In a game without ramifications, the U.S. men’s national team had 90 minutes to experiment in Wednesday night’s friendly against Jamaica. New U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter tinkered with formations but the results were mostly uninspiring in a 1-0 loss.
In front of an announced crowd of 17,719, the Americans lost to Jamaica for just the third time. The teams could meet again in the knockout round of the upcoming Concacaf Gold Cup, an international tournament that will carry far more weight than the proceedings at Audi Field. This is the national team’s first loss under Berhalter, who is tasked with rebuilding a program that failed to qualify to the 2018 World Cup.
“We didn't play well, and you're going to have nights where you don't play well,” Berhalter said. “… Are the guys bought in? Are they working hard? Are we executing the type of soccer we want to execute? We're getting there.”
Jamaica’s Shamar Nicholson scored the game’s lone goal in the 60th minute, rocketing the ball into the upper left corner over the hand of a leaping Zack Steffen. By then, Jamaica already had established itself as a dominant force, creating scoring opportunities while the Americans struggled to find their footing.
Later in the second half, the United States had a few chances to score, including a couple of promising shots from Josh Sargent, who recorded the only shot on goal for the Americans.
One of the primary objectives the Americans accomplished in the friendly was testing an alternative formation, playing a 3-4-2-1 setup with the ball and then moving to a five-man back on defense, forcing Paul Arriola and Antonee Robinson to cover a significant amount of space on the sides of the field. But the team’s lack of speed and aggression in the attacking third hindered its ability to score, Berhalter said.
“We tried something different,” midfielder Wil Trapp said. “It’s preparatory for the tournament. You have new guys in the lineup as well, so that continuity is always going to be a little bit lacking, but it’s not an excuse. I think we had some decent things in the first half in terms of finding guys in good spots and creating decent chances, but the tempo of it, the intensity of it could have been better.”
The U.S. staff had until midnight, just three hours after the game against Jamaica ended, to submit its 23-man roster for the Gold Cup. While the staff already had solidified most of its squad for the tournament, Berhalter said Tuesday a few spots could be decided based on performance in this friendly.
This month’s continental championship featuring countries from North America, Central America and the Caribbean will be the first major test for the U.S. staff as it begins leading the program through a new World Cup cycle.
“When there’s a deadline, when there’s naming a roster, it weighs on people,” Berhalter said. “We saw some of that. I don’t think any of those guys will make excuses. I’m not going to make an excuse. That’s not what we do. We know we need to improve. We know we need to get better.”
Since Berhalter took charge of the U.S. national team in December, the Americans have played five friendlies with one more — Sunday against Venezuela in Cincinnati — before the Gold Cup begins June 15.
The national team held a training camp at the Naval Academy in Annapolis last week, integrating members of the under-23 squad with the senior players. But many members of the national team, including those who play for MLS clubs, only arrived in recent days, and the U.S. team is still missing a couple of its stars. Chelsea-bound midfielder Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams, who plays for German club RB Leipzig, will join the group within the next week.
Jackson Yueill, a 22-year-old midfielder who’s not on the 40-man Gold Cup provisional roster, and Duane Holmes, a 24-year-old midfielder, made their international debuts in the friendly. Yueill earned a spot in the starting lineup, while Holmes subbed on in the second half. After a long climb back from injuries, Joe Gyau, who grew up in Silver Spring, also entered the game as a substitute in the second half, his first national team appearance since 2014.
Berhalter said that Gyau has “showed real glimpses in training of having that one-vs.-one ability, that one-vs.-one tenacity.”
Before the game, Berhalter said the matchup would serve as a chance to involve some of the players who had spent the week at the Annapolis training camp while also incorporating players who will figure into Gold Cup lineups.
Although the team was not at full strength and this is far from the lineup they will use in the tournament, the Americans won’t simply push this result into the past.
“No, absolutely not,” Trapp said. “It’s a learning moment. There are always lessons to be learned and this is one in which we know that we could be better.”