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Berhalter praises USMNT debutants after win over Panama

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Gregg Berhalter was victorious in his first coaching experience as head of the U.S. Men’s National Team, but he was all about passing the praise on to his players after beating Panama 3-0.

The 45-year-old had nothing but positive things to say about his squad, mainly the debutants, of which there were five in the starting lineup, and two more who came off the bench.

“I think when you look at [Corey] Baird and [Djordje] Mihailovic, two first-cap guys and scoring points, and when you look at [Jonathan] Lewis and [Christian] Ramirez, same thing,” Berhalter said in his post-match press conference. “So it’s just nice, it’s nice to put in the work for an extended period of time and then get a reward like that. The guys should be proud of themselves, they really worked hard in San Diego, and it’s nice when you can see that paying off.”

[ RECAP: USMNT downs Panama 3-0 behind 7 debutants ]

Mihailovic scored the opening goal, and while that was the highlight moment for the debutants until Ramirez bagged his own at the death, there were plenty of other things Berhalter was impressed with, things he can use going forward to build the squad’s tactical depth.

“When I addressed the group after the game, I said it was a good base line, it gave us enough content to work with,” Berhalter said. “Some of the movements we were working with on the wings were very complicated movements that involve three players interchanging with the intention of disorganizing the defense and getting behind their lines. Sometimes we were a bit tentative with that, and other times they came off and was very nice.”

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings in Panama win ]

Nick Lima won the Man of the Match award after the game, but Berhalter said he gave out his own award, and awarded it to Lima as well. The San Jose right-back was in a fascinating role throughout the match, deployed at his natural position but often flowing into the midfield to run the possessional distribution alongside Michael Bradley. His highlight moment came towards the end when he scythed down a Panama counter-attack and turned it directly into a United States goal, a moment which Berhalter pointed to unprompted.

“He got the coach’s Man of the Match because of the complication of what we asked him to do and how he dealt with it,” Berhalter said after the match. “It’s not easy to ask your right-back to get the ball with his back to goal, it’s not easy to ask him to pivot in midfield, to create space for other people, but he did a good job with that. He competed on every play…the second goal is a great example of his competing in transition and winning the ball and serving the ball in. So we were really happy with him and I think it showed that he has a good understanding of the game.”

He also spoke about the first goalscorer Mihailovic, who was impressive in his own right in the midfield. Berhalter had singled him out at the media opportunities earlier in camp, and the 20-year-old made his coach look good by doing the dirty work alongside his crowning moment.

“When we talked in San Diego, I was telling you all how impressed I was with Djordje all camp,” Berhalter said of the Chicago Fire academy product. “He’s been one of the players that’s been…his line has just kept going upwards, he’s been developing really well. He’s a smart soccer player. If you slow it down and look at some of the small things he does, you can understand how intelligent of a soccer player he is. I think the proud moment for a coach becomes when you select him to be played but then he performs, and I can just imagine how proud he is right now and how proud his family is right now and that’s a really gratifying feeling.”

Finally, Berhalter was asked to explain his decision to give the captain’s armband to defender Aaron Long, on his national team debut, instead of 142-cap owner Michael Bradley, who has worn the armband since earning the role in 2015.

“Working with Aaron for the last two and a half weeks, you see his leadership qualities,” Berhalter said. “Every exercise we do he’s competitive, he’s driving guys, he’s pushing guys, and we liked that, we liked his demeanor. I don’t think it was a knock against anyone else that they weren’t captain, I think I would look at it as more of a positive that he was captain because of what he’s been doing these last couple of weeks.”

Berhalter said he spoke to Michael Bradley about the decision to make Long captain, citing his own experience in a similar situation when nobody spoke to him as a player.

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola