Before the USA men drew 0-0 with Wales on Thursday, it had been nearly an entire year since anything close to a full-strength USMNT had taken the field. Thursday’s game provided no goals on an extremely rainy night in Swansea against what was effectively Wales’ second string, but it did provide a few reminders of why fans are so excited about the current squad — as well as reminders of their biggest priorities.
Most obviously, the team’s lack of a decent striker was glaring. Josh Sargent was under quarantine rules with Werder Bremen, and Jozy Altidore and Gyasi Zardes were both prepping for the MLS playoffs, keeping all three out of the squad.
While none of the three has proved to be a dependable source of goals in the past, all three are at least strikers, which Sebastian Lletget — who started there on Thursday — quite clearly is not. It’s hard to judge the quality of any of the team’s attacking players from this game, given that Lletget wasn’t making the runs or providing the target that any of the usual strikers would have.
But it also says something that a midfielder, from a team that missed the MLS playoffs, is apparently the fourth-best forward the USA has.
On the flip side, the American midfield was simply outstanding. Tyler Adams is the defensive midfielder that the USA has been looking for since Michael Bradley’s speed deserted him a few years ago. With Adams in the lineup, Weston McKennie is free to be the everywhere-all-the-time midfield force that got him a move to Juventus this summer.
And Yunus Musah, making his first start for the USA, was excellent. He won the ball all over the field, and he created opportunities and spread the field when he had the ball. It took one half, really, for him to pencil his name into the USMNT starting lineup. Now, it’s on coach Gregg Berhalter and company to step up the recruiting process, to ensure that England or Ghana or Italy doesn’t convince him that his international soccer future lies with one of the other countries that he’s still eligible to play for.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this team is the sheer skill level that was on display from the American players. For so many years, the USA’s best strategy was to defend deep and to aim long balls at the head of a target striker, or to give the ball to the one player on the team who could do something with it (usually Claudio Reyna or Landon Donovan). Now, the team is full to bursting with players who are comfortable on the ball, who can pass, who can go past defenders.
The USA had 61% of the possession on Thursday. The Americans used to go weeks at a time without seeing as much of the ball as they did in this one game.
They have one more game in this international window, playing Monday against Panama in Austria. A much different lineup is likely, as Berhalter continues to evaluate more young players. Twenty-year-old center back Chris Richards, who’s on the verge of breaking through with Bayern Munich, likely will play.
The USA may also start an entirely different attacking lineup, probably with an actual center forward this time around. With no more friendlies on the schedule — and maybe none possible soon, given the pandemic — Monday could be the last chance to get excited about the USMNT for a while.