The United States men’s national team fought out a 0-0 draw at Estadio Azteca Thursday night without Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, Brenden Aaronson, and Matt Turner. They finished with Erik Palmer-Brown at right wing back due to Reggie Cannon testing positive for COVID, which left DeAndre Yedlin as the only right back on the roster. And even with all this, they should’ve won the match, spurning two great chances in front of goal. It was an excellent example of Gregg Berhalter’s next man up mentality and what the team gained from rotating the roster so much during Gold Cup, Nations League, and World Cup Qualifiers over the last year.
On the whole, the game was no an attractive one, with the USMNT grimly, but successfully, going about the business of defending and countering and trying to outlast Mexico at altitude. It was effective, even if it wasn’t pretty. With one exception. Gio Reyna came on an hour into the match to spell Tim Weah, and the teenager put on n absolute show. Reyna provided a wonderful cross to Jordan Pefok that he was unable to put on target even though the chance had an expected goal value of .53, meaning that on average chances like it are easier to score than not. Reyna also went on a mazy run that captured the attention of everyone, putting Mexico on skates making six defenders miss in the 76th minute.
It’s clear why he’s drawn comparisons to Marco Reus at Borussia Dortmund and Berhalter had high praise for Reyna after the match saying, “Mexico was the host of the 86 world cup where Maradona scored his wonderful goal and I had visions of that when Gio was dribbling.” Berhalter continued to talk about how excited he is so excited about this group of young players and Reyna’s return to fitness, making it clear that Reyna will be central to US success moving forward.
In only 30 minutes on the pitch, he was able to create two chances, get four ball recoveries and complete a team high five take-ons putting his dynamism on full display. It would be easy for Reyna to get caught up in the hype about his performance but when he was asked about that amazing string of moves after the match, the first thing that Reyna did was focus on what happened at the end of them, reminding everybody that, “I lost the ball.” At only 19 years old, Reyna is one of the most talented, if not the most talented player on the roster, but his mentality also shines through for keeping him grounded despite his extremely early successes. A regular in European and big Bundesliga matches for Dortmund, Reyna has a lot of experience to draw on despite his age.
It’s pretty amazing that the United States are in a good position to qualify for the world cup despite only having Reyna, who has been cursed by injury for much of this season, for one game prior to Mexico. It has been a good time for growth with Tim Weah and Brenden Aaronson getting minutes that otherwise wouldn’t have been available with Reyna on the pitch. That helped build true squad depth. That depth gave the USMNT the ability to grind out much of the Mexico result, but Reyna’s return left no doubt about who the true attacking difference maker on this side can be. With a critical game against Panama coming on Sunday, it’s great to Reyna will likely finally join Christian Pulisic in the attacking line to start together for the first time in the qualifying window. Pulisic wasn’t available for the El Salvador match that Reyna started. Grinding out wins is nice, but having two dynamic attackers together again, in a match where if you win you essentially qualify for the World Cup, there isn’t much more that you can ask for.