Berhalter's USMNT gets first taste of adversity with Chile draw

John Dorton
The USA started well enough only to be outplayed by the South American champions late on, leaving a lesson the new boss can use for the future

Gregg Berhalter knew the challenge Chile would present his U.S. national team, easily the toughest to date since he took over as coach. The reigning South American champions may not be as dominant as they were at their peak, but the Arturo Vidal-led squad still carried enough quality, experience and toughness to challenge the USMNT in ways its previous 2019 opponents didn't. 

The Americans looked up for the challenge early on, going at Chile in the match's opening minutes before Christian Pulisic's opener. But it wasn't long before Chile showed its quality, and provided the lesson Berhalter knew would come, and probably didn't mind seeing his team be taught. 

The 1-1 scoreline didn't fully illustrate how much Chile controlled the match, but it was a well-earned result for a U.S. team that faced some real adversity and responded by withstanding the South American side’s dominance and eventually stabilizing to close out the draw. 

Pulisic's first-half injury threw a wrench into any hopes the Americans had of being proactive against Chile, but it should be noted the South Americans had already wrested control of the match away from the United States before the Dortmund star left with a thigh injury. Chile controlled the flow of play after the first 15 minutes, working the wings repeatedly and dominating possession with a numerical midfield advantage magnified by the absence of the hybrid right back/defensive midfield role Berhalter had deployed in previous matches. 

With no Pulisic, Weston McKennie or Tyler Adams, the U.S. midfield lacked dynamism, which was made more obvious by the presence of Vidal, who helped Chile control long segments of play. Berhalter eventually adjusted, switching his team to a 5-4-1 that helped halt Chile's dominance and stabilize a U.S. defense that looked far more vulnerable than the unit that shut down Ecuador (though to be fair to Tuesday's USMNT defenders, Chile was a much more dangerous attacking threat than Ecuador). 

Tuesday's match wasn't about securing a result as much as it was about giving his player pool a taste of high-level international competition, even at the risk of spoiling Berhalter's perfect USMNT record.  

If that record mattered to Berhalter he would certainly have started John Brooks and kept Adams around rather than sending him back to RB Leipzig. Instead, he gave Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga chances to state their case in central defense, and even deployed DeAndre Yedlin at right back after initially seeming set to play the Newcastle defender as a winger in the March friendlies. 

The U.S. attack started brightly but created far too little after the first 15 minutes. Gyasi Zardes was energetic, active and displayed as good a first touch as we have seen from him in a national team uniform, but the U.S. midfield simply didn't create enough and squandered the few chances that did come their way. 

Arturo Vidal Wil Trapp USA Chile 2019

Michael Bradley put in an impressive shift as well. Even though at times Chile made him look a step slow, the veteran midfielder still finished the match with a whopping 18 recoveries, doing his best to try and minimize Chile's dominance despite being outnumbered in midfield before Berhalter's second-half tactical adjustment brought Cristian Roldan deeper to support him. 

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While Zardes and Bradley bolstered their standing, Yedlin missed an opportunity to show he should continue to be the answer at right back. Wearing the captain's armband, Yedlin did his best to handle his defensive duties but offered little in the attack and too often appeared to lack confidence on the ball. It was a far cry from the display Adams put in playing as a hybrid fullback/midfielder against Ecuador. You can make the argument that Yedlin was up against a much tougher opponent, but that doesn't change the reality that Adams looks like a much better fit in Berhalter's system. 

If anything, Tuesday was a good night for players who weren't on the field for the USMNT. Brooks and Aaron Long still look like the first-choice options in central defense and neither Gonzalez nor Miazga put in a shift to change that. Roldan put in a solid shift in central midfield, but it's tough to argue that a healthy McKennie isn’t still the best option next to Pulisic. 

Of course, plenty can change in the two months between now and when Berhalter picks his squad for the Gold Cup. Injuries, dips and surges in form, as well as the emergence of younger options, like Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, could do a lot to change the USMNT conversation. What won't change is the much-needed lesson Chile provided, one which should help Berhalter as he continues to mold his team into one capable of not just competing against, but capable of beating teams like Chile.