The United States men’s national team tangles with Mexico on Friday in its latest attempt at building toward the 2022 World Cup.
Rivals El Tri are bringing a Golden Generation-based roster to the party, and the weaknesses of Mexico are, well, very very few.
The USMNT is another story. Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks may well be on pace for a Golden Generation itself should Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Josh Sargent continue to progress and mature with top level experience, and there are a bevy of young players like FC Dallas’ Paxton Pomykal and Ajax’s Sergino Dest who, too, inspire hope for the short-term and long-term.
STRENGTH: The midfield
This feels so good to say. After a few years of Michael Bradley dipping in form and coaches hoping Wil Trapp is the answer, the Yanks now have multiple players delivering on a high level for club and country. That allows Bradley to, at worst, be a terrific depth asset.
Christian Pulisic is on pace to become the best attacking player in USMNT history — a mantle we believe currently resides with Clint Dempsey — and Weston McKennie is a complete player and one of Schalke’s most important. Tyler Adams is the “right back” in Berhalter’s formation, but he’s a midfielder in possession and a very good one.
Alfredo Morales is getting his latest chance to impress, Pomykal is a delightful young prospect who may eventually allow Pulisic to play out wide, and Julian Green’s 2.Bundesliga heroics have not even been enough to get a call-up. That’s depth (or questionable call-ups, but we’ll get to that).
WEAKNESS: Left back
Gregg Berhalter has attempted to short-circuit a weakness that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s prime, a void unfilled by Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jorge Villafana, Edgar Castillo, Justin Morrow, Greg Garza, and a host of out-of-position prayers unanswered. Berhalter’s ideal back four is not traditional, with Tyler Adams or another right back defending in that spot but moving into the midfield in possession. So far, Tim Ream has been okay as a LCB, but the team still badly needs a strong, true, speedy man on the left.
STRENGTH: The coach, in-game
Just look at what Caleb Porter, a decent-enough MLS coach in his own right, has done with Columbus since taking over for Berhalter, who was clearly making a fine meal out of lesser ingredients. There’s a chance that his desire to be a possession-based monster won’t work out at the USMNT level, but he’s such a good coach that it would be stunning if he didn’t find a fix.
WEAKNESS: The coach, in selection
Look, every coach has his or her favorites. Berhalter coached Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp at Columbus, and both continue to get called up to the team. Zardes is a serviceable player who out-performs his advanced stats and finishes goals. He’s the 2019 Chris Wondolowski (even if Chris Wondolowski is still active in 2019). Trapp is, well, one of Berhalter’s favorites.
There is a clear desire or preference from Berhalter to see Major League Soccer players make it work. For now, that’s kinda okay. But see this below chart with the ratings of American players amongst their peers in MLS across three different online rating services. Berhalter is calling up players who sit outside the Top 100 in form in MLS this season.
Hopefully, whoever Earnie Stewart hires to be the new USMNT GM will help. I mean, at least reward the American player having the best season of all Yanks in MLS (It’s FC Dallas’ 28-year-old Ryan Hollingshead, by the way).
If you’re playing in @MLS, it’s about Berhalter thinking he can get WAY more out of players than they are showing in league play.
— Nicholas Mendola (@NicholasMendola) August 28, 2019
STRENGTH: John Brooks
We’d love to say center back is a strength in general, but right now it would be almost exclusively on behalf of the Wolfsburg monster. Brooks is a terrific passer with excellent vision, strong instincts, and tactical understanding. When healthy, he’s been a good Bundesliga center back. His last season and the start of this one have sputtered a bit, but at 26 it’s reasonable to think he’s just now finding his prime.
WEAKNESS: Goalkeeper (for now?)
Zack Steffen is the No. 1 goalkeeper in the USMNT pool. The youngster is back in Europe, on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf from Manchester City, and getting loads of shots fired at him by Bundesliga opposition. He’s a tremendous shot stopper who is improving in possession despite the mistakes we’ve seen in a U.S. shirt. Fellow young goalkeepers Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Jonathan Klinsmann (FC St. Gallen) are not first choice at their clubs. And for as good as veterans Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson are between the sticks, neither meets the class of prime Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, or Tim Howard, clearly elite backstops who capable of the most wondrous of performances.
Look, some of this has to do with shiny new objects yet to crack in front of our eyes, but things are looking from Pomykal to Miles Robinson in MLS, Sergino Dest to Chris Gloster overseas (And don’t even get us started on the way too young but way too exciting Giovani Reyna, Borussia Dortmund’s son of one of the best American players to ever don the shirt).
The Olympic qualifying failures are hopefully in the past, and the U-20 World Cup sides have been fun to watch for years. Say what you will about the USSF under Klinsmann, Arena, Berhalter, whoever, but the prospects are being developed better both here and abroad than ever before.
WEAKNESS: Center forward (for now)
Prolific big man Jozy Altidore isn’t with the USMNT this camp due to Toronto FC commitments, and has struggled to stay healthy (He’s an absolute CONCACAF killer). Lille’s Tim Weah is also hurt, and may well be the answer here, but all eyes will be on Josh Sargent. The Werder Bremen teen is coming off his first goal of the Bundesliga season, and capable of turning this weakness to strength the minute if his elite prospect meter pushes into full throttle starter (Read the latest on Sargent here). Everyone else already has a clear flaw in their game, even Altidore’s fitness qualifies here. Gyasi Zardes is a good finisher with a very decent engine, but his poor stats in many other categories aren’t lying. Bobby Wood has dropped off the map, Andrija Novakovich is still not a fixture at Reading and on another loan, and Jordan Morris now clearly a winger.