Saturday, December 2, 2023

Gregg Berhalter, USMNT need a contingency plan for Tyler Adams as USA struggle without star midfielder

Facing Germany, the United States men’s national team had their toughest test since the World Cup and came away with room for improvement following a 3-1 loss on Saturday. The good feelings from Christian Pulisic’s opening goal evaporated by the end of the match as small mistakes came back to haunt the USMNT. The intensity could be felt in the first half, but halftime couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the USMNT left that fire in the locker room when they returned to the pitch.

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Missing Tyler Adams due to a hamstring injury and Antonee Robinson due to a precaution related to a hernia, the voids were evident. Robinson’s absence pushed Sergino Dest to left back, while Joe Scally came in at right back. While both players had their moments, they seemed uncomfortable at times when defending against Leroy Sane, Florian Wirtz, Robin Gosens, and Jamal Musiala, but that’s also to be expected. Playing in the Premier League, Robinson and Adams don’t have that fear.

“Against quality opponents like Germany, you have to be able to make plays and stay connected in and around the penalty box and you see in their goals, it was a loss of connection on the back line and in the midfield,” Gregg Berhalter said after the match about what went wrong. “Just overall organization on those three plays let us down a little bit. But what we did learn was those moments, the speed at which these top teams can play at, the combinations that they can play in really tight spaces was important to learn.”

Berhalter was spot on about big teams being able to capitalize on the USMNT’s mistakes. However, with the growing quality in the player pool, this dynamic has been shifting, and the United States is making other teams pay more often. Nevertheless, the lack of quality in depth still hurts the team. The top 15 or so players in the national team can vie for a starting spot at most clubs in the world, with the exception of those like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Four players had individual expected goals totals higher than the entire USMNT’s total of 0.26 during the game: Ilkay Gundogan (0.30), Leroy Sane (0.29), Jamal Musiala (1.03), and Niclas Fullkrug (1.38). Considering the spaces they occupy during a match, if Adams and Robinson were available, the game could have been very different, similar to how the United States were able to play to a draw against England at the World Cup.

However, Berhalter also has to consider what may happen if Adams continues to miss time due to hamstring issues. Over the past two seasons, Adams has missed 18 league matches for Leeds and Bournemouth and has also been absent from the national team for their last three international windows. It’s not a rosy picture when Adams captained the side at the World Cup, and his defensive cover can be critical against top teams.

It’s also why it was surprising why one of Berhalter’s substitutes during the game wasn’t midfielder Lennard Maloney. Born in Germany, the Heidenheim midfielder is among the top players at his position in distance covered which was something that the USMNT needed in the match. While it’s tough to throw someone on for their first cap against Germany, it is a spot that makes sense for a Bundesliga midfielder.

Maloney warmed up vigorously at halftime making it seem like he would’ve been the substitute for Gio Reyna but that’s not how things ended up playing out. Against Ghana on Tuesday, it would be good to see what Maloney can do although it is also understandable that Berhalter has to make sure that a new player is ready for their opportunity. In the search for a backup six, his performance could be important. 

In a perfect world, Adams and Robinson return to the national team by the next international window but against Germany, the need for a contingency plan showed and that’s not something that the USMNT seems to be ready for yet.

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