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

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Gregg Berhalter, USMNT Head Coach and a USMNT November Review

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

Gregg Beralter, USMNT Head Coach 

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

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

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

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

USMNT November Friendlies

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

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

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

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

US U20 Team are CONCACAF U20 Champions 

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

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

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

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

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

US U17’s Play Friendlies

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

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

US U-20 World Cup Qualifying Part 1

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

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

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

Players who played well:

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

Players who played okay:

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

Players who did not impress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott

Dest – Richards – Rogers – Gloster

Servania – Mendez – Torres

Pomykal – Soto – Llanez

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

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

USMNT 2018 November Friendlies Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horvath

Cannon – Brooks – Miazga – Villafana

Adams – McKennie

Pulisic – de la Torre – Weah

Sargent

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

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

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

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

Come back next week for a review of the games!

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.