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USMNT humiliated in defeat at Canada: What went wrong?

Joe Prince-Wright, Andy Edwards and Nick Mendola look ahead to the United States' next World Cup qualifying window, with big clashes against Canada and El Salvador on tap at the end of January.

The USMNT were beaten humiliated by Canada in World Cup qualifying as most of their issues were ruthlessly exposed.

Canada did a job on the USMNT. Plain and simple. It was the way the USMNT lost this game which will hurt most. The lack of fight was humiliating for all U.S. fans watching.

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Canada scored early and late and let the USMNT have the ball in-between, but Gregg Berhalter’s side did very little with it despite the head coach saying he was ‘pleased with the performance’ and thought his side dominated. Hmmm.

Below we look at what went wrong for the USMNT in their first defeat against Canada in World Cup qualifying since 1980.

Should U.S. fans be worried? Are these long-term issues?

No number nine, focal point

Gyasi Zardes was thrown in up top and although he is a regular scapegoat for the USMNT fanbase, this isn’t really his fault. There is a severe lack of central striking options for Berhalter to choose from, especially in this window. Ricardo Pepi was hardly used after his recent move to Augsburg. Then who else is there? Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok were both left out of this squad, and Jesus Ferreira isn’t really a central striker.

The way Berhalter’s teams like to play is with a Zardes-type player up top. But the USMNT don’t have that focal point and Zardes isn’t able to provide the movement and clinical finishing needed to dominate CONCACAF World Cup qualifying or go far at a World Cup. Berhalter’s number one priority must be to find the right person to play centrally up top and that will get the best out of Pulisic, Aaronson and others in the attacking midfield roles underneath whoever it is.

Lack of ‘savvy’ and experience

This one is simple. Nine of the USMNT’s starting 11 were 24 years old or younger. Matt Turner and Gyasi Zardes the two outliers. It showed. Canada aren’t exactly an old team, but their more experienced heads have an impact on their younger stars. You can clearly see it. Canada have a blend of youth and experience. The USMNT doesn’t. And it has a big impact in games, and big situations, like this.

Canada did the dirty things well from start to finish. They fouled to break up counters. They pushed and shoved. They scraped for every ball. They like doing that. Canada also played without their star player Alphonso Davies, and best midfielder Stephen Eustaquio. Given those absentees and a long midweek trip they knew their limitations for this game, they had a plan and executed it perfectly. That did to the USMNT what the USMNT used to do to others.

This USMNT side doesn’t like a scrap and they certainly weren’t up for this battle.

Gregg Berhalter said Canada couldn’t match the USMNT’s physicality. The opposite was true. All of the USMNT’s luxury players lost their individual battles and played right into Canada’s hands. This was a naive display from a young, inexperienced USMNT side. Hopefully this bad experience teaches them a lot.

USMNT have to find Pulisic’s best position

He started out on the left but didn’t manage to get on the ball much and was hacked at several times throughout the game. He was pushed inside for the final 20 minutes but still couldn’t get on the ball. The USMNT have to find a way to get Pulisic on the ball in the correct areas. So many times they won the ball back in good spots and gave it to him, but he played backwards or was too sluggish on the dribble and he looked frustrated throughout.

Pulisic is lacking in confidence and wants to play in his correct position at Chelsea, which is left wing. But for the USMNT it may be better to play him just off a central striker so he can play in a free role as a pure No. 10. He needs to be given the freedom to do what he does best. Right now he’s not really adding anything to the USMNT.

Center back shuffle causing harm

Miles Robinson and Chris Richards got caught out by Matt Turner’s poor goal kick for Canada’s first goal and that summed up the USMNT’s struggles at center back. Canada exposed that ruthlessly as Cyle Larin and Jonathan David smelt blood whenever they could combine and got Robinson and Richards on the back-foot. Walker Zimmerman would have started but suffered a knock, so that was a blow.

Moving forward it is all about trying to find the right partner for Zimmerman, who wasn’t even called up by the USMNT in October. That shows how many issues Berhalter is having to find his first-choice center back pairing. At this point, surely John Brooks deserves a chance. Maybe even Cameron Carter-Vickers? Sorting out a starting central striker and two center backs is key for the USMNT in 2022. The rest of the team looks okay, but those key areas are causing problems throughout their team.

Arrogance setting in?

This last issue is maybe a little harsh on a young team still learning, but there was a sense of arrogance about the USMNT display at Canada.

They just didn’t seem to want it as much as Canada did. They were outmuscled too often and played too many loose passes. There was a lack of hunger similar to watching a Premier League side playing away at a third-tier team in the FA Cup. A whiff in the air that the USMNT didn’t want to be there, in the cold in Canada.

But this was the USMNT’s biggest game of World Cup qualifying against the team who are top of the table. If they can’t get up for this game, is there a bigger problem than we thought? Don’t panic. With four games to go in qualifying, the USMNT should still easily qualify for the World Cup if they win their two home games and pick up a point on the road.

But Berhalter (who did himself no favors with the tone of his post-game press conference) must make sure his team stay focused and hungry as the hunt to finish in the top three will now go into the final round of qualifiers in March. Nobody wants to finish in fourth, but that is now a possibility for the USMNT when it shouldn’t be. We are about to see what this young USMNT side is really made of.

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