Player ratings & analysis: USMNT's late rally downs T&T 3-0
November 17, 2023
THE UNITED STATES National team defeated Trinidad & Tobago 3-0 on Thursday night in Austin to put themselves into a strong position to qualify for both the Nations League semifinals and the 2024 Copa America. The scoreline might reflect a comfortable victory, but the actual performance told a different story.
The U.S. team had a man advantage after Trinidad & Tobago’s Noah Powder was sent off in the 37th minute. For most of the second half, it seemed as if a scoreless draw was likely given Trinidad & Tobago’s effective bunker.
But in the 82nd minute, the U.S. team finally moved ahead when a low cross from Antonee Robinson was skillfully redirected into the net by Ricardo Pepi who came into the game in the 66th minute. With the series played over two legs, Trinidad & Tobago elected to continue with the bunker in hopes of having a close game in the second leg, but the team was worn down by the end.
EL TREN ROLLING THROUGH TEXAS ???????????? pic.twitter.com/QbE8eSjUgD— U.S. Soccer Men's National Team (@USMNT) November 17, 2023
Robinson doubled the lead in the 86th minute with a shot from distance that was well-taken and slightly deflected (although probably still a goal without the deflection).
This goal from Robinson was well-taken.. pic.twitter.com/0HOnM4Dqws— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) November 17, 2023
Then in the 89th, it was Gio Reyna capping the scoring when he was finally able to find space to get behind Trinidad & Tobago’s backline in a semi-transitional moment. He took a pass from Folarin Balogun and beat Denzil Smith, who had a very good game in goal for the guests.
GIOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/2tIQk7W7KB— U.S. Soccer Men's National Team (@USMNT) November 17, 2023
The U.S. team is set to advance only needing to protect a 3-0 lead when the two teams meet on Monday night in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Here are some thoughts.
Trinidad & Tobago tired
The United States team likely isn’t all that happy with this win. For 82 minutes, it looked like they were going to head to Trinidad & Tobago needing a win after not being able to bunker. Did the U.S. team play better into those final 10 minutes to win? Yes. But the bigger factor in the win is that Trinidad & Tobago simply ran out of gas trying to bunker with 10 men since the 37th minute.
T&T was not chasing the game as well and the U.S. team had a little more space to possesses and pass along with a little more space to make runs and/or shoot.
Robinsson is one of the most fit players on the team and he took full advantage having a lot of space to find Pepi in the box for the first goal, or an open shooting lane on the second goal.
The problem is that the U.S. team this cycle will not often get to face an opponent at such a level, up a man, and at home. These scoring opportunities will not be there very often against the teams the U.S. will need to beat in tournaments like the World Cup or the Copa America, or even the later rounds of the Gold Cup or Nations League.
Where the team struggled
The U.S. team struggled the most with the starting wingers, Kevin Paredes and Malik Tillman who were there in place of the injured Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah. Weah and Pulisic have long been cornerstones of this team’s attack and Gregg Berhalter was tasked with finding alternatives.
When Paredes was first called-up by Berhalter in September, he admitted that he didn’t know yet if he saw him as a winger (either on the left side given that he is left footed, or inverted on the right) or as a left-wingback. But with left back well covered by Robinson, the wing gives him more opportunities.
First start coming up. ?? pic.twitter.com/6H2UfUtVfw— U.S. Soccer Men's National Team (@USMNT) November 17, 2023
On the other side, Tillman is not typically seen primarily as a winger. He can play the position, but it has always been a secondary position to him compared with being a No. 10 or sometimes a false nine. But for Tillman, he is behind Reyna for the No. 10.
The bottom line is that there were two players not playing settled roles while filling in for the team’s two biggest offensive threats.
But that is not the team’s only reason for not being able to find the back of the net for 82 minutes. Balogun was wasteful. He didn’t have the greatest service, but he still had 30 touches including 14 inside T&T’s box and four shots. It wasn’t ideal for Balogun who is not as used to playing as frequently against bunkering teams as maybe Pepi is (which shouldn’t be surprising that he was more effective in limited minutes). But Balogun still had the opportunity to do more.
The boys. ???????? pic.twitter.com/B4wVbZ10SX— U.S. Soccer Men's National Team (@USMNT) November 17, 2023
Then there is the midfield who move the ball very well, but aren’t as much of a threat for goals or assists as they need to be. The addition of Reyna is, but when Adams returns, tougher choices will have to be made for the starting XI.
But under Berhalter, there are not enough midfield options that can score or provide a final-ball service. This then puts a lot of stress on the front three.
Fullbacks & Pepi helped most
Antonee Robinson was the MOTM with a goal and an assist. Sergino Dest was also effective in helping to provide width in the attack where the wingers weren’t able.
A big reason for their effectiveness, especially late in the game, is that Berhalter opted not to put Pepi into the game in place of Balogun, but instead decided to play Balogun and Pepi together. With the U.S. team on the front foot and T&T drifting deeper and deeper, Pepi and Balogun just gave another scoring option in the bench. In addition, Brenden Aaronson was also cutting centrally more.
Essentially, he cut out the wings, went with three scoring options in the box and let the fullbacks run the wide points off attack. That simply overwhelmed an already tiring T&T team.
Look ahead to Monday
Despite playing on the road and against a T&T team that will be able to field 11 player, this game has a lot more going for it to favor the U.S. team. If T&T wants to compete, they will now have to come out of their very defensive shell. The result should be more space for the U.S. team to operate. This should be a huge benefit for Balogun.
The big question is how much gas Reyna has in the tank since his minutes are not quite there yet for Borussia Dortmund. In going a full 90 on Thursday, it remains a big question whether he can start again, or, if so, can he go an hour? Reyna is critical towards providing service from the midfield into the front three.
There are also more questions. Who will start in the wings given this was a struggle on Thursday? Other options could be Alejandro Zendejas or either Aaronson brother? But if T&T is out of their shell, there should be better opportunities.
The final question I have is whether Berhalter would consider Pepi and Baolgun together again. Those two together were simply too much for T&T to defend.
Matt Turner: Had very little to do except field a few backpasses and distribute them to his backline. Rating: 5.5
Sergino Dest: While he wasn’t part of the goals, he well to stretch the defense in the second half to push T&T back further. Rating: 6.0
Tim Ream: The team’s captain on the night had no defensive concerns but made some nice passes out of the back. Rating: 6.0
Cameron Carter-Vickers: The Celtic centerback played deeper and allowed his partner Tim Ream to do most of the distributing. Just an easy and boring day at the office for CCV. Rating: 5.5
Antonee Robinson: The Fulham left back finally helped rescue the U.S. team from the threat of a terrible draw with an assist followed by a goal. For that, he was the MOTM. Rating: 8.0
Yunus Musah: The AC Milan midfielder was on the ball a lot (103 touches) but wasn’t able to breakdown T&T’s bunker. He did hit a strong shot in the second half that forced an outstanding save. Rating: 6.0
Weston McKennie: The Juventus midfielder drew the red card on Powder in the 37th to change the tone of the game. He ended up playing better towards the end with his passing and dribbling to pin T&T deeper. Rating: 6.5
Gio Reyna: The Dortmund playmaker scored the final goal but was part of the other two in the build-up. T&T clearly tired chasing him around the field in the second half and Reyna spotted openings. Rating: 7.0
Malik Tillman: The PSV man played as a winger on the right but never seemed to do anything that troubled T&T’s defense. Rating: 5.0
Kevin Paredes: Like Tillman, Paredes wasn’t much of a threat, and he didn’t have the space he normally likes. He didn’t have much space to operate, and his dribbles were often unsuccessful. He missed a glorious chance in the 65th just before he was taken out. Rating: 5.0
Folarin Balogun: The Monaco forward assisted Gio Reyna for the final goal but overall wasn’t in a situation that suited him given the bunkering opponent who did not have any interest getting forward. He wasn’t completely without service and he would have liked to have done better with this 14 touches in the T&T box. Rating: 5.5
Brenden Aaronson: The Union Berlin attacker came into give the U.S. team another attacking presence in the box. It was the right idea, and Aaronson had the chances he would have liked but he wasn’t on target with his three shots. Shortly after he came into the game in the 69th minute he hit a dangerous chance over the bar. Rating: 5.0
Ricardo Pepi: The more target forward option was just what the team needed to break the deadlock late. Rating: 7.0