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!

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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!

Reaction to USMNT October Friendlies

It was a loss and a draw to South American competition in what could be Sarachan’s last camp as USMNT coach. Here are my notes from both games. Disclaimer: Since Sarachan isn’t going to be in charge for much longer, I don’t examine his tactics here.

Notes After Colombia Game:

Starting XI (4-2-3-1):

Steffen

Yedlin – Miazga – Brooks – Robinson

Bradley – Acosta

Weah – Green – Saief

Wood

Subs: Picault for Saief (58′), Delgado for Weah (68′), Sweat for Robinson (76′), Sargent for Wood (83′), Novakovich for Green (84′)

Notes:


  • Game in a nutshell:
     We were outclassed for most of the game but were at 2-2 through 70 minutes. Then we changed our formation (Delgado came on we shifted to more of a 3-5-2 with Bradley as a center back and Delgado centrally next to Acosta) and Bradley’s age started to show. Colombia won the final 20 minutes 2-0. There is no question Colombia is a better team, so there’s no shame in losing to them. The last 20 minutes of any friendly are wonky because there are like a dozen subs coming on.
  • Weah’s stock has risen the most. He was burning Colombia at times and was tracking back to defend as well. Not to mention his absolutely gorgeous assist on Bobby Wood’s goal. For me he has joined Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie in that “Written in pen on the starting lineup” category. Credit to @mattluppy for having him there before these games. I still haven’t seen him play as a striker and I still want to see that, but for now I have no problem playing him on the wing. Also exciting that he mentioned going on loan starting in January to find regular minutes.
  • bobby_wood_1860_2011_2
    Bobby Wood came up with a goal against Colombia. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Wood’s stock has risen. His goal confirmed my previous opinion that Wood is a good player when he has service. If we have Pulisic on one wing and Weah on the other, then I think he’ll get a good amount of such service. If we had a must-win game tomorrow, he’s probably my starter

  • Sargent’s stock has risen. He only got 5 minutes but he totally roasted one of Colombia’s center backs in that time. Long term, as soon as he is getting regular minutes for Werder Bremen, or somewhere else on loan, he should probably start over Bobby Wood
  • Acosta’s stock has risen… as a No. 8. I thought he might be in competition with Green for the attacking midfield spot but he played pretty well as a box-to-box midfielder in this game. Right now I see him as McKennie’s No 1. backup beating out the likes of Roldan, and Delgado. Speaking of which …
  • Marky Delgado wasn’t flashy but he was clean. Shout out to @zlebmada for creating a Twitter thread of all of Delgado’s touches. He only had one bad touch and the rest were productive progressions which often lead to chances. I’d like to see him start a whole game against good competition. At the same time, box-to-box midfielder is out deepest position so I don’t know that he’ll get that chance
  • Michael Bradley was admittedly good for 70 minutes. He was culpable on both of Colombia’s late goals, more so on the last one. In a must-win game he is a good replacement for Adams if injured or a nice sub to bring on late to close out games. However, someone like Russell Canouse of DC United might be able to do the same thing and he’s 8 years younger than Bradley. Plus we don’t have any must-win games soon, so why not get Canouse the experience now? I’ll stop my rant there before it carries on into an additional article.
  • Green and Saief were disappointing. Both had nice moments here and there but also had poor moments here and there. Saief didn’t really defend. Shout out to @away_goals for creating a gif-thread on Twitter of Saief’s defensive woes. Green was slow to recognize some opportunities. I don’t think either should be starters, but in Green’s case there might not be a better option.
  • Robinson is the best option at LB for now, but we should give others players a chance at that position. Not sure who those other players are at this point. Maybe Villafana, maybe Vincent? Bello is 16 and has started getting minutes in Atlanta. Perhaps in January we can call him in.
  • Yedlin is the best option at RB for now, but similar to Robinson at left back, we should give other players chances. Yedlin is better than Robinson, but there are better options behind Yedlin (Cannon, Moore).
  • Brooks and Miazga were not great on the night, I wonder if that’s because of a new pair in front of them or if they had an off night. Either way it shows that there is always room for improvement.
  • Steffen was fine, even though there were a lot of goals, I do not think he was particularly culpable on any of them.
  • Picault, Sweat, and Novakovich did not impress in their substitution appearances. I wouldn’t mind if Picault and Sweat never get called-in again, but Novakovich wasn’t given a ton of time and he’s younger, so I hope he keeps coming back.
  • Disappointed we didn’t get to see Amon, glad he got to play on Tuesday.

On to the Peru game!

Starting XI (4-1-4-1):

Guzan

Cannon – Carters-Vickers – Long – Sweat

Trapp

Weah – Delgado – Acosta – Amon

Sargent

Subs: Green on for Amon (54′), Wood on for Sargent (68′), Bradley on for Acosta (77′), Yedlin on for Cannon (82′)

Notes:

  • The game in a nutshell: Peru’s starting XI had 300+ collective national team appearances. The US starting XI had >100 collective national team appearances. With that in mind, a 1-1 draw is a good result. Our front three of Amon, Sargent and Weah were fun to watch when our midfield was able to get them the ball. Again the US conceded late, when substitutions were being made left and right. I felt much better after this game than the Colombia game.
  • I like that Sarachan used the first friendly to throw out his ‘best XI’ and used his second friendly for experimentation. Hopefully the next coach does something similar. There are still a lot of players who could push their way into the conversation before 2022.
  • Formation became a 4-4-2 when Green came on for Amon. Green was up top with Sargent. Delgado was push out wide right.
  • Guzan getting the start was expected because Steffen left camp with an injury. I have no problems with it, but I wonder if Steffen would have played both games without the injury. It is worth mentioning that Guzan played well on the night and had no fault on the goal. I think its a coin flip between him and Steffen for the starting spot.
  • Aaron Long was fantastic. He did not make any incredible stops/saves because he did not need to. He did a lot of the small things right, e.g. pushing attackers wide so their shot was at a harder angle. Probably my third choice center back on our depth chart now. No blame on the goal.
  • Cameron Carters-Vickers was okay. He committed a bad foul just outside the box in the 60th minute, and the goal conceded by the US was due to a miscommunication between him and Yedlin, but still mostly Yedlin’s fault. I think I’d like to see other center backs audition for his spot.
  • Ben Sweat should never wear a USMNT jersey again. Despite having a better second half, he never looked great. A lot of his mistakes were glazed over with good defending by Aaron Long. There are other options at left back we should call-up instead including, but not limited to, Brandon Vincent.
  • The ball wasn’t on Cannon’s side of the field that much as Peru recognized that Sweat was a player they could exploit. With what we saw, Cannon seemed like he needed to adjust to the level of play defensively and seemed slightly out of sync with his teammates offensively. He didn’t usurp Yedlin’s starting spot (yet). However, since this was his first cap and he’s 20 yrs old, I want to see him get called-up in the future.
  • Yedlin’s only significant play was when he didn’t track the Peruvian runner that scored. That’s enough said.
  • Sargent showed some youth, but his stock definitely rose. He started the game with a bad turnover, but he had two filthy passes in the first half and a well-worked goal off of a restart in the second half. I repeat, I can’t wait for him to get professional minutes regularly.
  • Amon’s stock rose, and he absolutely blew past Saief on the depth chart. This was one of my questions going into this camp: which of these two would lay claim to that left wing spot. Amon’s combination with Sargent and Weah definitely won him the spot. I’m disappointed he left the game as early as he did.
  • Weah maintained a high level of play. I think he was limited by the formation to some degree, as he was not as electric as he was against Colombia. He still had a few moments with Sargent and Amon in the first half which were encouraging.
  • Acosta and Delgado delivered what we’ve come to expect. Acosta played well in both directions starting some attacks, and making some hard tackles. Delgado was clean on the ball as usual. Both of them are high on the depth chart behind Weston McKennie.
  • Trapp was soft. He allowed Peru to get past him with little resistance too often. Similar to Sweat, I think Aaron Long cleaned up a lot of those flaws. This team missed Tyler Adams.
  • Green and Wood were more of the same in their substitution appearances. Green had a few good flashes here and there, but was overall slow to recognize opportunities. It was his turnover in the U.S. half which led to the goal. Wood was workman like and relatively clean. Nothing spectacular.
  • Bradley came on late essentially as a “closer” to secure a result. Even though a goal was conceded it was not his fault. I would not mind him playing this role over the next year or so for the USMNT.

With these friendlies wrapped up, here is my ideal starting XI going forward (4-3-3):

Steffen

Yedlin – Brooks – Miazga – Robinson

Adams – Acosta – McKennie

Pulisic – Wood – Weah

Bench: Guzan, Long, Cannon/Moore, Bradley, Delgado, Amon, Sargent

This formation doesn’t have a true “Number 10”. The only player I’ve liked in that spot is Pulisic. He played there in last years World Cup Qualifiers. Part of me really wants to play a 4-2-3-1 with that ‘3’ line being “Weah – Pulisic – Amon” and either Wood or Sargent up top. I hesitate to do so since Pulisic plays wide for Dortmund and you should always try to play your best player in their best position. Perhaps Amon or Weah can play that central role? Youth options like Andrew Carlton (of Atlanta United) and Luca de la Torre (of Fulham), have yet to crack their club’s first team. Although neither has Sargent, but those two have to get call-ups before I put them in my ideal XI.

Steffen edges out Guzan because he’s younger. If Brooks or Miazga gets into a funk I feel more than comfortable starting Aaron Long. We need a fullback sub and neither Moore nor Cannon have put themselves above the other. I like Bradley as a “closer”, someone to bring on late to hold onto a result. I don’t want to see him start unless someone is injured. Delgado has been clean and mistake free in his USMNT appearances. Amon and Sargent are electric super-subs and could arguably be starting.

Oh, and by the way my XI up there consists of 4 Bundesliga starters (2 of which play Champions League), 1 Ligue 1 starter, 1 Premiere League starter, an 18 yr old kid on PSG, a 20 yr old Championship starter, one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS (at 19!), one of the best goalkeepers in MLS (at 23!), and one of the best box-to-box midfielders in MLS (at 23). The future is bright!

Now we wait to see what November holds! Hopefully it’s a new head coach and a healthy squad!

Profiling the USMNT 2018 October Roster

The real work begins for the US Men’s national team to start figuring out how it will avoid the disappointments of a year ago the next time World Cup Qualification roles around. The USMNT have two friendlies this month against Columbia (Thursday 7:30 PM on FS1) and Peru (Tuesday 7:30 PM on ESPN2). Interim Coach Dave Sarachan has bucked the youth trend a little and called in some familiar names for better or worse. Also some minor injuries to big players sour the mood going into this one. I’m going to run through the roster and give you my thoughts and then give you the Starting XI I would like to see.

The below roster information is from ussoccer.com’s official roster announcement

DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 58/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 2/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

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Guzan is one of the veteran leaders in this camp at 34 years old.

As far as I am concerned the race for the No. 1 shirt is between incumbent Brad Guzan and challenger Zac Steffen. The third goalkeeper called in for this camp, and likely future camps, might as well be a dart throw.

Since last year’s World Cup Qualifying snafu, Zac Steffen has been the presumed top option as the best young goalkeeper for the U.S. Tim Howard is essentially taking a victory lap in 2019 with the Colorado Rapids, which really only leaves Guzan when it comes to older keepers with national team experience. Over the long term, I expect Steffen to takeover fully, but I would not mind Guzan being the starter for the next year or so, especially if he’s one of only a few veterans to stick around.

DEFENDERS (8): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 34/3), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 0/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City/WAL; 5/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Matt Miazga (Nantes/FRA; 9/1), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG; 4/0), Ben Sweat (New York City FC; 0/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 54/0)

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Miazga is on loan from Chelsea to Nantes and developing into a fiery presences on the US team. (Wikimedia Commons)

Everyone should be happy Miazga and Brooks are both getting called in again. I think they are the clear starters going forward, and that they need to build chemistry. Meaningless friendlies are a good place for that. As a Red Bulls fan its nice to see Aaron Long get called back in and I hope he gets his first cap. As for Cameron Carter-Vickers, it seems that he is a favorite of Sarachan’s. I think he’s in the mix to be a back-up behind Brooks and Miazga, but I would not mind if other prospects got opportunities.

Similar to Brooks and Miazga, I think most of us agree that Yedlin and Robinson are the starting fullbacks for the time being. Yedlin is more solidified than Robinson but Robinson is younger so he has more time to develop. Again, friendlies are a great time for this entire back line to build chemistry. The backup fullbacks are both new to the national team. I think Reggie Cannon has definitely deserved his call-up, starting all season for FC Dallas at 20 years old. Ben Sweat is NYCFC’s starter but he’s older (27), and so I do not fully understand his inclusion over Jorge Villafana who’s the same age but was the USMNT starter this time last year. The friendlies are being played in Tampa and Sweat is a Tampa native so maybe its to help the attendance? Either way, there’s no use in crying over who our back-up left back is in a friendly under an interim head coach.

MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 19/1), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 7/1), Jonathan Amon (Nordsjælland/DEN; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 140/17), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth/GER; 12/4), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 6/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 21/9), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 2/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 8/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain; 5/1), Fafa Picault (Philadelphia Union; 1/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC; 2/0).

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The expectations on Wil Trapp are much higher with Pulisic, Adams and McKinnie all missing due to injury. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is where stuff gets interesting, especially with recent injuries to Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic. Honestly, those are the only three midfielders whose names I had written in pen on the team sheet. Their absences totally changes how I view this camp. Marky Delgado and Fafa Picault were brought in as replacements. Similarly to what I said above about Brooks and Miazga, I wanted to see Adams and McKennie get more reps together to build chemistry. Its unfortunate we won’t get to see that this time.

I was also really excited for Pulisic to be rolled into this young core. We’ve all had him there in our heads but he hasn’t been in camp with everyone else yet. He can elevate this group from “giving people hope” to “getting people excited.” I cannot wait to see him Adams, and McKennie all on the field together and now I’ll have to wait at least one more month.

Green, Acosta, and Delgado have been called in before by Sarachan and I think all of them will figure into the national team in the current World Cup cycle. However, I do not know how prominently any of them will figure. If Adams, McKennie, Pulisic, Miazga, and Brooks were a first tier of players, where I want/expect them to start as many games as possible, Green and Acosta would be in the second tier. Delgado hasn’t played as much and is probably just behind them for minutes. All three should be in the rotation for now but I won’t be upset if any of them don’t start. Perhaps they can elevate themselves into that first tier, or perhaps they will set the floor for our national team.

After that we have some new additions for Sarachan including Jonathan Amon, Kenny Saief, and now Picault. Saief has been injured since the 2017 Gold Cup. He’s a starter for the Belgian giants Anderlecht and is one of our few left wing options. If he stays healthy, he could be a dangerous attacking piece. Jonathan Amon is coming in for his first ever camp and he’s definitely earned it, scoring half a dozen goals so far in the Danish League. Similar to Saief, Amon is a left winger. However, Saief is a more technical player with good passes, a nice touch, and he can curl a nice cross. Amon, on the other hand, uses his speed to get past defenders. It works in the Danish League, we’ll see if he can make it work at a higher level. Picault is a starter for a Philadelphia Union team that is having it’s best season ever. He is 27 so he could play a role over the next few years. I think he sets a nice floor for us on the wing.

Lastly, there is the inclusion of Michael Bradley. When I saw his name on the roster my gut reaction was negative. I’m trying to go into these friendlies with an open-mind but there are two main reasons I don’t like that he’s on the roster.

  1. There have been recent reports that his personality can be toxic in the locker room. That link will take you to former USMNTer Jimmy Conrad dropping some truths on everyone, calling Bradley “a super alpha male know-it-all.” There was also Bradley’s recent interaction with Zlatan on the field. Afterwards Zlatan said “[Bradley] thinks he is the philosopher of football”. Then there was the scrum outside the Toronto FC locker rooms in the 2017 playoffs where Bradley and Jesse Marsch exchanged some heated words (around the 30 second mark of that video, you can see Bradley, number 4, pushing Marsch away from the scrum). Overall, the common thread is Michael Bradley. I don’t want his toxic personality to infect the young core who have both thoroughly enjoyed these camps and played with some mental toughness up to this point. 
  2. Bradley has been bad in MLS this year. To be fair he’s been played out of position for much of the season in order to cover for injuries, but he is giving the other team the ball waaaayyy too often. To put it simply, he’s lost a step. There are other MLS defensive midfielders who could have been called in who are playing better than him right now (e.g. Russell Canouse of DC United).

Like I said though, I’m going in with an open mind. I hope he provides some veteran leadership in some way. This is admittedly more needed now that many of the natural leaders (Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic) are out injured.

FORWARDS (3): Andrija Novakovich (Fortuna Sittard/NED; 2/0), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 3/1), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96/GER; 41/12)

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Wood needs to make an impact for a group of forwards that have struggled to find the back of the net with consistency. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nice to see Novakovich back again as he’s youngish (22) and still scoring in the Dutch league. I’d put him in that second tier with the likes of Green and Acosta: he’s been called-up frequently, but hasn’t wowed us yet. One could argue the same for Bobby Wood. He’s older (25), but he’s getting starting minutes in the Bundesliga for Hannover and scored two goals last week. Both goals were headers in the box. Watching those goals confirmed by opinions on Wood: he’s a good player when he has the service. I would not expect him to create many opportunities on his own. But when we have a player like Pulisic on the field, he won’t have to.

I’m glad Sargent is here too. Still in his teens, he has yet to breakthrough into Werder Bremen’s game day plans. Despite that, he’s likely to get minutes at some point this year and he has the highest ceiling of these three forwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started, but I also wouldn’t be disappointed if he came off the bench.

It’s worth noting Sarachan’s comments that Jozy Altidore would have been in camp if it were not for recent injury concerns (leaving his last two game early with muscle strains). I feel more comfortable with Jozy returning than Bradley in terms of his personality (although it is worth noting that Jozy was the one who ended up with a red card at the end of the above-linked Toronto-New York scrum; he also had en epic stare down with Tyler Adams in that game). Additionally, Bradley is currently 31 years old, and Jozy about to turn 29 in November. Therefore, I’d expect Jozy to be more useful for this team over the next few years, especially since we don’t have a clear first choice striker right now. Meanwhile Adams and McKennie look ready to man the midfield in place of Bradley.

My Starting XI: 4-2-2

Steffen/Guzan

Yedlin – Miazga – Brooks – Robinson

Picault – Trapp – Acosta – Saief

Weah – Wood

Subs I would bring on: Sargent for Wood, Green on for Picault, Amon for Saief, Cannon on for Yedlin, Delgado for Acosta

Steffen/Guzan is really a coin-flip at this point. I hope one starts the first game and the other starts the second. The defensive four name themselves. The midfield is weird without Adams and McKennie, you could talk me into something else. I’d prefer if Bradley didn’t take minutes away from Acosta. The real question mark in attack is who plays well with Pulisic, but we can’t answer that with this lineup. We haven’t see Weah as a true striker yet so I’m curious if he and Wood could play off of each other well. As for Saief, I think he’s the most skilled of the left wing options, but I could see Amon getting the start over him as well.

Worth noting: this is the line-up I would LIKE to see, not necessarily the roster I EXPECT to see. Honestly, I’d be okay with most any line-up Sarachan throws out there, because these friendlies are still close to meaningless. Again, I just don’t want to see Bradley out there. We can’t and shouldn’t be relying on him any more. He should be appearing in a cameo role at most.

Fingers crossed this is Sarachan’s last month in charge and the rumors are true that the USMNT will have a full time head coach come November! You all know my pick, only time will tell if I am right.