Gold Cup 2019: USMNT vs. Panama

On Wednesday night, the USMNT won Group D at the Gold Cup by defeating Panama 1-0. The US started a 2nd string group after they guaranteed qualification into the quarterfinal with their win over Trinidad & Tobago. Panama also rotated their lineup, resting many starters for the quarterfinals. Despite making their World Cup debut last year, Panama still aren’t CONCACAF powerhouses, so all the same “we’re playing against lesser competition” caveats apply. Here are my thoughts on the night:

  • Miazga looked fantastic defensively, and okay with the ball at his feet. Zimmerman has him beat when it comes to passing out of the back, which is likely why Zimmerman was favored in the previous two games.
  • O. Gonzalez was shaky defensively at times, similar to Tim Ream. Outside of those 2-3 scares, he was fine. Better teams are going to capitalize on those opportunities much more easily.
  • Lovitz was solid defensively, but relatively ineffective going forward. He played the LB role differently than Ream, who usually stays at home. Lovitz ventured forward more often, but to little avail.
  • Cannon held his own but also didn’t push for the starting spot. He showed that he can hold his own against CONCACAF competition, and we will need players like that in the future. However, I do not expect Cannon to be the first choice RB anytime soon.
  • Johnson had little to do on the night, and did not make any mistakes. I doubt he will start again over Steffen, but he showed that he was not overwhelmed playing in a competitive match. Again, we will need guys who are comfortable against CONCACAF teams.
  • Roldan and Mihailovic both played okay, but did not have the “creativity”, for lack of a better word, in connecting passes together in the final third. Both are obviously downgrades from Pulisic and McKennie.
  • Trapp didn’t look awful or overwhelmed, like he did in the friendlies leading up to this competition. Panama is probably a worse team than Jamaica and definitely worse than Venezuela, but it was encouraging to see Trapp put in a few physical tackles
  • Lewis and Morris had as good of showings as they could with poor service. As mentioned above, Mihailovic and Roldan are not Pulisic and McKennie. So Lewis and Morris were not getting the same kind of passed played their way. Suddenly it feels like winger is a strength of this team when it felt like a weakness 2 weeks ago.
  • Altidore still looked rusty, but he got the job done scoring the only goal of the night. I was surprised he played 80 mins in this one after only getting 15 against T&T. I would expect him to play limited minuted against Curaçao but I am not sure whether it’d be smarter to start him and take him off or to bring him on off the bench.
  • Pulisic came in as a winger and, like Lewis who he replaced, struggled to get service. Previously, I thought he might play better as a winger since he usually plays their for his club, however, I see now that if we do not have enough passing ability in central midfield than we’re practically handicapping our own best player. Might change if we have McKennie, Holmes, Lletget, and/or Adams in the middle, but I won’t make that assumption just yet.
  • Boyd and Zardes both cameo-d for 10-15 mins but barely made an impression on the game.

Two larger notes:

  • Head Coach Berhalter’s system was still evident when the second string was playing. Altidore missed on two good opportunities which were setup by Berhalt-ian passing sequences with which we are becoming familiar. Not to mention, we still did not concede any goals (Last team in this tournament who can still say that).
  • While the collective performance wasn’t anything to write home about, I feel more confident in each of these players filling in for a starter than I did before the game. Right? Like if Boyd and/or Arriola gets injured, I think Lewis and/or Morris could do just fine in the same spot(s). If Lima gets injured, Cannon is a downgrade, but he won’t be a liability. The only two players that might feel like liabilities are Trapp and Gonzalez. Fingers crossed that’s not a problem in this tournament.

Next up is Curaçao on Sunday night. I would expect the starting XI out there which is mostly likely this:

Altidore

Arriola – Pulisic – McKennie – Boyd

Bradley

Ream – Long – Zimmerman – Lima

Steffen

We always knew Altidore was an upgrade over Zardes, he simply wasn’t healthy. I think Miazga deserves to be in the lineup over Ream but I am unsure how well he would play on the left side. Long usually plays on the left side for the New York Red Bulls, but I think Berhalter wants to keep him in the center so they can use his speed as the team’s sweeper. Other than that, I don’t believe anyone made a compelling case to push for the starting XI.

Come back for more Gold Cup action next week!

Advertisements

Gold Cup 2019: USMNT vs Trinidad & Tobago

Saturday night the USMNT overcame their demons, crushing T&T 6-0 in Cleveland. The US men are leading the tournament in goal differential with +10, barely beating Mexico’s +9. Similarly to Guyana, this win has to be taken with a grain of salt; T&T consists of mostly USL Championship and USL League 1 players (read: lower leagues in the USA). Despite both teams being eliminated, I would not be shocked if Guyana beat T&T in the last group stage game. But that’s neither here nor there, on to the USMNT performance:

  • In the second half, Pulisic finally played like he was the best player on the field. He got a nice assist in the first half off of a cross into the box that Aaron Long headed in. Then Pulisic ripped up T&T in the second half for another assist and a goal. As he should. This guy is head and shoulders above everyone on T&T. Guyana was his first game since the Bundesliga season ended. Perhaps he is rounding into form.
  • Gyassi Zardes heard the haters after the Guyana team, so he silenced them in this one. Two goals and he really should have had a third. He’s still second choice behind Jozy but he has earned his keep. Also worth noting that he’s tied for the lead for goals in this tournament (3) …
  • Aaron Long didn’t just score once, he scored TWICE! The defender had himself a game on both sides of the ball.  He’s the sweeper of the backline and he’s a threat on set pieces. What more could you ask for?
  • Steffen made a few saves look easy despite their level of difficulty. The USMNT has often been blessed with stellar goalkeeping. Steffen will likely continue that trend as he moves to the Bundesliga next season.
  • Bradley quietly had a very solid night. His passing was on point as usual, and I don’t believe he had a single defensive mistake. As the defensive midfielder in a 6-0 win, not may people are going to point out his performance, in spite of how noteworthy it was.
  • McKennie had a similar game to his Guyana game, some incredible passing sequences, made his presence known physically, but struggled with his positioning at times. I had him higher on this list against Guyana, but that is because so many other players played worse against Guyana. Loved when he got in T&T’s face after one of them fouled Gyassi. I’ve said it before: he brings the intensity this team needs.
  • Lima had himself another strong outing. He got an assist on Gyassi’s first goal, and sporadically caused problems for T&T on the right hand side.
  • Boyd and Arriola both got themselves into dangerous positions, but mostly failed to find the back of the net. I think it is easy to say that both of them are locks as the starting wingers. Berhalter’s system is designed to get them into dangerous positions, and they’re following his instructions well. Just slightly improved finishing and these two will be the biggest story line of the tournament.
  • Zimmerman had another good performance at the back defensively, and continued to make line-splitting passes out of the back. I won’t have much more on Zimmerman until he gets tested by stronger competition.
  • Jordan Morris came on and changed this game with two assists. After the game against Guyana, I was afraid that we didn’t have many game-changers off of the bench. Morris, alleviated that fear a little tonight.
  • Jozy really didn’t do much in his 15 minute appearance. He’s still coming back from injury, so I don’t have huge expectations. I bet we see him off the bench again vs. Panama. No need to rush things.
  • Reggie Cannon filled in for Lima for the last few minutes of the game. A cameo where he provided one dangerous move, and did not make any defensive mistakes.
  • Ream was shaky again. I think he’s having fewer and fewer shaky moments, but it still feels like there’s a looming threat that he could cause a defensive collapse at any moment.

Last but not least,

  • Gregg Berhalter is getting the best out of his players. This is perhaps the most important note from this game. Players who played less-than-their-best against Guyana (most notably Zardes, and Pulisic) proved their worth against T&T. With every passing game, this team looks more and more like it is Berhalter’s team. This tournament is allowing Berhalter to get a lot of exposure with these players and it is allowing these players to immerse themselves in what Berhalter wants out of them.

The game against Guyana felt more like growing pains, tonight’s game against T&T felt more like a coming of age. Let’s hope that the next game against Panama feels like a coming out party.

A Beginner’s Guide to Major League Soccer

First some basic facts about Major League Soccer (MLS), and then some reasons to watch MLS in 2019. Feel free to skip around as you see fit. Check here to see when each team plays their first game of the season.

The Basics

MLS is the top division of soccer in the United States. In general, MLS is caught at a nexus between the traditions/practices of other American sports leagues, most notably the NFL (Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, used to work in the NFL), and the traditions/practices of European Soccer (Premiere League, Bundesliga, La Liga, etc.). I’ll try to frame every aspect of the league through these two lenses.

Regular Season

MLS was founded in 1996 with 8 teams and has expanded to 24 teams in 2019, 21 American teams and 3 Canadian teams. Like other American sports, the league is divided into conferences: Eastern and Western. Each team will play teams of the same conference twice a season and teams of the opposite conference once a season. The regular season runs from March to October. This is in contrast to most soccer leagues in the world which run from August to May. The league claims that it could not run a “Winter Schedule” due to some cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis, Denver, etc. whose matches might not be able to be played in the cold/snow (The league is well-off these days but not so well off to afford retractable roofs over stadiums).

Playoffs

Unlike European soccer, MLS has playoffs at the end of the season. In 2019, MLS will run playoffs mostly in October and November. The playoff format changes every couple of years as the league expands. In 2019, 7 teams from each conference will make the playoffs. The first place team of each conference receives a first round bye. 14/24 teams making the playoffs is quite a large percentage relative to other American sports. For reference, 12/32 NFL teams make the playoffs. The league claims to allow so many teams in the playoffs to keep games late in the season competitive. I believe this goal is accomplished as many teams are not mathematically eliminated until approximately September. Without the playoffs, teams at the bottom of the league would be playing for nothing for half of the season since there is no promotion/relegation (pro/rel).

Lack of Promotion and Relegation

For those that do not know, European soccer countries have a multi-tiered league system. For example, there are four professional leagues in England. At the end of the season, the three teams that finish last in the top league are relegated (think “re-leagued”) to the second league. Then the three best teams of the second league are promoted (self-explanatory) to the first division. In a promotion/relegation system, the teams at the bottom of the league are still playing competitively at the end of the season because they do not want to be relegated. Without getting too into, being relegated loses a team a lot of money commercially so players on relegated teams are playing for their jobs. There are many people in American soccer who believe MLS should change to a pro/rel system, but that’s a discussion for another time (I would really like to write on this at some point).

Single Entity

The biggest reason MLS won’t switch to a pro/rel system is that MLS is a single-entity league, similar to other American sports, but unlike European soccer. Off the field, this means that MLS often operates as one business. For example, the league negotiates the jersey deal with Adidas. In Europe, individual teams negotiate jersey deals with the company of their choice. On the field, it means that each team is given a similar level of resources every year to build their team.

Parity

Big European clubs like the Manchesters, Munichs, and Madrids of the world are able to use a lot more money to build their roster relative to their competitors at the bottom of their respective leagues. MLS teams are given a salary cap (better described as a salary budget) which they must adhere to. This salary budget acts as an equalizer to make more games competitive between teams across the league. Thus the drop off from the best MLS team to the worst is not as far as the drop-off from the best Premiere League team to the worst. People will often refer to this concept as “parity” in MLS: that any team has a legitimate chance of winning any game.

MLS Salary Budget

This equalizing factor, the MLS salary budget, is similar to the NFL’s salary cap but more flexible. NFL teams have a maximum they are allowed to spend and that line is a hard limit which cannot be surpassed. MLS teams have a few mechanisms which allow them to break that upper barrier.

Designated Players

The most famous of which is the Designated Player (DP). Originally referred to as the David Beckham rule, the DP rule allows each team to have 3 players (originally only 1 player) who do not count towards the salary cap. This allowed the LA Galaxy to pay Beckham more money that the entirety of the salary cap. There is no upward limit on how much a DP can be payed.

GAM and TAM

There are another four ways to pay players without hurting the salary cap. two of them are General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money (GAM and TAM) which can pay part of a player’s salary, lessening that player’s cap hit. GAM can be used on players making less than the max salary charge ( ~$500,000; in general I’m simplifying these numbers) and TAM can be used on players making more than the max salary charge (Between $500,000 – $1,500,000). Any player making more than $1,500,000 must be a DP.

For example, if Player X is making $300,000 a team can used $100,000 in GAM to make that player’s cap hit $200,000. This is relatively straight forward. Teams can get really creative when they pay down a TAM-level player. For example, if Player Y is making $700,000 a team has to pay at least $200,000 with TAM in order to comply with roster rules. Alternatively, the team could use $400,000 in TAM to lower his cap hit to $300,000, saving $200,000 of cap space which can be used elsewhere on the roster. TAM is relatively new to the league and was introduced to fill the talent gap between DPs and the rest of MLS. The amount of TAM in the league has increased almost every year for the last few years.

Homegrowns and Generation Adidas

Outside of DPs, GAM, and TAM, MLS teams can sign Homegrown (HG) players and Generation Adidas (GA) players whose salaries will not count against the cap. HG players are players who came through an MLS academy. A player has to be in a teams academy for at least one year to be eligible for HG status. MLS academies were started 10 years ago and are just not starting to churn out pretty solid talent (Alphonso Davies just got traded to Bayern for $12 million, Tyler Adams just got traded to RB Leipzig for $3 million, Ballou-Tabla was traded to Barcelona for an undisclosed fee). GA players are high draft pick players that the league wants a team to sign and so the league signs the player before they get drafted. That sounds shadier than it is. GA players are pretty much HG players who didn’t come through an MLS academy but through a different academy. So rather than having a bidding war for these players, they come through the draft at an affordable price. Keeping these players’ salaries off of the cap encourages teams to develop domestic talent.

Why watch MLS?

While the quality of play in MLS is improving every year, and the injection of TAM has accelerated that process, the level of play is decidedly higher at big European clubs. However, if there is an MLS team in your market, you have more access to those games that European games. A drive to the local stadium costs a lot less than a flight to Madrid.

Supporting Local Soccer

The optimal scenario is that your local soccer club plays at a high level. If you want that to happen, then you need to support your local soccer club. The level of play in MLS won’t change if people do not support their local teams. Guaranteed it won’t happen overnight. MLS was essentially a semi-pro league when it formed in 1996, and 23 years later people are starting to compare it to some low-to-middle European leagues (Scottish Premiere League, English Championship, Scandinavian leagues). Who knows, maybe in another 20 years it could be on the level of a Serie A or Ligue 1. However, that does not happen if people do not support the league. Not to mention that your local team has a legit shot of winning the league due to the parity mentioned above.

Recognizable Names

The tired answer to “Why watch MLS?” is that they have old European stars that you might never see otherwise. While the league has had mild success shaking off the “retirement league” label, there are still some older European players coming over and they do help draw bigger crowds. Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays for the LA Galaxy, Wayne Rooney plays for DC United, Bacary Sagna plays for Montreal. Players with recognizable names do bring out bigger crowds. The hope is that those crowds stick around after the player leaves.

Young Exciting Players

Lastly, MLS is trying to rebrand itself as a selling league. A league where young players get to prove that they’re ready for bigger and better things. I already mentioned academy players who have moved on to Europe; MLS teams are also bringing in young Central and South American talent for < $10 million with the hopes to sell them for > $10 million. Miguel Almiron is the prototype of this. Atlanta United bought Almiron for $8 million and just sold him for $27 million. Similarly, Atlanta bought Barco for $15 million, RBNY bought Kaku for $7 million, NYCFC bought Medina for $4 million, etc. Now, instead of seeing old European players after their prime, you can see young North/South/Central American players before their prime. With the money teams get from selling these young players they can improve their club, their stadiums, their academies, etc. Then over time, the teams can buy players with bigger and bigger price tags.

Some might argue that “we shouldn’t be a selling league, we should be a buying league”. While this is preferable, the reality of it is that there are only 5 “buying” leagues in the world. And even in those leagues, there are really only 4-8 teams that are “buying” teams. After that top echelon of elite soccer teams, every team in the world is a selling team. The way you climb to that level is by producing and selling really good players. Look at Tottenham who recently started to compete with that upper echelon. They did that by selling Gareth Bale for $100 million dollars to Real Madrid. Then in 2018 they had like 10 players reach the World Cup semi-finals between the Belgium and England rosters.

Of course, it will take time for Alphoso Davies’ $12 million to turn into Bale’s $100 million, and it won’t happen at all if people don’t watch the league. So check out when you local clubs plays at the beginning of March, buy a scarf, and check your local TV listings.

Come back for more MLS and USMNT content!

Pride of the New York Red Bulls

The New York Red Bulls recently signed 2019 Super Draft pick Sean Nealis to a first team contract. Sean is the second “Sean” on the team (after Sean Davis), the 6th New Yorker on the team, and the 12th player from NY, NJ, or CT (including Ryan Meara, Evan Louro, Kyle Duncan, Tim Parker, Connor Lade, Omir Fernandez, Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Ben Mines, Brian White, and Derrick Etienne Jr.). As I noted on twitter, you could make a semi-functional starting XI out of these 12 players (4-4-2):

White – Etienne

Mines – Davis – Fernandez – Muyl

Lade – Nealis – Parker – Duncan

Meara/Louro

(Meara and Louro are both Goalkeepers)

Fernandez is the only player here who is obviously out of position. Most prefer Etienne play on the wing, but he has spent time up top in the past, and I’m not sure if Ben Mines is comfortable playing on the left wing. But those are small quibbles you might see in any game-day roster. This would never be the first choice lineup, but I think this XI could play a US Open Cup game against a USL team. In that game, Parker, Meara, and Davis would easily be the best players on the field, Muyl, Etienne, White, Lade, and Duncan would all look comfortable. Fernandez and Nealis are more or less unknown quantities at this point so I won’t make any claims there. Point is, this team would be competitive. I think it goes without saying that they would struggle against most MLS teams.

Regardless, this got me wondering, “How many other MLS teams could make similar claims of showcasing local talent?” So I did some digging. Below you can find every other MLS team and how many players grew up near where that team is located. This is relatively loosely defined, since I’m counting NJ and CT for the New York Red Bulls I have to be lenient for teams like New England, Kansas City, Cincinnati, etc. who are all near state borders/cover multiple states.

 

Atlanta United – 5 (All Georgia)

Chicago Fire – 4 (All Illinois)

FC Cincinnati – 4 (1 Ohio, 3 Michigan)

Colorado Rapids –  6 (All Colorado)

Columbus Crew – 5 (4 Ohio, 1 Michigan)

FC Dallas – 8 (All Texas)

DC United – 7 (4 Maryland, 3 Virginia)

Houston Dynamo – 3 (All Texas)

LAFC – 3 (All Southern California)

LA Galaxy – 8 (All Southern California)

Minnesota United – 3 (2 Minnesota, 1 Wisconsin)

Montreal Impact – 9 (All Quebec)

New England Revolution – 6 (5 Massachusetts, 1 Rhode Island)

NYCFC – 4 (All New York)

RBNY – 12 (6 New York, 5 New Jersey, 1 Connecticut)

Orlando City SC – 2 (Both Florida)

Philadelphia Union – 7 (4 Pennsylvania, 2 Delaware, 1 New Jersey)

Portland Timbers – 2 (1 Oregon, 1 Washington)

Real Salt Lake – 2 (Both Utah)

San Jose Earthquakes – 7 (All Northern California)

Seattle Sounders – 3 (All Washington)

Sporting Kansas City – 3 (All Kansas)

Toronto FC – 10 (All Ontario)

Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 (All British Columbia)

 

The answer to my question seems to be no, but some teams do come close. Toronto came closest with 10, and Montreal is right behind them with 9. I also wasn’t simply counting any Homegrown player, as many Homegrown territories spread far enough away that those players are hardly “local talent”. For example, Real Salt Lake have more Homegrowns from Arizona than they do from Utah. Since the Arizona border is approximately 7.5 hours from Salt Lake City it’s hardly fair to call those players local. I also limited San Jose to Northern California and both LA teams to Southern California, which made a difference by 2 or 3 players in all cases. All Three Canadian teams have relatively large territories but restricting them to their nominal city and immediate suburbs didn’t make a difference in any case.

Additionally, I was counting more than just Homegrown players. I was also counting any player who grew up in the area. For example, Tim Parker grew up on Long Island, was drafted by Vancouver, and was then traded to RBNY. He still counts as a local guy. This boosted numbers across the board, not helping any one team more than the others.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at a European club for comparison. I chose Ajax since they are known for having one of the best academies in the world (not a direct correlation to showcasing local talent, but I digress). Since the Netherlands is a relatively small country, I counted any Dutch player as a “local” player (The Netherlands is smaller than most states in square miles). Ajax have 10 Dutch players on their roster. Of course there are more variables involved with Ajax’s roster, i.e. more money, higher level of competition, more global scouting network, etc. After seeing that statistic though, part of me wants to say “RBNY has the most local talent on their team relative to any club in the world!” but that’s definitely not true. Think of small teams that plays in Central America or the Carribean. They are likely only working with local talent.

Either way, it’s really cool that RBNY are able to play at such a high level in MLS and make their fans proud by playing local talent.

 

 

Gregg Berhalter’s 1st Game Reviewed

The day has finally arrived! After over a year of waiting the new, permanent USMNT head coach took charge of his first game. The Yanks played Panama in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday night where both teams were sporting B/C teams (At best both teams were only playing 2 starters).

Before we start, here are a few reasons this performance should be taken with a grain of salt: 1. These are not the most talented players in the US pool. 2. Most of these players are learning a new system 3. Few of these guys have played together for club or country (5 players made their debuts on Sunday night), 4. All of these guys are in preseason form, and 5. Panama played like trash. With that said, here are my notes from the game:

They looked like Columbus defensively, and that worked pretty well. That is, in defense, the team fell into a 4-4-2 with Djorde Mihailovic joining Zardes on that “2” line. Panama wasn’t much of a threat going forward so stopping them was not a hard test. Nonetheless, it is good that the US passed that test.

Offensively, the shape varied from Columbus. In Columbus, Trapp and Artur shared the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder and a defensive midfielder as they sat behind Higuain who was the pure creative midfielder. This was in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Trapp and Artur on the “2” line and Higuain at the center of the “3” line. For the US on Sunday, Bradley played as a pure defensive midfielder behind Mihailovic and Roldan who shared the responsibilities of a box-to-box midfielder and creative midfielder.  This created more of a 4-1-4-1 with Bradley as the “1” between the “4” lines and Roldan and Mihailovic as the two in the center of the midfield “4” line. This makes sense as Bradley is a more complete defensive midfielder than any player in camp was a creative midfielder.  Here’s some figures to demonstrate:

Columbus’ 4-2-3-1 (2018 roster names)

Steffen

Afful – Mensah – Abubakar – Valenzuela

Artur – Trapp

Santos – Higuain – Meram

Zardes

USMNT’s 4-1-4-1

Steffen

Lima – Zimmerman – Long – Lovitz

Bradley

Baird – Roldan – Mihailovic – Ebobisse

Zardes

Then in defense Mihailovic would join Zardes up top and Bradley would fill his spot of the “4” line to create a 4-4-2 block.

The offense was creating plenty of chances, but wasn’t putting them in the back of the net. In the first half the US created 8 solid scoring chances and only scored on one of them. The second half had another half dozen unfinished chances. Again, see the above caveats. Offense takes a lot of chemistry so I think that.

Michael Bradley had some nice line-splitting passes, and covered ground pretty well. In my opinion he’s a better passer than any other defensive midfielder in the player pool. Canouse and Adams are slightly better than him defensively, but Bradley’s endurance is starting to drop. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Bradley should either be getting subbed-on, or subbed-off for any of his appearances. Use the other minutes at that position to groom his replacement. Berhalter did sub Bradley off for the last 7ish mins and brought on Trapp. I would have preferred Canouse but I won’t cry over a late sub in a friendly.

I appreciate that Long was the captain, not Bradley. First it’s a really bad look to give Bradley the armband; it says “this is more of the same” which is not the branding US Soccer is going for. Second, it would also look bad if Berhalter gives the arm band to any of his Columbus boys. Third, Long has an incredible soccer story going from 2016 USL Defender of the Year to 2018 MLS Defender of the Year in 2 years. I’m sure his journey has humbled him, and that he’ll never let his personality get in the way of the team.

The fullbacks got involved. Berhalter want’s his fullbacks to play as pseudo-central-midfielders/distributors. Very few teams in MLS use the fullback position in this way and its why Columbus’ fullbacks (Afful, and Valenzuela) are some of the best in the league. Lovitz and Lima both played that role well, Lima better than Lovitz.

Steffen was better than Johnson, but to be fair to Johnson it’s weird for a ‘keeper to get subbed on in the 75th minute. And Johnson had some nice distribution and didn’t let in any goals so he wasn’t terrible.

Ramirez put away the one opportunity that he got and had a nice turn-and-pass to Lletgett, meanwhile Zardes didn’t put away 5 or so chances he had. I think Ramirez is now officially higher on my striker depth chart than Zardes. But since Zardes knows Berhalter’s system well I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps getting call-ups.

The wingers all looked more like Ethan Finaly, not Justin Meram (Finaly and Meram were Columbus’ wingers in 2015). Ebobisse, Baird, and Lewis played well. Arriola didn’t do much in his cameo. All of them stretched the field, finding that inside lane wherein Berhalter want’s his wingers to operate (Watch a 2015 Ethan Finaly highlight reel and you’ll see what I mean by “inside lane”, it right on the edge of the 18-yard-box). But rarely did any of them cut inside to create with the central midfielders like Meram would do for Columbus. Perhaps that is more due to a lack of space since there were two “attacking” midfielders (Mihailovic and Roldan) rather than one.

Both centerbacks were solid. Zimmerman had better passing but I think Long was stronger defensively. I wouldn’t be surprised if Berhalter goes with similar pairings going forward. That is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose one CB who’s a better passer and one who’s a better defender. However it was concerning how many passes we turned over in our own half. Perhaps that is due to having only Bradley in front of the defense rather than two players.

I’m low key in love with Djorde Mihailovic. Not only was his goal a welcome relief after a shaky start to the game, but he looked threatening in the final third all game. I hope the Chicago Fire play him higher up the field this season.

Roldan had a solid performance but I think he would have operated better deeper in the midfield, next to Bradley. Perhaps if Berhalter can find a creative midfielder capable of holding the load on their own than Roldan can slide back next to Bradley.

I look forward to see how this group performs against a sterner test next week against Costa Rica! Check back for more analysis then!

Sidenote: The stadium was practically empty (like 6,000 people in a 60,000 plus person stadium). There were complaints of expensive tickets (the cheapest tickets were $32, up in the nosebleeds). If I recall correctly, US Soccer talked about raising USMNT ticket prices last year in order to help raise funds for academies across the country making them cheaper for players (I have a distinct memory of this but cannot find the source so don’t quote me). In theory, this makes a lot of sense; take money from the people who are willing to spend it and use it to subsidize those that can’t afford to play the game. In practice, it means the USMNT plays in front of smaller crowds, which also probably means less revenue. This also does not bode well for the MLS Expansion hopeful in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s is worth noting that their USL stadium only seats 5,000 … perhaps that has something to do with the low attendance on Sunday. We’ll see what Saturday brings against Costa Rica in San Jose (19,000 capacity Avaya Stadium).