The United States men's national team went to Las Vegas with one goal: Show off their quality and prove they were the best team in CONCACAF. Both missions were accomplished with ease. What we saw from the USMNT in the CONCACAF Nations League semis and finals over the past few days was the best two-game performance the program has ever produced. It's plainly obvious the U.S. men's team is currently the best it has ever been.
On Thursday, the Americans absolutely took apart their archrival Mexico in a 3-0 drubbing. The U.S. was crisp, active and consistently pressed forward with confidence. The Americans played with pace and were rarely troubled at the back. Captain Christian Pulisic potted two goals in the first 46 minutes and dominated the action along with Gio Reyna, while 20-year-old Ricardo Pepi put a cap on things by finding the back of the net in the 79th minute. The Americans controlled every area of the pitch and every level of the contest.
The match got nasty, with fights on the field and in the stands, as the teams combined to rack up nine yellow cards and four reds. But the U.S.'s play was a direct contrast to that ugliness. It was the best collection of talent the program has ever put on the field. And that came with regular captain Tyler Adams missed the tournament due to injury.
Against a very good Canada squad on Sunday, the U.S. entered missing regulars Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest due to red cards received during the Mexico match. No matter, Brenden Aaronson stepped in for McKennie and Joe Scally filled in for Dest. Both were excellent. In the history of U.S. Soccer it has been rare that a missing first-team player could be replaced someone who gets regular action in a top-flight European league. Aaronson and Scally both do. And it showed.
Despite being without McKennie and Dest, and despite facing a Canadian squad that boasts excellent players like Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, the U.S. utterly dominated its neighbors to the north. While Canada controlled the possession, the Americans were rarely troubled, and all the best chances came their way. They finished off two, with defender Chris Richards' perfect header off a corner kick in the 12th minute and the much-hyped Folarin Balogun scoring his first goal in a U.S. jersey in the 34th. Up 2-0 at the half, the Americans didn't sit back after the break. They peppered the Canadian defense with excellent runs and continued to create chances. It was utter domination from start to finish in a 2-0 win.
The U.S. is the deepest and most talented it has ever been. But talent needs to shine on the field to be taken seriously. This squad is doing just that. Though their run at the 2022 World Cup had its flaws, the Americans showed fight and outplayed each of their group stage opponents. The glaring issue was a lack of clinical finishing and the lack of a true striker. Had Balogun been on the roster at that point, maybe things would have been different. He's the pure goal-scorer they U.S. has been missing. It's worth noting, this also marked the Americans' third-straight CONCACAF title after taking home the 2020 Nations League crown and the 2021 Gold Cup.
Perhaps most encouraging is how absurdly young this current crop of players is. The average age of Sunday's starting lineup was around 24 years old. Key players like Pulisic (24), McKennie (24), Adams (24), Tim Weah (23), Dest (22), Yunus Musah (20) and Gio Reyna (20) aren't even 25. Defenders Antonee Robinson (25), Richards (23), Miles Robinson (26), Scally (20) and Auston Trusty (24) are still incredibly young. Meanwhile, Balogun is 21, Pepi is 20 and Aaronson is 22. Other than Miles Robinson, all the players listed are currently plying their trade in European leagues.
Many will look at that roster and wonder why with so much promise the U.S. decided to re-hire Gregg Berhalter to manage the squad. I share their disbelief, but there is some logic to the move. Berhalter spearheaded the program's youth movement, empowered younger players to take leadership roles and helped recruit many of the dual-nationals on the current roster. He accomplished the program's stated goals at the 2022 World Cup, and it's important that the players support him and seem excited to have him back. It just feels like with this crop of players and the country hosting the World Cup in 2026, a next step could have been taken. Reaching for a manager on a higher level would have been exciting. But the reality is, Berhalter is back and will have to prove himself all over again. He'll have the talent to do it.
Over the past few days, the U.S. definitively asserted itself as the top team in CONCACAF. The Americans appear miles ahead of the competition. The next step for the USMNT will be establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. The group stage showing at the World Cup began to knock on that door. It's time to start turning that potential into results. And the U.S. finally has the team do just that.