The USMNT simultaneously booked their place in the Nations League semifinals and 2024 Copa America on Monday night, despite suffering a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago.
Preparations for both competitions can now begin for USA boss Gregg Berhalter after the 4-2 aggregate win, with the two legs of the quarterfinals against the Soca Warriors raising some important questions.
We have put together a review of both legs and how the USMNT can prepare for their upcoming ventures.
On paper, a 3-0 home win for over Trinidad and Tobago last Thursday looks like a relatively routine victory for the two-time CONCACAF Nations League champions, but in reality it was far from comfortable for the hosts.
The USMNT dominated proceedings following a 37th minute red card for Trinidad’s Noah Powder. But they almost left the Q2 stadium in embarrassment, failing to score in until the 82nd minute despite having 75 percent of possession which indicates an inability to operate in tight spaces against their opponents' low block.
Ricardo Pepi opened the scoring before Antonee Robinson and Gio Reyna added to the total shortly after to ensure a solid scoreline for the hosts but the lack of end product will have been a cause for concern for Berhalter.
His side took 26 shots in that fixture, with only eight hitting the target and six being blocked by defenders. Folarin Balogun took three of those and his form is another worry for stakeholders in the USMNT too.
The Monaco forward was supposed to change the fortunes of the national side when it was announced he would be representing the United States.
The team lacked a top class goalscorer, so adding a guy coming off a 21-goal season in Ligue 1 was an ideal choice. But the former Arsenal man has managed just three goals in his seven appearances for Berhalter’s side, taking 21 shots and scoring in only one competitive match.
Against the ten men of the 99th ranked side in the world, Balogun - as well as his fellow attacking teammates - really should have done more last week. The hosts had 75 percent possession, but that stands for nothing if the chances are not created to match.
With Christian Pulisic’s ongoing injury issues, there is every chance the AC Milan star and USMNT captain misses both tournaments next year, the other attackers need to start stepping up soon.
One positive from the match was the performance of left-back Robinson. The Fulham defender set up the opener for Pepi before netting one for himself from long range, and he is quickly becoming a key component of Berhalter’s side.
He, alongside right-back Sergino Dest, look set to be the USMNT’s primary source of attacking creativity at the upcoming tournaments.
The question is, does Berhalter want his fullbacks to be his best creators?
The Stars and Stripes’ issues were compounded further on Monday when going down 2-1 to Trinidad, which would have caused dreaded flashbacks for followers of the national side as that was the exact result that cost the USMNT their place at the 2018 World Cup.
Robinson opened the scoring for the visitors in the 25th minute before a ludicrous red card from his fellow full-back Dest. He kicked the ball away and then subsequently argued with the referee to earn two yellow cards in a matter of seconds and swing the balance of the game.
Tim Ream, the 36-year-old center back who has played for Fulham since 2015, was upset with Dest's red card during the game and commented on it after, saying "There were a lot of choice words at halftime."
Goals from Reon Jones and Alvin Moore secured the victory for the hosts, albeit the win was not enough to see them progress as they went out 4-2 on aggregate.
The result this time around did not hold such fatal consequences for the US as that 2018 defeat, with Berhalter’s side still achieving dual-qualification despite the loss, but it did still highlight some problems that the boss must solve before the Nations League Finals in March.
Dest’s silly red card was definitely the turning point of the match and made things far nervier than they should have been for Berhalter and his side.
However, if the attackers had found their shooting boots the US would have been four or five goals ahead by the time Dest had decided to lose his cool.
Brendan Aaronson (twice) and Balogun missed clear chances in the opening 15 minutes and if the forwards do not pick up their goalscoring form soon, the Stars and Stripes are in for a difficult time in the semifinals.
Pulisic’s return would begin to solve the problem but his fitness is far from guaranteed and Berhalter needs to find a sure-fire solution sooner rather than later.
"We need to hold him accountable because it's inexcusable," Berhalter said of Dest’s actions which could have cost the reigning Nations League champions their place in the semifinals.
The PSV full-back is clearly an important part of the manager’s plans, but there is a feeling he has a long way to go to rebuild the trust his coach has in him following his second red card of the calendar year.
He will miss the first game of the semifinals in March through suspension and there is no guarantee Dest will return to the side immediately, especially if the US prevail in that fixture without him.
Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Matt Turner has made the USMNT number one spot his own but he was at fault for both goals against Trinidad and Tobago. He has not been at his best in the Premier League this term and Berhalter may look at switching things up should his poor performances continue.
His Forest teammate Ethan Horvath is a potential replacement, as is Manchester City's third-string stopper Zack Steffen should he be reintroduced into the squad.
With the sides’ forwards misfiring massively, a tight defence will be essential if the USMNT are to have any success in the upcoming tournaments and Turner must improve, or be replaced, if any silverware is to be lifted.
This group of players are clearly talented, but there are significant weaknesses throughout the squad as the two legs against Trinidad and Tobago highlighted.
They are currently +3300 to win the home 2026 World Cup, the same odds as Belgium and shorter than Uruguay (+4000) who recently beat world champions Argentina.