EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Prior to the U.S. men’s national team’s match with Germany on Saturday, manager Gregg Berhalter said “we need to learn” from playing such a high-powered opponent. Die Mannschaft certainly dealt out more than a few lessons in beating the United States 3-1 at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
The match saw the U.S. break the tie in the 27th minute thanks to a stunning long distance goal from Christian Pulisic. But even at that point, Germany had been carving up the U.S. defense, and eventually the goals arrived on the way to a deserved win.
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Overall, the result felt similar to the 3-1 defeat to Netherlands that knocked the U.S. out of the 2022 World Cup in the round of 16. Granted, the U.S. on that night in Qatar had much better possession — Germany had a 60-40 edge on Saturday — but in critical moments, both the Dutch and the Germans had that extra bit of quality to turn opportunities into goals.
More critically, the U.S. defensive performance left plenty to be desired. One of the glaring issues against Germany included how the U.S. struggled to handle the visitor’s press. Germany made 10 recoveries in the U.S’s defensive third — that’s the most by a U.S. opponent since the 2-0 defeat to Japan right before the 2022 World Cup, one that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.
The frequency with which the U.S. was coughing up the ball made it difficult to get the entire team pushed up-field into the attack, which left the Americans’ defensive shape vulnerable when the ball turned over. The U.S. got “gapped” — where there was little to no defensive midfield pressure in transition — by smart passes on far too many occasions. Not even a tweak to the team’s defensive shape in the first half, when it moved from a 4-4-2 to more of a 4-3-3, was enough to stem the tide.
“When you make those mistakes of giving the ball away in the midfield, then [transition chances] are going to happen,” central defender Tim Ream said. “And that’s kind of what you saw today, the breakdowns with guys being out of position and then there’s an overwhelming desire to try to win the ball back immediately. That complicates things as well. You want to press after the loss and that complicates getting into that defensive shape.
“So it’s not for want of trying. I think sometimes, it’s overworking instead of maybe picking and choosing the moments.”
With Tyler Adams missing due to an ongoing hamstring injury, Berhalter turned to Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie for some bite and defensive coverage in midfield. Except it didn’t work. Much of this was down to the fact that positionally, the two left too much space in the middle for Germany to exploit, whether it was in the middle third or near the top of the U.S. penalty area.
It’s worth emphasizing the fact that Germany’s lineup is brimming with quality, be it Ilkay Gündogan, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala or Florian Wirtz. And to be fair, the Germans also got some fortuitous bounces. Matt Turner‘s touch from Sane’s dribble fell right Gundogan for Germany’s first. Ream’s tackle deflected to Niclas Füllkrug in the runup to Germany’s third.
But too often, the U.S. didn’t help itself, allowing Germany to make the most of its luck. On all three goals, the U.S. pressure just outside the box was lacking. Someone, anyone, needed to deliver a tackle that was going to defuse the situation. All of this left the U.S. back line in difficult situations.
“It was kind of like seeing a train wreck coming, but you couldn’t quite move from it,” defender Chris Richards said. “That’s kind of what it felt like at some points.”
He added about Germany: “When they’re on the ball and they have 20, 30 yards [of space], it’s a tough team to play against.”
All of this pointed to how much the U.S. is missing Adams. Saturday’s game wasn’t the first time that the U.S. has had to do without the AFC Bournemouth midfielder. The Americans claimed the Concacaf Nations League title despite him being absent, but Germany is the kind of opponent to punish mistakes more ruthlessly than Mexico or Canada, and the tenacity in midfield that was missing on Saturday is precisely the kind Adams provides.
It seems unlikely Adams would have missed tackles with the same regularity that the U.S. did on this day and with him on the shelf for the foreseeable future, it’s up to Berhalter to find a way forward. There doesn’t appear to be any easy answers.
Berhalter: Performance vs. Germany should give USMNT confidence
Gregg Berhalter explains what the USMNT can take from their 3-1 loss to Germany.
There were lessons to be had on the attacking side as well though they were tougher to spot, especially given the wow factor of Pulisic’s goal. The U.S. created some transition opportunities of their own in the first half, with Timothy Weah taking the chance to showcase his speed on more than one occasion. Germany was certainly left to scramble a few times in order to keep the U.S. at bay, and Pulisic had one goal called back for a dubious offside call. (A penalty appeal from Pulisic that was denied seemed more legit.)
The U.S. cause was aided significantly by having Giovanni Reyna back in the lineup. In this calendar year, the U.S. has looked the most fluid when Reyna has been on the field, especially when he plays more centrally. Reyna did float around the field a bit, but he was involved often enough in his 45 minutes of action to give some hope that the U.S. can trouble the world’s better teams.
All that said, the U.S. was still missing some precision in the final third, which remains one of this team’s biggest weaknesses and is a big reason why it hasn’t yet moved closer to the world’s elite. Not for the first time, centering passes were just a bit behind their intended targets, or just a bit too high. The USMNT’s out-of-sync attack reflected in their stats: their xG from open play in Saturday’s match was 0.09, the lowest such mark in any game under Berhalter. As dangerous as the U.S. was at times, it absolutely has to get shots off.
Is Germany an excellent team? You bet. But the chances were there for the U.S. and it didn’t take advantage of its at times excellent approach work.
“[There’s] still a lot of things that we can do better. A lot of things we improve on,” Ream added. “A lot of things to work on to be able to compete for 90 minutes, not just for 45.”
The U.S. will get a chance to show that on Tuesday against Ghana in Nashville.