2019 NFL Coaching Carousel

Black Monday came and went in the NFL, leaving eight head coaching vacancies throughout the league. Each team has a bit of a different approach to filling the opening and unique factors to consider, making this a fun exercise. This is who I think each team should hire as their head coach, not necessarily who they will hire. Let’s take a look at the best fits for each opening across the league.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Previous coach: Marvin Lewis
New hire: Vic Fangio

After 16 years, Marvin Lewis is finally out in Cincinnati. Lewis turned around the Bengals, but never managed to secure a playoff win. It is a result-driven business and the results have not been Lewis’ friend in recent years. This is a team that might be about to undergo a complete overhaul on offense. Rumors persist about the futures of both A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. There are plenty of holes on that side of the ball for the new head coach to fill. Let’s make something clear, Hue Jackson is not the answer to the offensive problems. It sounds like Cincy might go this route, which would be a massive mistake.

However, the defense has been even worse. Cincinnati allowed the most yards per game and the third most points per game. That’s where Vic Fangio comes in. Fangio has overseen the incredible transformation of the Chicago Bears defense. His defense allowed the third fewest yards per game and fewest points per game. At age 60, Fangio is far from a young option, but has 32 years of NFL coaching experience at different levels. Fangio deserves a shot to lead a team. For a team searching for an identity, the Bengals could find one with this defensive guru.

Denver Broncos (6-10)
Previous coach: Vance Joseph
New Hire: Kris Richard

John Elway made it very clear he wants a coach that is an expert on his side of the ball. The Denver Broncos should be very familiar with Kris Richard’s expertise when it comes to coaching defense. He coached the Legion of Boom in Seattle en route to a Super Bowl victory at Peyton Manning’s expense. That was the best statistical offense in NFL history and Richard stymied it.

Over the course of this season as the defensive backs coach in Dallas, he has helped develop Byron Jones into a true lockdown corner. He dealt with all kinds of personalities in that Seattle locker room and learned under Pete Carroll. Richard has a good resume for a first-time coach. The damage he could do with Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Chris Harris Jr. would be fun to watch. The team needs to figure out a long-term solution at quarterback, but finding a way to get this defense back on track is a huge step to pushing this team in the right direction.

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)
Previous coach: Hue Jackson
New hire: Gregg Williams

It has been 15 years since Gregg Williams was a head coach in the NFL, leading the Bills during the early 2000s with no avail. His successes as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, winning a Super Bowl in 2009, are a bit fresher in our minds. He was excellent in that role, save Bounty Gate. Now, he took over as the Browns coach midseason and led the team to a 5-3 record and much-improved overall play. There is no question Williams and offensive coordinator Perry Kitchens have been essential in that. Cleveland won more games under the duo in the second half of the season than it had in the previous three years combined.

For the sake of the development of Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett Nick Chubb and some of the other young prospects, it makes sense to keep some stability. No one is going to be better-suited to continue Mayfield’s development than Kitchens other than maybe Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who signed a contract extension with the Sooners on Tuesday. Plus the level of turnaround this team saw was incredible. The three losses under Williams came against the Texans, Chiefs and Ravens, all playoff teams. Belief is this club could be a playoff team next year. Keeping this coaching staff in place would be a wise move.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Previous coach: Dirk Koetter
New hire: Eric Beinemy

The biggest task for whoever takes over for the Buccaneers is figuring out what to do at quarterback. Jameis Winston does not seem like a guaranteed long-term solution. The former first overall pick in the 2015 draft will be under contract for 2019, but is not guaranteed anything past that. That leaves the franchise in a very tough position with no other even potential long-term solution at quarterback on the roster.

There is no question that finding an offensive-minded coach to mentor Winston will be crucial. Enter Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. Every team will be looking for the next Sean McVay with their newest hire. Bieniemy might not be McVay, but he is a former NFL running back, so there is that understanding of what it is like to be a player in the league.

Concerns with Bieniemy start and end with his experience. This is his first season as offensive coordinator and he is not the one calling the plays. However, the league places a high value on Andy Reid assistants and Bieniemy was Kansas City’s running backs coach from 2013 to 2017. In that span, the Chiefs produced two different 1st-team All-Pro backs and several good role players, including Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. Tampa needs a coach to revitalize the franchise and maximize the talent already existing on the roster. I trust Bieniemy to do just that after helping Patrick Mahomes become the 3rd quarterback in NFL history to toss 50 touchdowns in a season. It is time to give him a chance.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Previous coach: Steve Wilks
New hire: Jim Caldwell

Arizona made the perplexing decision to fire Steve Wilks after one season, meaning it is time for a second straight offseason coaching search. This time, the Cardinals would do well to bring in a veteran coach with plenty of experience developing and fostering quarterbacks. Jim Caldwell fits the bill. Caldwell led the Colts to a Super Bowl berth in 2009, and took the Lions to the playoffs twice in four seasons. If you scrub the year where he coached the Colts without Peyton Manning, Caldwell’s record is 60-36. Needless to say, he deserves another chance in the NFL.

With Josh Rosen in need of some real guidance, Caldwell worked with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Manning. He also helped Matt Stafford become a much more efficient passer in Detroit. Former Colts center Jeff Saturday described Caldwell as being more laid back as well, an approach that could work well for a team that has Larry Fitzgerald on the roster. Caldwell is good at fostering the culture the players create. Fitz does it better than anyone else. Don’t overthink this and bring in a coach with real experience to oversee this rebuild.

Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Previous coach: Adam Gase
New hire: Dave Toub

There are a number of reasons why Dave Toub may be the best option for Miami. For one, he comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which has produced Matt Nagy, Sean McDermott and Doug Pederson most recently. The last Reid special teams coordinator who landed a head coaching job was John Harbaugh, who through 11 seasons is 114-77 including a 10-5 playoff record and a Super Bowl ring. I’m not saying Toub is guaranteed to be Harbaugh, but don’t sneer at the idea of a special team’s coordinator taking the top job. He did a stellar job in 2018, as the Chiefs ranked 2nd in special teams DVOA.

The other reason Toub makes sense is because this roster needs a complete overhaul. He is not a specialist, but a good teacher. That is something the Dolphins desperately need. Outside of a handful of defensive pieces, Miami lacks talent. I actually think Adam Gase deserves a ton of credit for the success the offense did have this season. He had to get creative with a middling offensive line, no true No. 1 receiver, 36-year old Frank Gore as his top running back and the combination of Brock Osweiler and a banged up Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The bigger decision here will be building the roster. Toub will be good at teaching everyone when they get some better young talent in the locker room. He has the experience teams want in a head coaching candidate.

New York Jets (4-12)
Previous coach: Todd Bowles
New hire: Jim Harbaugh

It’s time to bring some bravado back to Broadway. This is a really young team in New York in desperate need of discipline and leadership. Todd Bowles was a players coach through and through, but the Jets were one of the most penalized teams in the league during Bowles’ final two seasons. Harbaugh also has a pretty good track record at developing quarterbacks. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Under Harbaugh, Kaepernick threw 50 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions and completed 60 percent of his passes. In college, he helped develop Andrew Luck.

Harbaugh would probably be interested in working with Sam Darnold. He is a former NFL quarterback with a great coaching record at 44-19-1 during four seasons with the 49ers. It will take a decent amount of effort to pull him away from Michigan, but the critics have been out in full force after Jim failed to beat Ohio State for the fifth straight year. (Fun fact: Michigan has beaten Ohio State just twice since 2000.) Harbaugh represents a good teacher, with previous NFL head coaching experience and the personality to thrive in the New York market. This is the closest thing the Jets are going to find to the offensive-minded version of Bill Parcells, the last time they had a great head coach. If Mike Macagnan is serious about doing things differently, this is the route to go.

Green Bay Packers (6-9-1)
Former coach: Mike McCarthy
New hire: Josh McDaniels

After what he did to the Colts last season, teams are likely wary of the Patriots offensive coordinator, but he fits well with this Packers team. He is bit more fiery than Mike McCarthy, which is something I think fans will relish. He does have some head coaching experience in Denver, which didn’t go too well, but you would have to think he learned from his mistakes. The Packers also have some good offensive weapons for McDaniels to work with in Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and a solid offensive line.

There is a bigger reason why McDaniels to the Packers rumors will persist. He would have the opportunity to work with possibly the only quarterback in the league comparable to the one he worked with in New England. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are in a league of their own in terms of talent and personality. It is no secret they both possess egos that sometimes makes headlines. McDaniels’ experience working with Brady makes him one of the best candidates to work with Rodgers. He might even be able to bring some Patriots assistants with him to help turnover the defense with some good young pieces, but in need of a better system. Overall, it is time for McDaniels to get another chance, and for him to actually take it this time.

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Assessing Berhalter’s 1st USMNT Roster

The USMNT’s January Camp is unique in international soccer. Since MLS has a summer schedule, the opposite of most leagues in Europe, the USMNT hosts a 3 week long camp which usually ends in a friendly or two. Only players from MLS or the Scandinavian leagues (who take a break in the winter) tend to be called-in to this camp. This will be Gregg Berhalter’s first camp with the team, so this year will be extra special. Additionally, the Gold Cup is this coming summer, meaning the USMNT will have significant games for the first time since 2017.

Berhalter called 28 players into this year’s camp, all from MLS. I am going to organize this roster differently than usual. Instead of naming players by position, I am going to name them under the reason why I think Berhalter wanted them in camp. My categories are: 1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” 2. “Players who earned it with their play this year” 3. “Players familiar with the USMNT” 4. “The Rest”.

For readers who are new to Berhalter, he is looking for players who are comfortable on the ball, good passers, have good vision, and players who can create (or already have) partnerships. These are attractive qualities because Berhalter plays a possession-based system where chemistry is key. Teams in MLS that play similar to this are NYCFC (more so under Viera), Philadelphia, and Atlanta (at times).

Player (Age/POSITION/Club Team)

1. “Players who fit Berhalter’s system” (Self-explanatory)

Wil Trapp (25/CDM/Columbus Crew), Gyasi Zardes (27/ST/Columbus Crew), Zac Steffen (23/GK/Columbus Crew)

Obviously these three players know Berhalter’s system as they all played under him in 2018. I don’t know if these three will be mainstays on Berhalter’s USMNT squad selections, but having them in this first camp to help introduce the system will undoubtedly be useful.

Sean Jonson (29/GK/New York City FC), Tyler Miller (25/GK/LAFC)

Berhalter want’s ‘keeper’s who can play with their feet in order to pass the ball out of the back. Jonson and Miller have shown an ability to do just that with NYCFC and LAFC respectively.

Michael Bradley (31/CDM/Toronto FC)

This is the best example of “everyone needs another chance under Berhalter”. The new head coach himself said that he is going to give many players opportunities to prove themselves (from Berhalter’s opening press conference which you can find here). Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, think about it: Any player who played for the US for the last 8 years has either 1. Not been given great instructions by their coach (Jurgen Klinsman) or 2. Has been playing for a interim coach (Arena/Sarachan). If a player played poorly (or didn’t get called-up) in those circumstances they might deserve a second look under a coach who has a well-defined system (Berhalter). As for Bradley specifically, I think he’s a better version of Wil Trapp. He’s a better passer, he’s better defensively, and he covers more ground. His endurance has definitely dipped recently but we shouldn’t want him playing the whole game anyway. Sub him off for his potential replacement, or sub him on as a “closer” when we have a lead and the clock is winding down.

Marky Delgado (23/CM/Toronto FC)

Delgado is a very clean passer on the ball and has great vision. He can ping a through ball pretty well which will definitely fit into Berhalter’s scheme. I think Delgado may be better suited playing further upfield or perhaps as a tucked-in winger under Berhalter. However he usually plays deeper in the midfield. Not to mention he’s been Bradley’s partner in Toronto for the last few years so there’s instant chemistry there.

Keegan Rosenberry (24/RB/Philadelphia Union)

Not gonna lie, I started looking at Philadelphia tape more so to look at their CBs and I noticed “wow Rosenberry is making similar movements in attack as Harrison Afful does for Columbus”. He’s not too old either so I’m not surprised that Berhalter selected him.

Cristian Roldan (23/CM/Seattle Sounders)

Roldan is pretty good at everything: he can defend, he can play on the wing, he has a nose for goal, he likes changing the field of play, etc. I think he’ll be a pretty good stand-in for Artur (The Crew’s box-to-box midfielder under Berhalter). Roldan may even be an upgrade from Artur.

Aaron Long (26/CB/New York Red Bulls)

The Red Bulls play a different system from Columbus. Long seems like a fine passer but he’s not put under a ton of pressure when passing while playing for RBNY. I will say, Berhalter likes to push his fullbacks high up the field which the Red Bulls also like to do, and so the CBs in both systems have to be comfortable snuffing out a counter-attack. Both Long (and Parker who didn’t get called in) are really good at that. In that way, I think Long will fit into Berhalter’s scheme well. Its also worth noting that Long was just voted Defender of the Year, so he earned it.

2. “Players who have earned it with their play this year” (These players may not fit Berhalter’s system, but they played well in MLS this year).

Jeremy Ebobisse (21/ST/Portland Timbers), Corey Baird (22/ST,RW/Real Salt Lake)

Corey Baird won rookie of the year, and Ebobisse helped propel the Timber to the MLS Cup Final. As far as striker’s go, I think anyone can be good in Berhalter’s system so Ebobisse should be fine. Baird is listed as a midfielder here even though he played out wide and up top this season.

Nick Lima (24/RB or LB/San Jose Earthquakes)

Lima was perhaps the best player on a bad San Jose team this year. He even trialed with some German teams this winter. Lima usually featured at RB for San Jose but feels comfortable playing either fullback position. That flexibility is really useful on a national team where roster sizes are often limited. I’m interested to see how he plays at a higher level.

Reggie Cannon (20/RB/FC Dallas)

Cannon is probably a better defender than Rosenberry but I think Rosenberry offers more going forward. Either way, Cannon had a stellar first season for Dallas and has already been called-up by Sarachan a few times.

Russell Canouse (23/CDM/DC United)

Canouse rejoined DC from injury the very same game that Wayne Rooney joined the team for the first time. Many attribute DC’s great second half of the year to Rooney, but Canouse definitely steadied their midfield, aiding them to the best half-season in MLS history.

Auston Trusty (20/CB/Philadelphia Union) Mark McKenzie (19/CB/Philadelphia Union)

Trusty played every minute of the Union’s season in 2018, McKenzie played half of them. The Union had a pretty middle-of the road defense this year but their back line was young. Both these guys still have a lot to learn, but I think they have potential to fit into Berhalter’s system.

Paul Arriola (23/RM/DC United)

Seems like Arriola may be getting transitioned to RB rather than RM. He also played as a CM for part of 2018, so I am not sure where Berhalter will play him. He’s a hard runner and he’s pretty good on the ball. I think he might fit into the Ethan Finlay role of Berhalter’s system but I wouldn’t put money on that.

Greg Garza (27/LB/FC Cincinnati)

Garza earned his spot despite his season where minutes were limited due to injury. He’s looked good when he’s on the field but you gotta stay on the field. However LB is a mess for the national team per usual so I don’t mind Garza getting this call up.

Djorde Mihailovic (20/CM/Chicago Fire)

Similar to Garza, Mihailovic had his minutes limited by injury this year. But he looks good when he’s on the field and he’s young. Still not sure whether he projects more as a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking midfielder but he’s got some time to be molded into either role.

3. “USMNT Regulars” (These are players who may not fit Berhalter’s system, and didn’t have particularly great years, but they have national team experience and are talented).

Sebastian Lletget (26/CM/LA Galaxy), Kellyn Acosta (23/CM/Colorado Rapids)

Both of these guys play as box-to-box midfielder but they both play that position differently. I think both of them are deserving of a call-up but I don’t think either of them fit Berhalter’s system better than the other. Part of my difficulty here is that the box-to-box player is the least defined role on the field in any system. It seems like Berhalter want’s this player to defend well, support the attack, but not get so involved in the attack to make the team open to counters. Both of these guys like to get involved in the attack.

Walker Zimmerman (25/CB/LAFC)

I’m not thrilled with Zimmerman. he’s pretty good at last minute tackles to save a play but I’d prefer to see him put out fires before that happens.

4. “The Rest”

Justen Glad (21/CB/Real Salt Lake), Alex Bono (24/GK/Toronto), Jonathan Lewis (21/RW/NYCFC), Christian Ramirez (27/ST/LAFC), Daniel Lovitz (27/LM or LB/Montreal Impact)

Glad was a starter for most of RSL’s season but was on the bench down the stretch in the playoffs. Bono, and the rest of Toronto, had a down year; if he returns to 2017 form than this call-up is fine. Lewis got very few minutes (219) on NYCFC this year despite looking good when he plays. Ramirez had a transitional year getting traded from Minnesota to LAFC. He looked good-ish for a bad Minnesota team and was a rotational player once he went to LAFC. Lastly, Lovitz was a surprise for me at first but he started most of Montreal’s game this year at LB, and LB is a mess, as always.

None of these guys are bad call-ups, that’s not why they are in this category. However, I *might* have preferred other players get called-in instead (Hamid for Bono, Parker for Glad, Mueller for Lewis, Jozy Altidore for Ramirez, and Herrera for Lovitz) but Berhalter is the mastermind here so I’ll reserve judgement for now.

Here’s what a starting XI might look like:

Steffen

Rosenberry – Trusty – Long – Garza

Bradley – Delgado

Arriola – Lletget – Baird

Ebobisse

Subs: Jonson, Glad, Lima, Canouse, Mihailovic, Roldan, Zardes

I tried to use some pre-existing partnerships to solidify the roster (Rosenberry-Trusty, and Bradley-Delgado). I also wouldn’t be shocked if Trapp and Zardes start the first game. Once we can add European players into this mix imagine Pulisic either on the right wing or playing centrally, Miazga and/or Brooks in central defense (both pretty good on the ball), and then probably Adams and/or McKennie in the midfield. I wouldn’t be shocked if one of Adams or McKennie doesn’t start regularly for Berhalter. I’m leaning more towards McKennie starting and Adams on the bench but we shall see. Plenty more to consider and digest as the national team moves forward.

Who is Building a Dynasty in MLS as of 2018?

A little over a year ago, I asked Extra Time Radio : “What past MLS teams constituted dynasties?” (56th minute of the linked podcast if you want to hear their discussion). The consensus was that the 1996 – 1999 DC United (3 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields and 1 US Open Cup) and the 2010 – 2014 LA Galxy teams (3 MLS Cups, and 2 Supporter’s Shield) were definitely dynasties. Teams that come close were 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield and 4 US Open Cups), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire (1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups), and the 2012 – 2017 Sporting Kansas City (1 MLS Cup, 3 US Open Cups).

Since then, whether a team is building a dynasty or not has been a recurrent discussion on the show. Here I am going to look at what teams have won trophies over the last few years and rank how close each team is to becoming an MLS Dynasty. My *loose* definition for an MLS Dynasty, based on the two examples given above, has six qualifications:

1. It spans 5 seasons (You could talk me into 4 being enough)

2. The team wins 1 trophy or more per year on average.

3. At least one of those trophies has to be MLS Cup.

4. The team has to win a trophy in a majority of their dynasty years.

5. The dynasty has to begin and end in years where the team won a trophy.

6. The team has a core set of key players that are present for most of the dynasty

This definition excludes the teams above that were close: 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders had 6 trophies over 8 years (Less than 1 trophy per year), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire had 3 trophies over 3 years (not long enough), and the 2012-2017 Sporting Kansas City had 4 trophies over 6 years (Less than 1 trophy per year). You’ll see below why I included the fourth and fifth criteria.

The sixth criteria comes from the ExtraTime Radio discussion. When one thinks of a dynasty, one usually thinks of certain figures who lead said dynasty. These can be a coach and/or a few players. If a team, somehow, met every other requirement while shipping big players in and out every year without a semblance of continuity, then perhaps they could still be considered a dynasty. But I highly doubt that would be possible. For example, the New England Patriots of the NFL, a league with massive year-to-year turnover, have had Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the center of their success.

A few more ground rules for the sake of this discussion:

  • Due to the 4/5 year requirement, I will only be looking as far back as 2015.
  • Only teams that have won trophies will even be mentioned.
  • Only MLS Cup, US Open Cup, Supporter’s Shield and the Canadian Championship are being considered as relevant trophies. If an MLS team were to win CONCACAF Champions League, that would also be considered. I am not counting what I’ll refer to as “Rivalry Trophies” such as The Cascadia Cup, the Atlantic Cup, etc. Some teams have more rivalries with trophies on the line than others and so it doesn’t seem fair to count those towards these rankings. Plus rivalries games tend to be a coin flip even if one team is having a bad year, so they aren’t a great indication of success. If someone can convince me otherwise I am open to listening to your argument.

Honorable Mentions

Vancouver Whitecaps (1 Canadian Championship in 2015), Portland Timbers (1 MLS Cup in 2015), Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup in 2016), FC Dallas (1 Supporter’s Shield and 1 US Open Cup both in 2016)

These teams have all won a trophy in the last four years, but their opportunities to add to the trophy case and create an argument for a dynasty have come and gone. I realize Seattle or Dallas could still win trophies next year and their 2016 trophies would still be within a four/five year times span. So let’s imagine either team were to win the 2019 treble (2019 MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield, and US Open Cup). Then they would technically have 4 years where they won 4+ trophies, and at least one of the trophies would be MLS Cup, meeting my first three criteria set above. However, for a team to win 2 sets of trophies with a two year gap in the middle doesn’t feel like a dynasty. This is why I added the fourth criterion that a team has to win trophies in a majority of the years during their dynasty. Of course If they won any trophy in 2020 after getting the treble in 2019 then that’s a new discussion. However, if they did win 3 trophies in 2019 and 1 trophy in 2020, then the 2016 trophy probably shouldn’t be included in their years as a dynasty. That is, it seems deceptive to include the 2016 trophy and say “they won 5 trophies over the course of 5 years” when there were two trophy-less years. Dallas are in the same boat as Seattle here.

5. Sporting Kansas City (2 US Open Cups one in 2015 and one in 2017)

SKC were close to boosting their Dynasty status with an MLS Cup victory this year. Their 2015 US Open Cup victory will become more or less irrelevant come the start of next season. If SKC want their 2017 US Open Cup to be included in a dynasty they’ll need some silverware next year. Kansas City are usually in contention for a trophy or two so I think they have a chance to do so.

4. Houston Dynamo (1 US Open Cup in 2018)

At least Houston have the potential for consecutive trophy years. However, considering that Houston is currently the lowest spending team in the league, and this was their first trophy since 2007, I won’t be holding my breath. They only edge out SKC by winning a trophy this year rather than last year

3. New York Red Bulls (2 Supporter’s Shields one in 2018, one in 2015)

The Red Bulls are in a similar place to SKC, two recent non-MLS Cup trophies and just missing MLS Cup this year. They get the edge over SKC due to winning a trophy this year as opposed to last year. Of recent, the red side of New York have been Would-Be-Kings: losing in the US Open Cup Final in 2017 to Sporting Kansas City, losing in the playoffs last year on away goals to eventual champions Toronto FC, losing in the semi-final of CONCACAF Champions League against Chivas earlier in 2018, and losing the Eastern Conference Championship not long ago to Atlanta United. If the Red Bulls caught a few more lucky breaks they would be sitting on 4 more trophies over the last 2 years. Alas, the same could be said for many of these teams. Since the Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs since 2007, I suspect they have a decent chance to add to their trophy case next year.

2. Atlanta United (1 MLS Cup in 2018)

There’s definitely something special going on in Atlanta. The Five Stripes place higher than the previous teams ranked because they already have MLS Cup in their possession and that is the one essential trophy. While Atlanta’s spending suggests that they could have a dynasty in the making, Head Coach Tata Martino is leaving and it seems talisman Almiron may also leave this winter. Assuming the rumors of their respective departures are true, I am interested to see how the team replaces those two. If they nail those replacements, which seems likely, then they may have a dynasty-in-the-making. Atlanta are the only team that could really challenge this 6th criteria I added above. But even after losing Tata, Almiron, and Garza, the team still has key players like Martinez, (likely) Parkhurst, Nagbe, and Pirez on the books for next year. So they still have some level of continuity, and still meet the 6th criteria.

1. Tornto FC (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 3 Canadian Championships since 2016)

As of 2018, Toronto are easily the closest team to a building an MLS Dynasty. Currently, Toronto have 5 trophies over the course of 3 years. While it is tempting to extend their dynasty backward/forward 2 years in order to meet the 5 year requirement it would violate the 5th criteria I included. It doesn’t really make sense to count a year at the beginning and/or end where a trophy was not won. Therefore, I would not call them a dynasty right now. Any trophy won in 2019 and/or 2020 would change that. I’m also not totally against a dynasty that lasts only 4 years. Toronto definitely meet the 6th criteria as Bradley, Jozy, and Giovinco were centerpieces of this team for the last 3 years.

There are those who would devalue the Canadian Championship because it is “easier to win” than the US Open Cup. I don’t like this argument but I have to admit there is some logic to it. In 2018, there were 20 MLS teams and 22 USL teams that competed for the US Open Cup. Meanwhile there were 3 MLS teams and 1 USL team that competed for the Canadian Championship. That’s a 1/42 chance of any team winning US Open Cup vs. a 1/4 chance of any team winning the Canadian Championship. That being said, a trophy is a trophy is a trophy. For now I weigh the Canadian Championship as much as the US Open Cup.

That’s all I have for now! Let me know if you have any questions about my definition/ranking. I am more than willing to have a nice, level-headed discussion about it 🙂

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!