Saturday, May 25, 2024

USMNT vs. Uruguay 3 things to watch: USA team speed, the possession battle, Diego Alonso focus on a target man

Results in international friendlies really mean next to nothing. Throw the final score out the window, because it teaches us zero. Just look back to prior United States men’s national team matches, and it’s easy to see. The U.S. beat Germany a year before the Europeans won the 2014 World Cup, and then the Americans were absolutely dominated in the round of 16 in that competition by Belgium and fortunate to only lose by a goal. The U.S. then drew Portugal, drew eventual World Cup champions France, beat Germany, Mexico and the Netherlands leading up to a 2018 World Cup where they didn’t even qualify. These results have no impact on what’s to come. 

What’s most important is to keep a close eye on where the team needs to improve, knowing that managers will take chances, make more subs than normal, and tinker with their system in games like these. That’s no different for Sunday’s intriguing friendly against Uruguay, and while at the end of the day the result won’t matter, expect to find out much more about this USMNT than we did against Morocco. 

Uruguay looked like they would only be spectators at the 2022 World Cup after shocking form saw them on the outside looking in with five games to go in COMEBOL qualifying. In came former Inter Miami boss Diego Alonso, a sensational manager who wasn’t given enough time in MLS, and this team is now completely different, out of their rut and filled with confidence. He had massive shoes to fill with legendary manager Oscar Tabarez departing, and since he’s taken over he’s got Uruguay qualified for the 2022 World Cup. They are a perfect 5-0-0 under Alonso since he joined last year. 

So what is it what we need to see from the U.S. to feel good about where things are? Here is what to specifically watch, how it could look against Uruguay and what to expect in a game that could be the biggest test ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Uruguay don’t care about possession

Having the ball doesn’t matter to the South American side. They are happy with you having it, knowing they have the passing ability and speed on the wings to get the ball forward quickly. In their last four matches, three of which were World Cup qualifiers, they lost the battle of possession. But, they were all wins. They’ve long been a defense first team, and it is no different now, despite the managerial change. They will be compact, organized at the back and ready to bounce on the counter at a moment’s notice. Because of that, the U.S. should keep a short leash on the fullbacks, while also having Tyler Adams play a tad deeper in the middle. 

Here’s a look at the possession results of Uruguay’s last four games:

Mexico (Friendly) 49% 3-0 (W)

Chile (WCQ)


2-0 (W)

Peru (WCQ)


1-0 (W)

Venezeula (WCQ)


4-1 (W)

Paraguay (WCQ)


1-0 (W)

The emphasis is on the target man

Uruguay like to get wide to get the ball up the field and from there there is a common theme in aiming to play through their striker. That was Edinson Cavani against Mexico, with the Manchester United man playing a role in all three goals. He scored the last two goals with delightful first touches, while he headed the first one on frame off a corner kick, allowing Matias Vecino to clean it up from in front of goal.

Time and time again they will aim to play through the striker over anybody else in attack, trusting those striker instincts. Against Mexico, even when Vecino had a clear chance at his second goal, he instead opted for a dummy between his legs to set Cavani up for the easy shot.

Whether Cavani starts, or even if it is Darwin Nunez or Maxi Gomez, expect the emphasis to be similar, providing quite the test for this U.S. backline.

Speed and technique will be crucial in attack 

This is a Uruguay defense that has certainly lost a step in terms of speed, especially when it comes to Diego Godin and Sebastian Coates. Jose Maria Gimenez is still an elite center back and the heart and soul of the backline, but if the U.S. do end up facing Godin, Coates or even just one of the two, then velocity in attack will be crucial. Technique will be equally important, but keeping the ball close, getting quick separation and getting a shot off is a must. We saw against Morocco that the U.S. didn’t mess around when it came to ripping off shots, and something similar will be required here to keep this defense off balance.

Don’t be shocked if it is a frustrating night in attack — the defense is what Uruguay are known for. But if Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah can use their speed to quickly get into space and fire on frame, then there is no reason why we can’t see some confidence-producing displays in attack.

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