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Effort and tenacity from the U.S. men's national team spurred moments of promise against Canada on Sunday. But it was the lack of execution that left the U.S. disappointed in its 2022 World Cup qualifying home opener.
In its 1-1 draw against the Canadians at Nissan Stadium, everything felt slow for U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter – the passing, the movement and the ability to break down a sturdy 5-4-1 shape from its northern rivals.
"I think the effort was good. The effort was outstanding, but the performance wasn't up to what we expect," Berhalter said after the match.
"We need a much faster ball movement," he continued. "Everyone could see from the outside, we just took way too long on the ball. That allowed Canada to shift, not skipping passes, not by not playing behind them enough, so we have to work on that."
Sunday's result means two draws – the first against El Salvador – in the first two World Cup qualifying matches for the U.S. The road won't get easier when the Americans travel to Honduras for a match on Wednesday, concluding its September qualifying schedule.
Berhalter clarified after the match that it's no surprise Concacaf opponents sit deep defensively, forcing the U.S. to pick them apart with precise combination play and clinical attempts on goal. He expects it to continue. Winger and captain Christian Pulisic said the U.S. must come up with "new ideas" to break those teams down.
"We didn't test them enough, whether it was not being direct enough or not," Pulisic said. "We just need some new solutions. Obviously it wasn't good enough."
The U.S. went up against a Canada side quite content with just 28% of possession, defending deep into its own 18-yard box with as many as nine players in front of the ball. The Americans mustered just two shots on goal out of 11 attempts. Canada also hit the target twice, but with six tries.
The first legitimate chance for the U.S. didn't come until the 40th minute, when Sebastian Lletget spun away from Samuel Adekugbe and Scott Kennedy 20 yards from goal, poked the ball to Brenden Aaronson, who crossed it to Pulisic. The Chelsea winger’s shot bounced off the right post.
Pulisic said surviving tough tests like the one against Canada – one including 22 fouls and five yellow cards given, with just four total scoring chances – is a match the U.S. has to learn to grind out, if the team wants to be successful in qualifying.
"I think it's important in games like this – tough games – to just grind it out and get the win. Win these games, 1-0," Pulisic said. "But this is the position we're in now. I remember last qualifying (in 2017) losing both of our first two games. This is what it is now. We have plenty of games left to play in qualifying."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: USMNT disappointed after World Cup qualifying tie vs. Canada