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USMNT player ratings: Defense, midfield dominate; Pulisic struggles

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 is three massive points closer to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, thanks to a comprehensive 1-0 victory over El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday.

[ MORE: “Jedi” wills Yanks to 1-0 win ]

“What do you mean, comprehensive at 1-0,” you might be thinking to yourself. Aside from putting the ball in the back of the net two or three more times, there was little else the USMNT could have accomplished.

Here’s a look at who stood out (for better or for worse) for Gregg Berhalter’s side, with some special bonus commentary from PST’s Nicholas Mendola (italicized)…

GK - Matt Turner: 6.5 - Turner — much like Zack Steffen, the 1a or 1b to his 1b or 1a — continues to be an extremely consistent, if unspectacular (due to simply not being called into serious action frequently enough), figure in the back for the USMNT. His transfer to Arsenal — yes, really — is reportedly agreed and should be completed in the coming days.

RB - Sergiño Dest: 6.5 - With Timothy Weah now healthy and playing in front of him, Dest isn’t asked to bomb forward and provide every bit of width to the attack. Sure, Weah and the rest of the front line haven’t exactly lit the world on fire, but Dest has been much more positionally sound, and Berhalter has the defensive record (two goals conceded in their last four games) to show for it.

CB - Walker Zimmerman: 7.5 - He is probably the perfect CONCACAF defender. His routine passing needs some work still but it feels like Zimmerman rolled out of primary school right into a great MLS center back pairing with Matt Hedges at FC Dallas and if anything has only improved as a footballer.

CB - Chris Richards: 7 - Rarely called into action defensively, Richards was silky smooth in possession (91 percent of passes completed) and offered a constant outlet to the midfield whenever El Salvador pressed. He’s a smart player who typically knows where he’s supposed to be. Few center backs in the player pool can say the same.

LB - Antonee Robinson: 8 (8.5) - The goal can be best described as opportunistic, but Robinson’s impact was felt early and often on Thursday. With Christian Pulisic dropping deeper and deeper into midfield (especially in the first half), much of the USMNT’s left-sided attacking impetus came via Robinson. From terrifying weakness to surefire strength, the outlook at left back has changed a great deal since World Cup qualifying began.

I know they call him “Jedi” but are we sure he’s not Sonic the Hedgehog if we’re going fictional characters? He is always available for the ball and not in a ‘Dude, you’re a defender way.” His goal was calmly and coolly taken and he’s absolutely my Man of the Match. He loses a half-point because his crosses themselves weren’t as consistent as you’d like.

DM - Tyler Adams: 7 - Adams’ star doesn’t shine quite as bright against sides in the bottom half of the Octagonal (the USMNT simply doesn’t come under enough defensive pressure), but that hasn’t stopped him rising to the occasion anytime the likes of Mexico or Hunduras come calling.

CM - Weston McKennie: 7.5 - McKennie has improved by leaps and bounds since moving to Juventus, and it was plain for all to see on Thursday, as he ran the show in midfield — on both sides of the ball. McKennie’s comfort and confidence to calmly play the ball out of trouble is yet another hugely welcome development for the USMNT.

CM - Yunus Musah: 7 (8) - Musah continues to progress and grow, having turned 19 years old just a couple months ago, but we’re still anxiously awaiting the unbelievable breakout performance to truly announce himself onto the international stage, because it’s been brewing for the last two international windows.

For this kid to be 19 is just a total blessing for USMNT fans. He’s already at Valencia, a good place to be refining the technical and tactical side of things, and it feels like his ceiling is higher than most. Now how will Gregg Berhalter use a healthy Musah, Giovanni Reyna, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams?

[ MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule ]

RW - Timothy Weah: 6.5 - Gets points for his hard work on the goal, of course, but his hunger to be in the right spots in the box often means the USMNT has a dangerous outlet for everything from combination play to whipped-in crosses. Powerful when driving forward with the ball.

LW - Christian Pulisic: 4 (4) - Pulisic’s worst showing in a USMNT shirt, at least in recent memory. It’s clear that CONCACAF opponents are scheming to limit his impact on the USMNT, and Hugo Perez’s plan worked a real treat on Thursday. Time and space were nonexistent for Pulisic, he was thrust into far too many duels against two or three white shirts, and Berhalter’s choice at center forward did him no favors by occupying (and crowding) the same pockets of space. Perhaps his early collision with Robinson played a part in Pulisic being limited, and eventually subbed off after 65 minutes.

This had to be his worst individual match in a USMNT shirt. Perhaps he’s bogged down or maybe this was just a bad night for a player who seems likely to go down as one of the top three players in program history, but he was 0-for-10 in first-half duels according to SofaScore and spent the entire night trying to do a little too much.

CF - Jesus Ferreira: 4 - Aside from the general ineffectiveness referenced alongside Pulisic, Ferreira missed a seemingly un-missable chance from three yards out. The idea to start more of a play-making center forward, expecting El Salvador to defend deeply and compactly, wasn’t the worst, but the 21-year-old isn’t quite ready for a task that tall.

Follow @AndyEdMLS