My 3 Thoughts on USMNT-Morocco
Pulisic shows off his poise and first touch again as U.S. controls game and defeats World Cup-bound Moroccans 3-0
CINCINNATI — The USMNT beat Morocco 3-0 in a friendly between the two World Cup-bound teams on Wednesday. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
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• Christian Pulisic’s first touch continues to amaze. We’ve written at length in the past about the U.S. star’s ridiculous first-touch quality, which he uses not just to receive the ball but to create space and danger where there appears to be none. He showed that kind of first touch on the sublime goal he scored against Panama in March (which he emphasized on Instagram that he meant to do), and he did it again on the U.S.’s first goal against Morocco. Walker Zimmerman sent a high ball downfield that Pulisic somehow managed to control and improve his position in one touch before having the poise and presence of mind to make the game slow down—erasing two onrushing Moroccan defenders—and then hit a perfect pass to Brenden Aaronson for the finish. With Aaronson playing in a central midfield position for the first time in months, it was clear on multiple occasions that he and Pulisic were on the same creative wavelength. They see openings on the ball that few of their teammates see, and the combinations between the two of them show an intuitiveness that usually requires having spent much more time playing together than they can do at the national team level. Aaronson is coming into his own now, too, and the possibilities are tantalizing. Pulisic kept slowing the game down in the box in the second half, too, which is how he earned the penalty for the U.S.’s third goal. It’s a skill that separates players from good and world-class, and Pulisic looked like a world-class player on Wednesday.
• Some U.S. players had more to prove in this game, and most of them succeeded. Aaron Long was coach Gregg Berhalter’s choice to start next to Walker Zimmerman in the central defense in the wake of Miles Robinson’s Achilles injury, and Long had a solid game in his 90 minutes on the field. Would it have been better if he could have challenged himself even more had Morocco started its best striker (Youssef En-Nesyri)? Of course. But Long had a smooth partnership with Zimmerman (in the first half) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (in the second) and handled himself well in his one-on-one defending, even after earning a 28th-minute yellow card bringing down Ayoub El Kaabi. Another player looking to make a statement was Reggie Cannon, who got the start at right back ahead of DeAndre Yedlin. Morocco did have most of its attacks down Cannon’s side, but the American mostly did fine in his role. Then there was the No. 9 position, where no U.S. player established himself during World Cup qualifying. Jesús Ferreira was active during his time on the field in the first half, but he could have done better with a couple goal-scoring chances. And while Haji Wright failed to convert his good chance early in the second half after coming on, it was good to see Wright want to take the penalty kick that he converted for the third U.S. goal.
• Sorry to be “that guy,” but people should keep this friendly in perspective. This was a really good performance overall by the U.S., which controlled the majority of the game, showed some real poise in front of goal and deserved the win against a team that’s going to the World Cup. But there’s a history of USMNT followers—and even USMNT coaches—taking too much out of friendly performances against World Cup-bound teams in the months before a World Cup. Remember 1998, when Steve Sampson’s 3-6-1 worked well in a friendly win at Austria and caused Sampson to believe he had found the perfect system for the World Cup? (Who needs John Harkes?) And remember 2014, when Michael Bradley’s first-half performance in a friendly against Mexico convinced Jurgen Klinsmann that Bradley could be a superhuman in the central midfield during the World Cup? Let’s view this U.S. performance for what it was: An encouraging night against a pretty good team in a friendly.
What are your thoughts? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
Friendlies at home against teams like this becomes a can’t win for USA. They win 3-0 everyone says “hey that’s what you’re supposed to do”, or if they lost everyone would yell “how can you lose to a second tier cup team at home?” For my money- they showed up, played hard, beat a legitimate team, good teams win the games they’re supposed to win. I’m not sure they’re good enough to have any “expected” wins when we get to Iran, England, Ukraine/Wales. The idea in these games is to build confidence and learn to play together. They did that tonight. I’m happy, all US fans ought to be.
Loved Pulisic’s play, leadership and fire. Post game, he called out the lack of passionate support. Good. We should be able to sell out MLS venues!