The only question was whether they needed to win outright or if they had enough room for error that a draw would suffice.
And you have to give Gregg Berhalter and his team credit: They went all out for the win. They desired that margin for error, as well as the scalp that a Black Friday World Cup victory over England would provide.
They didn’t understand. The scoreless draw provided few thrills, but it was a treat for tactics-obsessed sickos like yourself. And they need a win right now to get out of this group.
The Takeaway Through 180 Minutes
Above all else, when Berhalter took over in 2018, he had to improve this team’s defense. It wasn’t just about personnel (though that was clearly a factor), but also about shape both with and without the ball, as well as clarity of purpose and roles. From there, the tactical approach becomes a question of whether to press or not, and whether to come with two or three if you do; whether to play with three or four in the back; single or double pivot, and so on.
Give Berhalter flowers because he has solved all of the problems listed above. England had five shots in the first half, but their first shot of the second half came in the 85th minute. The US has allowed one goal and one good open play opportunity in two games.
There is still work to be done as the must-win game against Team Melli approaches. But after so many years of either vibes or “oh ϲrap, we’re putting out fires all over the field!” defense, it’s refreshing to see a team that is as smart, well-drilled, and fearless as this one.
Okay, that was written by the 25% of me who is Italian. Let’s get into the rest of it.
The United States started with a basic, bog-standard 4-4-2 formation. Haji Wright and Tim Weah were up top, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams acted as a double pivot, and Weston McKennie was wider and deeper on the right than Christian Pulisic was on the left (more on this in a moment).
Understand this: The basic reason the 4-4-2 has fallen out of favor on the international stage is that you can’t compete in midfield with one man down, which is exactly what happened against England’s 4-3-3. The numerical advantage plainly benefits one team over the other.
But “fallen out of favor” does not ｍean “completely disappeared,” and the reason the 4-4-2 hasn’t completely vanished is because it provides immediate verticality in transition – and verticality with support because you have two outlets up top.
That was certainly the strategy. The tactics informed the formation and vice versa, which is a big part of why the US looked so cohesive for so long in a formation that they’ve only used once since, like, 2011.
To be honest, I’m not sure why England couldn’t solve it. But I believe it boiled down to two factors:
As a manager, Gareth Southgate simply isn’t a gifted problem solver. Adams travels all around the world.
On the day, many US players performed admirably. Adams was fantastic.
It’s easy to get hung up on his limitations as a distributor at times. But there are only a few players in the world who cover so much ground so intelligently.
All those Ngolo Kante comparisons that seemed overly flattering a few years ago? That was not the case tonight.
Pulisic’s Best Role
While McKennie and Pulisic were both “wide” players in the US shape, their responsibilities couldn’t have been more different:
Pulisic took up the same exact hedged-position every time, i.e., inverted on the left and not as high as if he were playing as a genuine winger, but not as deep as McKennie on the right.
This was Berhalter’s admission to the 𝔱ruth that we all witnessed on the field against Wales: the US are a lot more entertaining and dangerous when they employ Pulisic as a runner/box-arriver rather than trying to build through him.
That ｍeant that when they did build, they had to go through McKennie on the right. As the US generated these small three-man moves with him, Weah, and right back Sergio Dest, he became something of a right-sided playmaker, producing the best US moments of the night:
This was entertaining soccer. It didn’t result in a win, but given how wonderfully they played, we should all be able to accept that.