Getty Images

What did we learn about USMNT this international break?

2 Comments

The U.S. men’s national team is still in a heavy state of flux as they wrapped up their September friendlies with a win against bitter rivals Mexico in Nashville on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

But what lessons have we learned about the state of the USMNT as things stand? Which players impressed for interim head coach Dave Sarachan? And what lies ahead for the USA’s caretaker boss?

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings

Let’s dive in and look at the key takeaways for the U.S. national team over the past 10-12 days.


1. Permanent coach is needed, right now
Dave Sarachan has done an admirable job considering the circumstances but now is the right time for U.S. Soccer to push hard for a new permanent coach, with the federation already saying they want to appoint a new head coach by December 2018. Sarachan has been in charge on an interim basis for almost a year and over the past 12 months the U.S. has called up 66 different players excluding the 15 players who were part of the disaster in Cuova against Trinidad & Tobago, many of whom will never play for the U.S. again. If the U.S. would’ve appointed a new head coach in March 2018 (waiting after the results of the U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election, of course) what could they have achieved over the past six months? Plenty. The USMNT has been stood still for too long. They waited for the 2018 World Cup to come and go to see if any decent managerial candidates arose from the dust of the tournament. None did. And here we are.

The leading candidates for USSF President Carlos Cordeiro and new USMNT General Manager Earnie Stewart (he started his new job on August 1) to appoint are rumored to be Gregg Berhalter, Tab Ramos, Peter Vermes, Gerardo Martino and Sarachan. The latter has led the U.S. to three wins, two defeats and three draws in his eight games in charge but Bruce Arena’s long-time assistant has been seen as a stop-gap and he will likely remain involved with the U.S. in some capacity after his steady leadership in a turbulent time for the federation on and off the pitch. Berhalter seems to be the overwhelming favorite given his brother, Jay, is instrumental in the upper echelons of the U.S. Soccer Federation and he played with Stewart for the U.S. The way he has created an identity and clear plan with the Columbus Crew, an MLS franchise about to move to Austin, Texas which has been in turmoil for many months, has been astounding. A deal for Berhalter to take charge as soon as the 2018 MLS season is over needs to be made, right now, especially with his former club the LA Galaxy now needing a new manager. We should suspect, and hope, that the USSF has dragged its heels so long to appoint a new coach because they’re waiting for Berhalter to finish things in the correct manner in Columbus. If that isn’t the case, then letting the program drift along with no clear identity or plan is something which could set them back several years and risk not making the 2022 World Cup too. Losing 6-8 months of development time isn’t ideal and it seems like that is what will happen unless Sarachan is appointed on a permanent basis.


2. Formation and identity all over the place
This will become solidified when a new permanent head coach is found, but Sarachan’s comments after the Mexico game were a little concerning.

“We nitpick on the technical side, but you saw a team tonight that played aggressively, competed hard and won most of their duels,” Sarachan side. “I think that’s been a constant over the time I’ve had the group and over the past two games against Brazil and Mexico.”

Winning battles and fighting hard are all well and good, but what is the plan? Sarachan’s decision to go with a flat back four once again versus Mexico, then play Kellyn Acosta out of position out wide when it looked much more favorable to play a diamond in midfield, was a little baffling. A three-man central defense worked so well away against France this summer and it allows the U.S. to get the best out of their flying wing backs (DeAndre Yedlin and Antonee Robinson) as well as giving them a little extra security defensively with Miazga, Carter-Vickers and either Parker or Brooks as center backs. Yet, there has been no clear, consistent message from Sarachan. The starting lineup having an average age of 23 years and five days is impressive, but with the message and formation switching most games, it’s hard to see real chemistry building among these youngsters. There’s no doubt the USMNT looked much better when forced to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation after McKennie went off injured and that was something Sarachan didn’t have any control over.

The best teams at club and international level have a clear identity. Due to 12 months in flux the USMNT doesn’t have that. Are they a 4-2-3-1 team or a 3-4-3 side? What are the key principles that are important to new GM Earnie Stewart moving forward? At the moment watching the USMNT play is like watching a toddler arrive at Disney for the first time. Plenty of youthful enthusiasm but no clear direction.


3. McKennie, Adams the future
There’s no doubt that Christian Pulisic will be the undisputed star for the USMNT for the next decade or so, but Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams will be more than capable of helping him along the way. Adams, still just 19, scored his first international goal in the win against Mexico and he played in both games, showcasing his energy and ability to play the simple pass at the right time. He and McKennie, just 20 years old, should get the opportunity to start together in central midfield in their preferred deeper positions. McKennie limped off with an injury against Mexico but the Schalke star has a big role to play in the coming years, with he and Adams looking ready to overtake Wil Trapp for those central midfield positions.

A solid, energetic base in midfield plus the ability to connect passes and keep hold of the ball intelligently is something both excel in and as we saw with Adams, he also has the ability to make those key runs forward to open up space and get on the end of things. With McKennie, Adams, Acosta, Trapp, Danny Williams, Lynden Gooch and several others ready to roll, the U.S. midfield is looking pretty good.


4. Striker situation concerning
They aren’t looking great up top though. Gyasi Zardes was chucked up front against Mexico and although he struggled for service he did look to stretch El Tri’s defense and there’s no doubt he is a bigger threat centrally than out wide. Tim Weah was a threat from out wide and looked most dangerous when cutting in from the flank. They key takeaway? We need to see a partnership, two players up top together feeding off each other a la Altidore and Dempsey during the heyday of Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign. Seeing Weah and Zardes up top together, and Weah with Wood, needs to be a priority during the next international break. That said, Wood’s struggles continue at club level (just two goals in his past 24 appearances in the Bundesliga) and his hold-up play has never been the best. What other options do the USMNT have in attack? Josh Sargent will certainly be an option in the coming years as he continues to develop at Werder Bremen, but aside from that, Andrija Novakovich has shown promise but didn’t feature in either friendly in September. Maybe a few veterans could help out in the striking department…


5. A few veterans could return and improve things
Okay, this is a sore subject. I get it. But now seems like a pretty good time to start reintegrating some of the USMNT veterans and Sarachan has intimated that will be the case this fall. With the MLS season coming to an end and plenty of U.S. players winding down for 2018, the likes of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore at Toronto FC (they need plenty of wins, and help, in their final seven games of the season to reach the MLS Cup playoffs) may be eyeing a return to the USMNT fold. After the debacle of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup last October, plenty of veteran players have been cast aside and many presumed they would never return. But in Bradley and Altidore — the former is the USA’s long-time skipper with 140 caps and the latter ranks third all-time in goals with 41 — they have players who can deliver experience in key areas and help develop the prodigious young talents. Could McKennie and Adams learn plenty about controlling the tempo of the game from Bradley by playing alongside him? Of course they can. Can Altidore teach Weah about hold-up play and how to lead the line? Yep. Elsewhere the likes of Tim Ream would suit a three man central defense perfectly but there aren’t too many veterans who would want to return to this setup or suit the role of gradually passing the torch to these youngsters. It’s all about picking a few vets to return for the games against Colombia and Peru on home soil next month, then seeing how that mix of youth and experience plays out. Despite the 2018 World Cup being done and dusted, the ghosts of Couva haven’t been fully exonerated.

Dortmund release update on Pulisic’s future. Should he leave?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic’s future at Borussia Dortmund has been under constant speculation in recent weeks.

This should keep that chatter going…

[ MORE: Pulisic hits out after USA’s defeat ]

Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, has said that the USMNT star will be with the Bundesliga giants “at least until the end of the season” as his contract nears its end.

Pulisic, 20, is under contract with Dortmund until the end of the 2019-20 campaign, but reports have surfaced in recent days linking him with a move to both Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. A transfer fee of around $90 million has been mentioned if Pulisic was to move in January, with any potential transfer fee dwindling if he moves into next summer without signing a new deal at Dortmund.

Zorc has said Pulisic will remain at the club until the end of the current campaign, as the German side are top of the Bundesliga and flying under Lucien Favre.

“We have known these rumors for many years. We plan at least until the end of the season with him,” Zorc told Kicker.

Pulisic lost his place in the Dortmund team for the 3-2 Der Klassiker win over Bayern Munich, as the emergence of English teenager Jadon Sancho and a few injuries has seen the Pennsylvania native endure an up and down start to the season.

Pro Soccer Talk spoke to Pulisic in London ahead of the USMNT’s game against England and asked him if staying at Dortmund was still his preference over a move to the Premier League.

“The Bundesliga has been a great platform for me especially and you can see other young guys as well it has been a great league. They trust in their young players. Dortmund has been an unbelievable start to my career. 100 percent,” Pulisic said. “It still is a great spot and that is why I am able to be a big part of this team and continue to grow. I think a lot of young players see that and they’re also moving to the Bundesliga and doing well there. Right now I’m finishing out, I’m still under contract with Dortmund, I am still enjoying every moment of it. Obviously we are having a great year, so I am enjoying it as much as I can. And when the time comes that is when I have my talks with Dortmund and see what I want to do moving forward.”

With Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and others circling, Dortmund could well look to cash in on Pulisic in January. But as they’ve shown in the past, they’d rather keep on to star players until the very last moment and forfeit extra funds from a transfer fee: see Lewandowski, Hummels and Gotze to Bayern.

Is now the right time for Pulisic to arrive in the Premier League? It appears a January move could be the right situation for everyone.

Dortmund would get a huge transfer fee, Pulisic would leave the German giants close to winning the title (they sit four points clear right now) and one of the Premier League giants not only has a hugely talented player but also a hugely profitable one when it comes to a commercial standpoint.

It appears that Pulisic’s mind is definitely made up that he will one day play in the Premier League. He isn’t shy in saying that but many believed he would remain in the Bundesliga for a few more seasons.

This situation is a fast moving one and Pulisic’s next move will likely be the biggest of his career. If he remains at Dortmund and battles for a starting spot he could risk losing playing time, but the same could be said if he moves to Chelsea or Liverpool given their potent attacking lineups.

Tottenham would probably seem like the best fit for him right now, but Chelsea seem to be more serious suitors.

Pulisic could also play regularly right now at Stamford Bridge, with Willian and Pedro hardly spring chickens and there is also the potential for Eden Hazard to depart in the next few years. Plus, Maurizio Sarri‘s attacking, possession-based philosophy would suit Pulisic’s skill set a little better than the raw pace and power of Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool. And trying to get in front of Firmino, Mane and Salah would surely prove extremely difficult for Pulisic right now.

It seems like he has two options: stay at Dortmund and sign a new deal. Head to Chelsea and start a fresh challenge after four years in Germany.

There should be no rush for him to make this decision but if he doesn’t sign a new deal at Dortmund by January, the chances of him moving to the Premier League will increase exponentially.

How will USMNT line up v Italy?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The U.S. men’s national team play Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to end their 2018 campaign.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

Over his 13-month spell in charge interim head coach Dave Sarachan has introduced more debutants than any other USMNT head coach in history in their first 11 games at the helm, and he is expected to give a few more youngsters a chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre are all out of the squad due to injury, so Sarachan has 23 players to choose from.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has hinted at a much-changed lineup for the Azzurri, so we could see the U.S. experiment a little in what is expected to be Sarachan’s final game in charge before a new permanent head coach is put in charge.

Below we take a look at a few options for Sarachan at Luminus Arena on Tuesday.


Option 1: Possible USMNT lineup (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Moore — Carter-Vickers — Long — Villafana —

—- Acosta —- Adams —- Gall —- 

—- Weah —- Sargent —- Pulisic —-


Option 2: Possible USMNT lineup (3-4-2-1) 

—- Horvath —-

—- Carter-Vickers —- Long —- Brooks —-

—- Moore —- Adams —- Delgado —- Acosta —-

—- Pulisic —- Lletget —-

—– Sargent —–


Evaluation

Sarachan talked up Evan Horvath last week and it would be cool to see the youngster who plays in Belgium for Club Brugge get another shot to play for his national team in Belgium. We know what Brad Guzan can do, so why not give Horvath some minutes? In defense, the lack of another left back leaves Sarachan with a problem. Does he play Jorga Villafana for the second time in a few days ahead of his monster trip back to the West Coast to play for Portland in the MLS Cup conference final? Probably not. Yedlin could slot over to left back, or maybe Sarachan switches to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation and has someone like Acosta or Adams who can get up and down the flank. Ahead of their Eastern Conference final showdown, giving Guzan, Aaron Long and Tyler Adams a rest may also be beneficial too.

In midfield Tyler Adams, Lletget and Delgado should all get a run out after not starting against England, while up top Josh Sargent is no longer an injury doubt so Christian Pulisic could support him and Tim Weah in attack with Bobby Wood given a rest. I’d go with Option 2 from above and play as many players who didn’t start or feature against England at Wembley as possible. At this point, get as many players international experience and hand over the reins to the next man (ahem, Gregg Berhalter).

VIDEO: Watch Romelu Lukaku rap

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Romelu Lukaku has been spitting some rhymes.

The Manchester United and Belgium striker, 25, tried his hand at rapping, in partnership with Puma and BR Football.

Before you chime in with comments about Lukaku ‘missing a beat’ or ‘not finishing his verse’ have a listen and see if he has what it takes to make this a side gig.

Most intriguing part of this for me: his Belgian accent disappears and is replaced with an American twang.

Below is a look at Lukaku in full flow, on the mic.


West Ham to expand their London Stadium home

Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Ham United will finally get to use the full capacity of their London Stadium home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

After moving into the venue used for the 2012 Olympics in London for the 2016-17 season, the Hammers have seen their capacity capped to a maximum of 57,000 for home games.

Amid plenty of unrest about the stadium move from home fans, the light at the end of the tunnel was that the Hammers could compete better financial with the perennial giants of the Premier League as they would almost double their attendances at Upton Park.

The east London club released a statement on Monday confirming they can now expand their capacity to a maximum 66,000 seats and will be able to start selling 60,000 tickets for games straight away.

“West Ham United and its landlord E20 have today agreed a plan which allows the Club to sell additional seats for their matches thereby ending the litigation surrounding the capacity at the London Stadium. Both parties are delighted to have taken the first step towards the Stadium reaching its potential of up to 66,000 capacity, to their mutual benefit, and would see it become the largest in London and the second largest in the Premier League.

“The arrangement means that, subject to regulatory permissions, the Club will be able to sell up to 60,000 tickets for their games as soon as possible and leaves scope to expand up to 66,000 seats for future matches.”

This is pretty huge news for West Ham, who will able to add almost 10,000 extra seats on a matchday.

If the stadium does reach the 66,000 capacity level in the coming months, it means that only Old Trafford will have a larger capacity among club teams in the UK. West Ham will jump ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham in London in terms of stadium size and will have the biggest home venue of any London team.

Bragging rights for this type of thing is a big deal and West Ham have been hoping to expand ever since they moved in.

With a waiting list for season tickets after 50,000 were sold following their move from Upton Park in 2016, more of the Hammers faithful can now watch their team week in, week out.

Whatever their feelings on the move to the London Stadium, if West Ham’s fans are 100 percent behind their team then this venue has the possibility to be extremely intimidating.