The scoresheet will say that the USMNT got a 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago. And because it’s the Nations League, and more importantly the qualifying round for next summer’s Copa America, the result lords over all. Manager Gregg Berhalter will probably say something about the patience and fortitude the US showed in being persistent enough to break through a determined and dogged defense after the 80th minute. And then he’ll probably throw something in about how hard it is to play against a team reduced to 10 men.

And this is all true. But before that 80th minute, it was kind of clear just how big of a dropoff from the first choice 11 to the backups, especially in the wide forward spots. The US was without Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, and it showed.

The US started the match with Malik Tillman slotting inside to form a box midfield, with Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie deep and Tillman and Gio Reyna advanced. What it led to, even before T&T’s Noah Powder was sent off, was a lot of the US running into a wall in the middle of the field. They just didn’t have the nous or combination play to get through the thicket of T&T defenders.

One major problem causing that is without Weah and Pulisic opening up space, Reyna’s habit of doing the soccer version of pounding the basketball when it came to him tended to break everything down. It’s fine for Reyna to hold onto the ball an extra beat or two when Weah and Pulisic are making runs or combining with him or just doing something to occupy defenders. It’s another when what the US really need is a one-touch pass or quicker decisions, which Reyna rarely provides at this point in his career. Perhaps with more game time, he’ll get sharper, but for all the promise (and the noise) that Reyna has he’s still a player who hasn’t logged regular minutes for his club team in three years, either due to injury or coach’s whim. He’s not all that he could be yet, arguably he’s not all that he should be, and he’s certainly not ready to anchor an international team’s attack all by himself.

To boot, Tillman and Kevin Paredes are just a big step down from what the USMNT is used to on its flanks. The US lacked a final ball, be it a pass or shot, and a good portion of that was either of them running out of time or space instead of making the right play. But hey, it happens, and the US was never going to have a Plan B for Pulisic being down. Especially as this was Paredes’s first start at this level.

Another issue is the constant one of Weston McKennie and Musah having to play deeper without Tyler Adams. McKennie did win a penalty when he burst into the box late, which is the one thing he does at a world-class level. It’s not his fault that VAR decided to completely re-ref the game because it was bored and took the penalty away. But in creation from other areas, it’s just not what he does, and he doesn’t maneuver his way through traffic via dribbling or quick combinations all that well. Musah is prone to a bit of hero ball at times as well.

To their credit, the US does have options off the bench. Ricardo Pepi came on to score the opening goal, which has been a habit of his. Brenden Aaronson came on, and though he might not have any actual ball skills or none requisite for the level he plays at, his counter-pressing when the US lose the ball becomes a sneaky weapon late in a game, giving an opponent’s defense no time to breathe and starting the US on another attack before they can reset. And Reyna and Falorin Balogun combined on a beautiful goal for the 3rd after T&T’s legs had gone.

The headline is that the US can take a hefty advantage to Port of Spain on Monday for the second leg, which will save everyone some violent flashbacks. But their inability to break down a low block and packed defense is a worry for a team that wants to make noise next summer and in 2026. Making noise generally means winning groups, which means not only beating teams worse but doing so by open lengths when goal difference comes into play. Especially as the US will be seeded at the next World Cup, and maybe even in Copa America.

But the US isn’t one of the top-tier international teams, and we all knew that. They can’t plug and play the next man up. We knew they had no alternative to Adams. Thursday won’t do much to convince anyone they have a way around missing Pulisic and Weah either. USMNT fans will have to add to that shrine that has Adams’s picture on it.

Luis Diaz scores twice for Colombia

Did you have your good cry today? Oh good, here you go. You’ve probably heard of the ordeal of Liverpool’s Luis Diaz the past month, as his father was kidnapped in his native Colombia and held for a couple weeks before being released. Diaz returned to Colombia for the first time since it all ended to play for his country. He scored both goals in beating Brazil, and the man you’ll see celebrating is his father:

And now…Shohei Ohtani’s dog

The goodest boy. Which one? You know.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social 


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