Matt Miazga

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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?

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.

Arena: Miazga-Brooks could’ve been World Cup CBs

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Former USMNT coach Bruce Arena is part of the broadcast team for Tuesday’s national team match in Portugal.

The (almost) three cycle USMNT boss had plenty to say regarding the team turning the page, and also talked about the side’s failure to qualify for Russia.

[ FOLLOW: Portugal vs. USMNT ]

The juiciest and most head-scratching quote came when it came to who in Tuesday’s young lineup would’ve been a part of his crew for Russia.

Arena didn’t have access to John Brooks for the final two qualifiers, and sat Stoke City mainstay Geoff Cameron. Instead he chose Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler at center back, not even calling in Matt Miazga.

FYI, according to Arena (yes, I’m still bitter): Miazga wasn’t good enough to get that call for the qualifiers, but likely would’ve started for Arena in Russia.

“We had some injuries during the year in particular the center back position. John Brooks wasn’t available for a long time and today we see John Brooks partnering up with Matt Miazga. If I were a betting man, I would’ve bet that those two would be our center backs for the World Cup.”

Sweet. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

As time goes by, it seems more and more like Arena thought the  “Don’t do what Klinsmann did because he’s dumb” game plan was all he needed to make it to Russia. He followed his preconceptions and is now still trying to find a rationale for his side’s big failure.

Portugal-USMNT preview: Turning the page

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On the ride to school this morning, I casually mentioned to my second grader, “U.S. versus Portugal tomorrow.”

To which he replied, “But I though we didn’t make the World Cup.”

[ MORE: O’Neill to USMNT? ]

Judging by the vitriol attached to nearly every USMNT post on nearly every soccer web site, much of American soccer would prefer a lack of matches for some time, too, and we’re looking beyond the 7-year-old set.

It feels likely that’s one of the reasons the U.S. didn’t arrange for a second friendly for this window after a reported date Wales fell through. Sure, there’s probably a team that would come to the U.S. for a match, but the Yanks would already be in Portugal and the USSF probably doesn’t want to put its players in front of its stung fans any time soon.

So the Yanks will turn the page on a wasted World Cup cycle, on the road (Though, to quote Bob Seger, they will still feel the eyes upon them as you’re shaking off the cold. They’ll pretend it doesn’t bother them, but they’ll just want to explo-o-ode).

That’s especially decent of them considering this crew doesn’t have much to do with the miserable effort last month, when the inconsistent Yanks followed up a home win over Panama by essentially throwing up on the pitch in Trinidad and Tobago (Next time: Game plan earlier, write open letter guarantees later).

Portugal hasn’t lost since March, a run of 12 matches with just two draws. Fernando Santos’ men have kept four-straight clean sheets, but this won’t be the same bunch of players. Portugal is leaving much of its A-Team behind for a different reason than the U.S., as they want to see who could slip into the First Team for this summer’s World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Cedric Soares, William Carvalho, Nani, Andre Gomes, and Jose Fonte will not be in attendance, joining American regulars Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley at home.

That said, you’ll see some real problems on the flanks. Barcelona fireball Nelson Semedo is there, as is Man City attacker Bernardo Silva. Milan’s Andre Silva, he of the 11 goals in 18 caps, will likely feature, and Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes is also an option.

[ MORE: Players with most to gain versus Portugal ]

Good news! John Brooks is back! The towering 24-year-old Wolfsburg defender was one of those players who could’ve made a huge difference for Bruce Arena last month (the other, Geoff Cameron, was healthy). Brooks will likely pair with Matt Miazga or Tim Ream at the heart of the U.S. defense, with an outside shot that Spurs loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers of Sheffield United could see time.

A good test, to be sure, and DeAndre Yedlin will at least keep Portugal’s left side honest. Yet we really can’t be sure how interim manager Dave Sarachan will line ’em up. This is one of his few chances to run the American national team, something done by just 35 other men in history.

For what it’s worth, two managers have unbeaten marks in U.S. history. John Kowalski went 1W-1D in 1991, and Thomas Cahill did the same in 1916. So Sarachan can join pretty rare and wild company.

It’s going to be a heck of a test for the Yanks on Tuesday.

Youngsters named in USMNT squad for Portugal friendly

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The U.S. national team squad for their friendly at Portugal on Nov. 14 has been announced.

The USA’s first game since their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup should be an intriguing watch as stars of the future get a chance to shine.

[ MORE: McKennie speaks to Mendola ]

As expected interim boss Dave Sarachan has named a youth heavy squad with five players named in the 21-man squad who have yet to win a cap for the USMNT.

Goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, midfielders Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie and forward Josh Sargent are all looking to make their first appearance for the Stars and Stripes.

There are also recalls for Wolfsburg’s John Brooks (who was previously out injured), Lynden Gooch from Sunderland, CJ Sapong from the Philadelphia Union, Huddersfield Town’s Danny Williams and Orlando City’s Dom Dwyer.

“The one word that I would use in reference to all of this is opportunity,” Sarachan said. “It’s an opportunity for many players who haven’t been in the picture that we feel have a bright future with the National Team to get to measure themselves in a game against a quality opponent. It’s an opportunity for our National Team to finish out 2017 in a positive way. It’s also just an opportunity to move on. As much as we’re still gutted from how things turned out with qualifying, we have to look ahead and finish out the year the right way.”

Over half of the 21-man squad are under the age of 24, while the vast majority ply their trade in Europe with the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore still in MLS Cup playoff action for their respective clubs.

McKennie, 19, has become a regular in Schalke’s squad in the Bundesliga and is an exciting midfield prospect, while Adams has been a standout performer for the New York Red Bulls in midfield and defense this season.

Below is the squad in full for the USA’s final game of a disappointing 2017 as they face a second-string Portugal side in Leiria.


USMNT squad vs. Portugal

GOALKEEPERS (3): Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas; 0/0), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland/DEN; 3/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 1/0)

DEFENDERS (7): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 32/3), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Sheffield United/ENG; 0/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 13/1), Matt Miazga (Vitesse/NED; 3/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 26/1), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna/MEX; 14/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 48/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 16/1), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 65/2), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland/ENG; 2/0), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 0/0), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution; 3/1), Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town/ENG; 22/2)

FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution; 26/3), Dom Dwyer (Orlando City SC; 3/2), C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union; 2/0), Josh Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher; 0/0)