With disappointment from a missed World Cup opportunity still fresh on the minds of those involved with U.S. Soccer, the U.S. Men’s National Team will take another step towards 2022 on Sunday night.
Interim manager Dave Sarachan has put out a young squad heading into tomorrow’s international friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the boss including several bright talents like Tyler Adams and Jordan Morris, as well as players aiming to impress for the very first time.
Sarachan has selected 15 first-time national teamers for the Americans, which includes a trio of Real Salt Lake products that will look to shine if they are given the opportunity.
Danilo Acosta, Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon have all earned call ups for the first time this January camp, while Minnesota United striker Christian Ramirez has received the same chance up front.
The Yanks will be searching for some new faces to bring in the goals against Bosnia, as Sarachan’s men have a combined 17 goals scored amongst their entire roster. Recently-acquired Columbus Crew winger Gyasi Zardes has the most of any player, having scored six times for the U.S.
Meanwhile, Bosnia features a few familiar faces as well, with Haris Medunjanin of the Philadelphia Union and University of Nebraska-Omaha product Elvir Ibisevic each called up.
The U.S. and Bosnia have only met once previously, a 4-3 American victory back in 2013, which saw Jozy Altidore‘s hat-trick turn out to be the difference on that day.
BNH manager Robert Prosinečki is helping his team pick up the pieces after missing the World Cup under previous manager Mehmed Baždarević.
Prosinecki will bring a heavily domestic-based side for friendlies against the U.S. and Mexico, though Haris Medunjanin of the Philadelphia Union and Nebraska-Omaha product Elvir Ibisevic are on the roster with Eintracht Frankfurt teen Marijan Ćavar.
Who will Sarachan run out in red, white, and blue on Sunday? Well, that depends. There are precious few “regulars” in the bunch aside from Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris, and Juan Agudelo.
Here are some options, remembering that this is beyond a B-team… perhaps even a C-team (nothing against these barely capped mostly youngsters).
Safest and soundest XI
Matt Polster — Walker Zimmerman — Ike Opara — Justin Morrow
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.