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What did we learn about USMNT this international break?

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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.

Spain revamps Super Cup (and others should follow suit)

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Ever read a tournament concept and immediately think nearly every other league should adopt it?

La Liga is taking its version of England’s Community Shield — the Spanish Super Cup — and making changes that see the league season kick off in style.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday ]

Normally the winners of the Copa del Rey and La Liga meeting for a piece of hardware, the Spanish federation will now hold a four-team tournament abroad.

The tournament would include the Copa del Rey finalists and the two top league finishers (obviously extending to the third and fourth place teams if needed).

Flip it on its ear and imagine that MLS was kicking off its season not with myriad friendlies and the CONCACAF Champions League, but the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner, MLS Cup finalists, and Supporters’ Shield winner (especially if it was mandated that the cup finalists mixed it up in the semis).

For the Community Shield, you could include the Premier League winners, League Cup winners, FA Cup winners, and either the second place team or the “reigning Community Shield winner.” The gut reaction might be to rebel against “ugh, another game,” but if it’s taking the place of a Stateside friendly between second-choice sides? Come on!

CONCACAF Champions League returns with TFC, Houston

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The CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday night with a pair of Major League Soccer sides seeking a positive start to their seasons after substandard 2018s.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

In the case of Toronto FC, their season went downhill in a big way after CCL success driven largely by Sebastian Giovinco. He’s gone now, as is Victor Vazquez, and TFC opens its bid to return to the final with a visit to Panama’s Independiente for the front end of a two-legged tie.

The Reds are almost even money to win, according to most oddsmakers, but anything can happen on a CONCACAF pitch in February.

Having helped the USMNT start life under Gregg Berhalter following its World Cup collapse, TFC captain Michael Bradley is prepared to engineer another turnaround following his club’s playoff-free 2018. From TorontoFC.ca:

“Nobody is sitting around worried about last year anymore,” added the TFC captain. “For me, that’s been the best part of this last week or so: coming into camp, looking around and feeling right away that there was an excitement and a real motivation of the guys to get going; to work and make sure that we use every day in the right way to push ourselves forward.”

Jozy Altidore is still out for Toronto, which should give new import Terrence Boyd the chance to star in Panama.

That match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, two hours before Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champs Houston Dynamo enter the CCL with a visit to 5,000-capacity Estadio David Cordon Hichos in Guatemala.

That’s where they’ll meet Guastatoya. We don’t know a ton about the Guatemalan side, other than they won both the Clausura and the Apertura last season.

Familiar faces return for the Dynamo in the form of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, but there will be new talent on show. Defender Kiki Struna arrives from Palermo, while Marlon Hairston joins the Dynamo from Colorado, and could end up being a very productive player in Wilmer Cabrera’s system. Tommy McNamara also gets a new lease on life in Texas.

Klinsmann received $3.35M settlement from U.S. Soccer

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CHICAGO (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann received a $3.35 million settlement of his contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation, according to the USSF’s tax filing.

His replacement, Bruce Arena, was given a $300,000 settlement during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2018, according to the filing, which was released Monday.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

Klinsmann was hired in 2011 and in December 2013 was given a contract extension through December 2018. He was fired in November 2016 after an 0-2 start in the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean. His contract was settled for $3,354,167, the tax filing said.

Arena earned $899,348 in base pay during the fiscal year and a $50,000 bonus, according to the filing, which was first reported by The Washington Post. He quit after the U.S. loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017 that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances.

Dave Sarachan, Arena’s top assistant, was the interim coach from October 2017 through last November. He had a base salary of $223,656 during the fiscal year.

Klinsmann’s top assistant, Andri Herzog, was given a settlement of $355,537 during the fiscal year. He is now Israel’s national team coach.

U.S. women’s coach Jill Ellis earned $291,029 in base pay during the fiscal year, which did not include a major tournament. He compensation was topped by under-20 men’s coach Tab Ramos, who had $295,558 in base pay plus a $30,000 bonus.

USSF CEO Dan Flynn, who has said he may be retiring, had $684,617 in base pay and $130,000 in bonuses. Chief operating officer Jay Berhalter, brother of new U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, had $466,195 in base pay and $115,563 in bonuses.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Champions League preview: Bayern visit Anfield; Lyon v. Barcelona

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Liverpool and Bayern Munich are set to battle for 180 minutes beginning on Tuesday, when last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists host the reigning Bundesliga champions at Anfield, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is as anxious as anyone to watch the drama unfold.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

“It’s another one of those games I’m really happy to be involved in, and if I wasn’t involved, I would try and buy tickets,” Liverpool’s German manager said this week. “It’s a tough one against a really strong, experienced team, but we are strong as well. Only more stress [facing Bayern], because all the people wanted 600 extra interviews with German news.”

Liverpool will be fully prepared and well drilled after having no game during the most recent FA Cup weekend. By the time the referee’s whistle blows for kickoff at 3 p.m. ET, 10 days will have passed since the Reds thrashed Bournemouth in PL play.

Liverpool will definitely be without the trio of Virgil Van Dijk (suspension), Joe Gomez (leg) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Roberto Firmino (illness), Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (abdominal strain) are questionable to varying degrees. Central midfielder Fabinho could be forced into central defense as a result. On the other side, Niko Kovac’s side will be without the services of Thomas Mueller (suspended), Jerome Boateng (illness), Corentin Tolisso (knee ligaments) and Arjen Robben (thigh). Kingsley Coman (ankle) is expected to be available for selection after picking up an injury over the weekend.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Elsewhere in Europe, runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona will visit Ligue 1’s third-place side, Lyon. Though Lionel Messi and Co., head into Tuesday’s first leg as heavy favorites to reach the quarterfinals, Ernesto Valverde’s side has won just one of its last four games (all competitions).

They have, however, been nearly infallible in Europe competition this season, as they waltzed to the top spot in Group B, finishing a full six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. Even Messi has seen his form dip ever so slightly in recent weeks, as the Argentine magician has scored just once in his last three appearances (two starts). Those relative struggles comes on the heels of a nine-game goal streak which saw the 31-year-old score a dozen times. He has been his usually brilliant self this season, and will cause Lyon all kinds of problems from the outset.

Lyon will be without star attacker Nabil Fekir (suspension), which could prove a futrher crippling blow to their chances.