United States Show Progress In Draw vs. Uruguay
Photo Credit: Laurie Skrivan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis, MO- Over the course of his first nine months as manager of the United States men’s national team, Gregg Berhalter has taken on the role of mad scientist, putting together different combinations of players to come up with a formula of success. Last Friday, his experiment blew up in his face. On Tuesday night however, there were signs of progress.
The USMNT, playing in front of 20,625 fans at Busch Stadium, drew 1-1 vs. Uruguay in the team’s second friendly of this international break. It was the first competitive meeting between the two countries in 17 years.
While the likes of Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie for the U.S. and Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani for Uruguay were not involved, the match was a gritty affair that featured young talent for both teams and it was an opportunity for the U.S. put Friday’s 3-0 loss vs. Mexico behind them.
“We did a good job, particularly in the first half, of keeping our structure and breaking them (Uruguay) down from within that structure,” said Berhalter. “We created a number of chances, and overall, it was a good step for this group to be able to play a game like this.”
It was a big night for local players Josh Sargent and Tim Ream, who each made the starting 11 for the U.S. with the latter captaining the team on the night.
Uruguay put the U.S. under pressure early in the 6th minute when Jonathan Rodriguez got loose in the box, but the forward over ran the ball and goalkeeper Brad Guzan was able to collect.
The U.S.’ first chance game in the 11th minute when Sebastian Lletget crossed a ball into the box towards Christian Roldan. The midfielder got good power on his header, but goalkeeper Fernando Muslera got down to his right to make the save.
The U.S. should have gone 1-0 up in the 22nd minute when Jordan Morris played a perfect cross along the ground from the left, but Tyler Boyd was put off just enough to bounce his shot up and over the bar with the mouth of the goal wide open.
Both teams would trade chances over the next 15 minutes or so, starting in the 33rd minute when Sebastian Coates got open on a corner for Uruguay but couldn’t keep his header on target. In the 39th minute, Sargent would set up midfielder Jackson Yueill for a shot outside the box, but a diving Muslera was able to tip it wide for a corner.
The U.S. seemed to have a strong claim for a penalty just before the halftime whistle when another cross from Morris appeared to strike the arm of a Uruguay defender, but the referee did not oblige.
The breakthrough came quickly after the break in the 50th minute when Uruguay punished the U.S. on the counterattack. Federico Valverde played in Brian Rodriguez and the forward, who plays for Los Angeles Football Club in Major League Soccer, smashed his shot past Guzan for the 1-0 lead.
The U.S. would create another strong scoring chance in the 58th minute when it was Boyd this time playing a great cross to the back post towards Morris, but the winger’s diving header would be stopped by Muslera. However, Morris’ effort on the outside would be rewarded in the 79th minute.
Nick Lima, who would come into the game as a substitute at right-back for Reggie Cannon, made a penetrating run into the box on the right side. While his initial cross was blocked, the ball would ricochet off his thigh towards the back post. Nobody was around but Morris, who was able to chest the ball into the open net and put the U.S. back on level terms.
“We saw today we were able to exploit them with patient play out of the back,” Morris said, “and stretching the field, all the things we’ve been working on. I think it was definitely a step forward.”
Another positive moment for the U.S. came in the 85th minute when 19-year-old Paxton Pomykal replaced the goal-scorer Morris, thereby earning his first cap at the senior level for the national team.
Uruguay would have one last opportunity to get the win in the 90th minute through substitute Nathan Nandez, but his powerful effort was hit right at Guzan who was able to hold on to the ball.
While the U.S. were outshot 15-11, they dominated in possession by a 59%-41% margin and showed signs of improvement vs. the 5th ranked team in the FIFA Coca-Cola World Rankings.
“There’s a lot of room to improve, but it’s a good step forward,” said U.S. defender Aaron Long. “There’s a lot of guys stepping up and taking big roles and everyone knows they’ve got to pull their part.”
As for the St. Louis natives, Ream would play the full 90 minutes, making several key blocks and clearances from his center-back position. Sargent was unable to get on the scoresheet but still left to a standing ovation when he was replaced by Gyasi Zardes in the 75th minute.
“It’s one thing to play for your national team, but to play in front of your home city is a whole other level. The fans were unreal,” said Sargent. “We still have things to work on, but I thought as a team, we had a good response tonight against a very good team.”
The next international break takes place in mid-October when the U.S. will get their first taste of the CONCACAF Nations League as they take on Cuba and Canada. While these past two matches gave Berhalter and his staff further insight into who deserves a call-up next month, there will still be much deliberation and preparation in between.
“In CONCACAF, we will play teams that will be very compact. We have to understand how to break them down,” said Berhalter. “It was very warm today and we’re going to play qualifiers where it’s really warm, so having that mental capacity to battle through these things, to keep going was very important to see today.