USMNT’s back-to-back clean sheets deceived, they were luckier than good ahead of the Nations League

The United States men’s national team have just kept clean sheets against Morocco and Uruguay in friendlies and that will make coach Gregg Berhalter happy overall. You’re always happy when the other team doesn’t score, but if you look a little closer, there’s still cause for concern. Aside from not having a capable, consistent forward in attack, you’ll find that the defense not only lacks key players but also lacks cohesion and form.

Here are three takeaways from the last 180 minutes:

1. Chris Richards will be sorely missed

It feels like Walker Zimmerman will secure a place at center back for the World Cup as he has been the number one choice at the position for a while. He has validated the selection by putting together some impressive performances and he has a consistency that is needed. Against Uruguay, his late blocking against Diego Rossi was a prime example of his ability to switch off when it matters most.

But who on earth will be next to him? Will John Brooks get another chance? This team is on the verge of becoming too young for themselves which could make for a humbling experience at the Worlds, but I would put Chris Richards alongside Zimmerman and not look back.

After allowing an xG of 2.13 for Morocco and 1.36 for Uruguay, the Americans somehow didn’t back down. It wasn’t down to a superior defense – it’s been torn apart more than once, but a lack of precision from a guy like Edinson Cavani and some good saves from Matt Turner and Sean Johnson helped hide the issues this defense is currently having .

Richards can play with both feet, he’s so versatile, he’s improving in attack and he’s the central defender in this highest ceiling pool. He would be there now if he wasn’t injured and if he doesn’t play it will hurt him but he should get a chance later this year to show why he should be competing in the World Cup. The question is whether there will be enough time when he returns to the team.

The options behind him just aren’t that great. Aaron Long, Erik Palmer-Brown, Cameron Carter-Vickers and others look like decent options but are just backups. If Richards can get off to a good start next season, whether at Bayern Munich or elsewhere, he’ll be back in the conversation right away and USA need him.

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2. The lack of breadth was worrying

Too many times we’ve seen the full-backs get caught inside and that gives teams way too much time in the box. It will lead to strong crosses over the goal, and sooner or later these will start to go in goal.

Just look at the picture below at the start against Uruguay where the defense is so asynchronous that Zimmerman has to be the guy to take out the widest Uruguay player as a defender is dealing with two attackers in the box. DeAndre Yedlin stayed inside after being beaten rather than chasing his defender and the US were lucky not to back down.

Each US defender was closer to goal than the player with the ball.

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Having Zimmerman in front of goal with his ability to block shots is crucial. He kicked out against Jose Maria Gimenez because there was nobody there and that was right, but it was all because of a lack of execution from the left side of the defense unit.

3. The form of the back needs to be improved

Later in the game a ball went over the top to Darwin Nunez with Cavani with him. Uruguay at one point had what appeared to be a two-for-one that resulted in a shocking miss from Cavani in the fatality. But just look at the defensive form a few seconds after the long ball. They were essentially clean on target with two defenders behind them. A lucky distraction from Palmer-Brown could throw Cavani off enough, but being caught that way is alarming.

Where is the US defense?

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That will certainly continue to appeal to Berhalter, because others may not be so lenient.

Well, all of that will likely mean little in the Nations League against inferior opponents, at least early on. But when it comes to preparing for the World Cup later this year, progress has to be made, and fast. While Group B with England, Wales and Iran doesn’t look too bad on paper, you can expect quite a test for this fickle US defence. We all know what England have in attack, Wales’ Gareth Bale can still be a top player and Dan James can cause problems, and Iran have two legitimate forward options that are far better than what the USA have in the same position to have.

The problem is minor at the moment, but can become serious later if not fixed.

With an improved defense, it should realistically be assumed that this team will escape the group. Don’t be surprised if they’re watching the knockout rounds at home.

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