USMNT vs. Guyana Review

The USMNT won 4-0 late on Tuesday night against Gold Cup debutantes Guyana. While the US men won, the performance was short of dominant. Against a Guyana squad which consists of players who just barely meet the minimum requirement to be called “professionals”, the US could have played better. To define Guyana’s talent level more exactly, a majority of their players play in the 4th or 5th divisions in England, or the 2nd or lower divisions in the US. While the USMNT won, most would have hoped for a more convincing win.

With that said, here were my thoughts from the night, player by player, from best to worst performances:

  • Tyler Boyd was the Man of the Match, scoring his first and second goal ever for the US. He was consistently threatening making runs in behind the defense, and whipping in dangerous crosses. Additionally, he had a few field shifting long balls to Arriola on the other side that changed the angle of attack. Those are the types of passes that Head Coach Gregg Berhalter loves.
  • McKennie showed the grit and fight that this team has been missing of late. He tracked back to defend, he muscled guys off the ball, and he wasn’t afraid to commit a foul or two. The US desperately needed that. McKennie was also a huge threat in the final third, which I haven’t seen from him in past national team performances. Again, with the caveat that this team is the worst team at this tournament.
  • Lima was a terror up and down the right side of the field for the US. There were very few attacks coming down his flank and he added substantially to the attack as an overlapping fullback. He’s making a good argument that he should be the full-time starting right back even when DeAndre Yedlin is healthy.
  • Arriola continued to work hard down the left wing, getting into dangerous spaces. He’s been vocal about wanting to score more, as he missed a few sitters in recent friendlies. He put one away tonight, but probably wished he could redo one or two other opportunities.
  • Steffen contributed more with his feet than his hands, as the US built out of the back. He didn’t have any shaky moments like he did in the last two friendlies. He only needed to make one save on the night and he did so handily.
  • Bradley was solid *enough* defensively, and pinged a few of those Pirlo-esque long balls which he has become known for. I emphasize “enough” because it looked like Bradley was just barely able to snuff out the attacks from this Guyana team. Won’t be as easy as this tournament progresses.
  • Pulisic looked dangerous but lacked the final product for most of the game. He had a few progressions in the final third that were quite impressive, as one would expect from the $70 million man. However, none of these moves ended in a goal or an assist. And it’s not just that he wasn’t in the boxscore, it felt like he wasn’t all that close. His best chance was a point-blank shot that went straight at the ‘keeper. Maybe I’m being tough on him, but as the most talented player on the field, the bar is higher for Pulisic.
  • Long and Zimmerman both had decent outings, taking care of business defensively, and keeping the ball moving in possession. Zimmerman had one or two errant passes, but he was also asked to make tougher passes as Guyana started cutting off the simple pass to Bradley. I don’t believe Long had a single misplaced pass on the night, but as the middle centerback in what was essentially a back 3, he was just shuttling the ball between Zimmerman and Ream for most of the night.
  • Ream was asked to play similarly to Zimmerman trying a few passes centerbacks usually don’t try. Similarly, a few of them didn’t come off, which led to dangerous counters the other way. Ream also had a few defensive lapses that were less than ideal.
  • Zardes had a very Zardes performance. He made good runs, his positioning was great, he had some good hold-up play here and there, but his first-touch failed him at times, and he struggled to find the back of the net except for twice: one goal called back for offside and another that was an unintentional rebound off of his face.
  • For both Ream and Zardes, they gave performances we are used to. Not horrible, but definitely not ideal. Like a solid 4/10. Zardes is the backup, so I’m more okay with that. Finger’s crossed Jozy is fit for the rest of the tournament. With Ream … maybe Daniel Lovitz is less error prone? Yikes …
  • The substitutions (Roldan, Mihailovic, and Trapp), all had a mixed 20-30 mins. I think each one had a moment they made me go “Hey, this looks better than what we saw in those friendlies last week”, but then also had a moment that made me go “Yeahhh, but these guys are coming off the bench for a reason”. Might be a real problem that the US doesn’t have many dangerous options off the bench. Also might be a problem that we used 2 subs to limit the minutes high injury risk players, and then the third because a guy got injured.

One last note on the style of play and Berhalter. This game looked more like a Berhalter team than the previous two friendly losses. It shows that the team had a full week of practice together. They probably only have a day or two of practice sessions before the next game Saturday. How well this team gels, and executes Berhalter’s game plan are perhaps the most important “process goals” of the coming month.

The boys are up against the dreaded Trinidad & Tobago next, on Saturday. T&T lost to Panama earlier on Tuesday 2-0. If Panama take care of business against Guyana earlier on Saturday, T&T will be playing to stay alive in the tournament. USA will be playing for some redemption after their last loss to T&T knocked them out of World Cup Qualifying.

USMNT 2019 Gold Cup Preview

The USMNT start their Gold Cup defense against Guyana on June 18th, followed by a long-awaited rematch against the dreaded Trinidad & Tobago on June 22nd, and rounding out the group stage against recent World Cup debutantes Panama on June 26th. All games will be in English of the Fox Channels and in Spanish on the Univision channels.

Berhalter named a 40-man roster and then a 23-man roster. Now that the 23-man roster has been announced, only injury related changes can be made. Any player switched into the 23-man roster must come from the 40 man roster and the switch must be made at least 24 hours before the first game (so before June 17th at 10 PM for the US).

The 40-man roster was mostly expected. There are the young stars (Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Sargent, Steffen), some members of the Old Guard (Bradley, Altidore, Omar Gonzalez, Guzan), some Berhalter favorites (Trapp, Zardes, Lima, Lewis), some players forged in MLS (Long, Zimmerman, Roldan, M. Robinson, Baird) a few European journeyman (Ream, Miazga, CCV, Holmes, A. Robinson, Horvath) and some curious call-ups (Fossey, Gutman, Gyau, Boyd, Amon). Check out the full list here. Notable absences include Brooks and Yedlin (both injured), Weah (who is with the U-20’s at the U-20 World Cup), and lastly, Novakovich, Wood, K. Accosta, Delgado, Hamid, and Fabian Johnson (presumably not in the plans for Berhalter).

Then Berhalter named a “Summer Training Camp” roster which mixed some fringe senior team players and some U-23 eligible players (The Olympics is a U-23 competition, and the US has not qualified in the last two cycles). Then Berhalter named a 29-man roster of players who would train for a friendly against Jamaica. This friendly was essentially used as a tryout for the final 23-man Gold Cup roster which came the next day.

Before I breakdown the final 23-man roster, I want note the odd “Summer Training Camp” roster. I believe this camp served two purposes: 1. Introduce the Berhalter system to some players who have yet to play in it, and 2. Provide an opportunity for U-23 players to train with senior national team players. I like the idea of U-23 players getting tested against some older guys, and I like the idea of some older guys getting more reps with Berhalter. All in all, I’m about this summer camp. Since then, there is a U-23 roster training in Utah while the senior team bounces around the country in the Gold Cup. Definitely like the U-23 team getting together early and often to learn Berhalter’s systems.

Now to the official Gold Cup Roster (Club;Caps/Goals):

Players replaced due to injury are crossed out

GOALKEEPERS (3): 12-Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 7/0), 22-Tyler Miller (LAFC; 0/0), 1-Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 10/0)

DEFENDERS (8): 14-Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 10/1) [Replaced by Reggie Cannon], 3-Omar Gonzalez (Toronto FC/CAN; 50/3), 2-Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 4/0), 23-Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 6/0), 16-Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 5/0), 19-Matt Miazga (Chelsea/ENG; 14/1),
13-Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 30/1), 5-Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 7/2)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 4-Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 145/17), 20-Duane Holmes (Derby County/ENG; 2/0) [Replaced by Djorde Mihailovic], 8-Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 9/1), 10-Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 25/10), 15-Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 11/0), 6-Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 17/0)

FORWARDS (6): 17-Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 111/41), 7-Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 23/3), 21-Tyler Boyd (Vitória Guimãres/POR; 1/0), 18-Jonathan Lewis (Colorado Rapids; 4/0), 11-Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 28/5), 9-Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 45/7)

The internet believes the most notable omission here is Josh Sargent. Berhalter defended his decision saying he like Zardes more than Sargent right now and that Sargent could gain more from getting a full preseason in with Werder Bremen. I don’t love Sargent being left off but I’m not outraged by it either. I think Amon also had a good shot at making this team which is relatively thin on quality wingers.

Against Venezuela on Sunday, the team got smacked with a 3-0 loss. They were missing Bradley, Pulisic, and Adams while Altidore only played the second half. Those are 4 of the US’ 7 most important players (the others being Steffen, Brooks, and McKennie). Plus this was Aaron Long’s first game back from a month of injury. I’m not trying to make excuses for the US, as a 3-0 loss is unacceptable in most cases, but there are some reasons as to why the team might have under-performed. And luckily, none of the United States’ group stage opponents are ranked top-30 in the world like Venezuela currently is (Stu Holden, on the call for the USA v. VEN match, wasn’t giving that Venezuela team enough credit; they defeated Argentina earlier this year for a reason). I believe that the team will look a lot better after a full week of practice together.

Pulisic joined this group late, and did not play in the Venezuela warm-up game. Adams and Holmes, two of the more exciting prospects, left camp due to injuries. Since the first Gold Cup game is against minnows Guyana, I would not be shocked if a few starters on this team rest. So here is the team I expect Berhalter to play against T&T and Panama in the 2nd and 3rd games:

Altidore

Arriola – Pulisic – McKennie – Boyd

Bradley

Ream –  Miazga – Zimmerman – Lima

Steffen

I’m pretty convinced Bradley has to start over Trapp, and Altidore has to start over Zardes. We might see Long in for Zimmerman, if Long get’s up to speed. Otherwise I think this is Berhalter’s ideal starting XI for this tournamnet. Remember this is Berhalter’s special formation where Lima joins Bradley on the defensive midfield line in attack, and the wingers push high to the forward line with Altidore. Although, without Adams in that hybrid RB/CM position, we might see a totally different structure on the field.

I am interested to see how this group plays against some CONCACAF teams in official competition. However, I would like to see a similar line-up with a few tweaks in order to put out best players in their best positions. Given this roster, I want to see Pulisic pushed out wide, where he played regularly for Dortmund. Without Holmes or Lletget on the roster, I guess I’m putting Mihailovic or Roldan where Pulisic is currently. I’d also like to see McKennie play deeper in the midfield. I believe McKennie plays best when he is transitioning the ball from defense to attack. Playing him deeper in the midfield allows him to do that. Lastly, I would put Adams in the defensive midfield, where he has played for RB Leipzig, if he were healthy and on this roster. For now, Bradley will do.

A good time to try something new/different would be in the US’s first game against Guyana. I know we shouldn’t be experimenting in an official competition, but I think a slightly experimental lineup could still roll the Guyana team. Specifically this is a set-up I’d like Berhalter to try (if not in this tournament, at some point):

Altidore

Pulisic – Mihailovic/Roldan – Boyd

Bradley – McKennie

Lovitz –  Miazga – Zimmerman – Lima

Steffen

Notice I also swapped for Lovitz at LB because I see him as more of a natural LB than Ream, and in this set-up, I wouldn’t have Lima push up making the back-4 into a back-3. We might see some experimentation like this in the group stage. It’s hard to project who will play in the knockout round, as roster decisions will likely be based on form in the group stage. Maybe Tyler Boyd lights the world aflame, or Long comes back into form, or there’s some catastrophic injury that changes the whole set-up.

Come back after the Group Stage and the Final for reviews of the USMNT’s performance!

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!

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!

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!