USMNT draws Chile 1-1 as Christian Pulisic scores, leaves with an injury

Yahoo Sports
Christian Pulisic scored early for the U.S. against Chile, but the Americans were lucky to escape with a 1-1 tie in Houston. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Christian Pulisic scored early for the U.S. against Chile, but the Americans were lucky to escape with a 1-1 tie in Houston. (Bob Levey/Getty)

The United States men’s national team got a wake-up call Tuesday night in the form of two-time defending South American champion Chile, which dominated the U.S. in a hard-fought 1-1 tie in Houston.

Christian Pulisic scored early for the hosts before exiting the field with a quadriceps injury. Oscar Opazo equalized almost immediately for Chile, his goal coming just five minutes after Pulisic’s opener. The stalemate halted USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter’s perfect record in his fourth game in charge.

Scroll to continue with content

Here are three quick thoughts on the match:

Reality check for the United States

The Americans were the better team by every available metric in Berhalter’s first three wins against Panama, Costa Rica and Ecuador, which the U.S. beat 1-0 in Orlando last Thursday.

That wasn’t the case against Chile. Eager to rebound after losing to Mexico 3-1 on Friday, the visitors more than lived up to the pre-match billing. They enjoyed more than two-thirds of the possession. They had 11 shots to the Americans’ 5, including a 3-1 advantage in on-target attempts.

None of this should have been overly surprising, not after Berhalter made seven changes to his lineup. (Pulisic, Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola and Tim Ream were the lone holdovers from the Ecuador match.) Still, it was jarring to watch the U.S. struggle to defend for long stretches, often only to turn the ball over cheaply on the rare occasions they were able to win it back.

“Defensively, we were getting hurt in the beginning with their buildup,” Berhalter said afterward.

The coach showed some tactical dexterity in the second half, when he effectively went with five defenders without the ball, with DeAndre Yedlin and substitute Daniel Lovitz serving as wingbacks. “I thought that actually gave us stability in the match,” Berhalter said. “We weren’t exposed as often after that. and I think we actually got a point where we had some control with the ball as well.”

Maybe. As much as the U.S. deserves credit for limiting the visitors to a single goal (the first conceded in the Berhalter era), there were still too few ideas on the offensive end, especially with Pulisic on the sidelines.

“We were pushed to the limit today,” Behalter said. “The guys hung in there.”

Pulisic’s injury a major concern

Pulisic’s goal, his first internationally since 2017, came three minutes into the match when he ran on to a perfect feed by Zardes and beat Chilean keeper Gabriel Arias with an audacious chip. The strike made the 20-year-old the youngest player to reach 10 international goals for the USMNT:

It was a near-perfect start for the hosts. Unfortunately for them, it also lit a fire under Chile. Wounded La Roja turned it up from the ensuing kickoff, and the U.S. didn’t handle the sudden uptick in pressure well at all.

It only took five minutes for Opazo to even the score, finishing off a sequence during which both U.S. center backs, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga, were beaten defensively:

Squandering the lead was bad enough. Then Pulisic pulled up lame. Taking him off was a precautionary move, and a smart one considering the country’s most irreplaceable player has been hobbled by a series of leg muscle ailments with German club Borussia Dortmund this season.

“I’m not worried,” Berhalter said. “You do an inquiry into why that’s happening and you make adjustments.”

But on the heels of the serious ankle injury suffered last week by Weston McKennie — another one of the national team’s most promising young players — it served as a reminder that the U.S. doesn’t have a ton of top-end depth.

Plenty for Berhalter to ponder ahead of the Gold Cup

Berhalter played 27 players over his first four games, giving starts to 22. Having worked with most of the player pool now, the new boss will have a large body of work to consider as he continues to monitor players ahead of this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, which the U.S. is hell-bent on winning.

“Our goal was to evaluate as many people as possible in this camp, and we did that,” Berhalter said. “I think we have a good understanding of the qualities that the player pool has now.”

And as much as he was able to glean from his first three wins, some of the most valuable information he got surely came in Tuesday’s contest against the powerful Chileans. Not only were individual players exposed at times, so were the limitations of Berhalter’s possession-based system. It will clearly be more difficult to execute the scheme against truly elite foes. And while the U.S. won’t face those during the regional championship, the experience should make Berhalter consider different ways to be adaptable going forward.

After all, it’s better to have the wake-up call came now rather than in June and July, when the matches really matter.

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

More from Yahoo Sports:

What to Read Next