One win, one clean sheet, but too many missed opportunities – USMNT needs to be more ruthless

The debate surrounding the U.S. men's national team heading into Sunday's Copa America group stage opener was about the balance between performance and results.

The consensus came down to this: in a tournament, the results are all that matter.

The hope is that the performances will match that, and against Bolivia there were positives to take away in both categories. The US dominated possession and generated numerous chances. They limited Bolivia to virtually no real threats on goal. And they achieved that all-important result: a 2-0 win.

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The United States will now enter the mid-group match against Panama knowing that a win would essentially secure passage to the knockouts. However, they must hope that the nuance of this first result, rather than a victory by three or four goals, will not be the difference at the end of the group stage in a tournament where goal difference is the first. draw.

After the game at Dallas, the team insisted they were less concerned about the score and more about the outcome.

“Goal difference is important, but the most important thing is getting the win,” said winger Tim Weah. “Once you win, you don't have to worry about goal difference anymore.”

The night started about as perfectly as the US could have hoped. Less than three minutes later, Christian Pulisic curled a shot from the top of the penalty area into the far corner to give them the lead. Just before half time, Folarin Balogun doubled the score.

CHRISTIAN PULISIC USMNT BOLIVIA scaled


Pulisic and Robinson celebrate the opener (Aric Becker/AFP via Getty Images)

Time and again in the second half, the US found space to attack a Bolivian team trying to find its way back into the match. But they repeatedly fail to take advantage of the opportunities created.

Pulisic forced a save from Guillermo Viscarra in the 60th minute. Ricardo Pepi registered six shots despite not scoring until the 65th minute – the most by a USMNT substitute in a single match since Opta began collecting detailed data on all US matches in 2010.

“It's about winning tournament games,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We look at the end results. If you get precise data, we probably have more than three expected goals in the match (2.51). They had 0.18. That is comprehensive.

“I think there will be an angle, maybe from you (the media), saying, 'Okay, they should have scored more goals, they should have created more chances.' But it's a 90-minute game, and in the course of a 90-minute game we created enough chances, we also denied them enough chances. We're happy with the result. We'll move on.”

christian pulisic usmnt goals 4

Berhalter acknowledged that Pepi in particular was disappointed. A former FC Dallas youth player, he performed in front of a hometown crowd that cheered his entrance just after the hour mark.

Pepi has been an effective super sub. He scored all seven of his goals for PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands' top division from the bench last season (2023-24), and when he played in the Nations League in March he had scored five times in his previous nine appearances for his country , all five come as a replacement.

Things just weren't going so well for him on Sunday. Pepi had a chance in the penalty area with his first touch in the 67th minute, but was unable to divert Antonee Robinson's cross. He then forced a save from Viscarra with a shot in the 79th minute.

Group C Member of Parliament W D L GD PTS

Uruguay

1

1

0

0

2

3

USA

1

1

0

0

2

3

Panama

1

0

0

1

-2

0

Bolivia

1

0

0

1

-2

0

In the 90th minute it looked like Pepi would certainly score the USA's third goal when Robinson's cross found him again at the top of the penalty area, but his close range shot was kept out by Viscarra. When Pepi's rebound bounced into the net, Viscarra denied it again.

After the match, Weah said he told Pepi to “just stay focused and keep his head up.”

“There are days when you score a hat-trick, there are days when you don't; I think that's part of being a striker,” said Weah. “As we can see, he is struggling, even with Romelu, the Belgian record scorer with 85 goals, Lukaku and the European Championship.

GREGG BERHALTER USMNT scaled


Berhalter was pleased with the 2-0 win — despite the missed chances (Aric Becker/AFP via Getty Images)

“The best of the best know how to keep it together and we still have a game so he (Pepi) will still get plenty of chances to put it in the back of the net. And of course we have confidence in his ability in front of goal.”

Berhalter also supported Pepi.

“I thought he had a big impact on the game,” Berhalter said. “In that short period, when he had so many chances to score, when he was so ruthless with his running, with his pressing, with his hold-up play, he played an excellent game.

“I know he was a bit disappointed after the game, but when you get so many chances in that short time against an aggressive team, you are doing something right. And we are confident that the finishing touches will be achieved.”

A few hours after Sunday's victory, Uruguay defeated Panama 3–1 to move level on points and goal difference, but ahead in goals scored. The US next has CONCACAF rival Panama, Thursday in Atlanta.

“There's a lot of football to be played in this group,” Berhalter said. “And it's not done yet. We have two more games. We will always look at creating chances as a measure of performance, and we have created plenty of chances today. Most days those chances happen, and today they didn't, but that's fine. We are happy with the result. There was never any doubt about the match.

“It's a good starting point that we can build on during this tournament.”

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(Top photo: Robinson talks to Pepi at the end of the match. Aric Becker/AFP via Getty Images)

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