HOUSTON – U.S. men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter said his team delivered “a good performance” in a 1-1 draw with Chile on Tuesday night, one in which his team was pushed to the limit by the visitors.
“It was a great test for the guys,” Berhalter said. “I’m really happy we got to play a game like this, and I think we’ve learned a lot.”
The opening exchanges were end-to-end, with Christian Pulisic opening the scoring in the fourth minute after Gyasi Zardes‘ incisive pass put the Borussia Dortmund midfielder in the clear for a breakaway.
Chile was soon back on level terms thanks to Oscar Opazo‘s ninth-minute equalizer, and with the visitors applying their trademark high press La Roja controlled much of the match thereafter. But Berhalter credited his side for sticking to their game plan of trying to play out of the back.
“I thought that we spent a lot of energy in the first half, we had a lot of good movement, we had a lot of quick attacks, and I think that cost energy on the team,” Berhalter said. “But it also hurt Chile and it gave them some problems. They resorted to playing one-versus-one, all over the field, and that’s a strength of theirs. They have good players in those situations. Overall, we made it extremely difficult for them.
“I thought we showed the bravery to try to play through some of their pressure. In a tight turnaround, a tight window, not being able to practice that much, and playing seven new guys, I think it was a good performance by our guys, particularly the effort.”
Such was the intensity of Chile’s pressure that Berhalter was forced to make multiple tactical changes. Among them was dropping Cristian Roldan into a deeper midfield role alongside Michael Bradley early in the first half, as well as moving to what he called a 3-4-2-1 — though it looked more like a 5-4-1 — with a narrow midfield in the second half.
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“They would drop numbers low, and push their fullbacks high in like a mid-high position, and what would happen is as we would start to slide our fullback to their fullback, there would be space to play their No. 10s in the pockets, especially with [Arturo] Vidal,” Berhalter said. “We weren’t comfortable with it in the first half, but we wanted to make an adjustment. We gave it some time in the beginning of the second half and we ended up going to a 3-4-2-1 where we could be much more aggressive with our wing-backs getting forward and pressuring that fullback when he’s in possession and still having a side center-back now to take one of those 10s in the pocket, if they’re trying to play it into them. I thought that gave us stability in the match.”
The U.S. suffered a blow in the 35th minute when Pulisic was forced to leave the match with a right quadriceps injury. U.S. Soccer said that Pulisic’s exit was precautionary, and Berhalter added that Pulisic was already getting an MRI to assess the injury’s severity. The ailment marks the fifth time this season that Pulisic has suffered a soft tissue injury, though Berhalter insisted he isn’t worried about the state of his creative linchpin.
“You look into the why, you do an inquiry of why that’s happening, and you make adjustments,” he said about Pulisic’s latest ailment. “He’s at a top club, he’s going to a top club [at Chelsea this summer]. We have very high-level medical personnel on our side, and we’ll get it right.”
Berhalter added that he learned a great deal about his team during the international window, and in particular the game against Chile.
“Opponents have a great deal of respect for us as a team. I’ve learned that,” he said. “I learned that the guys are resilient also. I learned that we were pushed to the limit today and the guys hung in there.”
More importantly, Berhalter’s top goal for the U.S. team during the games against Ecuador (a 1-0 win) and Chile was achieved.
“Our goal going into this camp was to evaluate as many people as possible in this camp. We did that,” he said. “That’s why we made seven changes to the lineup, to see new faces. Particularly this group that hasn’t played together before, I thought it was a reasonable performance, and proud of the effort. But I think we have a good understanding of the qualities that the player pool has now.”