In the euphoria of the US’s latest “Dos a Cero” triumph over Mexico, most US fans probably joked with their friends that they would follow this up with a turgid and flat performance in Jamaica. Joke to mask the pain, because we all suspected it, just at differing levels. Maybe some thought they would still gut out a 1-0 win, some thought it would be a snoozer of a draw, and the most morose thought they would completely shit it and lose. I joked about 1-1 with my friends. So I win. But everyone got something from Tuesday’s draw.
It is disappointing, though your mileage may vary on how much, that the USMNT couldn’t roll the momentum from Friday’s win and actually put a streak together during this qualification window, which it hasn’t yet. But the gear shift from Mexico at home to Jamaica on the road is a pretty large one, and that’s beyond going to the change from pretty cold Cincinnati to the heat of Kingston. The US is at its best when it can press and harry a team that wants to play the ball, create turnovers, go at speed. Jamaica didn’t want any part of that, and the US’s press doesn’t matter much against a team like the Reggae Boyz, who are happy to just launch the ball up the field to Michail Antonio. The US can be good on the ball, but it’s hard to knock it around confidently and smoothly on a cow patch. It’s not really built to hoof the ball up and go for second balls, especially without the Tazmanian devil running of Weston McKennie, who was suspended.
Or you could boil it down to even simpler terms than that. Sometimes some dude on the other team just bombs one in from 35 yards because God is cruel and chaos is his currency:
Go back and listen to the thud when Antonio makes contact on that. It sounds exactly like Albert Pujols making contact in his prime. The US had this match under control before that, and even aggressively so. Tim Weah scored a wonderful goal (more on him in a bit), they came close to another, and Jamaica had nothing. Then that happens, and everything resets.
Does that mean the US shouldn’t have been able to re-establish themselves after halftime? No, they should have, but they were closer to losing it than winning it in the second 45. But as we all have to keep reminding ourselves, the unheard-of youth of this team prevents it from being consistent at the moment. They can be what they were on Friday, and they can be what they were on Tuesday, and not only can they, they’re going to be all of it.
Does Gregg Berhalter escape blame? Never! What’re you, new? Bitching about the manager is a staple of being a fan! Yunus Musah was the only midfielder in the squad that was capable of holding the ball and dribbling it through people to get the US on the front foot, and when he was off on Tuesday (due to being sick, it seems), the US didn’t have any other options. Where was Luca de la Torre? He has most of the same skills, if not in the same abundance as Musah. Subbing in Kellyn Acosta in that position is like replacing your fuel injector with a cardboard sign that says, “Go!” Berhalter only picked one striker in Ricardo Pepi. He’s certainly not spoilt for choice, as all US managers are seemingly cursed with, but surely there had to be another option when the Jamaica game became a style that didn’t really suit Pepi. Daryl Dike’s physicality? Joe Scally providing a little more attack-mindedness from right back? But these are basically minimal quibbles.
In the end, the US is in a perfectly fine position, even if it is weird to be staring up at Canada. Home wins against El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama will almost certainly be enough to qualify. If they don’t like the view of staring up at Canada, they can do something about that on January 30th when they travel north of the border. After September’s 1-1 draw, one would hope the Canadians will have the US’s full attention. Given that Costa Rica’s lineup all come out with tennis balls on their shoes, there’s a point or more available there.
The positives still outweigh the negatives. Weah has played himself into the conversation with Pulisic, Aaronson, and Reyna as a starter at one of the wide forwards, and could move any of the other three inside when the US needs more flavor in the middle or if McKennie or Musah are missing. Musah is a future star. Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson have made central defense nary a worry, and that’s with Chris Richards and eventually John Brooks as support.
Yeah, they’re depending on a teenager as a #9 in Pepi. The midfield is thin and in trouble if Adams or McKennie or Musah aren’t available or at the top of their game. And they can still vary wildly in performance from game to game. Which is what kids do.
The overarching thing to remember is that all of this is actually just part of the journey to 2026. They do have to qualify for Qatar, be under no illusion. And they do need to play well when they get there. But this team is meant to gel and peak when the tournament is on home soil in five years and all these players are right at their prime. That’s hard to do, because international soccer is so volatile and five years is a long damn time. But that’s the idea here. This is just the start of the learning curve.
They’re just shy of averaging two points per game, which is exactly where you want to be. They flash being dominant, but they’re not ready to be so every game. They also flash being utterly balloon-handed, but they’re too talented to do that every game either. It’s fine. This is the way.