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!

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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!

Profiling MLS Stadiums

During this MLS Offseason I want to look at the different structures of MLS teams. In this piece, I am examining the stadiums in which MLS teams play. Since I’ve only been to two of these stadiums, I’m trying to stay objective by looking at the numbers. I’m going to give a loose ranking of the stadiums based off of Capacity, 2018 Average Attendance (% of Full Capacity on average), Surface (grass vs. turf), Home-Field Advantage (Record at Stadium over the last 3 years, *exceptions for stadiums younger than 3 years), whether it’s a soccer specific stadium, and I’ll occasionally give bonus points for being aesthetically pleasing. By “loose ranking”, I’m going to group the stadiums into tiers. With that said, here are some median and average numbers:

Stadium (Team) $141.67 million (only including stadiums built by MLS teams)

Capacity (using reduced capacities for larger stadiums) – 20,973 (Median) 23,585 (Average)

Avg. Attendance – 19,384 (Median), 21,852 (Average, like and Average of a the teams’ averages)

% Capacity Full – 92.4% (Median), 92.6% (Average)

Home Field Advantage – 1.87 ppg,

Mostly Soccer Specific, and 17/23 on Grass

In terms of Capacity and Attendance, considering the outliers in this data (Seattle and Atlanta), the median numbers are more representative of the league as a whole and so I will reference those rather than the averages throughout.

Tier 5: Underachievers

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Colorado Rapids) $131 Million

Capacity – 18,061, Avg. Attendance – 15,333 (84.9%), Home Field Advantage – 25W – 13L – 13D (1.73 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Colorado’s Home since 2007. Low Capacity, Low Attendance, and a bad home record can’t be saved by the grass field.

Toyota Park (Chicago Fire) $70 million

Capacity – 20,000, Avg. Attendance – 14,806 (74%), Home Field Advantage – 24W – 12L – 15D (1.71 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Chicago’s Home since 2006. Low Attendance hurts Chicago’s standing here and their home-field advantage has been poor over the past few years.

Tier 4: Sub-par Stadium Set-ups

MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus Crew) $28.5 million

Capacity – 19,968, Avg. Attendance – 12,447 (62.33%), Home Field Advantage – 29W – 8L, 16D (2.01 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Columbus’ Home since 1999. The first Soccer-Specific stadium in the United States. The Crew’s low numbers are undoubtedly due to the rumors throughout the year that the team was moving to Austin. A new ownership group has officially bought the club, and have plans for a new downtown stadium so we’ll see if the numbers bounce back in 2019.

Avaya Stadium (San Jose Earthquakes) $100 million

Capacity – 18,000, Avg. Attendance – 17,050 (94.7%), Home Field Advantage – 19W – 14L – 18D (1.47 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: San Jose’s Home since 2015. Played one game at Stamford’s Stadium which has a capacity of 50,000+, that game was subtracted from the Avg. Attendance calculation. It’s nice that they have a lot of sellout’s but a low Capacity and one of the worst Home Field Advantages put San Jose near the bottom of this list.

Talen Energy Stadium (Philadelphia Union) $122 million

Capacity – 18,500, Avg. Attendance – 16,518 (89.3%), Home Field Advantage – 27W – 15L – 9D (1.76 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: The Union’s Home since 2010. Philly underperforms in every statistical category  category making them a perfect fit for this sub-par group.

BBVA Compass Stadium (Houson Dynamo) $95 million

Capacity – 22,039, Avg. Attendance – 16,906 (76.6%), Home Field Advantage – 25W – 12L – 14D (1.75 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Houston’s Home since 2012. If Houston filled their stadium more and had a higher Home Field Advantage than they could move out of this tier.

Toyota Stadium (FC Dallas) $65 million

Capacity – 20,500, Avg. Attendance – 15,512 (75.6%), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 5L – 16D (2.08 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: FC Dallas’ Home since 2005. Dallas is saved by their Home Field Advantage, and their low attendance numbers keep them out of a higher tier.

Stade Saputo (Montreal Impact) $35.1 million (47 million Canadian Dollars)

Capacity – 20,801, Avg. Attendance – 18,569 (89.2%), Home Field Advantage – 24W – 17L – 8D (1.57 ppg),  Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Montreal’s Home since 2012. Similarly to Dallas, Montreal is not in a higher tier because of poor Home Field Advantage.

Tier 4: Not Soccer Specific with Solid Attendance

BC Place (Vancouver Whitecaps) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 54,500 (22,120 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 21,946 (40.2% or 99.2% Reduced), Home Field Advantage – 22W – 13L – 16D (1.61 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Vancouver’s Home since 2011. Intended for the Olympics, playing in BC Place is good home for the Whitecaps. If they could fill their stadium like Atlanta or Seattle they would definitely jump up some tiers.

Gillette Stadium (New England Revolution) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 65, 878 (20,000 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 18,347 (27.8% or 91.7% Reduced), Home Field Advantage – 29W – 10L – 12D (1.94 ppg), Soccer Specific – No,  Surface – Turf

Notes: The Rev’s Home since 2002. Playing in a football stadium and not selling it out looks bad but their attendance and Home Field Advantage aren’t the worst.

Yankee Stadium (New York City FC) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 47,309 (30,321 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 23,211 (49.1% or 76.5% Reduced), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 6L – 15D (2.05 ppg), Soccer Specific – Obviously Not, Surface – A baseball field

Notes: NYCFC’s Home since 2015. Higher Attendance and Home Field Advantage numbers than some of the stadium’s above it but is dragged down by the fact that it’s a frickin’ baseball stadium. Worth noting NYCFC have had to relocate home games to Citi Field and somewhere in Connecticut due to schedule conflicts with the Yankees. Definitely not ideal.

Honorable Mention – Nippert Stadium (FC Cincinnati) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 40,000, Avg. Attendance – 25,717 (64.3%), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 8L – 13D (2.01 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Cincinnati played in US’s second division in 2018 (known as USL), but they will be joining MLS in 2019. They already boast a higher than average attendance. There are plans for them to build a soccer specific stadium which will be ready within a few years. Their Home Field Advantage number is against USL competition but is impressive nonetheless.

Tier 3: Almost Ideal Soccer Specific Stadiums

Allianz Field (Minnesota United) $68 million

Capacity – 19,400, *Avg. Attendance – 23,902 (123%), *Home Field Advantage – 17W – 12L – 5D (1.65 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass, Bonus points for looking DOPE!

Notes: *Allianz opens in 2019 and so the Avg. Attendance and Home Field Advantage numbers were from Minnesota playing in TCF Bank Stadium which has a capacity of 50,000+*. Minnesota have only played in MLS since 2017. This is a weird one to rank with the stadium switch, so I’ve put it dead in the middle. TCF Bank Stadium hasn’t been optimal but it looks like Allianz will be.

Rio Tinto Stadium aka “The RioT” (Real Salt Lake) $50.13 million

Capacity – 20,213, Avg. Attendance – 18,605 (92%), Home Field Advantage – 28W – 7L – 16D (1.96 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: RSL’s Home since 2008. Slightly above average Home Field Advantage And relatively high % Capacity filled on average. Plus I love the nickname “The RioT”

Auid Field (DC United) $400-500 million

Capacity – 20,500, Avg. Attendance – 18,818 (91.8%), *Home Field Advantage – 12W – 2L – 1D (2.46 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: DC’s Home since summer of 2018 (*Less than 3 seasons). If Audi Field can maintain it’s Home Field Advantage (which currently has the smallest sample size of any stadium), and sellout every game, then it would enter the next highest tier.

Orlando City Stadium (Orlando City SC) $155 million

Capacity – 25,500, Avg. Attendance – 23,866 (93.6%), *Home Field Advantage – 13W – 12L – 9D (1.41 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass, Bonus points because I love the color purple

Notes: Orlando’s Home since 2017 (*Less than 3 seasons). The only thing keeping Orlando out of the next highest tier is their low Home Field Advantage.

StubHub Center (Los Angeles Galaxy) $150 million

Capacity – 27,000, Avg. Attendance – 24,444 (90.5%), Home Field Advantage – 19W – 15L – 17D (1.45 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: LA Galaxy’s Home since 2003. The Galaxy are in a similar spot to Orlando in terms of their stadium – higher Capacity and Average Attendance but very poor Home Field Advantages recently. Also like Orlando, they’d be in the next tier with a better Home Field Advantage.

Red Bull Arena (New York Red Bulls) $200 million

Capacity – 25,000, Avg. Attendance – 18,644 (74.6%), Home Field Advantage – 36W – 6L – 9D (2.29 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: RBNY’s Home since 2010. RBNY have the highest Home Field Advantage (excluding DC’s small sample size). However, their Average Attendance has to knock them into this “Almost Ideal” tier.

Tier 2: Ideal Soccer Specific Stadiums

Banc of California Stadium (Los Angeles FC) $350 million

Capacity – 22,000, Avg. Attendance – 22,000 (100%), *Home Field Advantage – 9W – 1L – 7D (2.0 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: LAFC’s Home since 2018 (*Less than 3 seasons). I was shocked to learn that LAFC sold out every game this year. They also had a solid Home Field Advantage. Honestly there’s little to improve upon, but their sample size is still only one season, which knocks them a little lower on this list.

Children’s Mercy Park (Sporting Kansas City) $200 million

Capacity – 18,467, *Avg. Attendance – 19,950 (108%), Home Field Advantage – 30W – 7L – 14D (2.03 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: SKC’s Home since 2011. *There are standing room tickets which allow SKC to go above Capacity*. Selling out your stadium and having a good Home Field Advantage goes a long way.

Providence Park (Portland Timbers) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 21,144, Avg. Attendance – 21,444 (100%), Home Field Advantage – 34W – 7L – 6D (2.11 ppg), Soccer Specific – Historically no but right now Yes, Surface – Turf

Notes: Portland’s Home since 2011. Similar place to SKC, but slightly higher Capacity/Attendance and Home Field Advantage. Providence Park as a stadium has been around since 1926 and has been the home of many sports. It wasn’t originally intended for soccer but right now it’s main tenants are the Timbers and the NWSL team the Portland Thorns. Not exactly Soccer Specific but I’m going to count it.

BMO Field (Toronto FC) $62 million

Capacity – 30,991, Avg. Attendance – 26,628 (85.9%), Home Field Advantage – 29W – 11L – 11D (1.92 ppg), Soccer Specific – Yes, Surface – Grass

Notes: Toronto’s Home since 2007. Toronto’s Home Field Advantage took a hit this year, but their higher Capacity, and Average Attendance are tough to look past.

Tier 1: NFL Stadiums with High Attendance

Century Link Field (Seattle Sounders) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 69,000 (39,419 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 40,641 (58.9% or 103.1%), Home Field Advantage – 31W – 11L – 9D (2.0 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Seattle’s Home since 2009. Perhaps what’s most impressive about Seattle is their longevity. To have such high Attendance, and Home Field Advantage for so long. If it were not for Atlanta, Seattle would easily top this list.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta United) Not built by MLS team

Capacity – 72,035 (42,500 Reduced), Avg. Attendance – 53,002 (73.6% or 124.7% Reduced), *Home Field Advantage – 16W – 3L – 6D (2.16 ppg), Soccer Specific – No, Surface – Turf

Notes: Atlanta’s home since since September of 2017 (*Less than 3 seasons). Despite not being a soccer specific stadium and being played on turf the atmosphere in “The Benz” is electric. There are reports that they are the 15th highest attended soccer team in the world. That’s nuts for this league and I look forward to this trend continuing. Atlanta beat out Seattle here on higher Average Attendance and Capacity.

Check out the rest of my series Profiling MLS Teams 2018

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!