Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna help USMNT start to silence critics even if questions remain after win over Mexico

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The road to the Concacaf Nations League final was a bumpy one for the U.S. men’s national team to the point that a statement-making win felt like the only reassuring way for Gregg Berhalter’s side to cap off the competition. That statement unquestionably came on Sunday, when the USMNT defeated rivals Mexico 2-0 to win their third successive title and offer a glimpse of the best version of themselves in the process.

Berhalter seemed eager to course correct from the moment the lineups were announced when five changes to the team that started the near-catastrophic semifinal against Jamaica were revealed. The head coach was most bold in midfield, where only Weston McKennie held onto a starting spot as Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna lined up alongside him, and ultimately reaped the rewards in impressive fashion. Adams and Reyna were the goalscorers, providing different boosts for two players for whom there were reasonable arguments to not start them.

In Adams’ case, Sunday’s match was only his third since returning from a hamstring issue that kept him out for nearly a year and one in which it was public knowledge he would have a 45-minute limitation. Berhalter argued the start made sense logistically, but also allowed the USMNT to set the tone early — something they failed to do against Jamaica.

“It was an easy decision because if you think about what we did last time cost two subs, right?,” Berhalter said post-match. “For us, we knew we could get to 45, we wouldn’t use a window and we wouldn’t use two subs and then what it gave the guys is a boost that you got a guy like Tyler Adams on the field and you can see how impactful he was in the 45.”

Adams completed 24 out of his 27 passes during his 45-minute shift, adding to the encouraging 37 minutes he played against Jamaica. Both games provided a clear reminder of the imbalance of the USMNT midfield in the year they spent without him, even if Adams preferred to make more of an impact than he ended up making — even with the highlight-reel-worthy goal.

“Typical Tyler, we get into an argument in the locker room and he wants to play more, guys are asking, ‘Why can’t he play more?’ It’s a whole thing,” Berhalter joked, “But we had to stick to it. That’s what we agreed with his club [Bournemouth] and for us, as much as I wanted him in the game because I did, it’s a safety thing.”

Adams eventually conceded that Berhalter was right to substitute him.

“The emotions sometimes get the best of me in those situations,” he said after the game. “I wanted to stay on the field not just because of the goal, but because I felt like I can have an impact in the game but at that moment, it was a huge lesson for me as well. You have to trust your teammates, and we have an amazing player in Johnny Cardoso,” who came on for him at halftime.

Adams’ passing numbers were second only to Reyna, who made 28 passes in the first half and completed 25. Reyna played just 38 minutes in almost two months before this international break, making a move to the Premier League’s Nottingham Forest that has yet to pay dividends. His lack of game time was a reasonable concern heading into both the Nations League semifinal and final, but his quality made up for it in resounding fashion.

Reyna not only had two assists against Jamaica and a goal against Mexico but demonstrated an incredible range as a midfielder who popped up in just about every area of the pitch, successfully balancing an ability to drop deep and play more advanced. He had 58 touches in his 75-minute shift, behind only the USMNT’s defenders, and was beaten only by center backs Tim Ream and Chris Richards for attempted passes with 42.

“I’ve spoken so much about how talented he is and how he can unlock defenses and he just has these qualities that are really good,” Berhalter noted. “I also believe, and I’ve said this before, that he can be a midfielder and I think that’s the next evolution for him because he can control the tempo so well of a game and he can make final passes and when he gets the ball in pockets and transition, then he’s a good finisher and he’s a good final passer.”

Berhalter also believed the Nations League performances demonstrate why Reyna should play for Forest, who are now in the relegation zone after a points deduction for breaching the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules.

“We’re really hoping that, like many players that we spoke about before, they use this as momentum to take back to their clubs and really kick on the rest of the season,” the head coach said, “because we know what type of trouble [Forest are] in.”

The performance reaffirmed the things many already know about this team. Reyna and Adams have been two of the team’s top prospects for years now, and the USMNT’s recent inconsistent results have frequently come when they could not be involved. It also serves as a stark reminder that their lack of availability means we still do not know the team’s ceiling, a strange thing for a group that has worked together for four-plus years. That comes with the promise that something impressive is right around the corner, but it also comes with the realization that because the sample size is so small, question marks remain.

Reyna is amongst several individuals who have yet to prove that they can deliver impressive performances on a regular basis, and will need to do so sooner rather than later if anyone wants to find out if he can live up to his potential. Playing time at the club level is something Berhalter insists is a priority as his player pool looks to evolve from prospects to elite talents, even if he cannot always use that as a guide for his team selections.

The dominant display against Mexico on Sunday adds to the USMNT’s recent string of strong results in Concacaf. They remain the only team to have ever won the Nations League, have now beaten Mexico in the last three finals in which the two sides faced each other, and have held El Tri scoreless in their last four meetings. It’s as much a commentary on the USA’s status as it is on Mexico’s, a side that was once the team to beat in North America but mustered little to convince anyone on Sunday they had a chance.

The fact that this version of the USMNT has so few reps together, though, means Concacaf competition may no longer be the best measuring stick by which to judge this group. That is inherently a good thing and something each member of the team seems adamant to tell anyone who will listen. This summer’s Copa America could not come at a better time, then, and the same goes for the friendlies against Colombia and Brazil that will precede it — and likely serve as a preview for the quarterfinals that could truly serve as a progress report ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

The Copa America could provide the first true answers on how good this USMNT actually are, as might the final months of the European club season. For now, though, a box has been checked on the list of accomplishments as the USMNT gear up for a strong showing at a World Cup on home soil two-plus years from now.

Simply put?

“This camp was a success,” Adams said.

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