By Official Florida FC
The USMNT has all but sealed its spot in the 2022 World Cup with a dominating victory over Panama on Sunday night in Orlando.
Christian Pulisic scored a hat trick en route to the American’s 5-1 win. The victory was the third time in program history that the program scored five goals or more in the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Sunday’s win helped the USMNT improve to 5-0-0 at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. In four of those matches the Americans have scored at least four goals.
Here are our three thoughts from the match:
Next man up
The USMNT was without at least five players who have started matches this qualifying cycle either because of injury, yellow card suspension or positive Covid test.
A front three of Pulisic, Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira appeared underwhelming. But, all three scored on Sunday night to power the USMNT to victory in a must-win match. Ferreira’s 27th minute goal was the first time in nine qualifying matches that an American center forward scored.
Shaq Moore started at right fullback in a 4-3-3 system. He was called into the squad at the last moment after Sergino Dest pulled up with a hamstring injury the day the roster was announced and Reggie Cannon tested positive for Covid-19 prior to the USMNT draw at the Azteca on Thursday.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter, and former interim manager Dave Sarachan, deserve a lot of credit for providing opportunities for young players in 2018 and 2019. Providing international debuts to men like Moore, Cannon, Tim Weah, Tyler Adams, Miles Robinson and Luca de la Torre has borne fruit during this World Cup qualifying cycle.
Lack of focus
The Americans won by four goals. But, they should have maintained a clean sheet. One reason they did not is Panama captain Anibal Godoy scored an 87th minute goal as a consolation for the two penalty kicks he conceded earlier in the match.
It’s not the marking on the goal that causes alarm. It’s conceding an unnecessary foul on the edge of the defensive third in a game that appears to be in control.
In the World Cup, against better teams that Panama, teams will punish the Americans for momentary lapses.
France went crashing out of Euro 2020 despite appearing in control with 15 minutes remaining because the reigning World Cup champions switched off against Switzerland.
During this World Cup qualifying cycle the USMNT has had a knack for giving away possession in its defensive third. Notably, fullback Jedi Robinson and goalkeeper Zack Steffen have lost the ball in areas that allowed both Mexico and Panama opportunities on goal.
Sunday was the second time the USMNT was punished this qualifying cycle for its lack of defensive focus. The goal against Panama may not matter much now. But, the next time the Americans concede in a competitive match, it just might.
Midfield takes shape
Adams and Yunus Musah are two-thirds of what appears to be an energetic midfield that will make the USMNT formidable in Qatar.
Adams’ ability to clog passing lanes, break up play without fouling and cover for the fullbacks when they sprint forward is invaluable. Musah provides the dribbling and ball carrying that ensures the Americans are not too stretched when in possession.
Though Kellyn Acosta and de la Torre have proven to be capable understudies for the injured Weston McKennie, the Texan is a guaranteed starter when healthy.
Thursday’s draw against Mexico and Sunday’s win over Panama should give Berhalter an understanding of who is best XI is when everyone is available. The problem is a full-strength USMNT has not happened.
In the seven months against Wednesday’s contest against Costa Rica and the opening game of the World Cup, Berhalter will have plenty of time to get his tactics correct.