US Soccer has preached that Gregg Berhalter’s second tenure will try ‘to change soccer in America forever’.
After a defeat to Germany in Hartford just three days prior, Berhalter knew that positive changes were needed in order to salvage something from this camp.
They were on display in the first half – where an outburst of goals from the best in the United States’ system led to a 4-0 victory over occasional Kryptonite, Ghana.
While some signs of life came in the aforementioned Germany match, they rapidly disappeared in the second half – with the absence of Tyler Adams evident as the USA struggled tactically against debutant Julian Nagelsmann.
But this time, the experimental 4-2-4 formation showed that the Americans have the quality to make the unorthodox setup work in the right situations – and that the game they play looks better both on the eyes and on the scoresheet.
Gio Reyna (7) and his brace led the United States in a 4-0 win over Ghana in Nashville
Berhalter made three changes from his Germany lineup. Of those three, the most notable was the inclusion of Independiente midfielder Johnny Cardoso over Juventus no. 8 Weston McKennie. After struggling in the rain in Hartford, McKennie was swapped in the hopes that Johnny could make a bigger impact deeper in the field.
At kickoff, Berhalter continued with the 4-2-4 formation that he debuted in Hartford – with Yunus Musah and Cardoso as the two in the middle with a Christian Pulisic-Folarin Balogun-Gio Reyna-Tim Weah front four.
It’s less of a rigid formation and more of a fluid concept – as throughout the first ten minutes players in more central positions were seen along the wings and fullbacks continued to push up.
That was an issue the previous match, with Sergiño Dest continually burned by Germany’s attackers throughout the game. But this time, the fullbacks pushing up worked to the USA’s benefit.
Dest and Balogun had a great connection in the tenth minute – playing one-two balls to each other until the latter fired a shot that was blocked by Nicholas Opoku. Unfortunately for the Ghana man, the block fell perfectly to Gio Reyna, who buried it home for a 1-0 lead.
From that point, the USA kept control on the match for the most part – prodding the Ghana backline constantly.
In the 19th minute, Timothy Weah made his first major contribution to the match – receiving a pass from Reyna and dribbling into the box before Gideon Mensah stuck out his leg and tripped him for a penalty. Pulisic buried the shot to go up 2-0.
The onslaught continued just two minutes later. A poorly controlled pass led to a giveaway right in the path of Weah. He slotted it across to Balogun who controlled it, made an amazing turn around his marker, and fired with his left foot into the left side net to add another goal to the tally. USMNT 3, Ghana 0.
After Reyna’s (7) opener, Christian Pulisic slotted home a penalty to take a 2-0 lead by the 19′
Weah went down in the box and Pulisic sent Ghana’s keeper the wrong way to double the lead
Folarin Balogun (20) put up a sublime effort, turning around his marker and firing with his left
Reyna then scored again off an indirect free kick that made it 4-0 USA just before the half
The Americans stayed on the front foot throughout the match’s first half – with players allowing for creativity against a Ghana team that seemed distracted and outclassed from seemingly the outset. At one point, the Ghanaian keeper was screaming his players into formation as the USA had a free kick.
Much like the Germany first half, the first half of this match saw the USMNT playing more long balls and sprinting much further. It pinned Ghana back multiple times, including during one of the more confusing moments of the night – where Opoku slid in for a tackle, then trapped the ball between his legs and held it there.
Referee Marco Antonio Ortiz called for an indirect free kick for dangerous play – a rarity at the international level – with the kick at the penalty spot and Balogun, Reyna, and Pulisic standing around the ball. Balo rolled it to Pulisic, who teed it up for Reyna. The Dortmund winger fired it and the ball went into the net off the head of Joseph Paintsil. 4-0.
They almost added another after Matt Turner found Pulisic deep off a save, but nothing of substance came of it after the American lost steam.
Frustration began to set in for Ghana for both the players and the fans. Some, like West Ham United midfielder Mohammed Kudus and Athletic Bilbao striker Iñaki Williams felt compelled to try something of substance but no results came before halftime. As the whistle blew, Ghana’s players gathered in a huddle near the center circle – trying to find something to motivate the team.
US manager Gregg Berhalter (L) took Reyna, who just came back from injury, off at the half
Berhalter also shifted from a 4-2-4 in the first half to a 4-3-3 that wasn’t as lively as the other
Halftime substitutions saw Ricardo Pepi enter for Balogun, Brenden Aaronson swap with Pulisic, and Weston McKennie entered as Reyna came off, despite Gio being on a course for a hat trick. In the second half, the team reverted to a flat 4-3-3 – which seemed to bring a more restrained sense of attack to this team.
The crowd let out gasps of delight as Weah flicked the ball over the head of Alidu Seidu in minute 63. Up until that point, the 4-3-3 provided some sights of beauty – but nothing that reflected on the scoresheet. When the team reverted back to the same tactic they used for the majority of the World Cup , the forward movement seemed inefficient – but not for lack of some players trying.
Cardoso came off at minute 65 – replaced by Heidenheim midfielder Lenny Maloney, making his debut for the Stars and Stripes.
The US started putting some form of attack together later in the contest – but it wasn’t as direct as before. McKennie sent in a 72′ cross that Aaronson wildly missed, but it fell to Kristoffer Lund who skied it over the bar.
Ghana did make some attacks on the American goal, but none that truly bothered Turner – who had just one save on the night.
While the first half showed that the USMNT could put up some confident attacking football, the second didn’t give them much hope that a 4-3-3 (or specifically, THIS 4-3-3) could produce scoring results.
But the United States has a unique building block in the 4-2-4 that they can use going forward. Now it’s up to Gregg Berhalter to use it consistently – if he truly wants to ‘change soccer in America forever’.