USMNT 2019 U-20 World Cup Roster Reaction

The USMNT roster for the 2019 Under-20 World Cup was released earlier this week and I’m here to break it down for you! The U20’s start play against Ukraine on May 24th on FS1, followed by games against Nigeria on May 27th (also FS1), and Qatar on May 30th (FS2). Below is the roster head coach Tab Ramos called in for the competition:

2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup Roster by Position (Club; Hometown; U-20 Caps/Goals)

GOALKEEPERS (3): CJ Dos Santos (Benfica/POR; Foxchase, Pa.; 2/0), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake; Oxnard, Calif.; 4/0), Brady Scott (Köln/GER; Petaluma, Calif.; 9/0)
DEFENDERS (6): Sergino Dest (Ajax/NED; Almere-Stad, Netherlands; 8/1), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96/GER; Montclair, N.J.; 11/0), Aboubacar Keita (Richmond Kickers; Columbus, Ohio; 2/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; Bear, Del.; 10/3), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union; Drexel Hill, Pa.; 10/0), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich/GER; Birmingham, Ala.; 8/0)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas; 0/0), Chris Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.; 2/0), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven/NED; Phoenix, Ariz.; 4/0), Alex Mendez (Freiburg/GER; Los Angeles, Calif.; 15/8), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas; Highland Village, Texas; 9/3), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas; Dallas, Texas; 8/2)
FORWARDS (6): Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC/CAN; Brampton, Ont.; 12/9), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona/ESP; Miami, Fla.; 2/1), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg/GER; Lynwood, Calif.; 11/7), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution; South Hamilton, Mass.; 13/6), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96/GER; San Diego, Calif.; 5/2), Tim Weah (Celtic FC/SCO; Rosedale, N.Y.; 0/0)

The big news of this roster is that Timothy Weah is playing with the U20 side and not the senior national team at this summer’s Gold Cup. There have been reports that Weah wanted to play in the U20 World Cup, perhaps seeing it as an opportunity to see the field more. Weah is a PSG youngster who spent the second half of this season loaned out to Celtic of the Scottish Premiere League. Celtic won the league while Weah contributed 4 goals and 1 assist through 17 appearances across all competitions. He also already has 8 caps and 1 goal for the senior national team. While those numbers may not jump off the page, you have to remember that this is a youth competition; many of the players Weah will be going up against have never played a professional minute of soccer and have only played at the youth levels.

Players who have already made their professional debuts do not play in these youth competitions. For example, Tyler Adams has played in 8 games for Bundesliga side Red Bull Leipzig since joining the team in January, he has 10 caps for the senior national team, and he was not called into this roster despite being age-eligible. This is usually because the parent club won’t release the player, the player does not want to play at that level, or they are already contributing to the senior team. I fully expect Adams to be in this summer’s Gold Cup roster. Josh Sargent and Jonathan Amon might be in a similar boat to Adams but I do not feel as confident in their inclusion in Berhalter’s Gold Cup roster, but that’s an article for another day. The above is also why this is Weah’s first appearance for the U20’s this cycle.

Outside of headliner Timothy Weah, there is still a LOT of talent on this roster. Personally, I’m super excited about Mendez, Dest, Pomykal, Llanez, and Servania (even though Servania might be the third choice defensive midfielder on this roster). Mendez is the centerpiece of this team. He is the engine in the midfield who can pass up, over, around, and through teams. Pomykal was deployed mostly as a winger in qualifying but has played more centrally for FC Dallas as he’s experienced a breakout season in 2019. Pomykal is a great ‘connective tissue’ kind of player who allows other players to look good while also having some flashes of brilliance on his own. Llanez is a dynamic, speedey left winger who can beat defenders with his pace and with his ball skills. Dest is a no-nonsense defender who is great at stopping an attack before it starts. he also provides some silky passes up the right side. Lastly Servania is the defensive midfielder you want when you’re dominating a game. He has some defensive bite and his real asset comes in attack where he can unlock a defense with one line-splitting pass. Those were the players who really impressed me in the CONCACAF U20 Championship where the US dominated almost every team they faced.

Other players who I have not seen play as much, but have a lot of hype around them are Durkin, Ledezma, Richards, Soto, Cerrillo, and De La Fuente. Remember, any professional minutes for guys at this age is huge. With that said, Durkin started for DC United for the first half of the last year (1500 mins on the season) before Canouse came back from injury. He’s played ~400 mins so far this season. Cerrilo has surpassed Servania on FC Dallas’ depth chart and has played 592 minutes so far this season. Soto got his first pro minutes a few weeks back making 2 late substitute appearances for Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga. The rest are on the cusp of getting professional minutes. Richards is an FC Dallas product who was sold to Bayern Munich for a little over $1 million last December. He has trained with the first team, but has only played for the reserve teams. De La Fuente comes from the Barcelona Academy and has only played for Barca’s U19 squad to this point. Lastly, Ledezma plays in the PSV youth system but hasn’t played much due to injury. I don’t know what to expect from him since he’s only just recovered enough to practice. I will be content if he is the impact sub for this team.

The rest of the field players (McKenzie, Real, Keita, Gloster, Rennicks, and Akinola) are varying levels of solid. From what I’ve seen McKenzie, Real, Keita, and Gloster can all handle the U-20 level well, but to be honest none have been tested that hard by the opposition they’ve played. This tournament will likely separate the boys from the men in that group. Akinola has the physicality to play at the pro level (he’s played 230 mins for Toronto so far this season), but needs to develop the skills, i.e. touch on the ball, finishing, and passing ability. If we run out of ideas in attack, I’d expect us to start lumping up long balls to Akinola’s head. Rennicks on the other hand had a great CONCACAF U20 Championship where he sometimes looked better than the more-often-hyped Soto. However, Rennicks has struggled to find playing time on a bad New England Revolution team (the Revs are a MESS so that might not be his fault, but I digress). If any of these guys have a big tournament, and the above players play as expected, the US will be in really good shape.

Lastly, goalkeeper is a bit of a question mark going into this U20 World Cup. Brady Scott would be the assumed starter, as he was for the CONCACAF tournament, however he has just returned from injury. Ochoa has been getting regular minutes with Real Salt Lakes B team in USL, and CJ Dos Santos is the starter for the U17 team (Tab always likes to take a U17 ‘keeper for the experience). I would expect Scott to start as long as he is healthy for the sake of chemistry.

With that, here is the starting lineup I expect Tab to go with (4-3-3:

Llanez – Weah – De La Fuente

Pomykal – Durkin – Mendez

Gloster – McKenzie – Richards – Dest

Scott

For me, Llanez, Weah, Pomykal, Mendez, Richards, Dest, and Gloster’s names are written in ink. You could talk me into Cerrillo getting the start over Durkin since he and Pomykal have chemistry from playing this season in Dallas together. McKenzie and Scott have both been nursing injuries so perhaps they aren’t ready in game one. And Akinola is a favorite of Tab’s so I wouldn’t be shocked in he starts him over De La Fuente despite Akinola being the less skilled player.

Off the bench, Ledezma is the impact sub for Mendez/Pomykal, Akinola is there if we need more physicality, Cerillo, and Servania are CDM depth, and Keita is CB depth. Having Soto and Rennicks feels redundant, since Tab only plays a one striker system, and I’m not sure either work well on the wing.  Also worth noting is that natural LB Matt Real is our only fullback depth on the roster. If Dest get’s injured, perhaps Real plays RB or maybe one of Cerrillo/Durkin/Servania get’s shoehorned in there.

After dominating the CONCACAF Qualifying tournament, Tab Ramos’ side have some high expectations for this year’s U20 World Cup. The 2017 squad made it to the quarterfinals of the competition, losing to eventual runners-up Venezuela. That’s where the bar is set. Anything less than that would be a decided disappointment, equaling that would be unsatisfactory, and surpassing it is the goal.

Come back for a reaction to the group stage games in a few weeks!

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A Beginner’s Guide to Major League Soccer

First some basic facts about Major League Soccer (MLS), and then some reasons to watch MLS in 2019. Feel free to skip around as you see fit. Check here to see when each team plays their first game of the season.

The Basics

MLS is the top division of soccer in the United States. In general, MLS is caught at a nexus between the traditions/practices of other American sports leagues, most notably the NFL (Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, used to work in the NFL), and the traditions/practices of European Soccer (Premiere League, Bundesliga, La Liga, etc.). I’ll try to frame every aspect of the league through these two lenses.

Regular Season

MLS was founded in 1996 with 8 teams and has expanded to 24 teams in 2019, 21 American teams and 3 Canadian teams. Like other American sports, the league is divided into conferences: Eastern and Western. Each team will play teams of the same conference twice a season and teams of the opposite conference once a season. The regular season runs from March to October. This is in contrast to most soccer leagues in the world which run from August to May. The league claims that it could not run a “Winter Schedule” due to some cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis, Denver, etc. whose matches might not be able to be played in the cold/snow (The league is well-off these days but not so well off to afford retractable roofs over stadiums).

Playoffs

Unlike European soccer, MLS has playoffs at the end of the season. In 2019, MLS will run playoffs mostly in October and November. The playoff format changes every couple of years as the league expands. In 2019, 7 teams from each conference will make the playoffs. The first place team of each conference receives a first round bye. 14/24 teams making the playoffs is quite a large percentage relative to other American sports. For reference, 12/32 NFL teams make the playoffs. The league claims to allow so many teams in the playoffs to keep games late in the season competitive. I believe this goal is accomplished as many teams are not mathematically eliminated until approximately September. Without the playoffs, teams at the bottom of the league would be playing for nothing for half of the season since there is no promotion/relegation (pro/rel).

Lack of Promotion and Relegation

For those that do not know, European soccer countries have a multi-tiered league system. For example, there are four professional leagues in England. At the end of the season, the three teams that finish last in the top league are relegated (think “re-leagued”) to the second league. Then the three best teams of the second league are promoted (self-explanatory) to the first division. In a promotion/relegation system, the teams at the bottom of the league are still playing competitively at the end of the season because they do not want to be relegated. Without getting too into, being relegated loses a team a lot of money commercially so players on relegated teams are playing for their jobs. There are many people in American soccer who believe MLS should change to a pro/rel system, but that’s a discussion for another time (I would really like to write on this at some point).

Single Entity

The biggest reason MLS won’t switch to a pro/rel system is that MLS is a single-entity league, similar to other American sports, but unlike European soccer. Off the field, this means that MLS often operates as one business. For example, the league negotiates the jersey deal with Adidas. In Europe, individual teams negotiate jersey deals with the company of their choice. On the field, it means that each team is given a similar level of resources every year to build their team.

Parity

Big European clubs like the Manchesters, Munichs, and Madrids of the world are able to use a lot more money to build their roster relative to their competitors at the bottom of their respective leagues. MLS teams are given a salary cap (better described as a salary budget) which they must adhere to. This salary budget acts as an equalizer to make more games competitive between teams across the league. Thus the drop off from the best MLS team to the worst is not as far as the drop-off from the best Premiere League team to the worst. People will often refer to this concept as “parity” in MLS: that any team has a legitimate chance of winning any game.

MLS Salary Budget

This equalizing factor, the MLS salary budget, is similar to the NFL’s salary cap but more flexible. NFL teams have a maximum they are allowed to spend and that line is a hard limit which cannot be surpassed. MLS teams have a few mechanisms which allow them to break that upper barrier.

Designated Players

The most famous of which is the Designated Player (DP). Originally referred to as the David Beckham rule, the DP rule allows each team to have 3 players (originally only 1 player) who do not count towards the salary cap. This allowed the LA Galaxy to pay Beckham more money that the entirety of the salary cap. There is no upward limit on how much a DP can be payed.

GAM and TAM

There are another four ways to pay players without hurting the salary cap. two of them are General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money (GAM and TAM) which can pay part of a player’s salary, lessening that player’s cap hit. GAM can be used on players making less than the max salary charge ( ~$500,000; in general I’m simplifying these numbers) and TAM can be used on players making more than the max salary charge (Between $500,000 – $1,500,000). Any player making more than $1,500,000 must be a DP.

For example, if Player X is making $300,000 a team can used $100,000 in GAM to make that player’s cap hit $200,000. This is relatively straight forward. Teams can get really creative when they pay down a TAM-level player. For example, if Player Y is making $700,000 a team has to pay at least $200,000 with TAM in order to comply with roster rules. Alternatively, the team could use $400,000 in TAM to lower his cap hit to $300,000, saving $200,000 of cap space which can be used elsewhere on the roster. TAM is relatively new to the league and was introduced to fill the talent gap between DPs and the rest of MLS. The amount of TAM in the league has increased almost every year for the last few years.

Homegrowns and Generation Adidas

Outside of DPs, GAM, and TAM, MLS teams can sign Homegrown (HG) players and Generation Adidas (GA) players whose salaries will not count against the cap. HG players are players who came through an MLS academy. A player has to be in a teams academy for at least one year to be eligible for HG status. MLS academies were started 10 years ago and are just not starting to churn out pretty solid talent (Alphonso Davies just got traded to Bayern for $12 million, Tyler Adams just got traded to RB Leipzig for $3 million, Ballou-Tabla was traded to Barcelona for an undisclosed fee). GA players are high draft pick players that the league wants a team to sign and so the league signs the player before they get drafted. That sounds shadier than it is. GA players are pretty much HG players who didn’t come through an MLS academy but through a different academy. So rather than having a bidding war for these players, they come through the draft at an affordable price. Keeping these players’ salaries off of the cap encourages teams to develop domestic talent.

Why watch MLS?

While the quality of play in MLS is improving every year, and the injection of TAM has accelerated that process, the level of play is decidedly higher at big European clubs. However, if there is an MLS team in your market, you have more access to those games that European games. A drive to the local stadium costs a lot less than a flight to Madrid.

Supporting Local Soccer

The optimal scenario is that your local soccer club plays at a high level. If you want that to happen, then you need to support your local soccer club. The level of play in MLS won’t change if people do not support their local teams. Guaranteed it won’t happen overnight. MLS was essentially a semi-pro league when it formed in 1996, and 23 years later people are starting to compare it to some low-to-middle European leagues (Scottish Premiere League, English Championship, Scandinavian leagues). Who knows, maybe in another 20 years it could be on the level of a Serie A or Ligue 1. However, that does not happen if people do not support the league. Not to mention that your local team has a legit shot of winning the league due to the parity mentioned above.

Recognizable Names

The tired answer to “Why watch MLS?” is that they have old European stars that you might never see otherwise. While the league has had mild success shaking off the “retirement league” label, there are still some older European players coming over and they do help draw bigger crowds. Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays for the LA Galaxy, Wayne Rooney plays for DC United, Bacary Sagna plays for Montreal. Players with recognizable names do bring out bigger crowds. The hope is that those crowds stick around after the player leaves.

Young Exciting Players

Lastly, MLS is trying to rebrand itself as a selling league. A league where young players get to prove that they’re ready for bigger and better things. I already mentioned academy players who have moved on to Europe; MLS teams are also bringing in young Central and South American talent for < $10 million with the hopes to sell them for > $10 million. Miguel Almiron is the prototype of this. Atlanta United bought Almiron for $8 million and just sold him for $27 million. Similarly, Atlanta bought Barco for $15 million, RBNY bought Kaku for $7 million, NYCFC bought Medina for $4 million, etc. Now, instead of seeing old European players after their prime, you can see young North/South/Central American players before their prime. With the money teams get from selling these young players they can improve their club, their stadiums, their academies, etc. Then over time, the teams can buy players with bigger and bigger price tags.

Some might argue that “we shouldn’t be a selling league, we should be a buying league”. While this is preferable, the reality of it is that there are only 5 “buying” leagues in the world. And even in those leagues, there are really only 4-8 teams that are “buying” teams. After that top echelon of elite soccer teams, every team in the world is a selling team. The way you climb to that level is by producing and selling really good players. Look at Tottenham who recently started to compete with that upper echelon. They did that by selling Gareth Bale for $100 million dollars to Real Madrid. Then in 2018 they had like 10 players reach the World Cup semi-finals between the Belgium and England rosters.

Of course, it will take time for Alphoso Davies’ $12 million to turn into Bale’s $100 million, and it won’t happen at all if people don’t watch the league. So check out when you local clubs plays at the beginning of March, buy a scarf, and check your local TV listings.

Come back for more MLS and USMNT content!

Predictions for Berhalter’s USMNT in March

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)

4-4-2 (Defense)

Mihailovic – Zardes

Ebobisse – Bradley – Roldan – Baird

Lovitz – Long – Zimmerann – Lima

Steffen

3-2-2-3 (Attack)

Ebobisse – Zardes – Baird

Mihailovice – Roldan

Bradley – Lima

Lovitz – Long – Zimmerann

Steffen

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:

4-4-2 (Defense)

McKennie – Zardes

Weah – Bradley – Roldan – Pulisic

Ream – Brooks – Long – Adams

Steffen

3-2-2-3 (Attack)

Weah – Zardes – Pulisic

McKennie – Roldan

Bradley – Adams

Ream – Brooks – Long

Steffen

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!

Pride of the New York Red Bulls

The New York Red Bulls recently signed 2019 Super Draft pick Sean Nealis to a first team contract. Sean is the second “Sean” on the team (after Sean Davis), the 6th New Yorker on the team, and the 12th player from NY, NJ, or CT (including Ryan Meara, Evan Louro, Kyle Duncan, Tim Parker, Connor Lade, Omir Fernandez, Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Ben Mines, Brian White, and Derrick Etienne Jr.). As I noted on twitter, you could make a semi-functional starting XI out of these 12 players (4-4-2):

White – Etienne

Mines – Davis – Fernandez – Muyl

Lade – Nealis – Parker – Duncan

Meara/Louro

(Meara and Louro are both Goalkeepers)

Fernandez is the only player here who is obviously out of position. Most prefer Etienne play on the wing, but he has spent time up top in the past, and I’m not sure if Ben Mines is comfortable playing on the left wing. But those are small quibbles you might see in any game-day roster. This would never be the first choice lineup, but I think this XI could play a US Open Cup game against a USL team. In that game, Parker, Meara, and Davis would easily be the best players on the field, Muyl, Etienne, White, Lade, and Duncan would all look comfortable. Fernandez and Nealis are more or less unknown quantities at this point so I won’t make any claims there. Point is, this team would be competitive. I think it goes without saying that they would struggle against most MLS teams.

Regardless, this got me wondering, “How many other MLS teams could make similar claims of showcasing local talent?” So I did some digging. Below you can find every other MLS team and how many players grew up near where that team is located. This is relatively loosely defined, since I’m counting NJ and CT for the New York Red Bulls I have to be lenient for teams like New England, Kansas City, Cincinnati, etc. who are all near state borders/cover multiple states.

 

Atlanta United – 5 (All Georgia)

Chicago Fire – 4 (All Illinois)

FC Cincinnati – 4 (1 Ohio, 3 Michigan)

Colorado Rapids –  6 (All Colorado)

Columbus Crew – 5 (4 Ohio, 1 Michigan)

FC Dallas – 8 (All Texas)

DC United – 7 (4 Maryland, 3 Virginia)

Houston Dynamo – 3 (All Texas)

LAFC – 3 (All Southern California)

LA Galaxy – 8 (All Southern California)

Minnesota United – 3 (2 Minnesota, 1 Wisconsin)

Montreal Impact – 9 (All Quebec)

New England Revolution – 6 (5 Massachusetts, 1 Rhode Island)

NYCFC – 4 (All New York)

RBNY – 12 (6 New York, 5 New Jersey, 1 Connecticut)

Orlando City SC – 2 (Both Florida)

Philadelphia Union – 7 (4 Pennsylvania, 2 Delaware, 1 New Jersey)

Portland Timbers – 2 (1 Oregon, 1 Washington)

Real Salt Lake – 2 (Both Utah)

San Jose Earthquakes – 7 (All Northern California)

Seattle Sounders – 3 (All Washington)

Sporting Kansas City – 3 (All Kansas)

Toronto FC – 10 (All Ontario)

Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 (All British Columbia)

 

The answer to my question seems to be no, but some teams do come close. Toronto came closest with 10, and Montreal is right behind them with 9. I also wasn’t simply counting any Homegrown player, as many Homegrown territories spread far enough away that those players are hardly “local talent”. For example, Real Salt Lake have more Homegrowns from Arizona than they do from Utah. Since the Arizona border is approximately 7.5 hours from Salt Lake City it’s hardly fair to call those players local. I also limited San Jose to Northern California and both LA teams to Southern California, which made a difference by 2 or 3 players in all cases. All Three Canadian teams have relatively large territories but restricting them to their nominal city and immediate suburbs didn’t make a difference in any case.

Additionally, I was counting more than just Homegrown players. I was also counting any player who grew up in the area. For example, Tim Parker grew up on Long Island, was drafted by Vancouver, and was then traded to RBNY. He still counts as a local guy. This boosted numbers across the board, not helping any one team more than the others.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at a European club for comparison. I chose Ajax since they are known for having one of the best academies in the world (not a direct correlation to showcasing local talent, but I digress). Since the Netherlands is a relatively small country, I counted any Dutch player as a “local” player (The Netherlands is smaller than most states in square miles). Ajax have 10 Dutch players on their roster. Of course there are more variables involved with Ajax’s roster, i.e. more money, higher level of competition, more global scouting network, etc. After seeing that statistic though, part of me wants to say “RBNY has the most local talent on their team relative to any club in the world!” but that’s definitely not true. Think of small teams that plays in Central America or the Carribean. They are likely only working with local talent.

Either way, it’s really cool that RBNY are able to play at such a high level in MLS and make their fans proud by playing local talent.

 

 

Why you should watch the CONCACAF Champions League

Are you a soccer fan in North America, or a general sports fan in North America for that matter? Yes? Then I have an exciting competition to introduce you to: The CONCACAF Champions League.

The Basics

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is the governing body of soccer in the western hemisphere north of the Panama Canal. Each continent has their own confederation which oversees and organizes different club and national team competitions between member nations. The most famous of which is the United European Football Association, or UEFA. CONCACAF works similarly to UEFA so think of it through that lens if you are familiar with UEFA.

CONCACAF organizes the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) where the best club teams on the continent compete for a trophy and a birth into the FIFA Club World Cup. Club teams qualify for the Champions League by performing well in their domestic league. Bigger leagues, receive multiple births into the Champions League; for the 2019 edition Mexico and the United States received 4 births each, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras all received 1 birth each, a Caribbean league including multiple countries received 1 birth, and 1 final birth is awarded to the winner of a qualification tournament which includes many smaller CONCACAF nations. In total 16 teams will participate.

The Champions League itself is more of a tournament with a straight bracket, starting with a Round of 16, then Quarterfinals, then Semi-finals, and lastly a single-game Final to decide a champion. Every round beside the final round is a two-legged affair, meaning there will be two games, one where each participating team gets to host.  The bracket is decided by placing teams into pots. The Mexican, and American teams are placed in one pot, and the rest are placed in another pot. Then match-ups are made by picking one name from each pot.

Now that you have the basic facts of the tournament, here are some reasons you should watch:

The Best Soccer Played on the Continent

Personally, as a fan of MLS, I want MLS to be one of the best leagues in the world. Of course, it is very far away from that. The first step in the process is being the best league on this continent, which MLS has yet to prove (Mexican teams have won the last 10 CCL titles). Additionally, if you are a fan of any sport, you should support that sport at a local level. Your support, especially financial support, allows that local product to improve. After enough support from enough people over a long enough period of time, any local sports team can become the best in the world. Since CCL is the best version of local soccer you’ll see on this continent, you should definitely support it. This goes for Mexican fans too. Even though you have already showed dominance in this competition, you need to prove it every year and continue to push it forward.

Multiple Rooting Interests

Personally, I support one team in MLS during the regular season, and that team often plays in CCL, but barring an MLS vs. MLS match, I root for all MLS teams in this competition. Watching Toronto and New York down Mexican teams last year was exciting regardless of being a regular fan or not. Plus, if one MLS team wins CCL, it is good for the whole league. It shows domestic and foreign players that MLS is just as good as Liga MX. As the saying goes, rising tides lift all boats. Luckily there are more MLS teams than any other league (4 American and 1 Canadian; it helps that the two geographically largest countries play in one league). Therefore, there are plenty of games with rooting interests.

More Competitive Now Than in the Past

Historically speaking, Mexican teams have dominated this competition, but last year hinted that that trend may be coming to a close. Toronto FC made it to the Final of the 2018 edition of CCL and quite frankly should have won. They outplayed the eventual winners, Chivas Guadalajara, but Chivas caught some lucky bounces and were clinical with the few chances they had. Chivas similarly beat the New York Red Bulls in the semi-final prior. Before falling to Chivas, RBNY beat Mexican powerhouse Tijuana, and Toronto beat tournament favorites Tigres and Club America, both from Mexico. This year we will find out whether MLS turned a corner or whether 2018 was a blip on the radar. And I haven’t mentioned them much but teams from Costa Rica are not push overs. Costa Rican side Saprissa are making their 8th appearance in the last 10 years of CCL, the most of any team in the 2019 iteration. They know what to expect. Lastly, only one team participating this year has previously won CCL (Monterrey of Liga MX).

Qualification for the FIFA Club World Cup

The winner of this competition gets to play against the best club team from Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania in a tournament known as the Club World Cup. The European teams dominate this competition while playing mostly substitutes and/or reserves but it’s another way to measure the gap between CONCACAF competition against the best in the world. In fact it’s the only ‘competitive’ tournament where we can do that. I have to mention that FIFA is looking at making changes to the Club World Cup to make it more competitive. It looks like The Club World Cup may replace the Confederations Cup and would take place every 4 years, they year prior to a World Cup. The format would be expanded to include multiple Champions League winners from each continent, although with a decided preference for European teams (the suggested format had 24 teams, 12 coming from Europe). Regardless of format changes, the winner of CCL will still have an opportunity to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

I hope I’ve convinced you and that you too catch #CCLFever this Febuary! Dates and times for all Round of 16 games can be found here!