USMNT

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Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.

Dempsey still happy to accept USMNT role (which is good)

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Clint Dempsey is tied with Landon Donovan for the most goals in USMNT history, and seems set to continue with the side in some capacity as he threatens to stand alone in American history.

[ MLS: Steve Bruce to Miami? ]

The 34-year-old striker spoke with Steve Zakuani on the Sounders’ web site (video below) and said he’s happy to accept continued call-ups should they arrive from USSF headquarters.

From SoundersFC.com:

“We’ll see what happens,” Dempsey said.” I mean, in terms of what I’ve been able to accomplish with the national team, I’m at peace with it. It’s not really about me. It’s about a group of guys that want to be moving forward.

“If there’s an opportunity that comes where you get to play a role and try to help and I’m feeling good and I’m playing well, then yeah, you’ll never say no. But you know, if the call never comes I’m still happy, still at peace, and focused on being here and trying to make the most of the time I have left.”

There are a number of players whose national team futures should be in question, but Dempsey is in a different class. No one has debated his motor or fuel, and his engine is still there (to complete the Springsteen-esque car comparisons, he remains one of the only things that qualifiers as chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected, and steppin’ out over the line).

If anything, he plays too close to the edge. That’s not something I see as one of the Yanks’ problems right now, so perhaps Dempsey needs to be viewed like Cuauhtemoc Blanco or Carlos Ruiz as a CONCACAF guy who’s around as long as he wants to be a part of it.

I mean, shoot, if Dempsey wants to keep passing the fire to Christian Pulisic and now Weston McKennie, there are far worse ambassadors for the program. He’s the most accomplished field player in recent history, and will be able to share so much when it comes to balancing club and country.

Heck, maybe he needs to be the late era Ryan Giggs of the 2018-2022 USMNT.

PST Survey results: Who’s the 2nd best American player?

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The results of PST’s Big American Soccer Survey are in, and our staff will be walking through the results of thousands of votes in a series of posts this week.

We didn’t realize you could acronymize it to BASS, or else we would’ve done it sooner. Next up: the top dogs of the current USMNT… beyond Christian Pulisic.

[ MORE: All Big American Soccer Survey posts ]

There are a number of strong contributors to the United States men’s national team, but there’s simply no question the top player going right now is 19-year-old Pennsylvanian wizard Christian Pulisic.

In addition to being one of, if not the only American player with some electricity in his body against Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic is among the best players on a top Bundesliga team and has even been tipped as a possible replacement for Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben at Bayern Munich.

Aside from Clint Dempsey‘s five-year run between Fulham and Spurs in the Premier League, there is no American attacking player with a Top Five European league resume as strong as Pulisic who, again, is 19.

But what about beyond him? Tim Howard and Dempsey are deep into their 30s and back in MLS, while Michael Bradley’s play is not at the same level as when he left Roma for Toronto FC. The latter two, along with Jozy Altidore and perhaps sooner Paul Arriola and later Tyler Adams, are the top MLS-based Yanks (assuming they say domestic).

The European crowd have different arguments. Geoff Cameron is one of the most important players on Stoke City, while DeAndre Yedlin is a regular starter for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. John Brooks and Bobby Wood matter deeply to their Bundesliga outfits, while 19-year-old Schalke midfielder and Pulisic FIFA rival Weston McKennie is raising eyebrows here and abroad.

So where did you rank ’em?

It’s worth noting that we gave six options to go with a write-in box: Altidore, Bradley, Brooks, Cameron, Dempsey, and Yedlin. Wood and Fabian Johnson received enough write-in votes to prove they should’ve been among the options.

7) Jozy Altidore — 3 percent — A CONCACAF and MLS killer, Altidore unfortunately often needed to drop into the midfield to hold the ball up for Bruce Arena’s feeble midfield. His reputation has dropped amongst USMNT supporters since his failed move to Sunderland, but ask Eredivisie and MLS defenses whether he’s got international quality. The 28-year-old may have not been Premier League quality — many weren’t at Sunderland — but he remains a top American forward. Once an unquestioned favorite to chase down Landon Donovan and Dempsey amongst the all-time leading U.S. scorers, will young competition and Dempsey’s continued relevance keep him from achieving that objective? Altidore currently sits 16 behind both

6) Michael Bradley — 5 percent — The sentiment behind Alexi Lalas’ “Zen burn” is perhaps the reason Bradley doesn’t get enough love and has become a critical magnet amongst USMNT fans, but Toronto fans understand that Bradley’s skill set is still vital. Bradley plays calm and composed, a central midfielder who can make big tackles but usually gets to the ball before one’s needed. His USMNT performances recently make the argument for European football, but Bradley is the top American player in Major League Soccer.

5) Other — 10 percent — Wood was the leader here despite losing steam at Hamburg this season.

4) Clint Dempsey — 16 percent — Perhaps the closest thing U.S. Soccer has to a folk hero outside of Tim Howard’s Belgium performance, Dempsey’s five years between Fulham and Spurs are rarefied air for American attackers abroad. He returned from a serious heart ailment to bag 14 goals and four assists as MLS Comeback Player of the Year, and has helped Seattle not miss injured striker Jordan Morris. Also overlooked: He has five goals and three assists for the USMNT since coming back in March, and three of those goals came in an inspiring hat trick versus Honduras.

3) Geoff Cameron — 17 percent — One of Stoke’s most valuable player, Cameron’s club and country look entirely different without him. Cameron leads the Potters in interceptions per game, offsides won per game, and is behind only Joe Allen, Jese, and Eric Choupo-Moting in dribbles per game. He followed up perhaps his worst match as a USMNT player by being a game-changing sub, only to see Bruce Arena ignore him for the two most important matches of the qualifying mess.

2) John Brooks — 23 percent — The big American center back was a key part of Hertha Berlin’s strong defense last season, and is perhaps under the radar having missed the better part of this early season and the World Cup qualifying debacle. Now at Wolfsburg in a record transfer involving an American, Brooks doesn’t turn 25 until January.

1) DeAndre Yedlin — 26 percent — More than a quarter of you tabbed the Magpies right back, who took his first steps in Europe with Tottenham less than three seasons ago. Still just 24, Yedlin is the most promising American full back/wing back in some time.

Why Caleb Porter isn’t the man for the USMNT

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The Portland Timbers are a cherry club in Major League Soccer.

Owner Merritt Paulson is as dedicated as any in the game and the supporters make 21,000-seat Providence Park one of the most intoxicating venues in the league.

So it’s a safe bet, much like the United States men’s national team, that the Timbers will be in fine shape when they find the replacement for their current departed combustible coach.

[ PST SURVEY: Who should be next USMNT coach? ]

In Portland’s case, it’s Caleb Porter. The former University of Akron mastermind left the club on Friday, fueling speculation that he must be in talks to be the next USMNT coach.

Please, no.

Porter’s name has been raised for some time as a successor to Jurgen Klinsmann or Bruce Arena and, at the risk of becoming a Cold Takes Exposed case, there are myriad reasons to dismiss him from consideration for the gig (which isn’t to say he shouldn’t be a risk-reward hire for another MLS side).

Porter has an MLS Cup Final win as Portland boss, though it should be noted it came in a season the Timbers had to rally to make the playoffs. He’s led the Timbers to two No. 1 seeds in the West, and won a national championship at Akron.

Those are all incredibly positive, but the reasons he’s a risk for a program in disarray are many.

  1. His previous experience with the U.S., leading the Olympic qualifying team, saw a fairly-loaded U-23 fail to escape the group stage of qualifying.
  2. For all their successes, the Timbers twice missed the MLS Cup Playoffs during his five seasons in charge.
  3. Despite it’s low profile prior to its national championship, Akron, was very good before he arrived under Ken Lolla, now with Louisville, and has been quite good since he left under Jared Embick.

This isn’t to say the 42-year-old Porter is not a good coach. That would be foolish, and it would be interesting to see how he’d fare leading an overseas club or other national team.

But his record simply isn’t strong enough to take the reins of the USMNT. As silly as this sounds, perhaps he could’ve been a name to consider should the Yanks have squeaked into the World Cup with Arena. But they didn’t, and risk is not the name of the game right now.

Let’s start with his Portland tenure.

Timbers under Porter
2013* – 1st place, West; 3rd overall; 6 clear of 6th
2014 – 6th place, West; 11th overall;
2015* – 3rd place, West; 5th overall; 6 clear of 7th, MLS Cup champions
2016 – 7th place, West; 12th overall
2017* – 1st place, West; 6th overall; 7 pts clear of 7th

The Timbers may still be alive this season had Diego Chara not been injured in this season’s playoffs, and that should be noted. It should also be mentioned that Portland did not fire Porter, according to all accounts.

Yet it’s difficult to look past that, and it’s not the only argument against the Porter risk.

Let’s not overlook the failure to qualify for the Olympics in 2012, when Porter led a massively talented U.S. roster to third place in Group A behind El Salvador and Canada.

After beating Cuba 6-0, the U.S. lost 2-0 to Canada before drawing El Salvador 3-3. For those wanting to argue it was a weak American cycle of players, the U.S. had the following in the squad: Bill Hamid, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud, Brek Shea, Joe Corona, Perry Kitchen, Ike Opara, Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd, Amobi Okugo, Teal Bunbury, and Jorge Villafana.

Then there’s Akron, where Porter barely lost and recruited a treasure trove of MLS SuperDraft picks en route to his national title. It’s the least point of the bunch, but to hang a hat on that acumen is to ignore that Akron’s been a relative national contender, given its size, for decades, and that Lolla has Louisville humming while Embick has not booting possession since taking over.

There’s a further point to be made regarding personality and Porter’s penchant for touchline drama. Goodness knows half the duty of a national team coach is massaging big egos, and Porter’s self-impression is significant in stature.

Now the U.S. may well hire Porter, and he may right the ship and lead them to a Confederations Cup-clinching Gold Cup win, a Copa America semifinal, and a 2022 World Cup quarterfinal under a potentially Golden Generation.

That’s great. I’ll be very happy to be wrong. But let’s hope the Yanks call upon any number of safer options with international experience or a safer and more tested domestic resume.

CONCACAF announces League of Nations, replacing friendlies

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We may be seeing a lot more of the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Mexico and less of the USMNT vs. Portugal in the coming years.

CONCACAF on Thursday announced the creation of a “League of Nations,” taking a page from UEFA’s idea to replace friendlies with matches against similar-ranked opponents, with promotion and relegation across three separate divisions. Matches are expected to begin in September 2018, with the schedule released in early 2018.

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The League of Nations was an idea championed by new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, declaring a focus back on soccer after too much focus on making money in the past.

“This is a watershed moment for CONCACAF.  By focusing on football to provide all our teams with year-round, quality competition, the League of Nations platform means everyone wins,” Montagliani said.  “This new tournament is highly beneficial to all our Member Associations and fans everywhere, since it provides significant opportunities to play important competitive matches with increased regularity throughout the year.”

While this looks like it will have a great effect for smaller CONCACAF nations like Aruba, the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, giving them more regular games to grow their national teams, it could hurt the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica in the long run, with no international dates available to face European or South American sides that could provide great challenges and tests to up and coming players.

Perhaps with the UEFA League of Nations snapping up any of the European nation’s available friendly dates, CONCACAF figured they may as well ensure that the big nations play each other more often, but it could hurt the overall growth of the national teams.

Jurgen Klinsmann once said he’d rather play Belgium one time than El Salvador 100 times, and he’s probably right if U.S. fans want to see their players test themselves against some of the best in the world.