Analysis: USMNT dominates Canada in 2-0 win for Nations League triumph
June 19, 2023
THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL TEAM has won the CONCACAF Nations League for the second straight cycle following a comprehensive 3-0 rout of Mexico in the semifinal followed by a comfortable 2-0 win over Canada in Sunday’s final. Over both legs, so convincing were the performances that there was no weak link in the starting lineup for either game.
Entering into Sunday’s final, there were some questions about the team’s approach given the suspensions to Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest. But interim manager B.J. Callaghan opted to keep it simple. He replaced Dest with Joe Scally in a 1v1 swap. With McKennie out, Callaghan had a choice. He could have gone with Luca de la Torre who is a possession-based midfielder and many figured would get the start. Instead, he opted for Brenden Aaronson to once again prioritize pressing and quick transition into offense.
In central defense, Callahan made one chance from the Mexico win in that he opted to start Walker Zimmerman over Miles Robinson as Robinson is still not regularly starting games in quick succession as he gradually works his way back from his Achilles injury.
Right off the bat, it was a different approach for the U.S. team than the win over Mexico. Most notably, the U.S. team was willing to concede possession and instead hit quickly in transition or on set pieces to make the most of limited time on the ball.
That strategy worked out perfectly. Canada had the ball for the most part, but all the best chances came to the U.S. team.
The U.S team struck first in the 12th minute on a rare set piece delivery from Gio Reyna. The Dortmund playmaker’s ball into the box found Chris Richards who headed it down past Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan for a 1-0 lead.
Then in the 34th minute, the U.S. team forced a turnover and hit Canada in a lightening quick transition. Reyna collected the ball, moved towards the box to create a passing lane for Balogun. His pass sent Balogun in alone on Borjan and the newly committed American hit a powerful ball into the back of the net.
The United States had a 2-0 lead at the half and the numbers told the story. Canada had most of the ball but offered very little. The United States played with far more of a purpose when it had the ball and the game felt over.
2-0 #USMNT over Canada— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) June 19, 2023
- US content to concede possession and just be lethal with the ball
- US had just 43% possession & completed 103 passes. Canada competed 169
- Weah, Balogun, & Pulisic have completed just 14 passes combined
- but shots & chances all heavily favor the US
The only blemish for the U.S. team in the opening half was Reyna taking a tough tackle from Alistair Johnston. Reyna was forced out of the game to start the second half and was seen gingerly walking on the sidelines and on the field after the game.
On the field, the second half was largely uneventful and the U.S. team had no problems seeing the game out. Richards nearly scored a second when he hit a header off the crossbar. The U.S. team continued to have the better of chances but were unable to find a third.
But the game finished like it started. Canda with impressive possession stats but the U.S. perfect in creating lethal opportunities.
- Possession: Canada 64%, USA 36%
- Completed passes: Canada 417, USA 178
- Total Shots: Canada 12, USA 15
- Duels won: Canada 52, USA 56
The U.S. team walked away with Nations League title in pedestrian fashion. Two multigoal wins, two clean sheets – both against opponents who qualified for the 2022 World Cup.
Here are some thoughts on the game
One of the big takeaways from the win over Canada as well as the semifinal win over Mexico was the play of Yunus Musah, who was asked to help fill in for Tyler Adams. At the club level, both players are very different. Musah is a smooth ball-carrying midfielder looking to dribble into attacking positions. Adams is a more of a straight defensive midfielder looking to win balls while being relatively simple in possession.
But Musah was effective in these games doing many of the things Adams does. Musah was just 16/32 passing against Canada but he won 3/4 of his tackles, had 10 ball recoveries, he won 8/9 of his ground duels and was 2/2 in aerials. He committed no fouls but was fouled four times. Against Mexico, Musah won 7/10 of his duels, committed two fouls and drew three fouls. He was also 37/42 in his passing.
It was an open question heading into these games as to how the U.S. team would fill in without Adams. Many figured McKennie or Johnny Cardoso. Few expected Musah but he showed a surprising ability to defend well and win possession deeper in central midfield. Some teams crumble when they miss a player or two. Good teams find ways to move forward without missing key pieces.
The USMNT won a final against a World Cup team without McKennie or Adams in the midfield. That is something that few expected just a few years ago.
Balogun: early returns positive
The early returns for Folarin Balogun with the U.S. national team are positive. His 34th minute goal was so quick, so well executed, and so well read that it offers a glimpse of a new attack that the U.S. team now has. He also forced a goal line clearance and a big save from Borjan.
Balojun is still very new to the U.S. team – and it shows. He’s understandably not completely in-synch with his new teammates. Against Mexico he only had 17 touches over 75 minutes and completed eight passes. Against Canada he had 26 touches over 76 minutes (completing just five passes).
But when he was with the ball, his impressive instincts took over. In the fall, the U.S. team will have a series of friendlies and it will be important for the U.S. to build up chemistry with Balogun to get him the ball more in dangerous positions. The more he gets on the same page, the more lethal the attack. The Nations League was just the first few steps, and they were impressive steps.
Gio Reyna had a great first half against Canada. He assisted off a corner kick and then assisted to Balogun on a lethal transition. He was making something dangerous happen every time he had the ball.
The good news is that early indications are the calf injury which forced him out of the game will not likely affect him being ready for the start of preseason. The question for Reyna is improving his defense and staying healthy. The first is likely. The second, we will have to see. Recurring injuries have been a massive problem for Reyna.
We scored two goals tonight... this guy assisted on both.— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) June 19, 2023
GIO REYNA IS YOUR MAN OF THE MATCH ???????????? pic.twitter.com/eYv4ZEdGVG
With Gregg Berhalter returning, there is so much speculation over how the two will coexist moving forward. Berhalter admitted there is work to do and that he plans to meet with Reyna before September. But given that Berhalter had so much backing from a majority of the team, it could have been problematic for Reyna in the locker room if his parents were the reason Berhalter did not return.
As I’ve said before, Berhalter’s return will force Reyna to have to mature in order to resolve a relationship. It’s possible. The good news is that both Berhalter and Reyna have all the motivation in the world for it to work out. Both would look bad if they couldn’t patch it up.
Backline stood out
The backline was tremendous in both games and the team should feel comfortable moving forward. For one, Chris Richards was able to play for the national team and he had two of his best performances yet for the USMNT. The question for him is to 1) stay healthy (this has been tough for him and 2) find a way to play regularly. He might get a shot this summer to earn a starting place at Crystal Palace due to potential player movement. If that happens, he needs to take advantage to further his career.
We're all Joe Scally.— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) June 19, 2023
Joe Scally is all of us. pic.twitter.com/EYoDO23aTF
Walker Zimmerman had a fine game for the U.S. team and he filled in perfectly for Robinson. He helped with key clearances and defensive plays. The combination of Richards and Zimmerman worked well. Zimmerman is an intriguing option to be an Olympic team overage selection as the team will need 7-8 central defenders between the Copa America and the Olympics.
Joe Scally had a very difficult assignment being matched against Alphonso Davies on the opposite side but he handled it much better than expected. Antonee Robinson, meanwhile, is so steady at left back and he routinely delivers quality outings.
Overall, these were just a great two games for the backline. Everyone performed well.
The U.S team impressed in these games in large part because so many players were able to detach themselves from a tough European season and then move into a USMNT environment and play well. The culture and camaraderie is strong in this group – and that has probably played a huge role in why Berhalter is coming back. B.J. Callaghan is filling in very nicely, but he is also a reflection on Berhalter.
These two wins were a nice launchpad for the new cycle. The talent is there. The team unity is there.
Next summer will be two huge opportunities in the Copa America and the Olympics. The depth of the player pool will be seriously tested. As well as the U.S. team played in these games, there are still big questions over depth. Key backup positions are not claimed. Many players are in tough positions with their clubs and are one bad decision from suffering another lost season. New players will continue to emerge and compete against established players. Some of the new players will win out. Then, of course, there will be injuries.
The future is impossible to predict and there will be surprises. But for all the talk about the program “losing time,” these wins show that the team really isn’t in a bad place at all.
The starting lineup
Matt Turner: The New Jersey goalkeeper made four saves, two were tricky, but none were very difficult. He didn’t make any mistakes. Rating: 6.5
Antonee Robinson: A steady outing with a few important defensive moments – a big blocked shot and a big clearance in the second half. Canada offered nothing down his side of the field. Rating: 6.5
Chris Richards: Combined very well with Zimmerman for a good centerback. Terrific header on his goal and he nearly scored another when he smashed a header off the crossbar. Rating: 8.0
Walker Zimmerman: A very good outing from the veteran. He was instrumental snuffing out danger whenever Canada pressed. He nearly had an assist on a nice header to Balogun into the box in the first half. He also came close to a goal with an early volley that he just missed inside the right post. Rating: 7.0
Joe Scally: The Monchengladbach defender helped eliminate Canada’s best player, and one of the best left-sided players in the world in Alphonso Davies. Rating: 7.0
Yunus Musah: His passing wasn’t great, but his duel winning and defense up the spine helped the U.S. team effectively deal with the loss of Adams. Rating: 7.0
Brenden Aaronson: The Leeds United attacking mid worked hard to press and win balls. He threw Canada off their game a bit in the midfield. Rating: 6.5
Gio Reyna: He played just a half, but he made the big plays. The U.S. team has been week for a long time with set piece delivery, but Reyna fixed that in his first assist. His second was just a dagger through Canada’s backline. Rating: 8.0
Tim Weah: Weah was routinely dangerous. He forced a big save from distance early in the game. His crossing was a little off but he was handful for Canada’s backline. Rating: 6.5
Christian Pulisic: The Chelsea winger wasn’t as lethal as he was against Mexico, but he still drew a lot of attention from Canada’s defense to make their lives difficult. Rating: 6.5
Folarin Balogun: His one goal was extremely impressive and he came close to scoring two other times. IT will be something to watch when he is completely in-synch with his teammates. Rating: 8.5
Luca de la Torre: The Celta Vigo midfielder played the second half but wasn’t terribly involved, 0 shots and seven completed passes. Rating: 5.5
Johnny Cardoso: He wasn’t flashy, but Cardoso played solid defense in the midfield during his 22 minutes. Rating: 6.0
Ricardo Pepi: The forward came into the game in the 76th minutes and was asked to play a lot of defense further up the field in starting the press. He accomplished his goal. Rating: 6.0
Auston Trusty: The defender played the final 11 minutes and had just two touches in helping to see out the win. Rating: NR