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United States v Uruguay

Progress remains hard to come by for Berhalter's USMNT

03:11 BST 11/09/2019
Josh Sargent Gregg Berhalter USMNT USA 2019
Tuesday's draw wasn't exactly a step forward or backwards and, with this current group, tangible progress is still a ways away

Progress often isn't linear, especially in the international game. Players go in and out as coaches shuffle and shuffle again. The nature of the international game is disjointed, as even the best teams are forced to adapt, adapt more and then adapt again each and every time they get together. 

For the past several months, that's been the U.S. men's national team's big goal: progress. It hasn't necessarily been wins or goals or anything of that nature, but rather a tangible step forward and a clearer picture of what this program is becoming and how it's getting there. 

After a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Mexico, Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Uruguay seems like a step forward. The U.S. went toe-to-toe with a talented South American team, albeit one without the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in the squad. In some ways, that's progress, but if Tuesday's performance showed us anything, it's that this U.S. team still has a long, long way to go when it comes to finding and developing quality necessary to truly compete at this level. 

Jordan Morris was the big bright spot on the day. The forward, who is still battling his way back into the picture following last year's ACL tear, scored his first USMNT goal since the 2017 Gold Cup final to seal a late draw. The goal was more comedy than triumph, with the Seattle Sounders star chesting home after a number of deflections in the Uruguay box. It was a deserved goal for Morris, a player that has long been a target for critics and one, like the USMNT, looking to build back from a defining setback. 

That build isn't a one-day thing, but there were signs that it's something that is slowly but surely coming. The USMNT didn't have any colossal errors playing out of the back like they did against Mexico. That's a step forward. Jackson Yueill looked comfortable enough as the No. 6 in Gregg Berhalter's system, although there's plenty left to do. Aside from Aaron Long, who was skinned on Brian Rodriguez's 50th-minute goal, just about every USMNT player looked better on Tuesday than they did on the end of El Tri's battering. 

Still, the performance left a lot to be desired. Sargent was left largely isolated as the St. Louis native had just 27 touches in his 75 or so minutes. Morris was the lone attacker that truly looked dangerous while the midfielders were solid, but unspectacular. 

That's not to say that the USMNT didn't have their chances. On the contrary, they had quite a few. Tyler Boyd botched what was certainly the best one of the day, with Morris' run down the left side and cross into the middle the best attacking moment of the match. Sargent, meanwhile, should have had another chance to fire from the spot after missing against Mexico as a blatant handball just before halftime was not called. There was a desire to attack and push forward against a Uruguay team all too content to bunker, but the quality simply wasn't there for most of the game. 

And that's the big word at the moment: quality. The USMNT at this current moment just doesn't have the quality or cohesion to play the way Berhalter wants them to play, and that fact becomes more and more clear every time out. This USMNT team isn't ready, and probably won't be for some time. 

Until that point, the focus is progress. It's small wins like Morris' resurgence or Yueill's comfort. It's debuts like Paxton Pomykal, whose hype will continue through the next international break after the FC Dallas midfielder was handed just five minutes to make an impression. It's the hope that players like Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie can stay healthy and grow as the backbone of this team. 

Tuesday's performance wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either and, with this current group, that's really all you can expect or hope for.