After six months away from the U.S. national team, Christian Pulisic already knew he was rejoining a team in transition. What he probably wasn’t ready for was a team in disarray.
That’s what it felt like watching Pulisic and the USMNT struggle through a forgettable 3-0 loss to England, a match that, if nothing else, served as a good advertisement for why you should never take more than a year to hire a full-time head coach.
The Americans came out flat against a very good England side, looking like spectators against a team that showed why it finished fourth at last summer’s World Cup.
You can cut the U.S. team a little slack considering England’s quality, but the talk about how young and inexperienced the American team is comes across a bit hollow considering they were thoroughly outplayed by an England team fielding its least experienced starting lineup in nearly 40 years.
“We need to get a lot better as a team,” Pulisic said on Thursday. “We can talk about continuing gaining experience, but that’s not why we’re here. We want to win now. We want to win these games. I’m a competitive guy, and I know everyone else is in that locker room, and yeah, it wasn’t good enough today.
“England’s a good team, and we knew that. They played well today. We’re not taking anything away from them, because they played well. But yeah, if we want to compete with a side like that, we need to come out with a lot more energy and just perform a lot better.”
It was a frustrating day for Pulisic, who has tasted defeat with Borussia Dortmund just once this season but had to watch his U.S. team be dominated on a day when he was the only real threat for the American team.
Interim coach Dave Sarachan deployed a 4-4-2 formation, with Pulisic in a wide midfield role, first on the right wing in the first half and then on the left wing in the second half. The setup left the Americans undermanned in central midfield, and the decision to leave the tenacious Tyler Adams out of the starting lineup didn’t help against an opponent that came out buzzing while the USMNT started flat.
As ineffective as the U.S. attack was, it was the American defense that looked woeful against an England side that could have made the first half even uglier than the 2-0 halftime margin.
“We never got close to them,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “We never got close to guys, we allowed them too much time and space on the ball and they’re too good. They showed in the summer they’re a good team. Individually they’re good players, and then collectively they’re a good team. When you give them time and space, like we did, they’re going to pick you apart.
“The first half we defended for literally 45 minutes. I think we had one chance and that was it. In a game like this you’ve got to make sure you’re ready from the start. We were ready, we just never got up to the speed of the game.”
Ultimately, the U.S. team looked in desperate need of direction. As admirable a job as Sarachan has done in the thankless role of caretaker coach, he has essentially served a year-long stint as a substitute teacher, trying his best to keep a group of kids in line without any of the power that comes with being a full-time head coach.
“It’s tough. Dave’s doing what he can. Obviously, he wants to win these games too, just like we do,” Pulisic said. “But yeah, it’s going to help a lot once we get a permanent head coach moving forward. A guy with a real plan, a style of how we want to play, like I said before. And yeah, it’s going to help us a lot.”
Sarachan’s reign as interim coach has one more match to go, next week against Italy, and U.S. Soccer’s appointment of a new coach should follow soon after. Once the new man in charge is identified, it will mark the end of the excuses for a team that has spent the better part of the past year being given a pass for some forgettable performances, when the reality is the excuses of inexperience and lack of direction only explain away some of the team’s recent issues.
“Everyone’s probably eager to see who (the next coach) is,” Guzan said. “Not just the players, fans, Dave, everybody involved with U.S. Soccer. As a national team, of course, you want that direction and what not, but ultimately, when you step across that white line, to a certain extent, tactics go out the window and you’ve got to be able to play with a bit of desire and a bit of fight.”