The calendar will show that it took 285 days for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) to play a competitive match, yet with only three players who played back in February, it seemed much longer, given the amount of young and new talent who featured in two friendlies.
A scoreless draw against Wales in Swansea and a 6-2 victory over Panama in Austria will be scrutinized in every which way possible. And rightfully so, with the likes of Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) all playing together for the first time. Goals were expected — just not all in one game.
Yet the game against Panama showed all the promise that has been built up throughout the entire year — This group of young talent who have spots on some of Europe’s biggest club teams, coming together and giving supporters hope of what’s to come down the road. And for coach Gregg Berhalter, he must find his best 15-20 players who he will be able to rely on once games start to matter.
Reyna along with Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen), and Yunus Musah (Valencia) were among nine players who made their first appearances with the senior team during this November window. All of them excelled mightily. Gioacchini stole headlines with two goals against Panama, while Musah, who has yet to commit fully to the USMNT, showed a lot of balance in the midfield, and would be a great add if he moves forward.
As for Dest, it really doesn’t matter which side of the pitch he plays on — He is simply great on either end. And even without Christian Pulisic, who missed both games due to injury, the team had an offensive spark that has been lacking for the last 10 years.
Aside from the individual talent on the field, what really excited me was the amount of explosiveness that came on counterattacks. And most of those opportunities came from pressing the ball on defense, which is almost unheard of from a United States side.
I have been very critical of coach Gregg Berhalter, but he did the one thing that I’m sure not just me, but many followers of the USMNT, have wanted him to do: He stayed out of the way and made things simple. After a long time away from the national team and playing many games in a short span with their club teams, Berhalter let the players have the freedom to make their own decisions and see what they can do without a script to follow. His only blunder was starting a non-forward in Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy) against Wales, which is definitely a factor as to why they couldn’t get a goal in that game.
With this European-based squad of players getting a huge spotlight (and rightfully so), the US Soccer Federation is looking at holding a camp in December with a lot of Major League Soccer representation. A game is unknown at the time despite reports saying El Salvador has agreed to a Dec. 9 date.
2021 will be a very busy and important year for the US men’s team as they have the CONCACAF Nations League Finals in June, the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July and the start of World Cup qualifiers. Another tournament in 2021 will be the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, with two spots on the line for the Tokyo Olympics.