Danny Williams

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Moving forward: The USMNT takes the pitch again

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Few United States men’s national team matches are as weird as Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Portugal, a feeling that had little to do with a fairly exciting contest.

That’s because the game meant so little, yet meant so much. The Yanks are turning the page after a horrible World Cup, and did it with the failing ex-coach of the bunch serving as an in-studio host and most of its top players at home.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

That led to some interesting conversations, including this one traded by PST staffers Nick Mendola and Andy Edwards during and after the match.

Nick Mendola: Alright, Andy, I’m going to go ahead and say it: For as much vitriol as I feel toward all of U.S. Soccer for ruining one of the precious World Cup summers we get during our time on this Earth, it was a really smart move to play almost exclusively kids on Tuesday.

The first half was fun, the players showed abandon and ambition, and there was a real zest from both sides. Putting aside the howler from Ethan Horvath and the inclusion of Bruce Arena in the pundits’ room, and I have to say that was actually, kinda, fun?

Andy Edwards: What good would it do, having all this “young talent” if we didn’t take the earliest possible opportunity to take a group players like Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams (above), Kellyn Acosta and Matt Miazga and mold them into a cohesive unit? With all due respect to the “old guard” — the previous generation of USMNT regulars — there’s no reason in the universe that they should play a single minute in the next 12 months.

Rather than filling the cracks with youngsters who might not be ready, the “new guard” needs a year — at least — to grow together, before sprinkling in a handful of veterans around them. It’s that kind of entitlement and inertia that, in my opinion, resulted in so much complacency throughout qualifying.

[ MORE: 3 things from the 1-1 draw ]

NM: For sure. And that begs as a question before we go forward full throttle: How much vitriol are we allowed, and when does it have to stop? Because watching the World Cup is going to sting like a melon farmer, and the U.S. should always qualify out of CONCACAF.

With respect to an all-timer in Michael Bradley, when I see Kellyn Acosta delivering on his promise a lot better alongside Danny Williams — and let’s face it: Portugal’s B Team is better than T&T’s B-plus team — I get angry.

When I see Miazga — who did have an error — looking better than Omar Gonzalez — I get angry. Is this unfair? And if not, when does it become unfair? Sorry for the aside.

Williams is held by Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes (AP Photo/Pedro Rocha)

AE: I’m happy to let go of the vitriol and ill will for as long as I don’t hear any excuses from any of the offending parties — or until the former head coach pops up on television broadcasts and I’m forced to relive last month’s debacle again, simply at the sight of his face.

As my own aside: what’s that all about? We’re supposed to move forward under the watchful eye of Bruce Arena, TV analyst? I can’t think of anyone who’s less qualified to tell us, “Here’s what comes next,” and more likely to rehash the same tired debates and practices of the last decade which ultimately got us nowhere. Just like the squad need fresh faces for the long road ahead, the American soccer public needs fresh voices and ideas to challenge and elevate it. If asked again, Bruce, please say no.

Now that that’s off my chest, I’m ready to move on with the rebuild.

[ WATCH: Both goals from the draw ]

NM: When he was asked, “Would you change anything?” and he opted for “Well, we won the Gold Cup and then I called back those pesky guys playing in Europe” — right before calling his phone “the expert machine” as if to flip the bird at any fan who hasn’t managed a team — I almost climbed into my dryer with 1,000 pushpins and a gas can.

Andy, I seriously cannot go any further with this. We need to go back to the game.

So, Tyler Adams can play basically every position, Weston McKennie has more attacking nous than expected, and basically none of these dudes were afraid of the spotlight that came with standing on the pitch when the curtain raised for the first time after disaster?

That part, my friend, is awesome.

AE: Another topic…

It’s great that McKennie, Acosta, Adams, Miazga and a handful of other youngsters answered the call and largely showed well against Portugal, but an important deficiency remains: a secondary playmaker — whether it be someone central when Christian Pulisic plays out wide, or a wide man capable of either stretching the field wide or cutting inside to combine underneath.

The aforementioned bright spots are strike me as functional players in a side built around a strong spine, but lacking the flair and game-changing instincts that so many others lacked before them. It’s great that we have Pulisic, don’t get me wrong, but where do we find — or, do we? — him a suitable running mate?

[ MORE: Arena’s baffling pregame comment ]

NM: That’s a terrific question. I really wanted to see more of Kelyn Rowe, and Arena’s right that he probably earned a carryover nod from Gold Cup to WCQs.

But isn’t that the potential beauty of the next few months? You can give any number of players the chance to show they can be that guy, and USMNT matches also put guys in the shop window.

Again, we’ve got — weeping, weeping, nearly uncontrollable weeping — nearly five years to sort it out. The hope is that Andrew Carleton, Luca de la Torre, Gedion Zelalem, or preferably some veteran will fill that void. I like Rowe, but maybe Nagbe would shine with less defensive responsibility (I’m a lot lower on him than most), or Kenny Saief.

Also, only 1/4 kidding, clearly it’s going to be Clint “Our Pescadito” Dempsey. Speaking of which, where are we on the futures of Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, and Jordan Morris. How many of the three are parts of the next Hex?

AE: Well, Wood is 24, so he’s (hopefully) got two more full cycles as a key contributor. He has to be close to playing himself into a move to a slightly bigger team in the Bundesliga — you know, one that’s not in the relegation scrap every single year. For what it’s worth, he’d have been perfectly suited to play with the pressing and counter mindset of the midfield on Tuesday — much more so than Sapong, at least.

Cameron Carter-Vickers (AP Photo/Pedro Rocha)

As for Altidore and Bradley, there’s clearly still a place for players with the amount of experience and talent. What there hasn’t been for the majority of their USMNT careers — and it’s hurt the program, in hindsight — is anyone to challenge their automatic starting places. That will, hopefully, change once they’re brought back into the fold, roughly this time next year. They’re capable of — and should be doing — much more than their last three years for the Yanks. With that said, if they don’t return with a renewed sense of motivation and gigantic chips on their shoulders, though, it’ll be very easy for me to say goodbye and move on.

NM: That’s the big question, right? Bradley might be the wrong example given that his key work doesn’t necessarily jump off the screen, but that’s — again, hindsight 20/20 — the reason you bring in outside eyes and not go with Arena 2.0. You invite Tata Martino, or Peter Vermes, or Eddie Howe, and they get the keys to the car. No, “Well he’s done a lot for the program.”

Don’t hire the personality for the personality. Don’t hire the guy who has an agenda. Hire the guy who is willing to put the best guys out there every time, who’s willing to be wrong every now and again.

One final question: You calling in Pulisic, Cameron, Wood, and the gang come January, or keeping up a similar “new” vibe for another couple months?

AE: I’m definitely calling in Pulisic and Wood — anybody under 25, really — during the first FIFA window of 2018. To me, it’s paramount that the new guys get reps alongside players of that quality. They’re the ones, after all, who’ll make up the majority of the squad in 2022, with a little bit of luck.

As far as Pulisic has come in the last 12 months, he’s still got a lot to prove and add to his game — as both a player and a leader. We know he’s a brilliant individual player, but his next for years have to be about making everyone else — players both his age and older, don’t forget — better. That’s a lot to ask of a 19-year-old, but he’s given every indication that he wants that responsibility and will hold everyone, himself included, accountable.

With all due respect to Cameron and a select few others, I know what they are at this point. If there’s a need for them to be recalled closer to 2022, I hope they’ll accept the call and make themselves available. But, in my opinion, every opportunity has to be given to younger guys — many of whom we saw on Tuesday — to make one of 23 spots their own. Wasting the next four years by constantly calling in players who’ll be on the wrong side of their primes in 2022 — a la Dempsey and Jones from 2014 to 2018 — would be the grossest mismanagement job this side of the just completed qualifying cycle. Let’s not do that.

NM: And part of that identifying the old guys. Danny Williams, especially as a man holding down a starting spot in the central midfield-driven world of the Premier League, took a large step in that direction on Tuesday. Now who will join him?

3 things from the USMNT draw in Portugal

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Looking forward, second guessing, and what’s next between the sticks?

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

These are the things on our minds after the United States’ inexperienced squad drew Portugal 1-1 Tuesday on the road.

The kids shine a light on tomorrow

Weston McKennie is going to get a lot of the love after his terrific cut move and fine finish gave the Schalke man his first USMNT goal in his first USMNT cap, but he was far from the only bright spot.

Tyler Adams is a bit of a Swiss army knife, and plugged into this one on the left side. The New York Red Bulls man is known for his relentless engine, and he made a number of energetic plays. He also probably should’ve made it 2-1 were it not for the flying paw of Beto.

Throw in encouraging performances from Kellyn Acosta and substitute Cameron Carter-Vickers, and the Americans made us feel just a bit better about our future. Reinserting Geoff Cameron, Christian Pulisic, and Bobby Wood would make this bunch even stronger for Russia, were it going there.

While one man aims his flash light backward

Danny Williams is a midfielder for Premier League side Huddersfield Town. The center-of-the-park muckraker spent most of the last few years helping Reading in the Football League Championship. He also scored a howitzer in an otherwise lamentable USMNT performance against Brazil.

We say all that because, despite significant flaws in the midfield, neither Jurgen Klinsmann nor Bruce Arena called Williams into the squad since substitute performances in friendly versus New Zealand and Cuba in October 2016.

Michael Bradley was an automatic inclusion for both managers, who declined to utilize Williams as either a double-pivot or a defensive midfielder over Bradley. This was largely true for Geoff Cameron, too, and Darlington Nagbe and Alejandro Bedoya were seen as superior options in the center of the park as well.

Hindsight’s always going to be 20-20, especially after Arena apparently lost his player selection mind late in the World Cup cycle, but the 28-year-old Williams was a neat ally for Weston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta on Tuesday. The latter looked more ready to deliver on his promise than he had alongside Bradley, whatever that’s worth.

Who’s next in goal?

Ethan Horvath is one of the more promising prospects in American soccer, but his huge error on the equalizer underscores his job loss at Club Brugge. A couple saves afterward will help him, and interim boss Dave Sarachan, feel a bit better.

Bill Hamid had a number of saves and will have only strengthened his stock with his second half performance, which was a pre-planned substitution. FC Dallas backstop Jesse Gonzalez was the odd man out, but should feature against Bosnia and Herzegovina in January unless it’s Tim Howard‘s going away party.

USMNT player ratings: Youth drives the bus

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Player ratings from the U.S. national team’s exhibition clash with Portugal, the reigning European champions, and the first game of a very long four years as the USMNT rebuilds from the ground up with two eyes toward the 2022 World Cup…

[ VIDEO: McKennie scores on his USMNT debut… and a Horvath howler ]

GK — Ethan Horvath: 3 — Hit the above link to see Horvath’s calamitous howler. That ain’t a great way to begin your bid to take over the no. 1 shirt from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Subbed off at halftime, which was the plan before kickoff, hopefully Hovath’s confidence isn’t too badly damaged without the chance to redeem himself immediately.

RB — DeAndre Yedlin: 6 — The best thing that can be said of Yedlin is this: you know what you’re going to get from him every time he steps on the field these days, and that’s something you couldn’t always say of the 24-year-old. He’s a constant presence and performer, and should have the right back spot locked down for much of the next two World Cup cycles.

CB — Matt Miazga: 6.5 — The best part of Miazga’s game is how quickly he reads, and reacts to, dangerous situations. There’s no one in the player pool who defends on the front foot as much as Miazga. As such, he’ll always require a partner who’s a brilliant emergency defender, which is hardly the strength of John Brooks, given his size and lack of recovery speed.

CB — John Brooks: 6.5 — Seeing Brooks on the field after three months out with a thigh injury only served as a reminder that his presence might have made a massive difference last month — not that they shouldn’t have been able to qualify without him, mind you. According to recently departed head coach Bruce Arena, Brooks and Miazga could have very well been the starting duo in Russia; with any luck, the same will be true of Qatar in four years’ time.

LB — Eric Lichaj: 5.5 — While Lichaj is somehow, against all odds, still only 28 years old, he’ll be 32 years old when the next World Cup begins. If he’s called into the next two or three USMNT camps, we’ll take serious the possibility he’s an option in the medium- to short-term. Until then, he’s starting at left back simply because someone has to.

[ RECAP: USMNT draw Portugal in first game of 2022 WC cycle ]

CM — Danny Williams: 7 — With the leash cut all the way off of Weston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta ahead of him, Williams had but one job against Portugal: protect the backline when the youngsters’ press is broken. It happened on a few occasions, and Williams put out the majority of those fires. It’s a trio that lacks a true playmaker — the sexy factor, if you will — but proved highly functional for the 84 minutes they shared the field.

RM — Tyler Adams: 6 — Adams, uh, struggled in the first half (see passing chart, at right — that’s a whole lot of red arrows). He started the second half of his USMNT debut much brighter, though, as he got on the end of Danny Williams’ cross to the back post and forced Beto to make a spectacular, sprawling save. Adams is still a player with a “permanent position,” thus an important period of his development lies directly ahead. In 2017, we saw him play at least one game at all three levels wide on the right, in central midfield, and the based of the midfield.

CM — Weston McKennie: 8 — The 19-year-old Schalke midfielder 1) scored a goal on his debut; 2) smashed the crossbar with a header from close range; and, most importantly, 3) provided a bit of renewed excitement around the USMNT. McKennie and Acosta proved a formidable central midfield pairing, capable of pressing high up the field and pushing the tempo. Where they struggled, however, was in unlocking further advanced attackers into the final third. That will, in theory, come with time and repetition — two things the USMNT has in abundance over the next 18-30 months.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 6.5 — Acosta and McKennie had very similar games to one another, with the obvious exception of McKennie’s goal and near-goal. Given that Acosta is three years McKennie’s senior, you’d have hoped to see a bit more connectivity from his side of the field. Alas, no such luck in this one.

LM — Juan Agudelo: 5.5 — The good: in his 59 minutes on the field, Agudelo misplaces just three passes. The bad: not a single one of his 15 completed passes was played in the forward direction (in fact, not a single one of his 18 attempted passes was played forward). He’s already a tough fit on the wing further forward; playing the 24-year-old (yes, really) even deeper seems an impossible exercise to assess.

[ MORE: Brooks-Miazga the center-back partnership of the future ]

FW — C.J. Sapong: 5.5 — With the midfield set up to create turnovers and chances on the counter, Sapong’s physical presence and accompanying hold-up play was hardly a perfect fit, but he made the most of his very limited opportunities.

Sub — Bill Hamid: 6 — Only forced to make two saves — both routine — in his 45 minutes on the field, Hamid managed to avoid hurting his stock.

Sub — Cameron Carter-Vickers: 5 — While Miazga’s strength is the speed with which he reads the game, the polar opposite must be said for Carter-Vickers, thus he’s not terribly suited to play alongside Miazga. Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see them play together.

U.S. players with most to gain in Portugal

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Attaching significant weight to the first friendly after a generation-punching defeat is a bit tricky, but the United States men’s national team Tuesday friendly against Portugal is an opportunity to bring some light to a dour fan base.

Not to mention the federation could use a fine “all’s not lost” 90 minutes or so following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Fekir to Arsenal? ]

For some players, it’s a last chance to make an improved impression on not Big Sam, not Big Sam, not Big Sam whoever might be thinking of leading this team in the future. For others, it’s an opportunity to state their claims to spot in the future while also getting some rare run in Europe, where scouts will certainly be checking out the brightest young Portuguese prospects as well.

Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town) — The 28-year-old center mid is getting regular run in the Premier League, and was criminally overlooked by Bruce Arena and Jurgen Klinsmann. While we can debate the merits of each staff’s wedding to Michael Bradley in the center of the park, there won’t be too much room for veterans in the young and promising center midfield pack moving forward.

And, in case you forgot, he’s not just a nasty tackling man:

The goalkeeper(s) — Bill Hamid (27 later this month) is the oldest of the bunch, but whoever earns the start for Dave Sarachan’s men has a chance and the opponent to demand a place in the team moving forward. While this could be the trio for some time aside from a Tim Howard testimonial or Brad Guzan renaissance, here’s a first chance to lay claim to the top spot.

Kelyn Rowe — Rowe had an outstanding Gold Cup, and Arena rewarded him by keeping him nowhere near the squad for the rest of his second tenure as USMNT bench boss. It’s not apple to apple, Rowe gets a look over Nagbe here, and has proven over time to be better at crossing and is dispossessed less. The diminutive 25-year-old is also one of the good guys off the field, and worthy of the chance.

Juan Agudelo — Rowe’s New England teammate is still just 24, but has wasted so many chances to become a big part of the USMNT. Sixteen of his 26 caps came before he turned 20. Here’s his timeline with the USMNT:

Nov. 2010 – Oct. 2011 — 16 caps, 2 goals, assist
Nov. 2011 – Oct. 2012 — No caps
Nov. 2012 – Jan. 2013 – 2 caps, 53 minutes, assist
Feb. 2013 – March 2015 – 1 cap, five minutes
April 2015 – June 2015 – 2 caps, assist
July 2015 – Oct. 2016 – No caps
Oct. 2016 – Feb. 2017 – 3 caps
March 2017 – June 2017 – No caps
July 2017 – Sept. 2017 – 3 caps
Sept. 2017 – present – No caps

At some point, the caps stop coming.

Three thoughts on USMNT roster vs. Portugal

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The U.S. national team will close out a disappointing 2017 by playing against Portugal next Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Leiria.

[ MORE: Full USMNT squad, here ]

Interim boss Dave Sarachan named plenty of youngsters (12 players under the age of 24, to be exact) in his 21-man squad for the friendly, with four teenagers included and plenty of players given a second chance to impress after being overlooked by Bruce Arena in the past 12 months.

Here are my thoughts on the roster for the final game of the year for the USMNT and what impact it may have as the U.S. is still reeling from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.


1. Youth movement takes center stage

If you’re going to play the kids, you might as well do it now. Everyone connected with U.S. Soccer needs a boost right now and showing that there’s a bright future with a talented young crop coming through should do the trick.

[ MORE: McKennie speaks to Mendola ]

Portugal do not have their first-choice lineup for this game with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Jose Fonte, Rui Patricio and William Carvalho all left out. This is the perfect time to start Weston McKennie, Ethan Horvath, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tyler Adams to see if they’re capable of making the step up. I’d start as many youngsters as possible. What have the U.S. got to lose?

Of the four teenagers, McKennie is playing regularly in the Bundesliga at a huge club, Adams has had a fine season for New York Red Bulls and the U.S. youth team, CCV is a regular for a Sheffield United side chasing promotion to the Premier League and Sargent deserves his chance after starring for both the U-17 and U-20 teams and getting a move to Werder Bremen. Is Sargent going to start ahead of Jozy Altidore anytime soon in the big U.S. games? Probably not. But until you try him (dare I say that chucking in another young 17-year-old, Mr Pulisic, worked out pretty well…) you won’t know what he’s capable of.

If you don’t play the kids in this game, especially the European based crew, when the heck are you going to?


2. Suggested lineup vs. Portugal

—– Horvath —–

— Yedlin — Brooks — Carter-Vickers — Villafana —

—- McKennie —- Williams —- Acosta —- Adams —- Gooch —-

 —- Sargent —- 

I’d like to see a return to a solid 4-5-1 which becomes a 4-3-3 going forward. It’s all a bit fake with Sarachan only in charge for one game and the strange scenario of Arena’s old coaching staff all still in place, but a new manager for the U.S. can do a lot worse than getting back to a hard-nosed defensive system which allows the likes of Christian Pulisic to float free in the attacking third (a la Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in years gone by) when the U.S. has the ball.

Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath has impressed me whenever I’ve seem him play, so I’d give him the nod in net, while Bill Hamid may be the long-term challenger to Brad Guzan for the No.1 jersey after his recent move to Europe but Gonzalez is also worth a go. Simply put, as always, the USMNT have plenty of goalkeeping options. DeAndre Yedlin will be the long-time right back for the U.S. so you might as well play him, while Jorge Villafana is probably on one of his last chances with the USMNT after several shaky displays.

Carter-Vickers and Miazga starting together may be a little too much right away but you could even play a 3-5-2 formation with Brooks, Miazga and CCV as the center backs. McKennie and Gooch will put in great shifts out wide and are comfortable on the ball, while Danny Williams, Adams and Kellyn Acosta have a perfect combo of power, trickery and passing ability. Up top, why not start Sargent? We know what Dom Dwyer, CJ Sapong and Juan Agudelo can do, so the youngster deserves a chance to start and has shown his predatory instincts around the box for the youth national teams.


3. Experienced players can reclaim starting spots

Danny Williams, Alejandro Bedoya and Eric Lichaj will all be aiming to prove they deserve to be starters for the USMNT moving forward as they are among a handful of more experienced players in this squad.

[ MORE: Williams sits down with JPW ]

Williams, 28, has perhaps been one of the most missed players in recent months, first under Jurgen Klinsmann and then he was totally blanked by Arena. The German-American midfielder has become a starter for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League this season and played a pivotal role in their recent defeat of Manchester United. His mixture of athleticism, guile and ability to make surging runs forward from midfield would’ve helped the U.S. out massively over the past 6-12 months. He has worked extremely hard to get back into the fold and deserves to stick around.

Bedoya, 30, played 11 minutes across the USA’s two key World Cup qualifiers last month and the Philadelphia Union man will want to prove he still has plenty left in the tank for the USMNT. He could play in a new-look central midfield with Williams and Acosta but will he get in the team ahead of Michael Bradley when he’s available again in 2018 after the conclusion of the MLS Cup playoffs? A strong display against Portugal will be key to securing his long-term future for the USMNT.

Lichaj, 28, has been in and out of squads under Klinsmann and Arena but the Nottingham Forest full back is reliable and versatile. He should be in every U.S. squad due to that fact that he can play both right and left back, and at a stretch he can play in midfield too. Lichaj is also in great form and was named Man of the Match on multiple occasions for Forest last month.

The likes of Bradley, Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, Pulisic and Guzan will all likely be available in 2018 but aside from that experience core, over 15 places are now totally up for grabs following the humiliation of failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer.