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USMNT Power Works After Precision Fails Against Trinidad And Tobago

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The U.S. men’s national team’s misery index was redlining eighty-one minutes into Thursday’s Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal first leg against Trinidad and Tobago.

The United States had a man advantage for over forty-three minutes, controlled the ball for seventy-five percent of the game, and still had no points to show for their efforts. For the most part of that time, the attack was essentially unwatchable. Even VAR appeared to be working against the USMNT, as it disallowed what was originally awarded as a penalty in the 60th minute after Daniel Phillips of T&T knocked Weston McKennie down in the box.

When two T&T defenders went down with injuries in the 75th minute, giving the home team an 11-on-8 advantage, it seemed as though the U.S.’s night was over, as they were unable to muster even a shot on goal.

Thus, with nine minutes remaining, the United States faced the genuine prospect of entering Monday’s second leg in Port of Spain with a 0-0 aggregate score. It was enough to unsettle American supporters, considering that the Soca Warriors eliminated the United States from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup the last time the two teams faced off in Trinidad.

Luckily for the United States, a combination of tiredness from the T&T and a few more brute-force tactics allowed the home team to get going.

With a 3-0 victory secured by goals from Ricardo Pepi, Antonee Robinson, and Giovanni Reyna in a seven-minute span, the United States had some breathing room going into the second leg. “We didn’t seem to panic at any point,” Robinson remarked after the game. “We just knew that we had to keep going, and I feel like this team’s really good at that.”

That gives rise to both hope and concern. This game was just another example of how the Americans were unable to overcome an opponent who was too strong and using a low defensive block. A pair of late goals (while a man up) sealed a 3-0 victory for the USMNT against Uzbekistan in September, following a similar script.

Although a preference for late goals is commendable, it’s difficult to escape the impression that the Soca Warriors’ tenacity rather than American skill was the main factor in the victory.

Undoubtedly, the home team made things difficult for themselves, particularly in the first half. Gregg Berhalter, the manager, attributed it to a “lack of precision” in the last third. However, the United States appeared to be trying to score the ideal goal and appeared to be almost too comfortable in possession. “Our goal was simply to walk the ball across the line,” defenseman Tim Ream stated.

Rather than play fast, Reyna seemed determined to absorb as many touches as she could.

Malik Tillman was simply lazy at times, fooled by the ease with which the United States was able to retain possession. The PSV Eindhoven player failed to realize that this would be more of a street fight than a match, and he had to adjust. He didn’t ever.

The United States actually needed to vary up their attack more by using more forceful techniques, such as more shots from outside the box. The striker Folarin Balogun might have had an easier time getting past the T&T defense if there had been more direct play at the appropriate times. The earlier strategy proved effective in the second half, putting more pressure on the visitors and even leading to a goal thanks to a long-range effort from Robinson.

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