Heading into this week’s CONCACAF Nations League Finals in Denver and, more importantly, World Cup qualifying in the fall, what the United States men’s national team needed more than anything was a step up in competition. Its nine-match unbeaten streak over the past 18 months was at least partially a product of the quality of the opposition, which made Sunday’s match on the road against Switzerland, the No. 13-ranked team in the world, a valuable barometer for coach Gregg Berhalter.
The results were mixed. After a strong first-half performance in which Sebastian Lletget scored the opening goal, the Americans faded after halftime while playing at altitude in a 2-1 loss.
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Berhalter has said all week part of the goal for this match — from its location to the day of the week — was to mimic the timeline for what the team will face in the unusual upcoming three-game World Cup qualifying windows. Playing in Switzerland essentially replicates the final club game the European-based players will have before flying across the Atlantic Ocean to take on CONCACAF opposition.
Any benefits from the scheduling exercise won’t pay off until the fall, but playing against a strong Switzerland provided a decent snapshot of where the team stands, albeit without three key players: Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen, due to their involvement in Saturday’s Champions League final, and midfielder Tyler Adams, who is rehabbing a back injury.
In the first half, the U.S. was the better team on balance. They created the more dangerous scoring chances, were patient and played effectively out of the back and pressed Switzerland into some mistakes in the final third. Sergino Dest was effective pushing forward on the left side, where Brenden Aaronson — who impressed last window and since his move to Austrian champion FC Salzburg in January — was also an energetic presence.
Without Adams, Berhalter handed a start to Jackson Yueill, and he mostly acquitted himself well, dropping deep to serve as an option for center backs John Brooks and Mark McKenzie.
“I think it was it was an interesting game for Jackson, it seemed that he gave [Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri] a difficult time with this movement and he opened up and got the ball in some good positions,” Berhalter said. “There are a couple times that he lost the ball, but he was feeling the game out. I think his diagonal passing could have been a little bit sharper, but overall pleased with his effort.”
Brenden Aaronson and Sebastian Lletget were two of the bright spots for the U.S. in a 2-1 defeat to Switzerland. Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
Yueill was replaced by Kellyn Acosta in the second half, and both players figure to be in the mix to see playing time in the Nations League with Adams’ status still uncertain. Berhalter said he would receive an update on Adams’ status on Monday, after the team travels to the United States.
It was a difficult game for striker Josh Sargent, who wasn’t able to make much of an impact before being subbed off for Jordan Siebatcheu in the 72nd minute. Sargent has always had a reputation for being a talented player expected to come good with time, but as other options at his position have emerged over the past year, it’s fair to question what the depth chart should look like at his position. Daryl Dike finished the season on fire with Barnsley, while Siebatcheu scored 15 goals in all competitions for Swiss champion Young Boys. Siebatcheu didn’t necessarily improve his standing, either, on Sunday, but the idea that Sargent deserves the benefit of the doubt has become less convincing the longer he goes without being a consistent scoring threat.
Despite Sargent’s minimal impact in front of goal, Berhalter praised the job he did in other aspects of the game.
“I think that he had a game where he gave everything he got. He battled,” Berhalter said. “I think he played a good game save for scoring a goal, because that’s what we want our forward to do. But other than that, very active, very committed.”
Darryl Dike isn’t on the Nations League roster, but he is with the team in this camp and is expected to play against Costa Rica on June 9. Timothy Weah has been training primarily as a winger with the team but is another option Berhalter could experiment with at the No. 9 spot, having played there some with French champion Lille.
The U.S. had some decent moments to start the second half, but it didn’t take long for Switzerland to tip the scales in its favor after switching from a 3-4-1-2 to a 5-3-2 formation. By using a central midfielder behind the American’s pressing No. 9, Switzerland played through the press more easily, and it led to several good chances — with goalkeeper Ethan Horvath coming up big on a few occasions to keep the score within reach.
Switzerland’s game winner came almost immediately after the U.S. took off Lletget, Yueill and center back John Brooks, with Acosta, Tim Ream and Yunus Musah coming on. A stray touch by Dest and some suspect defending in the box allowed the ball to bounce around before Steven Zuber beat Horvath.
“It’s a great measuring stick,” Berhalter said. “This is a team that has been playing together for a really long time. It’s the same group that Switzerland has had for the last four years, five years. It’s a mature group, it’s older than us and our guys can look at that as what this team could be in the future.”
Berhalter didn’t completely tip his hand at what to expect in the starting lineup against Honduras in the Nations League semifinals on Thursday but indicated that Pulisic was firmly in the plans.
“Try to tell Christian that he’s not playing on Thursday,” he said. “It’s gonna be a very difficult one coming off of winning the Champions League, coming in the game making an impact in that game. He’s ready to go.”
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