The second-youngest lineup in U.S. men’s national team history didn’t look the part for most of Monday’s 6-2 exhibition rout of CONCACAF rival Panama in Austria.
Following last week’s impressive if anticlimactic scoreless friendly with Wales, the Americans started slow, conceding the opening goal to Los Canaleros just over seven minutes into the contest.
The early blow brought the USMNT to life. “It was a wakeup call.” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.
Giovanni Reyna started the comeback off of a seeing-eye free kick, Nicholas Gioacchini scored twice in a four minute span in the first half and Sebastian Soto and Sebastian Lletget added goals in the second as Gregg Berhalter’s side secured a convincing victory against a team the U.S. will face during qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
Here are three quick takeaways from Monday’s match:
Reyna makes his mark in his second U.S. appearance
Reyna’s much anticipated senior team debut was solid if unspectacular. But on Monday, he produced some of the end-product that has helped him emerge as one of the world’s top young talents with German titan Borussia Dortmund.
Not only did his 18th-minute strike get the Americans back on level terms, it also showed off the newly-minted 18-year-old’s soccer brain, as Reyna sent his shot under Panama’s wall:
The goal made Reyna — the son of former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna and U.S. women’s team winger Danielle Egan — the third youngest scorer in program history. That it came in a dub mattered, tool.
“We were all motivated today to get the win against a CONCACAF opponent,” Reyna said afterward, noting Los Canaleros physicality. “We got a little bit of a taste of what CONCACAF teams will be like against us.”
It wasn’t a perfect showing; as much as Reyna was at the heart of many of the USA’s best moves at Wiener Neustadt Stadium, the normally tidy midfielder quite uncharacteristically got caught in possession on multiple occasions in the second half, before being replaced by the more defense-minded Johnny Cardoso at the hour mark.
Still, in these last two games — which U.S. headliner Christian Pulisic missed because of a hamstring injury — Reyna showed, in flashes at least, why everyone is so excited about his future.
Gioacchini, Soto take advantage of opportunities up top
Even before 20-year-old Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent was forced off the squad because of local COVID-19 restrictions in Germany, Berhalter’s 24-deep roster was painfully thin up top.
With MLS options Jozy Altidore (injury) and Gyasi Zardes (playoff commitments) — probably No. 1 and 2 on the coach’s depth chart — also unavailable, LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget was deployed as a “false 9” in last week’s stalemate in Swansea, in which the visitors registered just one on-target shot.
Berhalter promised Sunday that he would start an actual front runner against the Panamanians. Gioacchini made the most of his chance. “I feel like I have a lot to improve on [but] my first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he said before being named Man of the Match. “Two goals is not easy for anyone.”
The Kansas City native, 20, headed home his first off the rebound of a Uly Llanez shot following a sequence that started with Weston McKennie winning the ball in midfield and springing Reyna, who found Llanez on the right:
McKennie also helped set up Gioacchini’s second by keeping the ball in play and crossing to defender Matt Miazga, who headed back across the face of goal. Gioacchini didn’t hesitate to stick his noggin into a dangerous spot to nod past keeper Orlando Mosquera:
Gioacchini, who plays for French second tier side Caen, could even have added a third and completed his hat trick, but Mosquera smothered his second-half penalty kick — a miss that made the things interesting when Jose Fajardo’s second pulled one back for Panama late on.
But Soto restored the two-goal advantage six minutes into his debut. With the result beyond doubt, Lletget made it 5-2. Soto added the cherry with his second in stoppage time.
For a team that needs all the finishing help it can get, Gioacchini’s and Soto’s performances had to have made an impression on Berhalter — one he’s not likely to forget in 2021.
“It was really important for both of them. We’re really happy for both of them,” Berhalter said. “When we talked last week about the depth chart of the striker or the forward position being limited, any chance you get you have to take it, and these guys did a good job tonight.”
European-based Americans end difficult 2020 on a high
Monday’s win marked the final match of the year for most of the national team’s big guns, who will be busy with their European clubs if and when U.S. Soccer is able to schedule one final friendly next month outside of the international window — a game that would likely feature MLS players not involved in the domestic league’s Dec. 12 championship.
Getting the two November games in at all during the coronavirus pandemic was a triumph in itself. Producing two solid displays, even if there were some defensive lapses on Monday, is an added bonus following all the challenges that this year has brought.
“We were way too static against Wales,” Berhalter said. “And I think today the intention was to get behind the [back] line more. And that really helped the team, it really helped stretch Panama and gave us some space that we needed.
“As we had to grind, and as the game got more difficult, that was what I was really interested in,” the coach added. “I’m really proud of that response as well. The subs who came in made a difference. Overall, it was a really good week.”
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