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Christian Pulisic: USMNT lacks confidence, creativity vs. Mexico

United States midfielder Christian Pulisic, center, reacts after Mexico scored a goal during an international friendly soccer match, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. Mexico won 3-0. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter said he was happier after this loss to Mexico than the Gold Cup final. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen talked about trusting the process. Christian Pulisic spoke of disappointment and acknowledged the gap between the U.S. and its fiercest rival after Friday night’s 3-0 defeat at MetLife Stadium.

“As of right now, yes, we still played with fear against them, and that is what I can’t really live with,” Pulisic said. “That needs to change. We’re going to go out and give it everything the next time.”

While much of the post-match criticism was leveled at the USMNT’s persistence to play out of the back against Mexico’s high press, Pulisic decried a lack of confidence and ideas in attack.

“There needs to be a lot more movement and a lot more just creativity within the team and the confidence to go out and play against good opponents,” the Chelsea midfielder said. “We have to go out there and play like we’re good enough to be out there and be confident and play without thinking twice about it. That’s how it needs to be and that’s just not where we’re at right now.”

While Berhalter defended his play-out-of-the-back approach in the postmatch press conference, he also felt his team was stagnant in the attacking third.

“If I’m critical of anything, it would be the final third where I thought we got there and kind of stalled, the fluidity to keep the ball going kind of ended in the final third,” he said. “That’s what I think we could have improved on. I think we had time to cross the ball, put the ball in front of the goal and we didn’t do so. I think we had time to overlap and get the ball in front of the goal and we didn’t do so.”

One and done

Pulisic’s stay with the USMNT for the September friendlies lasted one game. He is one of several players returning to their clubs and will not participate in Tuesday’s match against Uruguay.

Pulisic returns to Chelsea, while John Brooks, who didn’t play due to groin tightness, Zack Steffen, Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales, who sustained an injury Friday night, all will rejoin their Bundesliga clubs.

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson was released to New York City FC, but did not play in Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution.

Berhalter said he was impressed with Morales, who had a feisty match in his first USMNT appearance in three years.

“I like his range. I like his physicality in the midfield,” Berhalter said. “He came in on Sunday, and trained one and a half days less. And with all those circumstances I think he performed well.”

Making his debut

Along with Alax fullback Sergino Dest, Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson made his USMNT debut Friday night, coming off the bench in the 58th minute for LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman.

“Obviously is a tough game to come into. Mexico is a great opponent but we’ll have to look at the film and see how we can get better from it,” the 22-year-old said. “Obviously it is an honor to represent this country. It felt great to get out there.”

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