For 45 minutes the world had collapsed underneath the USMNT and especially Gregg Berhalter who looked to have outcoached himself into a job losing situation. The starting XI for the game against Honduras was rather confusing with Ricardo Pepi up front, but Josh Sargent on the wing. Tyler Adams was moved to right back and the USMNT were completely disjointed and in disarray, but somehow only managed to give up 1 goal despite playing some of the worst soccer in qualifying.
While on paper it was a three-man backline, when defending it was 5 at the back, which made it equally difficult to swallow that a John Brooks blooper at midfield caused the USMNT a goal. In the second half Berhalter wisely stuck to basics bringing on Brenden Aaronson, Antonee Robinson, and Sebastian Lletget, while adjusting his lineup. Honduras who took advantage of the USMNT own mistakes fell apart and Ricardo Pepi was the man of the match in a game the USMNT left San Pedro Sula with three massive points on the road.
Adding to the craziness of the last few days was Christian Pulisic going down injured, Reyna out, Dest out, and McKennie sent home. The USMNT did it without the “Golden Generation” on the field, instead it was back to basics with grit, pride, flashes of soccer, and guys on second tier European teams and MLS teams. Here are 5 takeaways from Honduras - USA a game we won’t soon forget.
1. Whose stock went up and whose stock went down
Brenden Aaronson is the first player to come to mind, one of the USMNT most dangerous attacking options, his passing and determination have made him a valuable piece either starting or coming off the bench. Aaronson picked up the slack left behind by other players and now has scored in half of the games he has played for the USMNT. Antonee Robinson, the USMNT have their left back, please start him consistently. Matt Turner made huge saves in all three games, it would be criminal, CRIMINAL, to take him out of the lineup at this point. Sebastian Lletget is officially a backbone player on this team, and at 29, is providing the veteran leadership this group needs. Fans need to look past the whole DaBoy marketing crap and being BeckyG’s boyfriend and understand that Lletget can ball. Tyler Adams, in the middle of the field, can be the general the team needs, never again should he play anywhere else.
On the down side, Weston McKennie returned to Italy to a very unstable club situation, what happens this month will determine if we see him back with the national team come October. Sergiño Dest is in the same boat, playing underwhelmingly for both club and country, Dest is not a full-time starter for the USMNT. John Brooks continues to struggle in qualification, he needs to be a leader, and at this point he is not.
2. Ricardo Pepi hype train
Ricardo Pepi had the game of his life in Honduras, two assists and a go-ahead goal to give the USMNT life. Pepi was the third forward Berhalter tried during qualifying. With no one really claiming the forward spot on the team all it took was one game to see Pepi step up. What Berhalter will rest easy on was it wasn’t just a goal, it was set up play, hold up play, and good linking passes with the midfield. Pepi at least for this game showed he has the skill set to start for the USMNT.
3. Keep it simple
Gregg Berhalter got cute with his lineup, and almost paid for it dearly, against a more polished opponent the USMNT would have been ran out of town in that first half. Playing players out of position has not worked, and Berhalter needs to learn he is coaching a group of prodigy players who will have a lot of ups and downs in the next 2-3 years. This is not a group of 25- 30-year-old veterans with 350 games for the best teams in Europe, and it shows when players are asked to do something they don’t normally do. With the schedule being what it is we can’t ask Berhalter to keep the same lineup always, he will need to rotate, but please coach a midfielder is a midfielder, a forward a forward, and a winger a winger. Soccer is a simple game made difficult by noobs.
4. At the end we’re undefeated and in qualification zone
For all the Twitter hysteria and all the takes and all the old players saying their piece on Television or social media, the USMNT is in third place and in qualification zone and undefeated. The goal differential is huge now for the team going into two home games and one away at Panama. With everything that happened on the field and off 5 points is something Gregg Berhalter will take to the bank.
5. What’s next?
Pulisic will be key here, hopefully he does not go down with an injury that will keep him sidelined, and hopefully he is in the Chelsea starting lineup. Gio Reyna will most likely be back into the lineup at Dortmund but his evolution in these games will be key. Weston, well he has a mountain to climb at Juventus and the USMNT. The backbone of the team will have a pretty tough month ahead of them.
The upside is that Reggie Cannon, Tim Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Chris Richards, and Matthew Hoppe will come into the fold and will give Berhalter better options. Am still making a case for Julian Green, things will look a lot sunnier come next roster announcement in certain positions. The young and very inexperienced USMNT survived this round of qualification, now hopefully they learned and can produce three different performances as a team next round. The Soccer part is still wanting.