Weah red card dooms USMNT in Copa America

USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter

In tonight’s Copa America 2024, Group C match between the USMNT and Panama, striker Timothy Weah’s moment of madness saw him punch a Panamanian defender in the head while both players were standing in the middle of the field with nearly no one else around. The stark and shocking act earned Weah an immediate red card in the 17th minute and doomed the USA to play a man down for the remaining 73 minutes of regulation plus stoppage time.

Despite pulling ahead in the 27th minute, the USMNT was unable to close Panama down and in the 26th and 83rd minutes, the Central Americans scored to clinch three points and put themselves in the driver’s seat toward group progression, with lowly Bolivia as their next adversary while the USA will have to play Uruguay, a pre-tournament favorite and global powerhouse. There is a very real possibility the USA will crash out of the tournament they are hosting at the very earliest moment.

Aside from the recklessly infantile act by Weah, the USA was laid bare for who they are under their current coach. It is a pity that so talented a group is still being led by so mediocre a coach. In short, the USMNT were unable to do three basic things—manage a match while ahead, defend in an organized and coherent fashion when a man down, and take advantage of the countless set plays their opponents gifted the USA throughout the second half. The issues that ensued from the 17th-minute red card to the end of the match were much more coaching-related than player-related.

Why was the clearly hurt and dazed Matt Turner kept in place instead of immediately substituted? Might he have saved the shot that tied the match? Would Horvath? How could the USMNT come across as if they had never practiced how to play with a man down? How could the much higher-ranked USA—number 11 to Panama’s number 41—not hold off the Panamanians? With the much-ballyhooed set-piece coaching addition, how come only one of the umpteen USMNT set pieces was able to produce any positive results?

As the match reached the latter stages of the second half and coach Gregg Berhalter realized, or one hopes he did, that his team was tiring out and the Panamanians were becoming more offensive, he began substituting tired legs for fresh ones, but his choices were all questionable and untimely. Why was the clearly in form and energized, Folarin Balogun, the only USA striker fast and strong enough to be keeping the Panamanians working on defense, substituted for the likes of sporadically effective and comparatively small and static Ricardo Pepi? What was Josh Sargent supposed to contribute coming in at the 86th minute substituting for Timothy Ream? The contribution of those subs is now a matter recorded for posterity.

It would be interesting to find out what the USMNT coach did with his half-time break given the team played every bit as unorganized in the second half as they had in the first. Why was the USA clearing their defensive lines left and right and not prioritizing maintaining possession once the Panamanians tied the game? How come half of all the crosses that defensive wingers made go so far off the mark? With Gio Reyna a key ball control player and offensive threat, why was he substituted?

Now, the USA is up against it and has no one to fault but themselves. Perhaps the silver lining will be that the USSF will finally realize that almost anyone other than Berhalter should have been running the USMNT. Maybe, if they come to their senses, we will get a coach at the level of our players in time to make a difference when we host that next tournament, you know, the 2026 World Cup. But don’t count on it, the USSF is anything but progressive.

Shutterstock photo ID—2224799681, by Lev Radin.

TAGS—Gregg Berhalter, USMNT, Copa America 2024, Panama, Uruguay,

Key words—USMNT

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