USMNT 2018 November Friendlies Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horvath

Cannon – Brooks – Miazga – Villafana

Adams – McKennie

Pulisic – de la Torre – Weah

Sargent

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

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

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

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

Come back next week for a review of the games!

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Behind Messi’s Decision

Make that three in a row for Argentina. After losing to Chile on Sunday, Argentina came up short in its third straight tournament final. The loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup Final, followed by two consecutive defeats to the Chileans in the Copa America have left the Argentine with a sour taste in their mouth.

Lionel Messi
Messi is Argentina’s all-time leading scorer with 55 goals in 113 caps. (Wikimedia Commons)

So much so, that Argentinian captain Lionel Messi has said that he is retiring from international football. His proclamation came shortly after the heartbreaking loss, where Messi fired his shot over the bar during the decisive penalty shootout. It might have just been his emotions getting the best of him in the heat of the moment. But there are plenty of other reasons that could be fueling Messi’s desire leave the international game.

First and foremost, it is no secret that he has a certain amount of disdain for the Argentina Football Association (AFA). For anyone who has consistently read this blog, you know I hate FIFA for being a corrupt organization. The AFA fits into that same mold.

For some context, the Argentinian players beat the USA last Tuesday, and then were set to fly out to Houston on Thursday. However, the flight was delayed due to weather concerns. That didn’t stop Messi from taking to social media to bash the AFA for the mishandling of the situation. The AFA issued a response saying that Copa America organizers were responsible for all travel logistics. I think Messi was just looking for something to be mad about here, but he was probably already a bit pissed off.

Just prior to the flight snafu, AFA president Luis Segura was charged with fraudulent administration regarding television-broadcasting rights. He hasn’t been found guilty, but the money in question is several million dollars over the course of the last six years. That reflects poorly on the AFA and likely already had Messi in a bad mood.

There is also a deep-seeded stalemate between those in Argentina and their most prolific player. Messi has played for Barcelona his entire career and that has led to the sentiment that he is more committed to his club than his country. It has been a long-standing love-hate relationship between Messi and the Argentine fans.

From their perspective, he has never delivered. Sunday’s loss was the fourth time Messi came up short in a major tournament final. He has only ever won one gold medal and it was at the Olympics, which is rather insignificant by world football standards.

Lionel_Messi
Argentina has not won a major tournament since 1993, when Messi was only six. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, it is hard to argue that Messi hasn’t given it his all while wearing an Argentina shirt. He was nothing short of magical in this Copa America run, tallying five goals and four assists during the team’s six games. He didn’t start all of them either, as he came off the bench early in the tournament. Think back to the 2015 Copa America, where Messi scored only once, but had three assists and was the only Argentine player to score in the Finals’ shootout. And before that, it was four goals and an assist en route to the Golden Ball Award at the World Cup in 2014.

The last three years have been some of the best of Messi’s career at the international level. He has guided Argentina to three consecutive major tournament finals, coming up short to Chile and Germany, both of whom are great teams.

The reality is that Messi must feel jaded. I honestly do not think his retirement at this point is permanent. He is, after all, just 29 years old. There is still a lot of magic left in the tank for Messi. I think his teammates will convince him to give it at least one last run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If the five-time Ballon d’Or winner cannot pull through there, then I think that might be the end of the line. Until then, just enjoy the show everyone.

Did Klinsmann Save his Job?

The United States faces off with Ecuador on Thursday night in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals. Many expected America to be here, but not against this opponent. Peru messed up what should have been a meeting between the U.S. and Brazil, with some help from Costa Rica.

America is favored to beat Ecuador now and advance to the semifinal round. All of that would be great and it makes you wonder if Jurgen Klinsmann has taken himself off the hot seat.

Jurgen Klinsmann
America is 2-1 under Klinsmann heading into the Copa America quarterfinals. (Wikimedia Commons)

Klinsmann has had some mixed results in 2016 and continues to alienate players from MLS. Many felt that a poor showing in this tournament would see him packing his bags. We saw what failing to get out of group play can do to a manager of a very successful team (see Brazil). It was certainly in the realm of possibility that Klinsmann would be unemployed if his team failed to advance.

Even with the U.S. qualifying for the knockout stage, I don’t think Klinsmann has completely gotten himself out of hot water. The United States beat Paraguay and Costa Rica. The game against Los Ticos was spectacular and the Paraguay match was solid. However, they also lost in a rough offensive showing against Columbia. Now, the latter is the number three team in the world at the moment. Overall, this is a good slate of results for the Red, White and Blue.

But the U.S. hasn’t beat anyone they weren’t supposed to. Costa Rica was a toss up and Paraguay was a game America was expected to win. Columbia would have been a major victory. Those two wins were good results but nothing out of the ordinary. Really, the USMNT was lucky to win the pool.

A win over Ecuador would be significant, as they are currently ranked 13th in the world. A semifinal victory could be a huge sign of progress for this team. The US will likely play either Argentina, Chile or Mexico. Defeating one of those three teams would be a significant benchmark in the preparation for the 2018 World Cup.

Jurgen_Klinsmann
America is ranked 31st in the world at the moment. (Wikimedia Commons)

Realistically, the United States has no chance of winning this tournament. They lack to the defensive discipline and offensive fire power to upset potentially three top 20 ranked teams in the world back to back to back.

So while the U.S. won the pool and enter the knockout stage with high hopes, realize that nothing significant has happened yet. They won the pool mainly due to Costa Rica stunning Columbia in the groups’ final game. Everything the Americans have done to this point they were supposed to do.

If they lose to Ecuador, this is an average tournament for the USA. If they beat Ecuador, Klinsmann and his group has a positive result to take from this tournament going forward. Anything past that would be phenomenal progress for the United States. Klinsmann is trending in the direction of safety but I don’t think he has made it quite yet.

The Lesser of Two Evils

Don’t you just hate when people lie to you? Or when people just don’t understand when they have done something wrong? Or when it seems like everything someone does has an ulterior motive that seems to somehow benefit them?

Any of those descriptions could apply to Sepp Blatter or Roger Goodell. Both men run probably the two most powerful sporting organizations in the world. Honestly, two of the most powerful organizations of any kind. According to bloomberg.com, the NFL generates an estimated $9.5 billion per season with a market value of roughly $46 billion between the 32 teams. FIFA generated about $5.7 billion in 2014, according its end-of-year financial report. $4.8 billion came from the World Cup in Brazil, and only about $2.2 billion in expenses. Clearly, both of these organizations are very lucrative.

Then you realize that both of them are registered as non-profit organizations. Yup, that’s right. No taxes for either the NFL or FIFA league offices. Well, the NFL actually recently changed its stance on that. It decided to give up its tax-free ways so it could now hide Goodell’s salary. Go figure they want to be as opaque as possible.

That is definitely frustrating, as a tax-paying citizen, to hear. If that proves to be too much anger for you, stop reading this now, because it gets a whole lot worse.

Debating who is worse of these two clowns is sort of like debating which is worse, Comcast or Time Warner Cable. They both are awful, money-sucking entities with an inability to apply reason to situations that need to be fixed, but somehow, one has to be worse than the other right?

Roger_Goodell
Goodell has been commissioner of the NFL since 2009.

So, we’ve talked about the organizations completely dodging taxes, which is beyond ridiculous. The amount these two men make though is even more absurd. Goodell makes way more than any of his top players make in a given year. His salary was $45 million in 2012 and it took a drop to $34 million in 2013. However, he does not have to worry about his pay for a while. The New York Daily News reports that Goodell received a package that will pay him roughly $300 million over a seven year span starting in 2012. That average of close to $43 million a year is about double what the league’s top players make every year and they risk their bodies for our entertainment. Goodell sits in a cushy chair and just suspends whoever he likes (more on that later).

Sepp_Blatter
Blatter has been the president of FIFA since 1998.

Blatter is not quite as bad as Goodell in terms of his greed for his salary. Different sources conflict on how much Blatter makes. One thinks Blatter makes roughly $1 million annually. Another pegs it somewhere between $5 and $18 million. FIFA does not have to release it’s executives salaries each year. However, the likelihood is that Blatter makes more than just his salary, it just isn’t listed.

FIFA also has a track record for ripping off host countries. Blatter and his organization are exempt from all taxes, local, state and national, when operating in the country for the World Cup. In fact, Brazil estimated $248.7 million in lost revenue following the World Cup just for letting FIFA evade taxes. More often than not, FIFA causes countries to shell out an inordinate amount of money and then actually walk away worse off financially than when FIFA arrived. The funny thing is, that isn’t even close to the worst part about FIFA.

Over the past year or so, FIFA has been rocked by allegations of bribery and corruption. 2015 saw the story break regarding a scheme that FIFA officials organized to generate more than $150 million in kickbacks for themselves. Now Blatter was not one of the officials named in this situation but this is not the first time FIFA has been accused of corruption or accepting bribes. Dating back to 2010, FIFA executives have served bans for violations of ethics codes. With all of this going on in FIFA it is hard to believe that Blatter has not been a part of some of the activity, taking his fair share of bribes.

Sepp BlatterWhile he wasn’t named then, things finally seem to have caught up to Blatter. The Swiss Attorney General’s office announced it was launching an investigation “on suspicion of criminal mismanagement…and – alternatively – misappropriation.” The report also mentions that Blatter’s office was searched and data was seized.

Goodell has never been accused of criminal activity, which would definitely go in the win column for him. However, he has grossly mishandled several legal cases with serious repercussions.

For starters, there was Goodell handing Ray Rice only a two-game suspension after he had weeks to review the situation and give an appropriate punishment. Rice punched his then fiancee in the face, knocking her out, then dragged her onto an elevator. The NFL received word of this and then rather than rationally seek outside counsel for a case they were not equipped to handle, brought Rice and his fiancee into the same room together to rehash the situation. That is a principle violation of how to handle assault cases mainly because the accuser is in the same room as the assaulter. More often than not, the accuser will stand down out of fear that if he or she tells the truth, the assaulter will hurt them again.

So there was that. Then there was Goodell mishandling Ray McDonald’s, Adrian Peterson’s and Greg Hardy’s cases as well.

Roger GoodellNeedless to say, Goodell had a rough 2014 offseason. But then his popularity rating dropped even lower when he picked a fight with Tom Brady and slandered his name despite having no hard evidence. Many people agreed with Goodell’s thinking that Brady was innocent but Goodell once again displayed his dictator-like powers, handing down a four-game suspension (keep in mind he suspended Rice for only two for punching his wife) to Brady on the account that Brady might have been generally aware that someone had tampered with the footballs in the AFC Championship game. Even now after a federal judge ruled the suspension unfair, the NFL continues to drag out the fight, looking to appeal the ruling on the appeal (which is also just stupid that it is allowed).

Right now, these two men are at an all-time low in terms of popularity. However, Goodell might have the slight edge. No NFL sponsors have publicly demanded for Goodell to step down from his post, (although, they probably should have). Meanwhile, Coca-cola just released a statement that Blatter must step down amidst the corruption scandal. It is a long time coming but Coke finally pulled the trigger. No word has come yet from Blatter on what he will do now that this is out in the open.

So while Goodell is an inconsiderate, greedy, sexist and overall incompetent man, he managed to make the NFL lucrative with having to break dozens of laws and fund himself with illegal hidden payments. Blatter has corruption written all over his organization during his tenure, from accepting bribes for World Cup allocations to illegal contracts.

Thankfully, it seems like Blatter is on his way soon between he “resignation” that should hopefully take place in December and a major sponsor turning up the heat. Now if only Nike could finally tell Goodell that he really just needs to take a hike, the world be a much better place.

Oh and just for sheer entertainment value because he fully deserves it: