USMNT 4, Cuba 0: Jordan Morris, Josh Sargent each score twice in 2019 finale

Josh Sargent scored twice for the U.S. in Tuesday's 4-0 CONCACAF Nations League win over Cuba. (Angel Marchini/Getty)
Josh Sargent scored twice for the U.S. in Tuesday's 4-0 CONCACAF Nations League win over Cuba. (Angel Marchini/Getty)

The United States men’s national team closed out Gregg Berhalter’s up-and-down first year as head coach on a high, trouncing hapless Cuba 4-0 Tuesday in the CONCACAF Nations League to leapfrog Canada and win Group A on goal difference, advancing to next June’s semifinal against Honduras in the process.

Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris each scored twice. It took Sargent only 34 seconds to open the scoring and send the Americans on their way (via FOX Soccer):

Morris doubled the advantage and added the third goal before being substituted at halftime, effectively sealing the deal for the Stars and Stripes. The contest was played in the neutral and exotic location of Georgetown, Cayman Islands, while Cuba’s national stadium in Havana undergoes renovations.

Here are three quicks thoughts on the Americans’ final match of 2019.

Jordan Morris’ blistering form continues

With Christian Pulisic and a host of other starters sidelined by injury, someone needed to step up this month. Enter Morris, who came into this camp fresh off an MLS Cup win with his hometown Seattle Sounders. Even with Pulisic available the last two international windows, Morris was arguably the Americans’ most dangerous attacking player.

And when the weather turned cold, the 25-year-old’a game became red-hot for both club and country. Morris’ early goal and assist sent the U.S. on its way in last week’s crucial win over Canada. He was front and center once again Tuesday in the Caribbean, and the imposing winger now has four goals and four assists in his last five international games.

Morris’ sky-high confidence was particularly impossible to miss on his textbook first strike:

With the three points all but secured by halftime, Berhalter replaced Morris with Tyler Boyd. The coach’s desire to manage Morris’ minutes was an acknowledgement of how important he has become to the USMNT.

Morris took a huge step forward in his development in 2019. He’s emerged as not just an automatic starter, but a key leader off the field, too. Expect that upward trajectory to continue next year.

After struggling earlier this fall, a positive end to 2019 for the U.S.

Berhalter got the USMNT out of the gates strong, with three wins and a draw to begin his tenure. Then the U.S. lost both of its Gold Cup tuneups, to Jamaica and Venezuela, before rebounding in the regional championship and advancing to the final against chief rival Mexico.

The 1-0 loss to El Tri in Chicago was respectable. But alarm bells started ringing when Mexico embarrassed Berhalter’s team in an early September friendly. The din only grew louder last month in Canada, where Les Rouges defeated their southern neighbors for the first time in 34 years.

The pressure was on Berhalter heading into last week’s rematch with the Canadians in Orlando. Despite a public vote of confidence from U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, failure to advance in the Nations League could’ve cost the coach his job. But the hosts made a statement by routing Canada 4-1 before punching their ticket to the semis with Tuesday’s emphatic win.

Legitimate questions remain about Berhalter and his young squad. Far stiffer tests await in 2020, including the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying just 10 months from now. But under heavy scrutiny, both the coach and his players got the job done when it mattered this month, and despite a laundry list of injuries. They deserve credit for that.

What comes next for the USMNT?

The final six weeks of the calendar year will offer a valuable opportunity for reflection for Berhalter, Stewart and the players. Among the lessons learned? That the U.S. won’t be successful without at least matching its opponents’ desire to win, and that the team (and its coach) must be tactically flexible enough to adapt to different foes, conditions and circumstances.

Next year promises to be fascinating. There’s the planned January camp in Qatar for a mostly MLS-based squad that could unearth another contributor or two. There’s also a pair of March friendlies for the full-strength side, apparently in Europe against elite competitors, which will coincide with Olympic qualifying for the U.S. under-23s. And if the senior side gets past Honduras next June, another final against Mexico likely awaits — one you can be sure the Americans will be especially desperate to win just months before World Cup qualifying begins.

We’ll have a much better idea of where this team is then.

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