Analysis: Robinson's goal gives the USMNT 1-0 win vs. El Salvador
It wasn't pretty, but that doesn't matter. The United States national team earned a critical 1-0 win over El Salvador in Columbus to continue a promising path towards qualifying for Qatar. The U.S. team did not play poorly and was always in control, but the offensive cohesion was lacking most of the night. ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks it down.
January 27, 2022
THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL team did not win big or win pretty on Thursday against El Salvador – but it won. In the end, three points is three points and the 1-0 victory puts Gregg Berhalter in great position in World Cup qualifying with five games remaining.
The U.S. team had the chance to take the lead early and set the tone but missed several chances – including two by Jesus Ferreira and this kept El Salvador alive and motivated. Despite not finishing well, the U.S. team kept up the pressure for most of the game.
In the second half, the U.S. team finally found a breakthrough in the 52nd minute when Tim Weah dribbled into the box. His shot was deflected up, but found Ferreira near the penalty spot. Ferreira swung a header wide to Antonee Robinson who finished from close range to give the United States a 1-0 lead.
For the remainder of the half, the U.S. team would keep up the pressure but fail to extend the lead. It’s best chances came on set pieces when Weston McKennie and Gyasi Zardes would head corner kicks over the bar.
In addition to the win, the United States avoided any yellow cards and will have no players suspended for the Canada game.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
Excellent fullback play
The U.S. team has been strong at both fullback positions so far in World Cup qualifying. Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest have both scored and assisted at various points in qualifying. Dest had a big goal against Costa Rica. Robinson has had big goals against Honduras and then tonight. It has become a big part of the U.S. team under Berhalter.
Robinson has improved mightily over the past year and a half (since the COVID shutdown) and his role in the U.S. team has grown dramatically. In this game, it was more than just the goal. Robinson was very dangerous presence.
Dest also had a positive influence on the game and was important in keeping the U.S. in control of this game.
U.S. defense strong up the middle
El Salvador had a few half-chances but generally didn’t test the U.S. team too much. Matt Turner didn’t have to make a single save.
Defensively, one of the strongest areas for the U.S. team is the triangle of Tyler Adams sitting in front of the central defense pairing of Chris Richards and Walker Zimmerman. That is a strong defensive contingent sitting in front of Turner and in this one, all three played well. It didn’t seem like El Salvador was ever too much of a threat.
Off-night for Pulisic
There are always a ton of expectations on Christian Pulisic and when he struggles, it stands out. That is the price of being one of the best players in the entire region.
There is no denying that Pulisic was simply not good in this game. Most notably, he was only 2/15 in his duels and was dispossessed nine times before getting pulled in the 64th minute. There was also decision making and on one break in the first half, he missed a wide open Tim Weah to his right only to force it down the left side that was well covered.
Pulisic didn’t have it tonight, but he is still a great player. Now it will be up for him to shake it off to get back into form for a tough visit to Canada on Sunday.
Looking ahead to Canada
Canada defeated Honduras 2-0 on the road on Thursday and will now make the trip back home to face the United States in Hamilton.
Once again, the conditions will be tough. While it will be played in the afternoon, the forecast calls for a high of 23 degrees with a chance of snow. On top of that, it will be played on artificial grass. This game won’t be pretty and it will be a grind. Berhalter probably won’t make too many changes. He will probably start either Zardes or Ricardo Pepi up top. It is hard to see Adams or McKennie getting replaced. If there is a change in the midfield, perhaps it is Musah in place of someone used to playing in terrible CONCACAF conditions.
The opportunity is there for the United States. A draw would certainly be acceptable but a win would put the U.S. team in an outstanding position – first in the group, playing for a nine-point window that would essentially book a ticket to Qatar. With Panama losing to Costa Rica, the USMNT, CAnada, and Mexico have separated themselves from the pack a bit.
The starting lineup
Matt Turner: The New England Revolution keeper (for now) didn’t have to make a save but his distribution was actually strong as he connected with 4/6 long balls and twice played Antonee Robinson up the field in a position to make a break. Rating: 6.0
Antonee Robinson: The Fulham left back was the best player on the field for this game. He scored the only goal and was dangerous throughout. Rating: 8.0
Chris Richards: The Hoffenheim central defender was an important part of keeping El Salvador off the board. One tough moment when he failed to close down on Alex Roldan who missed a shot just wide. But Richards was generally steady. Rating: 6.5
Walker Zimmerman: The Nashville central defender was his usual steady self in the back. He had a few effective passes out of the back into the attack, won most of his duels, and contained the middle. He still needs to be a little more of a presence on set pieces because he is one of the team’s main targets. Rating: 7.0
Sergino Dest: The Barcelona right back worked hard on both sides of the ball – winning 12/21 duels, coming up with big tackles, and then with the ball he was always looking to advance it forward. Rating: 6.5
Tyler Adams: Sitting in front of the backline, Adams did a lot of the dirty work and kept El Salvador a bay. He was also effective in possession – getting the ball forward into advanced possessions. He played the defensive midfield position well and avoided a yellow card which would have suspended him against Canada. Rating: 7.5
Weston McKennie: The Juventus midfielder had some tough giveaways but he brought energy to the game that ensured that the U.S. team was in control of the game. Rating: 6.5
Yunus Musah: Musah’s combination play on the night was lacking on the left side and he seemed to lack chemistry with Pulisic. The Valencia midfielder, however, had a few nice individual moments which created danger including a side-footed shot in the second half which forced a save. Rating: 6.0
Christian Pulisic: It was a very tough game for the U.S. team’s best player who just didn’t have it. He was dispossessed a lot, lost most of his duels, and his decision making were all not up to his standard. Rating: 4.5
Tim Weah: The Lille winger was a handful to defend and was involved in many of the team’s best chances. His dribbling drew a lot of attention from El Salvador’s defenders. Rating: 6.5
Jesus Ferreira: The FC Dallas attacker missed two chances early in the game – which he helped to create for himself. But he worked well with others and set up chances for Pulisic in the first half and Musah in the second. His hard work paid off in the second half when he assisted on Robinson’s goal. He also won a big share of his duels (8/12) – which helped in the press and the possession edge and was credited with four key passes. It was a good outing, but he should have finished one of those two chances. Rating: 6.5
Brenden Aaronson: The Salzburg winger came into the game in the 65th minute. He wasn’t part of anything too dangerous but he helped keep the U.S. on the front foot. Rating: 6.0
Jordan Morris: Was part of a double substitution in the 72nd minute and had a few nice runs but was mostly quiet. Rating: 5.5
Gyasi Zardes: The forward replaced Pepi. He hit a header over the bar which he should have gotten on frame but he did well in a hold-up situation that played Antonee Robinson into the attack for a chance. Rating: 5.5
Kellyn Acosta: Late cameo. Rating: NR