Saturday, March 2, 2024

USMNT takeaways: Pepi solves striker problem, Berhalter shows he can fix his mistakes, but defense needs work

The United States men’s national team came to life in the second half on Wednesday to earn a critical 4-1 win over Honduras in World Cup qualifying. It wasn’t all that convincing despite the inflated scoreline, but Gregg Berhalter’s team responded in the second half with four goals to put themselves in decent position moving forward with three more games in October. 

Antonee Robison, Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson and Sebastian Lletget got the goals  in the emphatic U.S. win.

After the win, here’s are three takeaways:

1) Pepi makes his case as the No. 9

One game won’t solve it, but Pepi did everything he needed to in order to put himself atop the depth chart as the starting striker. The 18-year-old FC Dallas man, who has been tearing it up in MLS, chose the U.S. over Mexico just before this cycle. In his first action, which came as a starter with the fan base clamoring for him now for about a week, he did so much right. Aside from scoring the winning goal, which was obviously critical, he also showed his teamwork by grabbing a couple of assists, and he also showed that he could use his big frame to hold up the ball. Now that is key because it allows him to turn and wait for players to join the attack. It is a small sample size, but he couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.

2) Miles Robinson is shining while John Brooks isn’t

The defense is concerning. Honduras had 18 shots to the USA’s 12, and part of that was due to a failure to react and close down. John Brooks, viewed as the team’s best defender by many, was arguably the worst defender on the field in the last two games. He’s been at fault for getting caught too high and not recovering in time to even have a chance to make a stop in the box. On the other side, it just feels like Miles Robinson could be on the verge of becoming a sure thing at center back with another encouraging performance. Berhalter needs to find the right duo (and stop with the trios) moving forward, and Robinson deserves to be in one of those spots.

3) The midfield still needs plenty of work, too

Let’s be frank here — Berhalter’s gameplan was horrible and he got it wrong. He deserves credit for fixing things, reacting early enough and getting his team to respond. He’s not a world beater all of a sudden and the savior for this program, but this is a good starting point towards the road to Qatar after some bumpy performances. Playing Tyler Adams out of position was such a waste of time, and the team instantly started to look more composed when he moved centrally in the second half. Playing five defenders just made it feel like he was scared to go after this game, and it allowed Honduras to look really strong in the first half. In the end, every sub he put in made a big difference aside from Cristian Roldan, and he’ll take that any day. But this midfield, like much of the team, still has a lot more questions than answers ahead of next month. 

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