By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (June 16, 2022) US Football Players. It was wet, damp and muddy and Yunus Musa was playing his third game in 14 days at the end of a long club season. The USMNT were 1,000-0,000 miles behind home when the clock ticked down in the second half. The breakdown was in making for a home audience. The center of the rain-soaked field was quickly dissolving into mud under his feet, and the game was just over half an hour away.
However, Mousa still had enough funds to get a square pass and accelerate between two approaching players from El Salvador and out onto the open field despite the choppy turf. His speed and directness again forced the defense of the hosts to back up. He sent the ball past Tim Weah, who made a return pass into the box. A couple of quick touches got him to finish a true golazo, but Mario Gonzalez parried it with a superb reaction, a close-range save.
Musa’s hands flew up to his head in desperation as the potential equalizer vanished. But he and his fellow midfielders kept going, even after Paul Arriole’s harsh straight red card reduced the USMNT to 10 men. A few minutes later, Weston McKenny made a similar solo forward thrust, with the USMNT pushing for the open.
Soon it was Musa’s turn again. The Valencia starlet caught the loss in defense and ran away to provoke a counterattack. Finding Jesús Ferreira’s feet, he continued his run, accelerating after Ferreira’s one-two pass to the back line. Ronald Rodriguez had to foul him to prevent a one-on-one with Gonzalez and received a red card that helped turn the tide.
“I hesitated a little, just thinking about his skill set and how it would work out today,” Musa’s coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game. “But he definitely took advantage of the dribble in bad field conditions, sometimes it can slow you down and he was great today. If there was a man of the match, we would probably give him this because of his game… he did a great job.”
A little over 10 minutes later, another center mid, who came on as a substitute, Luca de la Torre, landed an accurate cross on Jordan Morris’s head for a stunning equalizer. A 1-1 away tie in the CONCACAF Nations League was snapped out of the jaws of defeat, sending the United States to pole position in the Group D standings. More importantly, it ended a night of Yankee tenacity and resistance just months before the World Cup. .
There is an argument that central midfield has generally not been an area of overwhelming strength for the USMNT for decades. The internal development pipeline has long demonstrated the ability to produce reliable mids. However, shrewd players and progressive #8 balls, those players who control the engine room and set the pace of the match, were often in limited numbers. This is partly why Bob Bradley often used the proverbial “empty bucket” shape. It can also be seen as an undertone in Jurgen Klinsmann’s controversial results in developing a more “active” style.
Today, the center of the park has become one of the team’s biggest weapons. The “MMA” trio of McKenney, Musa and Tyler Adams were the backbone of the successful Concacaf Octagonal qualifying campaign. Their speed, range, bite, and temper beyond their years made the USMNT a fiendishly difficult opponent for much of the journey to Catar. De La Torre added depth and variety as he took a key position in the roster. And at the start of the June window, Berhalter showed another option by placing Brenden Aaronson in the center after he used him mostly in wide positions during Ocho.
This last part was part of a wider shift in USMNT formation that Berhalter called the 3-2-2-3 form of possession. Others might describe it as “switching the midfield triangle” from a #6 and two #8s to a “double turn” or two #6s for a #10. In the final stages of the game with El Salvador, we saw something like a 3-5-2 formation.
The point was to test the subtle differences in roles and space to unleash Christian Pulisic and the rest of the attack without putting the back four in undue danger. In the end, all of this could allow the coaching staff to include more of their top ranked players in the roster.
“It’s part of the idea of making room in your pocket for a guy like Christian and also helping a guy like Tyler build up,” Berhalter explained on Monday. “We’ll see. We want to keep working on it, we think against certain types of opponents it can be an effective way to create those spaces. And we’ll keep moving forward and see how it works.”
The coach seems to anticipate the possibility that it will be harder to achieve mastery of the ball in the World Cup than in the Koncacafe game, while the threats in the transition period remain. This will likely require more accuracy and efficiency with the ball and more attention to defensive form off the ball. With Mousa and de la Torre showing the ability to adapt to the duties of a deep-lying midfielder, June’s performance brought more fluidity.
“I think I’m comfortable doing any job,” de la Torre said after his outstanding performance in the Nations League’s 5-0 win over Grenada last week. “I like to have the freedom to see what the other team is doing and decide for myself whether to be higher or lower.”
As impressive as MMA has been over the past year, the addition of de la Torre and Aaronsohn to the roster hints at additional flexibility. This is also an additional level of intelligence difficulty for opponents.
“He’s a guy who fits in really well with what we do and really builds his role, whether he’s a starter or a guy who can come in and influence the game from an attacking point of view,” de la Torre’s Berhalter said. . “Luka had a great camp, a good carryover after a disappointing end to his (club) season. But he really picked up and did well in that camp.”
Much of the recent discussion outside of the team has revolved around questions about the striker’s and goaltender’s depth charts. Perhaps more reassuring is the fact that this month has shown just how far the evolution of the central and middle parts of the USMNT has come.
“We are still learning. We want to see how this will potentially affect other defensive forms, and how we can still create gaps both between the lines and in wide areas, in lower wide areas,” Berhalter said. “So we’re going to keep working on things like that… I think it’s just about recognizing the type of pressure (that we’re facing) and recognizing the best formation to give us quick circulation of the ball and open space between the lines. “.
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Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com