He went and changed the formation of how this team played from a 4-3-3 to a pseudo 4-2-2-2.

The thought seemed to get their attacking players in the narrow in-between spaces and allow the outside backs to bomb forward up the wings to provide width. The problem was that Trinidad & Tobago defended in a 5-4-1 formation, and stifled the attackers in the middle. The game depended on Gio Reyna finding an outside back to put a cross in, but no one was able to get on the end of any crosses.

The USMNT went up a man in the 38th minute, allowing for one less midfielder to be in T&T’s defensive block, but this didn’t prompt Berhalter to change his tactics. It was frustrating to watch, as the game went into halftime 0-0. What was more annoying was that there were no changes in personnel or formation entering the second half.

It was clear that Berhalter wanted his team to play this way, and did not want to change the way that they played. However, it was hard to watch the USMNT have 75% possession, 588 complete passes, 26 shots, and three big chances created and missed for 80 minutes against a team that they should beat-handedly.

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Team USA celebrates the victory during the FIFA World Cup match USA v Iran on November 29, 2022 in Al Thumama, Qatar. (Photo by JB Autissier/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

Inexperienced players?

The tactics didn’t help the team on the field succeed, and neither did the players that came in to replace some star attackers. With the absences of Pulisic and Weah, the USMNT turned to younger attacking players. Malik Tillman and Kevin Paredes got the nod from Berhalter to show what they could do. Their inexperience and T&Ts tactics to keep 10 players in defense, gave them little opportunity to play in open space. It wasn’t until those two players came off in the second half that the USA’s attacks became more lethal.

Just after 65 minutes of play with zeros still on the board, Berhalter asked some of his proven players to come on to make a difference. Brenden Aaronson and Ricardo Pepi replaced Paredes and Tillman, and they were able to affect the game in those half spaces in front of a fatigued T&T low block.

Aaronson was lively and would use his shifty nature to make good runs and get shots off. Pepi was an actual target for the outside backs who put in cross after cross, and he got the opening goal in the 82nd minute. After that goal went in the floodgates opened. Robinson hit a screamer from distance four minutes later, and Reyna capped off the night in the 89th minute.

While this match ended 3-0, and the USMNT is well on its way to qualifying for the Concacf Nations League Semifinals, and next Summer’s Copa America. With another match against Trinidad and Tobago coming up on Monday, what can we expect?

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ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 21: A detailed view of the United States Soccer Federation crest logo is seen in the player and team tunnel in game action during an International friendly match between the United States and the Ecuador men’s national teams on March 21, 2019 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Where do we go from here?

The USMNT has a 3-0 lead at “halftime” of this CNL Quarterfinals tie. While the talk of changing formations and replacing star players is running rampant after this match, the USMNT is right where it wants to be. It was not aesthetically pleasing, but the game called for it not to be when Trinidad & Tobago sit in a 10-man low-block. Now the team has to finish the job.

Fans can be upset about this match all they want, but the reality is that the USMNT won the match 3-0. How the score got to 3-0 is the very frustrating part. If the USA had scored a goal or two in the first half and one in the second half to win 3-0, then there is probably less frustration surrounding this team, and their tactics.

That should not negate the fact that there was no plan B. Gregg Berhalter will need to be better as the goal is to compete in next year’s Copa America and eventually go far in the 2026 World Cup. The players need to be better and look for more moments to drag out a low block to find a moment of brilliance. All in all, the performance needs to be better for the whole team.

The good news is that there is another match against the same team in three days. Can the USMNT use that match as an opportunity to play in a hostile away environment, while learning from some of the mistakes from this first 3-0 win? We’ll have to tune in on Monday night to find out!

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Folarin Balogun of the United States celebrates after scoring against Canada during the first half of a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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