Last Friday's win for the USA men's national team at Audi Field was easy enough, but then again, Cuba were never going to put up significant resistance. But a 7-0 romp might have eased some concerns about Gregg Berhalter's side, one which hasn't impressed much since he took over the setup back in December 2018.
Instead, the USA went to BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday night and suffered an embarrassing 2-0 loss to Canada in Concacaf Nations League play. It was the first loss to the neighbors up north since 1985, and the result opened up Berhalter to even more questions about his style and how he wants his side to play and go about games. In addition, the result made John Herdman's Canada side favorites now to make the semifinals of the tournament, needing to snatch just a draw next month against the U.S. in Orlando to ensure their spot.
The goals for Canada came in the second half, with Alphonso Davies giving the hosts the lead and Lucas Cavallini doubling the lead in stoppage time. The U.S. didn't concede many chances over the course of the 90 minutes, but the problem was that the chances that they did give up were excellent scoring opportunities for Canada.
Let’s see if the expected goals look as bad as the game on the field…— Paul Carr (@PaulCarr) October 16, 2019
🇨🇦 Canada: 2.22 xG on 9 shots
🇺🇸 USMNT: 0.77 xG on 7 shots
Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, the U.S. attack didn't produce all that much. Sure, Christian Pulisic was pulled in the second half for what was described as the flu after the game, but Canada's defense isn't an overbearing force, capable of shutting down anyone in the world. Instead, the lack of scoring chances continues a theme under Berhalter; as his team struggles to play out of the back and into attack, the quantity of quality scoring chances is less than impressive.
After the game, Berhalter said that he didn't want to draw too many conclusions from the performance.
"I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” Berhalter told reporters after the game. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game."
If the performance against Canada was a standalone data point, that would be fair for Berhalter to say. However, since taking over for interim manager Dave Sarachan last year, Berhalter's side has produced several less than savory performances. Adding all those together, and it is no wonder why there's plenty of handwringing from the fans about the direction of the program, two years on from the devastating loss to Trinidad & Tobago that kept the U.S. out of the 2018 World Cup.
Berhalter was meant to take over the team and help steer them back in the right direction; 2017 was painful enough, but 2018 wasn't much better, with little impetus for Sarachan to make drastic changes given that he was just temporarily in charge. However, it's been clear through the first 10 months of 2019 that Berhalter's ship isn't on the right course yet, and the winds might be prevailing against him.
There are only two more games left on the schedule this year for Berhalter. Wins in November against Cuba and Canada are a must, even if the U.S. doesn't qualify for the Nations League semifinals as winners of Group A in League A. Regardless of the outcomes, though, Berhalter will have plenty of work to do heading into 2020 if there is any hope that the U.S. can return to being one of the dominant forces in the Concacaf region.