The United States Under-20 Men’s National Team (USMNT) cruised to a 1-0 win over Hondurans in their opening match of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Bradenton, Florida. The Hondurans played well, but the U.S. was able to battle through the physical play early on, and took a 1-0 advantage into the locker room after the half.
The U.S. men’s national team is back in the 2022 World Cup qualifying round, but the road ahead will be anything but easy. The Americans will have to face Canada at home in the second leg of their two-game playoff on Tuesday, then hit the road to play Honduras at home on Oct. 8 in the first leg of the two-game, home-and-away playoff. Honduras has surprised the U.S. on several occasions in the early stages of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.The U.S. national team, brimming with talent and confidence after a stellar year for players in Europe, learned a valuable lesson Thursday. Things like pedigree and reputation don’t matter when it comes to competitive matches in CONCACAF. The good news is that the U.S. is in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals after a 1-0 victory over Honduras, thanks to an 89th-minute goal from substitute Jordan Cibatcheu. It’s infinitely more fun to learn lessons when you win. The United States will face Mexico in the final on Sunday after El Tri beat Costa Rica on penalties in the other semifinal. – ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (US only) But it was a brutal match, full of the kind of movement you’d expect from a CONCACAF team like Honduras. There was physical play, tactical errors and time wasting, with Honduras using a lot of stretchers. For players like Christian Pulisic and John Brooks, it was more of a refresher. Brooks knew what to expect in the very first minute when he collided with Honduran striker Albert Elis. Both players were given a warning by referee Oshan Nathion. But for players like Giovanni Reyna, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest, it was a crash course in what to expect from a World Cup qualifier. This game was exactly what we needed, given the level of competition and the competitiveness of the game, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. Some of these guys have never seen this before [in CONCACAF]. So I’m very happy with the way they handled it. I think the mental aspect of the game – persevering and wearing them out – was very important. The start of the game was promising, Reina and Pulisic were good in attack. However, as the game progressed, the match was increasingly decided in Honduras’ favor, although the US dominated possession of the ball 2-1. In the first half, a shot by Sargent from the goal line was needed for the equalizer, when goalkeeper Zach Steffen misjudged the pass and gave Elis the chance to shoot on goal. There were a number of missed shots and Honduras was constantly dangerous on the turnovers. As the second half progressed, it became clear that Honduras wanted to break the rhythm of the game, and the longer the US went without a goal, the more frustrating it became to watch. Christian Pulisic and the US won over Honduras, but it was never going to be easy for the Americans. Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports Nevertheless, the fact remains: The US has done little to help itself against Honduran tactics, mental or otherwise. Sebastian Lletget pitched poorly. Passes through the legs of the strikers were stopped, although one wonders how much of the credit goes to striker Sargent and how much to midfielders like Jackson Ewell. Overall, the American midfield struggled to create chances and Weston McKenney was one of those who had a quiet game. Pulisic also had a slow second half. McKenney talked about looking for a space that can be used. But Berhalter acknowledged that the U.S. was too often distracted in areas of the field where Honduras had more players. Honduras was very compact and they wanted us to play in the middle and I think we did that, Berhalter said. We played too much in midfield, we had interceptions and Honduras led the transitions. I think we lacked balance in midfield at times. We could have been more consistent and taken them out a bit more and then played behind the back line. With ten minutes to go, Berhalter made the first change of the game: Brenden Aaronson, Reggie Cannon and Seabatchew came into the game. It seemed like a decision that had been made a long time ago, given the scale of the American struggle, but it was taking its toll. He took a ball from Brooks on the right side into the McKenney box and his header set up Seabatchew to score. Berhalter now has a number of decisions to make, including: Will Ewell be able to handle the duties of a midfield defender on his own, especially if the opposition wants to attack on the turnovers? Judging by Thursday’s game, the answer is no. And with Tyler Adams looking less and less available for this game due to a recurring back injury, Kellin Acosta should start right away or a player like McKenney should be next to Euel. It certainly makes it harder to attack, but more needs to be done to achieve balance in midfield. Younus Musa should also be on the field more often. The position of the striker is also a problem. Seabatchew’s ability to separate himself from his partners in the passing game was a marked improvement over what Sargent had to offer. And when he got his chance, he blew it. We know he’s a force in the midfield, Berhalter said of Cibatchew. We know he fights in the box, he has good physical attributes and he gave us the edge we needed. On a positive note, the United States has kept its collective head. There were several moments where it looked like the game was going to be decided, but the U.S. got no further than the red card. The US will now prepare for Sunday’s final. Against Mexico, the game will be more open. However, it was recognized that this performance was not enough for a team as ambitious as the US. Technically, tactically and the way we’ve played, we know we have to be better and we know we have to finish these games as soon as possible, McKenney said. Thursday’s experience should help.