The US Men’s National Team kicks off a packed 2021 campaign tonight against familiar foes Trinidad & Tobago. This will be the USMNT’s 28th matchup against the “Soca Warriors”, with the Americans victorious in 19. Although the US has historically dominated the rivalry, their loss in Couva on October 10, 2017 eliminated them from the 2018 World Cup, and the loss is still fresh in the minds of fans and players alike.
With a mixed camp of veterans and U-23 players, tonight’s friendly should offer a competitive environment to bed in some new players, as well as give the USMNT a place to test themselves before the competitive matches begin. Here are three things to keep an eye on tonight:
1. The Daryl Dike show
It’s unfortunate and all too familiar for USMNT fans: Jozy Altidore picked up a knock and won’t play tonight. While the 31-year-old is still the best striker in the player pool, his absence should give fans a chance to see Daryl Dike get his first action for the national team.
Just 20 years old, Dike burst onto the scene in 2020, scoring eight goals in his rookie year and looking like an ideal fit in Gregg Berhalter‘s system. While he is powerful and athletic, he also is really smart with his timing and positioning, making incisive runs into the box, as well as creating space for his teammates by pulling defenders out of position. While Josh Sargent has seemed like the heir-apparent to Altidore, Dike has a strong case as well. He’ll get his first chance in the US shirt tonight.
2. Rolling out a high press?
Berhalter introduced a more possession-based philosophy early in his national team tenure, but it sounds like the team has worked on pressing more consistently in camp so far.
“I think [Berhalter] sees the player profiles that we have, the tenacity and energy and the youth that we can bring with a little bit more press,” Nashville SC center-back Walker Zimmerman on a press conference earlier this week. “We’re going to be a team that hunts the ball, we’re going to win it back and we’re going to try and create goal-scoring opportunities from that pressure.”
While I expect the USMNT to still have more of the ball (and they should be able to break down T&T in possession), the press will be interesting to watch. They have the players to go direct and get to goal quickly, and with just over a year until the World Cup (that’s crazy!), it makes sense to begin building in a system to deal with teams that will dominate the ball.
3. The center-back pairing
Aaron Long and Miles Robinson will start at the back tonight, Gregg Berhalter confirmed on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Nashville SC fans, this leaves Walker Zimmerman on the outside looking in. With a spot next to John Brooks in the full-strength squad up for grabs, every minute of action counts. So far during Berhalter’s tenure, Long has seen over twice as many minutes as Zimmerman, and seems clearly ahead of him in the pecking order.
Even if Berhalter is using tonight’s match as an opportunity to give Miles Robinson minutes in a low-pressure situation, the fact that Long is his chosen senior partner probably shows where Berhalter ranks the defenders. And with players like Mark McKenzie, Matt Miazga and Chris Richards competing in Europe, it seems that Zimmerman has an uphill battle ahead of him to get minutes in the first-choice XI.
Tonight’s match kicks off at 6 PM central time, and will be broadcast on FS1, UniMás and TUDN. Follow @BroadwayTN for a recap of the action after the match.