Assessing Berhalter’s 1st USMNT Roster

The USMNT’s January Camp is unique in international soccer. Since MLS has a summer schedule, the opposite of most leagues in Europe, the USMNT hosts a 3 week long camp which usually ends in a friendly or two. Only players from MLS or the Scandinavian leagues (who take a break in the winter) tend to be called-in to this camp. This will be Gregg Berhalter’s first camp with the team, so this year will be extra special. Additionally, the Gold Cup is this coming summer, meaning the USMNT will have significant games for the first time since 2017.

Berhalter called 28 players into this year’s camp, all from MLS. I am going to organize this roster differently than usual. Instead of naming players by position, I am going to name them under the reason why I think Berhalter wanted them in camp. My categories are: 1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” 2. “Players who earned it with their play this year” 3. “Players familiar with the USMNT” 4. “The Rest”.

For readers who are new to Berhalter, he is looking for players who are comfortable on the ball, good passers, have good vision, and players who can create (or already have) partnerships. These are attractive qualities because Berhalter plays a possession-based system where chemistry is key. Teams in MLS that play similar to this are NYCFC (more so under Viera), Philadelphia, and Atlanta (at times).

Player (Age/POSITION/Club Team)

1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” (Self-explanatory)

Wil Trapp (25/CDM/Columbus Crew), Gyasi Zardes (27/ST/Columbus Crew), Zac Steffen (23/GK/Columbus Crew)

Obviously these three players know Berhalter’s system as they all played under him in 2018. I don’t know if these three will be mainstays on Berhalter’s USMNT squad selections, but having them in this first camp to help introduce the system will undoubtedly be useful.

Sean Jonson (29/GK/New York City FC), Tyler Miller (25/GK/LAFC)

Berhalter want’s ‘keeper’s who can play with their feet in order to pass the ball out of the back. Jonson and Miller have shown an ability to do just that with NYCFC and LAFC respectively.

Michael Bradley (31/CDM/Toronto FC)

This is the best example of “everyone needs another chance under Berhalter”. The new head coach himself said that he is going to give many players opportunities to prove themselves (from Berhalter’s opening press conference which you can find here). Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, think about it: Any player who played for the US for the last 8 years has either 1. Not been given great instructions by their coach (Jurgen Klinsman) or 2. Has been playing for a interim coach (Arena/Sarachan). If a player played poorly (or didn’t get called-up) in those circumstances they might deserve a second look under a coach who has a well-defined system (Berhalter). As for Bradley specifically, I think he’s a better version of Wil Trapp. He’s a better passer, he’s better defensively, and he covers more ground. His endurance has definitely dipped recently but we shouldn’t want him playing the whole game anyway. Sub him off for his potential replacement, or sub him on as a “closer” when we have a lead and the clock is winding down.

Marky Delgado (23/CM/Toronto FC)

Delgado is a very clean passer on the ball and has great vision. He can ping a through ball pretty well which will definitely fit into Berhalter’s scheme. I think Delgado may be better suited playing further upfield or perhaps as a tucked-in winger under Berhalter. However he usually plays deeper in the midfield. Not to mention he’s been Bradley’s partner in Toronto for the last few years so there’s instant chemistry there.

Keegan Rosenberry (24/RB/Philadelphia Union)

Not gonna lie, I started looking at Philadelphia tape more so to look at their CBs and I noticed “wow Rosenberry is making similar movements in attack as Harrison Afful does for Columbus”. He’s not too old either so I’m not surprised that Berhalter selected him.

Cristian Roldan (23/CM/Seattle Sounders)

Roldan is pretty good at everything: he can defend, he can play on the wing, he has a nose for goal, he likes changing the field of play, etc. I think he’ll be a pretty good stand-in for Artur (The Crew’s box-to-box midfielder under Berhalter). Roldan may even be an upgrade from Artur.

Aaron Long (26/CB/New York Red Bulls)

The Red Bulls play a different system from Columbus. Long seems like a fine passer but he’s not put under a ton of pressure when passing while playing for RBNY. I will say, Berhalter likes to push his fullbacks high up the field which the Red Bulls also like to do, and so the CBs in both systems have to be comfortable snuffing out a counter-attack. Both Long (and Parker who didn’t get called in) are really good at that. In that way, I think Long will fit into Berhalter’s scheme well. Its also worth noting that Long was just voted Defender of the Year, so he earned it.

2. “Players who have earned it with their play this year” (These players may not fit Berhalter’s system, but they played well in MLS this year).

Jeremy Ebobisse (21/ST/Portland Timbers), Corey Baird (22/ST,RW/Real Salt Lake)

Corey Baird won rookie of the year, and Ebobisse helped propel the Timber to the MLS Cup Final. As far as striker’s go, I think anyone can be good in Berhalter’s system so Ebobisse should be fine. Baird is listed as a midfielder here even though he played out wide and up top this season.

Nick Lima (24/RB or LB/San Jose Earthquakes)

Lima was perhaps the best player on a bad San Jose team this year. He even trialed with some German teams this winter. Lima usually featured at RB for San Jose but feels comfortable playing either fullback position. That flexibility is really useful on a national team where roster sizes are often limited. I’m interested to see how he plays at a higher level.

Reggie Cannon (20/RB/FC Dallas)

Cannon is probably a better defender than Rosenberry but I think Rosenberry offers more going forward. Either way, Cannon had a stellar first season for Dallas and has already been called-up by Sarachan a few times.

Russell Canouse (23/CDM/DC United)

Canouse rejoined DC from injury the very same game that Wayne Rooney joined the team for the first time. Many attribute DC’s great second half of the year to Rooney, but Canouse definitely steadied their midfield, aiding them to the best half-season in MLS history.

Auston Trusty (20/CB/Philadelphia Union) Mark McKenzie (19/CB/Philadelphia Union)

Trusty played every minute of the Union’s season in 2018, McKenzie played half of them. The Union had a pretty middle-of the road defense this year but their back line was young. Both these guys still have a lot to learn, but I think they have potential to fit into Berhalter’s system.

Paul Arriola (23/RM/DC United)

Seems like Arriola may be getting transitioned to RB rather than RM. He also played as a CM for part of 2018, so I am not sure where Berhalter will play him. He’s a hard runner and he’s pretty good on the ball. I think he might fit into the Ethan Finlay role of Berhalter’s system but I wouldn’t put money on that.

Greg Garza (27/LB/FC Cincinnati)

Garza earned his spot despite his season where minutes were limited due to injury. He’s looked good when he’s on the field but you gotta stay on the field. However LB is a mess for the national team per usual so I don’t mind Garza getting this call up.

Djorde Mihailovic (20/CM/Chicago Fire)

Similar to Garza, Mihailovic had his minutes limited by injury this year. But he looks good when he’s on the field and he’s young. Still not sure whether he projects more as a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder but he’s got some time to be molded into either role.

3. “USMNT Regulars” (These are players who may not fit Berhalter’s system, and didn’t have particularly great years, but they have national team experience and are talented).

Sebastian Lletget (26/CM/LA Galaxy), Kellyn Acosta (23/CM/Colorado Rapids)

Both of these guys play as box-to-box midfielder but they both play that position differently. I think both of them are deserving of a call-up but I don’t think either of them fit Berhalter’s system better than the other. Part of my difficulty here is that the box-to-box player is the least defined role on the field in any system. It seems like Berhalter want’s this player to defend well, support the attack, but not get so involved in the attack to make the team open to counters. Both of these guys like to get involved in the attack.

Walker Zimmerman (25/CB/LAFC)

I’m not thrilled with Zimmerman. he’s pretty good at last minute tackles to save a play but I’d prefer to see him put out fires before that happens.

4. “The Rest”

Justen Glad (21/CB/Real Salt Lake), Alex Bono (24/GK/Toronto), Jonathan Lewis (21/RW/NYCFC), Christian Ramirez (27/ST/LAFC), Daniel Lovitz (27/LM or LB/Montreal Impact)

Glad was a starter for most of RSL’s season but was on the bench down the stretch in the playoffs. Bono, and the rest of Toronto, had a down year; if he returns to 2017 form than this call-up is fine. Lewis got very few minutes (219) on NYCFC this year despite looking good when he plays. Ramirez had a transitional year getting traded from Minnesota to LAFC. He looked good-ish for a bad Minnesota team and was a rotational player once he went to LAFC. Lastly, Lovitz was a surprise for me at first but he started most of Montreal’s game this year at LB, and LB is a mess, as always.

None of these guys are bad call-ups, that’s not why they are in this category. However, I *might* have preferred other players get called-in instead (Hamid for Bono, Parker for Glad, Mueller for Lewis, Jozy Altidore for Ramirez, and Herrera for Lovitz) but Berhalter is the mastermind here so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

Here’s what a starting XI might look like:

Steffen

Rosenberry – Trusty – Long – Garza

Bradley – Delgado

Arriola – Lletget – Baird

Ebobisse

Subs: Jonson, Glad, Lima, Canouse, Mihailovic, Roldan, Zardes

I tried to use some pre-existing partnerships to solidify the roster (Rosenberry-Trusty, and Bradley-Delgado). I also wouldn’t be shocked if Trapp and Zardes start the first game. Once we can add European players into this mix imagine Pulisic either on the right wing or playing centrally, Miazga and/or Brooks in central defense (both pretty good on the ball), and then probably Adams and/or McKennie in the midfield. I wouldn’t be shocked if one of Adams or McKennie doesn’t start regularly for Berhalter. I’m leaning more towards McKennie starting and Adams on the bench but we shall see. Plenty more to consider and digest as the national team moves forward.

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Who is Building a Dynasty in MLS as of 2018?

A little over a year ago, I asked Extra Time Radio : “What past MLS teams constituted dynasties?” (56th minute of the linked podcast if you want to hear their discussion). The consensus was that the 1996 – 1999 DC United (3 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields and 1 US Open Cup) and the 2010 – 2014 LA Galxy teams (3 MLS Cups, and 2 Supporter’s Shield) were definitely dynasties. Teams that come close were 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield and 4 US Open Cups), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire (1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups), and the 2012 – 2017 Sporting Kansas City (1 MLS Cup, 3 US Open Cups).

Since then, whether a team is building a dynasty or not has been a recurrent discussion on the show. Here I am going to look at what teams have won trophies over the last few years and rank how close each team is to becoming an MLS Dynasty. My *loose* definition for an MLS Dynasty, based on the two examples given above, has six qualifications:

1. It spans 5 seasons (You could talk me into 4 being enough)

2. The team wins 1 trophy or more per year on average.

3. At least one of those trophies has to be MLS Cup.

4. The team has to win a trophy in a majority of their dynasty years.

5. The dynasty has to begin and end in years where the team won a trophy.

6. The team has a core set of key players that are present for most of the dynasty

This definition excludes the teams above that were close: 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders had 6 trophies over 8 years (Less than 1 trophy per year), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire had 3 trophies over 3 years (not long enough), and the 2012-2017 Sporting Kansas City had 4 trophies over 6 years (Less than 1 trophy per year). You’ll see below why I included the fourth and fifth criteria.

The sixth criteria comes from the ExtraTime Radio discussion. When one thinks of a dynasty, one usually thinks of certain figures who lead said dynasty. These can be a coach and/or a few players. If a team, somehow, met every other requirement while shipping big players in and out every year without a semblance of continuity, then perhaps they could still be considered a dynasty. But I highly doubt that would be possible. For example, the New England Patriots of the NFL, a league with massive year-to-year turnover, have had Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the center of their success.

A few more ground rules for the sake of this discussion:

  • Due to the 4/5 year requirement, I will only be looking as far back as 2015.
  • Only teams that have won trophies will even be mentioned.
  • Only MLS Cup, US Open Cup, Supporter’s Shield and the Canadian Championship are being considered as relevant trophies. If an MLS team were to win CONCACAF Champions League, that would also be considered. I am not counting what I’ll refer to as “Rivalry Trophies” such as The Cascadia Cup, the Atlantic Cup, etc. Some teams have more rivalries with trophies on the line than others and so it doesn’t seem fair to count those towards these rankings. Plus rivalries games tend to be a coin flip even if one team is having a bad year, so they aren’t a great indication of success. If someone can convince me otherwise I am open to listening to your argument.

Honorable Mentions

Vancouver Whitecaps (1 Canadian Championship in 2015), Portland Timbers (1 MLS Cup in 2015), Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup in 2016), FC Dallas (1 Supporter’s Shield and 1 US Open Cup both in 2016)

These teams have all won a trophy in the last four years, but their opportunities to add to the trophy case and create an argument for a dynasty have come and gone. I realize Seattle or Dallas could still win trophies next year and their 2016 trophies would still be within a four/five year times span. So let’s imagine either team were to win the 2019 treble (2019 MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield, and US Open Cup). Then they would technically have 4 years where they won 4+ trophies, and at least one of the trophies would be MLS Cup, meeting my first three criteria set above. However, for a team to win 2 sets of trophies with a two year gap in the middle doesn’t feel like a dynasty. This is why I added the fourth criterion that a team has to win trophies in a majority of the years during their dynasty. Of course If they won any trophy in 2020 after getting the treble in 2019 then that’s a new discussion. However, if they did win 3 trophies in 2019 and 1 trophy in 2020, then the 2016 trophy probably shouldn’t be included in their years as a dynasty. That is, it seems deceptive to include the 2016 trophy and say “they won 5 trophies over the course of 5 years” when there were two trophy-less years. Dallas are in the same boat as Seattle here.

5. Sporting Kansas City (2 US Open Cups one in 2015 and one in 2017)

SKC were close to boosting their Dynasty status with an MLS Cup victory this year. Their 2015 US Open Cup victory will become more or less irrelevant come the start of next season. If SKC want their 2017 US Open Cup to be included in a dynasty they’ll need some silverware next year. Kansas City are usually in contention for a trophy or two so I think they have a chance to do so.

4. Houston Dynamo (1 US Open Cup in 2018)

At least Houston have the potential for consecutive trophy years. However, considering that Houston is currently the lowest spending team in the league, and this was their first trophy since 2007, I won’t be holding my breath. They only edge out SKC by winning a trophy this year rather than last year

3. New York Red Bulls (2 Supporter’s Shields one in 2018, one in 2015)

The Red Bulls are in a similar place to SKC, two recent non-MLS Cup trophies and just missing MLS Cup this year. They get the edge over SKC due to winning a trophy this year as opposed to last year. Of recent, the red side of New York have been Would-Be-Kings: losing in the US Open Cup Final in 2017 to Sporting Kansas City, losing in the playoffs last year on away goals to eventual champions Toronto FC, losing in the semi-final of CONCACAF Champions League against Chivas earlier in 2018, and losing the Eastern Conference Championship not long ago to Atlanta United. If the Red Bulls caught a few more lucky breaks they would be sitting on 4 more trophies over the last 2 years. Alas, the same could be said for many of these teams. Since the Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs since 2007, I suspect they have a decent chance to add to their trophy case next year.

2. Atlanta United (1 MLS Cup in 2018)

There’s definitely something special going on in Atlanta. The Five Stripes place higher than the previous teams ranked because they already have MLS Cup in their possession and that is the one essential trophy. While Atlanta’s spending suggests that they could have a dynasty in the making, Head Coach Tata Martino is leaving and it seems talisman Almiron may also leave this winter. Assuming the rumors of their respective departures are true, I am interested to see how the team replaces those two. If they nail those replacements, which seems likely, then they may have a dynasty-in-the-making. Atlanta are the only team that could really challenge this 6th criteria I added above. But even after losing Tata, Almiron, and Garza, the team still has key players like Martinez, (likely) Parkhurst, Nagbe, and Pirez on the books for next year. So they still have some level of continuity, and still meet the 6th criteria.

1. Tornto FC (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 3 Canadian Championships since 2016)

As of 2018, Toronto are easily the closest team to a building an MLS Dynasty. Currently, Toronto have 5 trophies over the course of 3 years. While it is tempting to extend their dynasty backward/forward 2 years in order to meet the 5 year requirement it would violate the 5th criteria I included. It doesn’t really make sense to count a year at the beginning and/or end where a trophy was not won. Therefore, I would not call them a dynasty right now. Any trophy won in 2019 and/or 2020 would change that. I’m also not totally against a dynasty that lasts only 4 years. Toronto definitely meet the 6th criteria as Bradley, Jozy, and Giovinco were centerpieces of this team for the last 3 years.

There are those who would devalue the Canadian Championship because it is “easier to win” than the US Open Cup. I don’t like this argument but I have to admit there is some logic to it. In 2018, there were 20 MLS teams and 22 USL teams that competed for the US Open Cup. Meanwhile there were 3 MLS teams and 1 USL team that competed for the Canadian Championship. That’s a 1/42 chance of any team winning US Open Cup vs. a 1/4 chance of any team winning the Canadian Championship. That being said, a trophy is a trophy is a trophy. For now I weigh the Canadian Championship as much as the US Open Cup.

That’s all I have for now! Let me know if you have any questions about my definition/ranking. I am more than willing to have a nice, level-headed discussion about it 🙂

Gregg Berhalter, USMNT Head Coach and a USMNT November Review

This is a bit of a “USMNT November Grab-Bag” as I missed some opportunities to write about a few things while traveling for Thanksgiving and being sick for the following week. So I hope you enjoy me playing catch-up and trying to be concise.

Gregg Beralter, USMNT Head Coach 

As of today, December 2nd 2018, the US Soccer Federation has finally, officially named Gregg Berhalter as the new US Men’s National Team head coach. I’ve already written about why I think Berhalter deserves the job here. If you are new to Gregg Berhalter I suggest you read that and check out this video MLS just released on YouTube. While I do applaud the end product of the USMNT head coach search, I am not sure that I approve of the process by which he was hired. It has been widely reported that no other likely candidates (Tata Martino, Jesse Marsch, Peter Vermes, Oscar Pareja, et al.) were interviewed for the job. That being said Earnie Stewart has stayed quiet on what his exact process was for picking the new manager. Until he sheds some light on that process I will withhold final judgement.

In looking forward to Berhalter’s tenure, it’s worth noting something The Total Soccer Show brought up in a recent podcast: due to the prolonged period where there was no head coach, Gregg Berhalter may not be provided the same patience that many new managers are usually provided. People have been waiting for this announcement since October of 2017. As such they wish a system, a plan, and/or a structure were already in place at this point. If Berhalter falters early, many won’t be inclined to give him a second chance.

However, in all reality, Berhalter still has some time to establish that system:

  • The USMNT’s annual January camp is where Berhalter will get an extended look at the MLS-based player pool. Those few weeks will be a great time to build a system and find a core group of players.
  • Then there will be a handful of friendlies before the summer which will likely be used to incorporate the Europe-based player pool.
  • Next there’s the 2019 Gold Cup where the US will likely have 6 games against a wide variation of competition (From minnows such as Haiti and Cuba to the juggernauts like Costa Rica and Mexico). I’ll probably say more about this when the time comes, but I think this tournament should be about process goals for the US. It will be a great chance for the team to gel as a cohesive unit. I don’t much care if we win the tournament as long as the on-field product is coming together.
  • Lastly, the CONCACAF Nationas League starts in September of 2019. These are legitimately important games that count towards 2022 World Cup Qualifying. As I’ve listed above, Berhalter will have a decent chunk of time and a decent number of games to prepare. Thus, September 2019 is when I’ll start giving harsh judgments if necessary.

USMNT November Friendlies

Let’s just get this out of the way: these games were ugly and tough to watch.

If you’re reading this I’m guessing that you’ve watched the games and feel similarly to me: frustrated, impatient, and unenthusiastic. In order to counteract that, I am going to try and highlight the few positives that were there:

  • The return of Sebastian Lletget was solid. his first minutes since tearing his ACL against Honduras in 2017 and he looked pretty good. I definitely want to see him get more minutes as I believe he can play the No. 10 role better than Julian Green.
  • Tyler Adams looked good in his second half sub against England and in his start against Italy. He bossed a few players off the ball and had pretty clean passes.
  • Weston McKennie played well, after being pushed higher up the field. McKennie was being asked to cover for Wil Trapp’s defensive liabilities earlier on which dragged him deeper into the midfield than he prefers to be. So when I say he moved further upfield I think he moved from a No. 6 position to a No. 8 position. It’s unfortunate he had to leave the camp early.
  • Josh Sargent did some tough running against Italy. It’s too bad he and Pulisic were practically on an island the whole game.
  • Offensively, Pulisic had some flashes of brilliance despite none of them panning out. Its nice to see him back on the field for the US in any capacity.
  • We got to see Ethan Horvath in goal, rewarding him for his good run of form for Club Brugge. The scoreline vs. Italy would have looked a lot worse if it were not for him. I think he has locked down the third goalkeeper spot behind Steffen and Guzan, if not challenged for the starting role. If he continue’s to start for Brugge I wouldn’t be shocked if he moves into the USMNT starting XI.

As for any negatives to take away from these games there are myriad. However, plenty of other people have written about them and they may not matter once Berhalter gets these same players back in camp. For now I’ll say that our backline needs to work better as a unit, our midfield needs to create meaningful possession after winning the ball, and our attack has to be more than Pulisic trying to pull-off a miracle. Plenty of room for improvement across the board. Now we just have to wait and see what Berhalter does.

US U20 Team are CONCACAF U20 Champions 

I wrote about the U20 team’s first round of U20 World Cup Qualifying but did not follow up on their three subsequent games that 1. Qualified them for the U20 World Cup and 2. Crowned them CONCACAF U20 Champions for the second straight cycle. Success at the U20 level is decently correlated with future success at the senior national team level. For example, Serbia won the U20 World Cup back in 2015. After their senior team failed to qualify for the 2012 Euros, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros, Serbia qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a relatively young roster. Those 18/19 years-old’s who won the U20 World Cup were just entering their primes at 21/22 year-old’s in 2018. Similarly, our 18/19 year-old’s playing in next summer’s U20 World Cup will be around 21/22 come the 2022 World Cup.

Not to mention, we have players who played in the 2017 U20 World Cup already contributing to the national team ala Tyler Adams, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Josh Sargent. There are also some players from the 2017 U20 World Cup who look poised to crack the senior roster in 2019 such Justen Glad, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jeremy Ebobisse, Brooks Lennon, and maybe more. So don’t be surprised if the names from this year’s roster pop up in the coming years.

My previous article gave some quick hits about the roster mentioning every player and how they performed. I think all of those assessments hold true for the final three games which were against Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico. That is, the best players were still Mendez, Pomykal, Llanez, Servania, Gloster, Rennicks, and Scott. There were three players added to the roster for the final three games: (CB) Chris Richards, (RB) Serginio Dest, and (ST) Sebastian Soto.

  • Richards was clean on the ball and helped to solidify a defense that was barely tested in the first round of games. There’s a reason why the US had clean sheets in their final 3 games against better competition. Richards recently moved up from Bayern’s U19 team to their U23 team as a 18 year-old, which is a fairly big deal, especially in Bayern’s system.
  • Dest was a marked improvement over Jaylin Lindsay at RB as he had fewer errors and provided more going forward in possession. There’s a reason Dest is in Ajax’s system and Lindsay is in Sporting KC’s system (not to knock SKC’s academy but Ajax has one of the best academies in the world). He also completely owned Mexico’s Diego Lainez who was ripping up the US’s senior team back in October.
  • Soto had good hold-up play but lacked many threatening shots on goal. After he was subbed off against Costa Rica I thought that his replacement, college student Justin Rennicks, was more goal dangerous. That’s not to say that Rennicks is a better player. A striker can do many good things other than score goals and Soto may have had an off night. Still I think it’s worth remembering this going forward.

Again, I’ll remind everyone that this US U20 roster was a B+ roster at best since they were missing the likes of Chris Durkin, Andrew Carleton, Richie Ledezma, CJ dos Santos and maybe some others. Fingers crossed that we get to see those players at the U20 World Cup in 2019.

US U17’s Play Friendlies

I honestly don’t have much to say about the U17’s playing a few games over the last week. Suffice it to say that Reyna looked good-to-great but I’m still not sure what his best position is, Joe Scally of NYCFC looked good at RB, I wish I got to see George Bello play LB in these games and I wish I got to see Konrad de la Fuente play anywhere with this team. For those of you that don’t know, Bello score his first professional goal for Atlanta United earlier this year and de la Fuente got his first appearance for Barcelona B earlier this week. Not too shabby for a couple of teenagers.

P.S. Later this month I’m going to write about who I would call-up to the USMNT January Camp if I were Gregg Berhalter. Additionally, I’m going to release a few articles about MLS, something I haven’t done before. Get excited!

US U-20 World Cup Qualifying Part 1

The US Under-20 (U-20) Men’s team started their CONCACAF U-20 Title defense by going 5-0 in the first stage of qualification. This year’s CONCACAF U-20 World Cup Qualifying is vastly different from previous iterations. In a nutshell, the US, Mexico, Honduras and other quality teams would usually get a bye into the second round but this year they do not. Hence, the US played 5 games against drastically sub-par competition (Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname). We out scored that competition 39 – 2. For those 5 games we had a B/C team. You have to realize that our best players under the age of 20 are already playing for the senior team (Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, Jonathan Amon, and Timothy Weah) so they won’t be called into these tournaments as they are generally considered “developmental” tournaments.

I’m going to quickly review the individual performances across the five games, because tactics were barely a thing in such wide-open games.

Name POSITION (Current Club/Former MLS Academy if applicable)

Players who played well:

  1. Alex Mendez CM (SC Freiburg/LA Galaxy) – When Mendez was on the field he was the hub of our offense. Playing centrally he was slipping in through balls and combining well with other attackers. Didn’t see him do a ton defensively but there also wasn’t much to do defensively.
  2. Ulysses Llanez LW (Unattached/LA Galaxy) – Playing on the left wing, Llanez was the best player offensively. He used his speed to stretch the field and get behind defenses. Has a deft first touch and he can ping in a final ball with the best of them.
  3. Servania DM (FC Dallas) – Servania was great at collecting the ball in the middle of the pitch and distributing it wide. Still needs to work on his physicality but that should come with age.
  4. Paxton Pomykal AM (FC Dallas) – Combined well in the final third to create chances for other players. Also put away a few goals of his own. Mostly played on the left wing.
  5. Justin Rennicks ST (Indiana University/New England Revolution) – finished off many chances and combined well with midfielders mentioned above.
  6. Chris Gloster LB (Hannover 96/New York Red Bulls) – was sound defensively, winning many headers and muscling other players off the ball. Also added to the attack from time to time in meaningful ways.
  7. Brady Scott GK (FC Koln) – Wasn’t asked to do much but made good saves when he needed to.

Players who played okay:

  1. Juan Pablo Torres CM/DM (Lokoren) – Did a good job of collecting the ball, and a decent job distributing it as a deep-lying midfielder but struggled in one-on-one challenges
  2. Frankie Amaya CAM (UCLA) – Played well in the final third combining with other attackers but played poorly in the midfield/in the build-up.
  3. Anthony Fontana CM (Philadelphia Union) – Was non-existent when playing deeper in the midfield but effective when playing further up the pitch.
  4. For almost all of our defenders the story is “The competition was so bad that they weren’t really challenged”. Here are those that fit under this category and other notes I had.
    1. Samuel Rogers CB (Seattle Sounders) – I didn’t see any errors from Rogers
    2. Mattew Real LB/CB (Philadelphia Union) – Showed some flexibility playing LB and CB, also captained the team for some games
    3. Jaylin Lindsey RB (Sporting KC) – Similar to Gloster but was at fault on one goal, and committed a few more fouls in bad spots.
    4. Mark McKenzie CB (Philadelphia Union) – Had at least one bad challenge in an early game but played well in the last game.
    5. David Ochoa GK (Real Salt Lake) – Only played one game
    6. Manny Perez RB (NC State) – Didn’t do anything to hurt himself.

Players who did not impress

  1. Julian Araujo RB (LA Galaxy) – Only played in one game and committed two fouls in dangerous positions. He is one of the youngest guys on the roster so perhaps he will improve over time.
  2. Ayo Akinola ST (Toronto FC) – Got into good positions but had a rough first touch and struggled to put easy balls into the back of the net.
  3. Isaac Angking CM (New England Revolution) – Played in a few games but didn’t touch the ball much and didn’t do anything spectacular when he got the ball.
  4. Griffin Dorsey RW (Indiana University) – Played on the wing and did nothing besides send in hopeful crosses. Bit of a one trick pony.

Now that these 5 games are over, the US can call-in six more players for the final qualification stage. The U-20 coach Tab Ramos elected to only bring in three new players. These are Tab’s three newcomers:

  1. Sebastian Soto ST (Hannover 96/Real Salt Lake) – A forward who’s been ripping it up for Hannover’s B team. He’s gotta beat out Bobby Wood for a starting spot on that team which shouldn’t be impossible.
  2. Sergino Dest RB (AFC Ajax) – Has started playing for Ajax’s B team in the Dutch second division at right back.
  3. Chris Richards CB (On loan at Bayern Munich from FC Dallas) – a center back that Bayern like enough to keep him around. Enough said.

The above three additions are replacing the below three players who left camp this past weekend:

  1. Anthony Fontana
  2. Issac Angking
  3. Griffin Dorsey

Next up the above group will take on Costa Rica (on Friday Nov 16th at 7:30 PM) and Honduras (Monday Nov 19th at 8 PM) in the Qualification Stage in a round robin style. The top two out of these three teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup, along with two of Mexico, Panama, and El Salvador. The top team from each of these two groups will move on to a final to determine the CONCACAF U-20 Champion. The final will be played on Nov. 21st. All of the matches will be streamed for free online at CONCACAF’s website.

Here’s the starting XI I’d expect to see going forward:

Scott

Dest – Richards – Rogers – Gloster

Servania – Mendez – Torres

Pomykal – Soto – Llanez

Tab Ramos’ line-ups have looked like a 4-3-3 to me but we were also attacking a lot more in these early games. It could slip pack into a more defensive 4-5-1 in the upcoming games. It’s also worth noting that this is still a B team at best. Even without the senior national team guys, this roster is still missing Richie Ledezma (Real Salt Lake), Chris Durkin (DC United), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United), CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), George Acosta (Boca Juniors), and maybe some others.

Check back here after Nov 21st for my thoughts on the US’s final two or three games!

USMNT 2018 November Friendlies Preview

The USMNT has friendlies against England on Thursday Nov. 15th at 3 pm followed by Italy on Tuesday Nov. 20th at 2:45 pm. This is almost certainly Dave Sarachan’s last time in charge of the team and this might be my favorite roster he’s called in. First, a few quick notes from Sarachan (All of the below info is taken from US Soccer’s website).

  1. The 5 players still involved in the MLS Playoffs (Guzan, Long, Villafana, Adams, and Trapp) will join the camp after their games on Sunday the 11th (Thursday the 8th for Villafana). He didn’t explicitly say it, but we shouldn’t be surprised if these players don’t start the game against England on the 15th.
  2. Michael Bradley was not included because he already has experience playing good teams like England and Italy. Sarachan wants younger players to get that experience instead. Love this reasoning.
  3. (He didn’t say this but I’m adding it here) It’s very possible that some players like Brooks, Yedlin, Wood and/or Pulisic only play the first game and go back to their clubs early. Brooks has done this before. It’s just so that they don’t add too many minutes to their legs.

Now onto the 26 players available (originally 28; following each players name is their club; national team caps/national team goals):

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 59/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 2/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew; 6/0), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin/GER; 0/0).

  • Both Steffen and Guzan are still in contention for the #1 job. I don’t know that either has an edge on the other at this point. Steffen withdrew from this camp due to injury.
  • The #3 spot has been wide open but Horvath has started Club Brugge’s last three games in Belgium posting clean sheets in all three including a Champions League game against Monaco. I hope he gets in net for at least 45 mins.
  • Klinsmann was a late addition and hasn’t started for Hertha in Germany. I think US Soccer just want to take a look at him in camp, likely won’t see in-game minutes.

DEFENDERS (10): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 35/3), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 1/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City/WAL; 6/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 1/0), Matt Miazga (Nantes/FRA; 10/1), Shaq Moore (Reus Deportiu/ESP; 3/0), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG; 6/0), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers; 19/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 56/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 3/1)

  • Good to see Brooks, Miazga, Yedlin and Robinson (Robinson rolled his ankle in camp and will not play in these friendlies) back again to build more chemistry as they are the tentative starting backline.
  • Shout out to Aaron Long for winning MLS Defender of the Year. Well earned award, well earned call up. Definitely want to see him get some minutes.
  • CCV is a Sarachan favorites but I don’t mind him getting called in. I am okay with Zimmerman also getting the call to compete with CCV for a spot on the CB depth chart.
  • Three RBs seems unnecessary but I also don’t mind it. Last month some questioned Yedlin’s starting position after Cannon’s solid shift against Peru. I like the idea as it should motivate Yedlin to up his game. This is healthy competition that pushes players and improves teams. We also might see one of them play LB due to Robinson’s injury.
  • I like that Villafana got the call as he is older (29 years old) but he may still have some utility going forward. This is only the case because LB is such a shallow position for the US.

MIDFIELDERS (13): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 21/2), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 7/1), Luca de la Torre (Fulham/ENG; 1/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 5/0), Romain Gall (Malmö/SWE; 0/0), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth/GER; 14/4), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 3/1), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 6/1), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United FC; 25/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 21/9), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 3/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 9/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA; 7/1)

  • Boy do I hope we get to see Pulisic, McKennie, Weah and Adams on the field at the same time. We haven’t see it ever before and they are pretty easily our four best players.
  • There are the usual Sarachan call ups in Acosta, Green, Delgado, and Trapp.
  • Lletget makes his return to the national team. Lletget scored against Honduras in a World Cup Qualifier, and then spent the rest of 2017 injured. His minutes for the Galaxy increased as the year progressed. Sarachan knows him well as a former LA Galaxy assistant.
  • This is Romain Gall’s first call-up to the national team. This season in Sweeden, he has scored 14 goals in 27 games (Between two teams, as he was transferred mid-season). Those are impressive stats, but the Sweedish league’s quality level is suspect. For now, I’m taking those numbers with a grain of salt.
  • Also excited to see Luca de la Torre included in this roster. The 21 year old plays for Fulham’s reserves but got 1 goal and 2 assists in his only first team appearance back in September. Like Weah and Sargent he’s currently buried in his club’s depth chart.
  • Slightly surprised by the Saief call-up after he played poorly last month against Colombia. I wish it were Amon instead but…
  • Jonathan Amon was not called in for the U-20s nor did he play this weekend for his club in Denmark, so I suspect he’s nursing a small injury.
  • It’s too bad Nagbe had to withdraw from camp with an injury. I was interested to see if he still had something to offer this national team at 28 years old.

FORWARDS (2): Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 5/2), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96/GER; 43/13)

  • Sargent has, frustratingly, yet to crack the starting XI for Werder Bremen but he has been training with the first team. Can’t wait to see him rip stuff up in these friendlies. Sargent is also carrying a knock coming into camp so we may see limited minutes from him.
  • Wood has been starting regularly for Hannover this past month but hasn’t found the net in that time. I expect more of the same from him.
  • Novakovich, another regular call-up for Sarachan, has been out for Fortuna Sittard’s last two games with injuries. His absence does not surprise me.

Since MLS Playoffs players are likely coming late I don’t expect many if any of them to start the first game. Here’s the lineup I would like to see at some point in either game:

Horvath

Cannon – Brooks – Miazga – Villafana

Adams – McKennie

Pulisic – de la Torre – Weah

Sargent

Subs: Wood for Sargent, Gall for Weah, Acosta for Adams.

This is a really young team but man am I excited just to throw all of their names onto one line-up. Everyone in that front six is 21 or younger. They’ll all be hitting their prime right as the 2022 World Cup rolls around. It’s hard not to get excited about that.

Save Guzan for the second game and Let Horvath play with the young guns here. You could talk me into starting Acosta in place of Adams. Not a like-for-like switch but McKennie can take-over more defensive responsibilities if Adams leaves the line-up. I also think Sargent should start the first game just because Wood usually gets the first start, so why not change it up a little? I wouldn’t mind Long going in for Miazga who has fallen out of favor at Nantes. Again though, with Long joining camp late I don’t suspect that. I also doubt de la Torre gets the start but I really want to see him there.

Before I finish this, I want to give Dave Sarachan some credit where credit is due. The USMNT needed a care-taker who was going to keep the tactics simple, incorporate youth, give previously ignored players opportunities, and raise the spirits of both the players and the fans. Sarachan has succeeded to some degree in all of those categories. Of course we would all prefer to have the full-time national team coach to be named, but Sarachan has no control over that. I think it’s fair to say that he made the most with the cards he was dealt. To be clear, I am NOT advocating for him as the full-time coach. All I want to do is thank him for providing some light to the national team in this bleak time.

Come back next week for a review of the games!