A shutout, three points and three debuts were the main highlights of the USMNT’s 1-0 opening win over Haiti at the 2021 Gold Cup on Sunday, but the team will need to make some real progress before the knockout stage if it’s going to make a deep run. One bad bounce and Haiti could’ve had a late equalizer.
As it stands, the result left the USA second in Group B behind Canada on goal differential after the Canadians put four past Martinique. Head coach Gregg Berhalter will need to fine-tune his attack so that it can at least match Canada’s goal output when it faces Martinique in the second game. And the attacking side of the field — creating and finishing chances — is where Berhalter placed his emphasis in his postgame comments, stating that he felt the U.S. “need to go into another gear.”
“I missed the urgency to score more goals and to be dangerous and to be first-pass forward and aggressive,” Berhalter said. “To me, it was way too slow and way too backwards and not enough intent to turn Haiti around and get them defending in the penalty box. And once we were in the penalty box, I didn’t like the runs and movement in the box. I didn’t like the service. So from the attacking end, we were disappointed with the intent that we showed tonight.”
Here are three key takeaways from the USMNT’s win over Haiti:
1. Hello, Shaq Moore
We haven’t seen Moore in a USMNT match since 2018, and after his first half many fans might’ve been wondering where he’s been all this time. The Tenerife right back was a man possessed up and down the right flank in the first half, and one of his crosses led to the goal. And to think that he only found out he was going to start a few hours before the match after Reggie Cannon picked up an injury.
Moore is not at full fitness and there was a clear drop-off in the second half, but the team fed off his energy and aggressiveness. “There’s more to come from him,” Berhalter said.
2. What a start
The U.S. players unleashed a fierce press to start the match that was effective, entertaining and dangerous all at the same time. Every player was committed to the press and they had Haiti scrambling for most of the opening minutes. The eighth-minute goal came during that span: Sam Vines scored on a cross from Moore that was touched by Gyasi Zardes.
The downside of the all-out attack: Haiti generated a few breakaways during that frenetic start and other teams will be less forgiving.
3. A formation switch
Berhalter went to a 5-3-2 in the final 15 minutes with debutant James Sands as the extra center back and Zardes paired up with Daryl Dike up top. It created a couple of good spells and Berhalter indicated that he might entertain revisiting it. It’s clearly not Berhalter’s preferred system, but you can only wonder whether a few of the issues in the first half would be helped by the cushion offered by the three-man backline.
USMNT player ratings
GK — Matt Turner: 7
Turner was definitely busier in the second half, and whenever he was called into action he was decisive and sure-handed. He was always in command of his box and didn’t spill any shots. He made a smart stop at the end of the match to preserve the win.
RB — Shaq Moore: 7.5
For a player who was off since May and has been working at home with a personal trainer before this camp, his first half was as good a 45 minutes as any USMNT player has had this year. Moore (below) was electric going up and down the right flank and his play and crossing helped set an aggressive tone for the team. He never took his foot off the pedal, but he ultimately faded in the second half.
RCB — Walker Zimmerman: 6.5
Rarely put a foot wrong. If any fan is concerned about the U.S. center back situation, Zimmerman served to remind everyone that he can be counted on to do the job. And the danger he presents on attacking set pieces is such a valuable weapon.
LCB — Miles Robinson: 6.5
All you need to know about Robinson’s performance is that he had Haiti forward Carnejy Antoine pounding the ball at the end of the match. He was effective on his challenges (though he lost one that could’ve been costly in the opening minutes), his timing was on point and his emergency defending was critical during a hectic and fast-paced first half.
LB — Sam Vines: 5.5
His grade gets a bump for his desire to make the far-post run to get on the end of the ball that he scored for the only goal of the game. Otherwise, he was rarely a factor down the left side (the ball rarely went to the left in the first half) and Haiti had its best attacks in the gaps that he left by pushing up so high.
CMID — Sebastian Lletget: 5.5
A smart, efficient performance from the first-time USMNT captain. He was especially strong with his set-piece deliveries into the box. But the team was missing his runs into the box, which he’s typically able to contribute. He wasn’t a presence in and around the box.
CMID — Jackson Yueill: 5.5
A regular 62 minutes for Yueill at the No. 6 position: The way the game unfolded meant he wasn’t asked to do anything extraordinary. When he was on the ball, it was safe and straightforward.
CMID/RB — Kellyn Acosta: 6
He has shown to be valuable to this team because of his ability to adapt so well to changes in the game and in the personnel around him. He got caught in possession on his yellow card, but given the circumstances it was a good caution to pick up. And he also played 15 minutes at right back. It wouldn’t be an Acosta appearance without an in-game positional change.
LW — Jonathan Lewis: 5.5
He didn’t have too many moments to shine in the hour that he played. The game did develop mostly on the right side in the first half, but he seemed removed from the actions and never made himself a nuisance in the box.
FW/LW — Gyasi Zardes: 5.5
His commitment to the press as a center forward helped set the tone to start the match. But even with that, he was never dangerous outside of a set-piece play, and we didn’t see much variation in his runs in the box to get away from his Haitian markers (two tough customers) and take advantage of the crosses. He played the last half hour on the left wing.
RW — Paul Arriola: N/A
He was active to start the match, but he was forced into a 12th-minute exit because of a leg injury.
RW — Nicholas Gioacchini: 5.5
Subbed in for Arriola and played the right wing position a lot differently than Arriola would have. It’s telling that his best moment came when he converged from the wide right position and hit the left post on a well-placed shot. He’s still working his way to full fitness, which explains his early exit.
CMID — Gianluca Busio: 6
Busio (above) debuted in place of Yueill to play the No. 6 role and got his first taste of the physicality of CONCACAF matches. He was his usual composed self on the ball and nearly marked his debut with a great goal, but the ‘keeper punched away his attempt.
FW — Daryl Dike: 5
He didn’t succeed in giving the attack a boost in the half hour he was in the game. Then again, similar to Zardes in the first half, he was playing against two strong center backs and there wasn’t a ton of service or crossing happening during the time he was on the field.
CB — James Sands: N/A
He got his first cap in the middle of a three-man back line and didn’t have to do much in the quarter of an hour he was on the field. We’ll see if he’s given the opportunity to play at center back in a four-man back line or whether Berhalter feels the three-man setup suits him best.
CMID — Eryk Williamson: N/A
Another USMNT debut. He had a couple of good plays in his brief stint and left the distinct impression that he has a lot to contribute to that three-man U.S. midfield. It will be interesting to see how he does from the start in a future match.