You may remember Danny Higginbotham from his time as a defender at Sunderland, Stoke City, Derby County, and Southampton, but these days he makes his dough as an analyst.
You almost certainly remember USMNT right back and speed merchant DeAndre Yedlin, though perhaps not seeing him on your television has limited your intake on his progress since leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Newcastle United.
Yedlin’s been very decent for the Magpies, making 23 appearances while providing a goal and five assists. Higginbotham has been impressed, and devoted a good portion of his prematch notes on Newcastle-Aston Villa to the American.
Yedlin plays almost as a right winger at times. He’s the one that gives the width on that side, and he has been a standout player in recent games.
He is so quick, so he can get back with his recovery runs, but it’s what he does with the ball as well. We see him controlling the whole of the right-hand side. He has been so key for Newcastle and he gives them such an attacking threat.
Newcastle will move back atop the Championship with a win over Aston Villa on Monday, and have a five-point lead on third-place Huddersfield Town in the race for an automatic promotion place. Brighton and Hove Albion is first, two points clear of the Magpies.
Yeah, the USMNT fell to Mexico in a home World Cup qualifier for the first time since 1974*, but it was both the first game of 10 in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and possibly the third-trickiest (Away Mexico, Away Costa Rica).
*There was a 16-year gap in home qualifiers from 1982-1998.
So let’s chat about a number of significant issues from Friday, and moving forward to Tuesday in Saprissa.
1) Coach, captain need to get on the same page — Whether Jurgen Klinsmann or Michael Bradley is correct in their assessment of what went wrong with the 3-4-3 formation — Bradley said it was direction and comprehension, Klinsmann pointed to Bradley and Jermaine Jones — there’s a reason we rarely see that sort of intra-team finger pointing in sports.
The truth is that Bradley and Jones had poor games in a questionable at best system chosen by Klinsmann. Move on, guys.
2) Yeah, the formation change worked, but also… please don’t forget that while the United States was undoubtedly more comfortable once switching from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2, that switch also happened when arguably the best player on the field had to lave the game through injury. PSV Eindhoven’s Andres Guardado subbed off hurt in the 28th minute and the USMNT started to run the midfield.
3) That right side of the defense needs better — Klinsmann pointed to Timmy Chandler’s fine form for Eintracht Frankfurt and DeAndre Yedlin‘s last few camps and status in England’s second tier as the reason for using Chandler at right back.
That maybe so, but Chandler struggled in the first 30 minutes if not longer. That’s not an outlier when he suits up for the United States, but also consider how Eintracht Frankfurt regularly trots out Chandler for their top half Bundesliga side.
Chandler has a lot of freedom on the right of a five-man back line, where he can take chances without crippling the defense. That wasn’t the case in a 3-4-3, and Geoff Cameron‘s absence means the support around the center backs has to be almost pristene and certainly not risky.
So if Klinsmann’s thinking “No” on Yedlin, then it has to be a four-man back line with Chandler… or something even more safe.
4) Brooks’ partner — John Brooks made a big mistake on the set piece goal that gave Mexico the 2-1 win, but otherwise was perhaps the most important part of the Americans escaping the first half down by just one. Omar Gonzalez was not a nightmare next to him once the four-man back line emerged, but is he the answer for Tuesday? Could Matt Besler move inside with Fabian Johnson dropping to left back? Is Steve Birnbaum the right call?
5) Jones and Bradley must improve — Bradley is undoubtedly a USMNT legend, but the captain hasn’t had a star performance for country since before the Copa America Centenario — probably the blowout of Guatemala — and what the heck was he doing in not laying off to Bobby Wood on that second half 2v1?!?
Jones’ aggression is what it is and he can certainly put it to good use, but he missed the boat on Friday. That’s not too much of a surprise given his long absence for Colorado, but Klinsmann indicated that Jones would be fit to go on Tuesday and wouldn’t even say he expects his longtime midfielder to go less than 90 minutes.
So they better step their games up against Costa Rica’s gritty, cantankerous midfield in Saprissa.
6) Stick with the attack plans, or get aggressive? — Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore were sensational in the second half, with the latter setting the former up for several chances including the goal. And Christian Pulisic improved dramatically after some early stumbles.
So is it 4-4-2 with Pulisic atop a midfield diamond or on one of the wings? Is it the “front three that really isn’t a traditional front three” where Pulisic, Wood, and Altidore are basically lining up wherever the play takes them? Does Sacha Kljestan work as the third midfielder in this situation, or is it Alejandro Bedoya?
7) Regardless of Friday, and Tuesday, what’s the CM future? Jermaine Jones is 35, and the 29-year-old Bradley honestly hasn’t looked the same for country — at least on a consistent basis — since coming back to Major League Soccer.
The question is how much of that should be pinned on Klinsmann? If the answer is “a lot”, then some serious conversations have to be had about wasting one of the most talented, intelligent, and important players in United States history for the final half-decade (or so) of his time in the USMNT kit.
If the answer is that Bradley is no longer the same player, then we have questions beyond his implementation. Who is in the pipeline at center mid after him and Jones? Kyle Beckerman is nearly as old as Jones and Osvaldo Alonso — the near-perfect answer — is unlikely to get his release from Cuba.
Hearts captain Perry Kitchen will get a look for his defensive acumen, but neither him nor Reading man Danny Williams is even getting called into the team by Klinsmann right now. Kellyn Acosta is seemingly a left back for the United States right now, Dax McCarty isn’t being called in, and Wil Trapp, Emerson Hyndman, and Fatai Alashe are firmly on the periphery.
Here’s a check-in with some players not often hitting the TV screens of American soccer fans.
Matt Miazga has jammed his way into the Vitesse starting lineup, going the full 90 minutes in each of the Eredivisie club’s last four matches. According to advanced stats site Squawka, the on-loan Chelsea center back been the best player on the squad during that time span. Fellow Eredivisie players Rubio Rubin and Desevio Payne are not finding playing time at all.
Promising Fulham teenager Luca De La Torre, 18, is playing right mid for the club in Premier League 2. De La Torres has a goal in PL2 play, and has also played 125 minutes for Fulham in the EFL Cup.
Eric Lichaj is again going 90 on a week-to-week basis for Nottingham Forest, and the 27-year-old left and right back has spent the last two weeks playing in a wide midfield position. At times, we imagine he must mail Jurgen Klinsmann boxes full of rotten food.
DeAndre Yedlin continues to impress for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. After some time at right wing in Benitez’s heavily-rotated squad, he’s gone 90 at right back in three-straight and assisted a goal in the Magpies’ last win.
Newcastle has won all eight matches its played since a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa on Sept. 24, and has not a single match with Yedlin in the lineup (11W-1D).
Birmingham City’s Jonathan Spector is also playing full games on a fairly religious basis at right back, while Danny Williams has gone 90 in the middle of the park in all but one of Reading’s matches.
Nineteen-year-old Sporting KC loanee Erik Palmer-Brown has forced himself back into the Porto B fray, going 90 minutes over his past three matches. Remember Fafa Picault? The once-capped U.S. forward has battled back trouble this year in the 2.Bundesliga, and is yet to score.
DeAndre Yedlin is in fine form for Newcastle ahead of the USMNT’s big World Cup qualifiers next week.
The American right back made a slick move before playing a terrific through ball for Yoan Gouffran‘s goal as the first-place Magpies lead Championship rivals Cardiff City at St. James Park on Saturday.
USMNT standout DeAndre Yedlin is gaining valuable experience fighting for promotion with Championship-leading Newcastle United, and will likely get the chance to help the Magpies into the EFL Cup quarterfinals this week.
Newcastle hosts Preston North End on Tuesday at St. James Park, and the 23-year-old Yedlin has been providing plenty to the Magpies under Rafa Benitez.
Yedlin has appeared four times at right mid and four more at right back as Newcastle sits atop the Championship through 14 matches. He’s been in the 18 for every match since he arrived from Tottenham.
Manager Rafa Benitez has employed a lot of rotation in his squad given the congested schedule, and Yedlin has competed for time at the back with Magpies veteran Vurnon Anita and ex-Atleti back Jesus Gamez. The club’s right-sided attackers include even more options, headlined by the electric Matt Ritchie.
“If you aren’t in form there’s always one guy will step in. They could take your place,” Yedlin said.
“That means every opportunity you get you must take and make the best of it.”
That’s the sort of competition we like to see abroad, and the reason players like Perry Kitchen (Hearts) and Matt Miazga (Vitesse via Chelsea) are lauded for taking steps out of their insta-starter status domestically (and again, I hate having to repoint out that it’s okay to feel this way and love MLS).
As for Tuesday’s match against Preston, here are Yedlin’s thoughts on being in the final 16 of the EFL Cup:
“It’s an important game. We are getting to the final stages of the cup now and obviously we want to win everything we can.
“It’s important to us. Like I’ve said the depth in this team is unbelievable. So I am sure whatever team goes out there will be extremely strong.”