The United States sought revenge against Canada after Canada’s dominant 2-0 win last month. In many ways, the two teams changed roles. In their first game of the CONCACAF Nations League, pride was a major factor in Canada’s success, just as it was a major factor in the success of the US in the second game. The US had more possession in the first game (57%), while Canada had more possession in the second game (64%). Canada were the aggressor in terms of pressing in the first game, while the US were the aggressor in the second game. Canada were more effective in transition in the first game, while the US were more effective in transition in the second game. This tactical analysis will show the tactics and decisions behind these changes.
Gregg Berhalter started with Brad Guzan as goalkeeper, Aaron Long and John Brooks at centre-back. Serginho Dest has officially committed to the US and started at right fullback, with Tim Ream at left fullback. Weston McKennie and Jackson Yueill were the centre-midfielders, with Jordan Morris on the left wing and Paul Arriola on the right wing. Sebastian Lletget played as an attacking midfielder, with Gyasi Zardes as the striker.
For John Herdman’s Canadian side, Milan Borjan started in goal, with Doneil Henry and Steven Vitoria as centre-backs. Alphonso Davies, rather than starting at forward, which was the case in when these teams last met in October, was the left fullback. Richie Laryea acted as the right fullback. Samuel Piette and Mark-Anthony Kaye were the two centre-midfielders. Jonathan Osorio played at left midfield, and Scott Arfield played at right midfield. Jonathon David and Lucas Cavallini started at forward.
US Attacking Set Pieces
The US clearly came in with a focus on being effective in set pieces, as two of their three goals in the first half were on attacking set-pieces.
In the first two minutes, the US played it towards the top of the box on the ground. In response, Canada’s players stepped out to put pressure on the ball, leaving the back post open for Morris to have space to score.
Later in the half, Aaron Long was able to put in a header on a free-kick. Multiple US players make slight movements toward the front post, which draws out Canada’s front-players in the line. Long Takes a few steps toward the penalty spot and uses his physicality to finish the header.
These small elements of misdirection and effective timing on set-pieces played a huge role in the game. Set pieces were the difference between Canada being one goal down versus being three goals down at halftime.
United States’ More Direct Approach
The US in the first game decided to try to use possession to play through each third of the field. In this game, they made the decision to be more direct, particularly in transition.
There were some examples, particularly in the first few minutes, where the US decided to play it safe. Here, the US could potentially build up through Brooks, but instead play a long pass toward Zardes and Canada’s backline.
Here, in a similar situation, the US begin to play short passes to build up, but Canada’s man-oriented pressing encourages Brooks to instead play more direct. Brooks plays a vertical pass, and Zardes uses his physicality to lay the ball off, and the US progress.
The US were also able to score because of their directness in their transition to attack. Borjan plays long to Dest. Because Dest has no pressure, he heads the ball to Arriola, who is ahead of Davies. Arriola, Morris, and Zardes are now 3v2 against Canada’s centre-backs, which creates their second goal. Rather than taking the ball down and focusing on maintaining possession, both Dest and Arriola make passes as directly as possible to Canada’s goal. This is a distinct tactical change from their match last month.
Taking Away Central Penetration
In the match in October, Canada’s midfield box was very effective in breaking down the US 4-4-2 defensively. Any minor adjustments that Berhalter made were relatively ineffective. In this game, there was a more concerted effort by the US to take away Canada’s ability to penetrate centrally.
Throughout the game, as in this picture, Lletget became an attacking midfielder rather than a forward, which has been the norm for Berhalter defensively. By dropping Lletget, their formation defensively became a more compact, man-oriented 4-2-3-1.
Notice the focus for each player against Canada’s build-up platform. Morris and Arriola press the left and right centre-backs in the platform, forcing Canada centrally. Lletget takes away Canada’s defensive midfielder, while Zardes is responsible for the central centre-back. This allows McKennie and Yueill to manage the space in front of the US backline.
In the second half, this tactical focus became even more pronounced. In the first half, there were some moments where Lletget was higher with Zardes. In these situations, Lletget was taking away Kaye with his cover shadow. However, in the second half, the focus was much more on using Lletget to man-mark Kaye, while Piette dropped into the backline for build-up.
This crucial formation change made it much more difficult for Canada to penetrate centrally. This was a major change from the first game, when Canada was able to combine and break the US down with central penetration.
The US made specific changes in their tactical approach based on their analysis of the first match against Canada. These changes helped them take revenge against Canada. What also helped them was their higher intensity, aggressiveness, and desire to win. Berhalter himself said that this was a must-win game, and that was clear from the way that the US played the match. The US have now given themselves a chance to take control of Group A in the CONCACAF Nations League. If the US win against Cuba on Tuesday, they will win the group on goal differential. Canada continues to grow in stature in CONCACAF as well.
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