The U.S. men's national team has several very, very talented players.
That is not a hot take or an opinion. This is a team with a Champions League winner as its captain, a whole host of players competing in Europe's top five leagues and several young players that will follow them there sooner rather than later.
On Sunday against Canada, the USMNT's lineup featured players from Chelsea, Barcelona, RB Leipzig and Wolfsburg. It featured MLS All-Stars, Gold Cup winners and Nations League champions.
And that lineup looked flat, uncreative and mediocre for the second straight game. It was a team without energy, without ideas and, most worryingly, without the killer instinct needed to assert dominance over other their opponents despite their obvious skill advantage.
Even after a trophy-winning summer and with all of the talent in this month's camp, the USMNT is playing like a team that is less than the sum of its parts.
That phenomenon is relatively common in international soccer, where coaches have far fewer days to work with players than their club counterparts.
But it has been extremely apparent with the U.S. over the last week, as they have looked like a team devoid of ideas, despite spending the better part of the last few years building a roster for this very moment.
Reversing that is the task at hand for Gregg Berhalter heading into Wednesday night's vital World Cup qualifier against Honduras, one which now feels like a must-win.Getty/Goal
Berhalter is not being asked to reinvent the wheel, to burn it all down and build it up again. Instead, the USMNT simply needs to figure out a way to play up to its own talent level; to take a group of incredible individuals and make them work in a team.
“It’s a team sport. Doesn’t matter where we come from," Tyler Adams said after Sunday's 1-1 with Canada. "If we don’t go out there and do the things we’re good at, then we’re just a group of names on a piece of paper.
"Other teams, maybe they don’t have the players that play for these big clubs, it doesn’t matter. No individual is going to qualify for a World Cup."
Several talented individuals will be missing from the USMNT squad on Wednesday. Gio Reyna and Sergino Dest have been ruled out due to injury while Zack Steffen will miss out again due to a positive Covid-19 diagnosis.
Weston McKennie, most frustratingly of all, has been sent back to Juventus for violating team policy at a time when the USMNT needs him most.
But a look at their opponents proves that the USMNT still has more than enough to win in Honduras.
Los Catrachos are a team with just four players plying their trade in Europe, with only one in a top-five league. Several of the team's best players currently feature in MLS, making them familiar faces to the USMNT too.
Still, as Adams said, games are not won by names on paper; they are won by performances. And, through two games, the U.S. have not put together any performances worth writing home about.Getty/Goal
The USMNT were held scoreless by El Salvador in their opener, with Berhalter saying that his team played too much like individuals and did not move the ball enough to break down a very game opponent.
And then, on Sunday, with Christian Pulisic back in the lineup, they were held once again by Canada in a game they controlled for 60-plus minutes. Despite having more of the ball once again, the U.S. lacked ideas, generating just a few legitimate chances while conceding several of their own on the other side.
Once again, Berhalter and his players pointed to a lack of attacking creativity and speed as the team's undoing.
“I think we need new ideas at times," Pulisic said. "I just think we didn’t test them enough, whether it was not being direct enough or not. It felt like we couldn’t break them down. Obviously, they defended well, but we just need some new solutions.
"Obviously, it wasn’t good enough."
And while some of that falls on the coach, a lot of it falls on the players, many of whom have failed to step up to the moment.
Through two games, only a few players - Adams and Miles Robinson definitely, maybe Brenden Aaronson given his goal and pressing against Canada - have truly turned up. Pulisic had moments, but was largely stifled and frustrated by a physical Canada gameplan.Getty
It is on the players to step up creatively, to move the ball faster and smarter against a Honduras team that will likely bunker in.
And it is up to the players to step up to the moment, to set a tone for the rest of the cycle in a game that may just be a defining one for this program.
If they do, the U.S. will be right back on track as those talented European-based stars continue to learn how to play alongside one another.
If they do not, the pressure will only grow on a group that still needs to prove that it can solve problems as a team.
“We have to be resilient,” Berhalter said. "We can do two things. We can feel bad for ourselves or we can continue on with a positive attitude and try to get a positive result in Honduras, which we're going to do.”