The upcoming March USMNT friendlies against Ecuador (March 21st @ 8:00pm) and Chile (March 26th @ 8:00 pm) will be a step up in quality and difficulty from the January games. Here are my predictions/questions/things to look out for from those friendlies:
Berhalter will call in a European-centric roster supplemented by players who understand his system.
Many are predicting that Berhalter will call in a theoretical best squad possible for these March friendlies. I don’t think that is necessarily the case. Berhalter was able to call-in most of the domestic players he wanted to in January (some players like Altidore and Morris are recovering from injury but even they stopped by to visit). He has yet to see any European-based player in camp yet. I think that he will want to strike a balance between giving as many European-based players an opportunity to prove themselves and calling in enough players from January who understand his system in order to help teach the system to the European-based players. Now, that blend of players may also be the best possible roster Berhalter can call-in, but I don’t feel ready to make that assumption. Before I give you the 23 (maybe more?) I think he’ll call-in, I need to make another prediction.
Berhalter will stick with his Guardiola-esque 4-4-2/3-2-2-3 formation.
In the games against Panama and Costa Rica Berhalter had the USMNT playing a unique formation. In defense, it looked like a 4-4-2, where the top “2” players pressed the opposing team’s CBs and the wing players in the midfield “4” selectively pressed as the ball entered their area and the other 6 players made a formidable defensive block. In attack, this formation shifted quite a bit into a 3-2-2-3. You can see how that shift happened below.Essentially, from Defense to Attack, Mihailovic moved back, while Ebobisse, Baird, Roldan, and Lima all pushed up (These names are from the starting lineup against Panama)
Mihailovic – Zardes
Ebobisse – Bradley – Roldan – Baird
Lovitz – Long – Zimmerann – Lima
Ebobisse – Zardes – Baird
Mihailovice – Roldan
Bradley – Lima
Lovitz – Long – Zimmerann
In an interview after the January camp, Berhalter mentioned that he preferred this system because it allows for the US to get numbers forward in attack without sending our fullbacks forward. He believes that sending our fullbacks forward on overlaps will leave the defense overly exposed which is punished more at the international level. Therefore, assuming that Berhalter will continue to play this system he will be looking for specific attributes at each position:
- A GK who’s comfortable with the ball at his feet
- CBs who are quick passers/ can make line splitting passes.
- A RB who can move up and play CM
- A LB who can also play CB
- A CDM who can make line-splitting passes
- Advanced Midfielders who can run a lot, have some level of creativity
- Wingers who can defend and send in smart crosses
- A striker who can get physical with the other team’s defense and put away tap-in goals
With that in mind, here’s the 23+ I think Berhalter will call-in
Goalkeepers (3)– Zac Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson
Just missed the cut: Brad Guzan, Jonathan Klinsmann, Brady Scott
- Steffen needs the caps in order to secure his work permit and join Manchester City this summer so his inclusion is a given. Plus Steffen is quite familiar with Berhalter’s system.
- Horvath is the only notable American GK playing in Europe these days.
- Johnson seemed like the No. 2 behind Steffen in January so he wins the third spot.
- Klinsmann is a 3rd string ‘keeper for Hertha Berlin and Scott was the US U-20 ‘keeper last November, and is on Koln’s roster. Neither has seen any first team minutes.
- Guzan is still in the picture but he doesn’t play in Europe and he wasn’t present in January Camp so he’s not in this camp.
Defenders (8) – Aaron Long, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Nick Lima, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Tim Ream, Daniel Lovitz
Just missed the cut: Antonee Robinson, Cameron Carter-Vickers (CCV), Walker Zimmerman, Erik Palmer-Brown EPB), Shaq Moore, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Sergino Dest, Chris Gloster, Chris Richards
- Long beats Zimmermann as Long captained the USMNT for both January Camp games and I think Berhalter will want that continuity in the next camp.
- Lima and Lovitz are there to help teach the system.
- Brooks and Miazga have the most talent of our CBs in Europe and beat out CCV, and EPB.
- Yes I have Tyler Adams at RB because he has experience at RB and CM which is what Berhalter wants out of his RB. Lima is there to teach the role and Yedlin is there because of his talent. I wouldn’t be shocked if Yedlin becomes a winger as Bobby Warshaw has suggested.
- Then, Ream wins the LB/CB spot since he has experience at both positions. Plus our only other LB option, Robinson, isn’t much of a CB and he hasn’t featured for his club team since getting injured in November. An injury which had a 4 week recover timeline. It’s been about 10 weeks since that injury …
- I include Besler and Zusi under “Just Missed the Cut” because I think Zusi would fit well at RB/CM and Besler would fit well at LB/CB but, similarly to Guzan, neither play in Europe nor were they present in January Camp.
- Dest (just signed for Ajax), Gloster (plays for Hannover’s B team), and Richards (plays for Bayern’s B team) are all U-20 players who might get a shot ala Mihailovic in January. All three will definitely feature for the US in this summer’s U-20 World Cup.
Midfielders (9) – Michael Bradley, Wil Trapp, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Timo Weah, Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, Fabian Johnson, Jonathan Amon
Just missed the Cut: Duane Holmes, Danny Williams, Alfredo Morales, Alex Mendez, Richie Ledezma, Romain Gall, Julian Green, Kellyn Accosta, Sebastian Lletget, Djorde Mihailovic, Luca De La Torre,
- Bradley, Trapp, Roldan, and Arriola are here to teach the system. I think Bradley makes the starting XI but I’m less sure about the rest.
- Pulisic, Weah, and McKennie are all young and talented and are practically “must-call-in” players if not “must-start” players. I think Pulisic and Weah feature on the wing and McKennie features in the middle, taking the place of Mihailovic. I wouldn’t be shocked in Weah plays striker rather than wing.
- Amon is more of a flyer than anything else. He looked good in his friendly appearances last fall. I could see any of the “Just Missed the Cut” players taking that spot. If not Amon, it would be cool to see Holmes get his first call-up.
- I see a lot of analysts putting Lletget into their 23-man rosters. I think that he’s there if this is a “best possible squad” camp, because he’s talented and provided assists in both January games. However, Berhalter said he was slow to pick-up the tactics, which is why he started on the bench for both of those January games. And if the point of this camp is to teach European players the system/give them a shot to learn the system, I think adding Lletget and taking away someone like Amon or Holmes would be unfair. By no means am I saying that Lletget doesn’t have a spot on this team in the future, just not in this camp.
- Williams, Morales, Gall, Green, and De La Torre are a mixed bag of less talented players but who knows! Maybe Berhalter sees a role for them.
- Accosta was cut from last camp and Berhalter was pretty vocal about him not being fit enough and didn’t pick up the system well enough. Similar to Lletget, it’d be unfair to our European players for him to take up a roster spot when he already had an opportunity to learn the system.
- Ledezma (just signed for PSV) and Mendez (Plays for Freiburg’s B team) are also U-20 players who will definitely feature in the U-20 World Cup and might get a shot. These two would both fit Berhalter’s advanced midfielder role very well.
Forwards (3) – Gyassi Zardes, Josh Sargent, Andy Novakovich
Just Missed the Cut: Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Christian Ramirez, Jordan Morris, Sebastian Soto
- Zardes is here to help teach the system.
- Perhaps my boldest prediction here is that Novakovich beats out Wood for a call-up. I think Novakovich will really fit what Berhalter wants, a big physical striker who is good with his feet. Novakovich’s biggest weakness is that he is slow but I don’t believe Berhalter’s system relies on the speed of it’s striker as much as their physicality.
- Sargent is an obvious pick as he’s seeing minutes in the Bundesliga as a teenager.
- Wood is a solid striker but I’m not sure he’ll fit what Berhalter is looking for.
- Similar to other players mentioned above, Jozy and Jordan Morris miss out because they don’t play in Europe and didn’t play in January.
- Ramirez loses to Zardes for the “he knows Berhalter’s system spot” because Zardes has a full year under Berhalter while Ramirez just has a few weeks.
- Soto (plays for Hannover’s B team) is another young player who will definitely feature in the U-20 World Cup this summer.
Given the players named above here would be my starting lineup:
McKennie – Zardes
Weah – Bradley – Roldan – Pulisic
Ream – Brooks – Long – Adams
Weah – Zardes – Pulisic
McKennie – Roldan
Bradley – Adams
Ream – Brooks – Long
Subs: Horvath, Lima, Miazga, Arriola, Trapp, Sargent, Holmes
This set-up is more likely for the first game as it keeps a spine of players who played in January (Zardes, Roldan, Bradley, Long, Steffen). I could easily see Sargent or Novakovich over Zardes. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Adams in the midfield over Roldan, and then Lima again at RB/CM. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Miazga starts over Long. Theoretically, Long could play LB/CB instead of Ream if Berhalter wants to squeeze his leadership onto the pitch. I think Pulisic will do more damage on the wing in this set-up. You could even throw Weah up top, Pulisic on the left wing, and then put DeAndre Yedlin on the right wing. The possibilities are truly endless.
Lastly, as you can see I included a ton of players under “Just Missed the Cut” so I would not be shocked if more than 23 players get called into camp but then some/many either leave or do not feature in the games.
Check back here for a breakdown of how the games against Ecuador and Chile went!