USMNT

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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.

[ MORE: MLS stats ]

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.

PST survey: Who’s to blame for USMNT’s World Cup failure?

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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. So we continue BASS with one key question that is at the heart of the American soccer community right now: who is most responsible for the USMNT’s failure to make the 2018 World Cup?

We provided the following five answers in our survey.

  1. Sunil Gulati
  2. Youth development
  3. Bruce Arena
  4. Jurgen Klinsmann
  5. Other

Here’s who got the ultimate blame: Sunil Gulati with 36 percent of the vote.

Yes, it isn’t rare for the head of the organization to bare the brunt of the blame for a nation not qualifying for the World Cup but in this instance Gulati has well and truly had the blame put at his door.

It is worth noting that only 16 percent of voters blamed Bruce Arena and eight percent said it was Jurgen Klinsmann’s fault (let it go, guys).

Yet Gulati only just topped the pool ahead of an area which is the biggest issue for American soccer right now: youth development.

That doozy of a topic accounted for 31 percent of the votes and points towards a much larger debate than just a team playing poorly, or being poorly coached.

Gulati is of course responsible for hiring and firing coaches and his decision to oust Klinsmann after two games of the Hex, or even hiring him in the first place, has been severely questioned.

His decision to then bring in Arena as his replacement was ultimately the wrong one, even if, in Gulati’s words, the U.S. was “two inches wide or two inches in” from being at the World Cup after Clint Dempsey‘s late effort against Trinidad & Tobago hit the post.

“You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide or two inches in,” Gulati said. “We will look at everything, obviously, with all of our programs from the national team to development. We have a lot of pieces in place that we think are very good and have been coming along. Tonight wasn’t what we hoped for.”

Well, the American soccer community does want wholesale changes.

First, they want Gulati to leave his role (which seems likely), and secondly, a wholesale change to youth development with the “pay-to-play” model continually lambasted as the root of the USA’s problems in not producing enough quality talent.

Simply put, the overwhelming majority of U.S. soccer fans believe the real reason the USMNT isn’t heading to Russia next summer is due to problems with youth development and the decisions that Gulati, the one who oversees the entire U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), made.

Of course, Gulati is likely going to be out as USSF president in February 2018 when the presidential election is held. He has yet to declare his interest in running once again to lead the USSF after 11 years unopposed, but it is deemed highly unlikely he will run for re-election.

Should Gulati get the blame here?

The fact that he, Arena and even interim USMNT coach Dave Sarachan still believe that there isn’t much wrong with the way the U.S. is developing players right now is the biggest issue. Yes, there are some talented groups of youngsters coming through the system right now, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams proved that during the 1-1 draw with Portugal this week, but the main issue is that U.S. Soccer believes it can continue to do the same things and get different results.

That’s why Gulati must go in February and fresh ideas should be implemented to eradicate the “pay-to-play” model and allow the best players to get opportunities despite the social or economic background they’re from in the USA. End of discussion. That’s what needs to happen for the U.S. to move forward and it will be a long, arduous road ahead.

Gulati will not oversee that as he pushes on with his plans for the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Mexico and Canada, and when all is said and done, his role in the 2018 World Cup qualification debacle is clear: he should take the blame.

Time will tell if that’s the case but right now the American soccer community believes Gulati’s poor leadership was the main reason the U.S. won’t be in Russia at the World Cup next summer.

PST Survey results: Who should be the next USMNT coach?

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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. Our next BASS post deals with who should coach the USMNT.

[ MORE: All Big American Soccer Survey posts ]

We asked thousands of voters who should helm the U.S. men’s national team after October’s horrifying World Cup qualifying collapse, and there were plenty of write-ins apart from a very even vote.

David Wagner earned the most write-ins, but the variety of names mentioned was varied and wild: Caleb Porter, Thomas Tuchel, Slaven Bilic, Gregg Berhalter, Dominic Kinnear, Eddie Howe, Nick Mendola (not kidding, smart alecks).

Guus Hiddink, Rafa Benitez, Miguel Herrera, Oscar Pareja, Mike Petke, Berti Vogts, Tim Howard, Geno Auriemma (not kidding again).

But here are the four top vote getters:

4) Sam Allardyce — 13 percent — Please, no. No. For everyone who thinks his down-home English structure will get the job done, please remember that there are probably 10-15 guys just like him who are less abrasive and haven’t been fired in disgrace from a national team. Want to hate someone’s perception of your league, MLS fellas? Wait til you get a load of him.

3) Laurent Blanc — 14 percent — Late of PSG, the 51-year-old Blanc has experience in cleaning up a mess; When he took over France, the FFF suspended all 23 of the players who bombed out of the 2010 World Cup.

2) Tata Martino — 19 percent — Atlanta United’s guru is best known for leading Barcelona between 2013-14, but has wide international experience with Paraguay and Argentina.

1) Tab Ramos — 20 percent — Call it the Gareth Southgate corollary, albeit by a slim margin. The 51-year-old Ramos has 81 caps for the USMNT and plenty of background in leading the U-20s for several years. He also played in both MLS and abroad, with Segunda Division experience for two teams in Spain.

PST Survey results: What’s the career ceiling for Pulisic?

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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. So we begin BASS in the same place many American soccer conversations start: with Christian Pulisic.

The 19-year-old “Don’t call him Wonderboy” admitted to fighting depression after the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup, but Christian Pulisic is the primary cause for optimism in many circles of U.S. Soccer.

USMNT supporters see him as the key to the future, club coaches see him as an example of how an elite career can be nurtured here, and European export proponents see his exponential growth at Borussia Dortmund as a beacon to call young U.S. talent overseas.

But what is his ceiling?

[ MORE: Rochester Rhinos in jeopardy ]

We supplied three choices for our readership:

  1. European soccer Best XI candidate
  2. Short of world elite, but best American player in history
  3. About where he is now: Key player on a good team

It won’t surprise anyone that Option No. 3 was the least popular, as it’s difficult to believe a healthy Pulisic won’t continue to improve. He’s already one of the most important players on a UEFA Champions League team — and the most important player on the USMNT — at age 19, so the nine percent of people who voted “About where he is now” are mostly cynics or detesters of the game here, in all likelihood.

Thirty-seven percent of fans think he can be a Best XI candidate, which would put him in uncharted American waters. Getting to this point would mean Pulisic would get to a point where voters consider him capable of fitting in a team like the 2016 UEFA Team of the Season. The attack-minded players there only need one of their names: Messi, Griezmann, Ronaldo, Modric, Iniesta.

Now, this also would mean that Pulisic would need to either lead Borussia Dortmund to a Bundesliga crown and/or deep into the UEFA Champions League, and that leaves this poll option a massive bet by voters. He could also be an otherworldly playmaker on a second-tier team, but would need to just dominate. In the last three seasons, guess who many teams have placed a player on the Best XI?

Seven. That’s 33 spots taken by seven teams. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United. PSG has one (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) while United had a half (Angel Di Maria played for the Red Devils and Real that season).

Which brings us to the majority vote: 54 percent of voters think Pulisic will not quite reach world elite, but will be the best player in United States history. This would mean passing the accolades of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan. From a team standpoint, this won’t be terribly hard.

[ MORE: Dempsey wins award ]

Pulisic has won the German Cup. Howard has a League Cup, FA Cup, and Community Shield. Dempsey played in a Europa League final with Fulham, while Donovan won all of his club accolades in Major League Soccer.

What would it take for Pulisic to take a step into that category while staying in Europe (Forgive us for assuming a healthy Pulisic could return to MLS at any time in the next dozen years and contribute like Dempsey at the very least)? Would he need to join the rarefied air of aforementioned clubs like Real or Bayern Munich? Lothar Matthaus thinks he can do a job at the latter.

(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

At a certain point, naysayers like to say Pulisic is being overhyped. We get that. As a culture we’ve gone through varying degrees of that, from Maurice Edu all the way up (or down) to Freddy Adu. But no player in U.S. history, at his age, has been nominated for the Goldenboy Award. Donovan didn’t make a senior appearance at Bayer Leverkusen until 22, and Pulisic has 71 first team apps for BVB with 10 goals and 14 assists.

Transfermarkt has two comparable players for him right now: Leroy Sane and Anthony Martial. WhoScored rates him as the 21st best player in the Bundesliga this season. Squawka says only one player in Germany is attempting more take-ons per game, and has him as a Top 50 per game attacker, though his possession stats are not so hot. He’s 19. This isn’t overhype, considering it’s a foray into the American unknown: It’s legit hype.

This is the great unknown, paved by the work of Dempsey and Howard, Bocanegra and Reyna, Keller and even McBride. While we should sit back and enjoy it all, there’s no doubt the focus will only continue to grow on Pulisic. It seems, wonderfully, that pressure doesn’t bother the kid.

Imagine his prime. We know you are.