The U.S. men’s national team’s nine-game unbeaten streak came to an end against Switzerland, and so did some of the good vibes and positive momentum it had built up during that run. Sunday’s game got away from the USA in the second half and the final 2-1 result was ultimately a flattering one given all the chances Switzerland created.
But as with every international match, there are plenty of caveats: The Americans played a strong opponent — Switzerland is ranked No. 13 and full of accomplished pros — and they were missing their best player (Christian Pulisic, because of Champions League duty) and their most influential player (Tyler Adams, out injured). They also had heavy legs from their high-altitude training, as captain Weston McKennie explained postgame.
The attitude and desire were the big positive and the USA had several good moments of swarming pressing which resulted in its best scoring chances. The Americans committed numbers in the attack when they had Switzerland pinned in its own half. But when it came to building out of the back and maintaining sustained possession, the quality just wasn’t there and the giveaways were plenty. That’s a dangerous game to be playing on the international level.
And those problem areas that were exposed against Switzerland might plant a seed of doubt heading into the USA’s next match: a single-elimination Nations League showdown Thursday against Honduras, a country that has regularly given the USMNT fits.
Here are five takeaways from the match and grades for each USMNT player:
1. McKenzie can do the job
There’s an open spot at starting center back with the injury to NY Red Bulls stalwart Aaron Long. Mark McKenzie got the opportunity to fill in alongside John Brooks and showed he is definitely a candidate to be the long-term solution. Not only did he make big plays, but he also brought a calm to the position. USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter gave him a positive review postgame.
2. Center forward is wide open
You’ve got to hand it to Josh Sargent (photo below). His level of fight and commitment is off the charts. But at some point execution matters, and not just when it comes to scoring goals. He offered little when it came to hold-up play or combination play to help the U.S. push up the field. Though the clamoring for Daryl Dike and Jordan Siebatcheu will surely grow, it’s hard to see Berhalter moving from Sargent just yet. In fact, he felt that Sargent “had a good game.”
3. Gio Reyna … luxury player?
Maybe Reyna was one of the players who suffered the most from the heavy legs McKennie referenced. Reyna only appeared when the U.S. reached the Switzerland penalty box. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have known he was in the game.
His pressing and defensive presence were several notches below his other teammates in the attack. And he didn’t make up for it with any difference-making plays. In fact, he had a team low passing percentage (79.5 percent). Berhalter’s U.S. national team, which is based on collective pressing and movement, can’t afford luxury players. Reyna was that on the day.
4. Aaronson earned a starting spot
While Reyna was disappointing, Brenden Aaronson was one of the USA’s bright spots. When they struggled to find any outlets for their build-up, there was Aaronson. He constantly showed for the ball, controlled it well for the most part and took a beating from the Swiss players. His passing could be better, but he had a tremendous work rate and was also dangerous around the box (he assisted on the lone U.S. goal). When Pulisic is back, Reyna’s the odd man out at this point.
5. Central midfield
This is the area of the field that could present the biggest challenge to the system Berhalter is trying to construct. Without the right players executing as a unit at a high enough level, things can get disjointed quickly. That cohesiveness just wasn’t there against Switzerland and the USA’s struggles in possession and build-up came down primarily to the midfield’s shortcomings.
The central holding midfield position is the one to watch most closely in the upcoming matches. Jackson Yueill (photo below) had one of his tougher outings for the USA, mainly in passing and possession. Kellyn Acosta brought more mobility and a change of pace to the passing in the second half, but he was still outmatched. Two deep-lying central midfielders could provide the most balanced solution until the team is back humming on all cylinders.
After a quiet first half, he came up with big stops in the second half to keep the game close. There was little he could do on either Swiss goal and he guessed right on the penalty that went wide.
Sergino Dest: 6
Not a vintage performance for Dest at left back, but he’s still so important to the attack. He has the skill to make something out of nothing and nearly scored on a solo run in the first half. He did commit a handball offense in the box to lead to Switzerland’s missed PK.
John Brooks: 6
He combined timely interventions and clearances with forgettable moments, especially in the second half. He’s still a lock as a starter in the back.
Mark McKenzie: 6.5
Calm, clean and confident presence in the back. Aside from one miscue, this performance will make U.S. fans rest a bit easier in the aftermath of the Long injury. Berhalter’s lone criticism of McKenzie in the postgame: He needs to do more to help the defensive line move up to keep the team compact. That’ll come.
Reggie Cannon: 6
He definitely had his hands full defensively, but for the most part he did his job. With as much as Dest pushes forward on the left, Cannon has to be selective about his attacking forays from right back. He did well to pick out good moments, especially in the second half. When he did push up, he was quality with his passing, decision-making and crossing.
Jackson Yueill: 5
This was a difficult game for Yueill as the deep-lying mid, especially when it came to helping the USA get out of its own end. He not only turned the ball over in key areas, but he also looked physically overwhelmed when he was pressured.
Weston McKennie: 5.5
An up-and-down performance from the captain. He showed solid decision-making and good positioning and he dished out a couple of world-class passes. But he also had a handful of miscues and a stretch in which he couldn’t find the game. This U.S. team needs McKennie to be a force that carries them. A week of high-altitude training after a long season may be the culprit in this instance.
Lletget is the perfect two-way midfielder for this team and he’s a fixture in this lineup as long as he continues to play like this. He could’ve done more to help Yueill in build-up play, but there’s no questioning his work ethic, defensive commitment and attacking instincts. He has a knack for perfectly timing his runs and he’s decisive and sharp when he gets the ball.
Brenden Aaronson: 6.5
He worked hard to get into the game. Outside of a few misplaced passes, he generally made a positive contribution when he got on the ball. His ability to show for a pass and draw fouls helped relieve some of the pressure the U.S. faced in its half of the field. Aaronson tired as the minutes wore on, but this was a performance to build on.
Gio Reyna: 4.5
Had a few good crosses, a dangerous shot and a nice combination with Cannon in his 72 minutes, but he generally struggled to leave a mark. The USA’s attacking moves actually seemed to slow down when the ball reached him. He was a non-factor defensively.
Josh Sargent: 4.5
Tough day at the office. The effort was there, but he struggled to hold the ball up, and when he did, his passing was generally off or he coughed it up. He got on the end of a couple of crosses in the box, but that’s about it.
Tough spot for Ream. He came on for Brooks just as the U.S. was under the most pressure and he was nearly immediately burned by Swiss forward Breel Embolo. He was easily beaten in another instance by Haris Seferovic.
Yunus Musah: 5
In his 29 minutes in place of Sebastian Lletget, he struggled to get into the game.
Kellyn Acosta: 6
Compared to Yueill, he was quicker and more decisive at the deep-lying position, but it still was nothing to write home about.
Tim Weah: N/A
He brought a boost of energy and was willing and dynamic on the right wing, but he didn’t make an impact in 18 minutes.
DeAndre Yedlin: N/A
This was more of a welcome back for his first minutes at right back since 2019. Eight of them, to be exact.