Gregg Berhalter was breaking a low block defense was “the hardest thing to do in soccer.” Photo courtesy of MLS)
By Michael Lewis
Like it or not, it has been a recurring theme for the U.S. men’s national team in World Cup qualifying.
When the Americans compete in a home match, the opposition will play a low block defense, making life difficult for them to score.
It has worked quite well to date, especially in the opening halves of matches. The USMNT has scored but twice in 10 qualifiers entering Wednesday night’s encounter with last-place Honduras at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn. Worse, the U.S. has scored only once in their last two matches, which includes a 1-0 home win over El Salvador and a 2-0 loss at Canada on Sunday.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter admitted that was biggest challenge a team can face.
“I mean, that’s the hardest thing to do in soccer,” he said, before explaining his strategy on how to try to break the block.
“We know that. Part of our instruction [to the team] is: Can we penetrate on the strong side? Can we get behind them on the strong side? If not, how do we switch field quickly to get behind them on that side? Then, when you can’t do that, what type of balls you put into the penalty box? What type of crosses are you looking to put in and do you have runners?
“As that whole thing is happening, are you well balanced that you can take advantage of any balls that come out to the top of the penalty box, so that you can be winning those balls? It’s an exercise that we need to keep working. Most teams struggle with that. But we’ll keep going.”
Midfielder Weston McKennie agreed. The U.S. needs to keep plugging away, finding ways to score.
After all, no goals will mean no wins. At this juncture, the Americans need those three home points if they have any serious aspirations of playing in Qatar this November and December.
“We just want to try and create as many opportunities as we can,” he said during a Tuesday afternoon media Zoom call. “In the past games, we’ve created some chances, not as many as we would like. Also, I think we just want to be more effective and follow a game plan because the game plan that we have when it’s executed correctly, we create a lot of chances. We’ve seen that in the past as well with games that we’ve played.”
Creating chances is one thing. Putting them away is another universe.
“It’s just the past few games that we struggled a bit and that’s football,” McKennie said. “It’s very unpredictable. And whenever you have teams that that sit back, play a low block and have six guys on a line at a time, it’s very hard to break it down, no matter the team. So. we definitely will analyze Honduras and find the best possible way to break them down and get a lot more goal-scoring opportunities.”