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Where does USMNT stand after Mexico, Uruguay friendlies?

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The USMNT has wrapped up yet another international break, and questions remain about the process, direction, and future that Gregg Berhalter is building.

The ultimate goal is qualification for and performance at the 2022 World Cup, there is no debating that, but how to get there is still very much up in the air. So what did we learn from the 3-0 friendly loss to Mexico and subsequent 1-1 draw against Uruguay? The feel of the fanbase is extremely negative, especially following the pasting at the hands of the southern rivals, but it doesn’t have to be.

[ MORE: Berhalter believes USMNT on right path ]

There are plenty of questions to be answered, debates to rage, and player performances to weigh. Here is a starting point, with three very real things we learned from this past international break, observations that must be considered before Berhalter and the rest of the USMNT staff can move forward.

1) The USMNT player pool is still extremely thin and top-heavy

There is no debating that the player pool – especially at the younger end of the spectrum – is as talented as ever. Players like Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, and Weston McKennie are proving that it is possible to produce talent that can play at the highest levels in Europe.

And yet, at a few key positions, the USMNT player pool remains absurdly thin. When we say “thin” we do not mean “bad.” What we mean by “thin” is that a few injuries in the wrong places can absolutely decimate the squad.

For example, take the full-back position. Without DeAndre Yedlin‘s availability, the right-back and left-back positions are without direction and ability. Sergino Dest and Reggie Cannon are a promising young talents with growing to do (more on that in a moment), Tyler Adams is still learning the position and clearly does not offer what he does as a midfielder, Daniel Lovitz and Nick Lima are fine players who do not inspire long-term confidence, and Tim Ream is a veteran player who offers little more than leadership.

At center-back, who’s a proven consistent option alongside John Brooks? Omar Gonzalez, Matt Miazga, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Ream all have significant downsides. Is anyone truly a reliable option?

Look further forward to the defensive midfield position, an area of the pitch that has become extremely important – and valuable – in the modern game, especially in Europe. With Michael Bradley in and out of the squad as Berhalter looks for other options, Wil Trapp has not performed at an adequate national team level, Alfredo Morales has only proven his capability in bits and pieces, Jackson Yueill is promising but at 22 years old is nearing an end to the “youngster” status, Christian Roldan offers little in defensive cover and threat, and Adams has been moved to fill another position of need.

This is not to bash all of these players mentioned above – as one or two may well prove to be a more permanent option – but to explain how much jockeying Berhalter still must do to find a deep enough squad capable of competing not only at the highest level but also to cover the inevitable injuries bound to crop up and disrupt an otherwise humming national team. Which brings us to our next point…

2) Time is running out to trust the process

Friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay serve as solid barometers for where the United States is at heading into CONCACAF Nations League play, the precursor competition to World Cup qualifying. Yet Gregg Berhalter is still experimenting, rather than piecing together a consistent squad that can grow and build together, using rare and valuable national team time learning to play cohesively together as a unit.

It’s troubling that Berhalter is still unable to separate fringe and squad players from one another, still hoping someone will stand out as a consistent performer and earn further time on the field in more high-leverage situations. The time for experimentation is generally over.

And yet, as described above, who of the fringe players have stood out enough to be trusted with more important minutes? It seems much of the negative backlash from USMNT fans of late has more to do with a worrying feeling that time is running out before World Cup qualifying – and there’s still a full 12 months before that begins. A year out and fans are feeling a time crunch – that says a lot.

Berhalter must make the tough decisions soon and stick to them – soon – so this squad can have time to come together and gel. He speaks about building a culture, and instilling his own tactical mentality and system, but the players are still too numerous and playing time is too sparse for that to take effect. Even when it comes to friendlies, results must become more important that performances sooner rather than later, or the mentality will never stick.

3) The young talent still has growing up to do, and not much time to do it

The play of Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, and Paxton Pomykal is promising to say the least. For these young players, many of whom have become regulars in the starting lineup and others who seem destined for that role, the sky is the limit.

They’re clearly not there yet. Dest has miles to go with regards to defensive positioning and decision-making. Sargent must become a more clinical finisher and a bigger presence when the team plays more direct. Weah – once healthy – must take the leap from quality contributor to game-changer, as Pulisic did years ago. In Berhalter’s system, McKennie at times seems lost and frustrated.

As mentioned above, there’s just 12 months to go before the World Cup qualifiers begin. While that’s an eternity in terms of player development – good news for the United States – it’s also not that long in the eyes of a national team, which only comes together every few months.  In conjunction with the previous point, these young players need every opportunity to grow together and be able to absorb Berhalter’s vision for the present and future.

Every player saddled with expectations must make the successful jump from promising young prospect to career-long contributors, and that time is nearing for this crop of talent. Some are at different stages of the process than others, but with the critical stage of the 2022 World Cup cycle nearing rapidly, the key leaps of development must be seen soon. That falls on the players to continue developing, their club coaches to help them along on a day-to-day basis, and Berhalter’s staff to give them every opportunity for success. Constant rotation and experimentation with so little time and precious minutes remaining can only go so far.

Turkish players defy UEFA with another military salute

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PARIS (AP) Turkish players defied UEFA with another military salute in Turkey’s 1-1 draw with France in their European Championship qualifier on Monday.

UEFA was already looking into Turkish players’ salutes from during and after Friday’s 1-0 win over Albania. The European soccer federation prohibits political statements in stadiums.

But Turkish players lined up again to show a military salute after Kaan Ayhan’s late equalizer in Paris. Captain Burak Yilmaz was joined by goalkeeper Mert Gunok and several other outfield players in giving the salute toward the crowd – in apparent support of the Turkish forces involved in the country’s invasion of Kurdish-held regions in northern Syria.

Defender Merih Demiral urged Ayhan to salute, too, leading to what looked like a heated discussion between the two, but the goal-scorer desisted and made his way back to the pitch.

Ayhan and Turkey striker Kenan Karaman both play for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, which had issued a statement after Friday’s game to distance itself from “politically motivated acts.”

“Both players stand for values that the club lives by,” Dusseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said.

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

Bulgarian prime minister intervenes, Bulgaria FA chief resigns

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked for the president of their football association, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign following the racist abuse of England’s players in Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium on Monday.

And on Tuesday Mihaylov stepped down and handed in his resignation.

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

The Bulgarian sport minister, Krasen Kralev, released a statement on the incident and said that Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA about Gareth Southgate‘s concerns over potential racist abuse in Bulgaria, should resign.

“The prime minister called me urgently a short time ago,”  said. “You know that the government has done a lot for the development of Bulgarian football in the last four years. But after the recent events, having in mind the whole state of football and last night’s incidents, the prime minister has ordered me from today to suspend any relations with the BFU, including financial ones, until the resignation of Borislav Mihaylov.”

UEFA is opening a full investigation into the disgusting scenes inside the stadium, as England’s players and staff have been applauded for the way they handled themselves in their 6-0 win.

Southgate, Tyrone Mings and other England players have reacted to the abuse and say they have made a statement on and off the pitch for UEFA having to use their anti-racism protocol.

“We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation,” Southgate said. “The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

On This Day: Bornstein becomes national hero – in Honduras

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You know what today is? It’s Jonathan Bornstein day in Honduras.

Ten years ago today at RFK Stadium in our nations capital, a young, hot-shot kid with plenty of hair named Michael Bradley and Bornstein helped the U.S. Men’s National Team come back to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, in World Cup qualifying. In fact, it’s eerie watching Bornstein’s celebration, running to the corner flag and diving headfirst as he’s mobbed moments after by his teammates. It’s a bit similar to what Lanson Donovan did about nine months later.

[READ: USMNT looks to build in match v. Canada]

To add some context, it was the final day of qualifications matches in the Hex. Three days earlier, the U.S. had already secured a place in the World Cup with a wild 3-2 win at Honduras, meaning Los Catrachos needed to win over El Salvador on the final night and hope that the U.S. would keep Costa Rica from winning in the final match.

Who else, but Carlos Pavon gave Honduras a 1-0 win over El Salvador that night. Then, it was Bornsteins goal later that night that put Los Catrachos into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and left Costa Rica to battle for the shared spot between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

In honor of the big day, hundreds of Honduras fans had been mentioning Bornstein on social media, and the veteran defender – currently of the Chicago Fire – retweeted quite a few of the thankful messages to him. Below, here’s video of the call from Honduras TV, as well as from Ian Darke and the ESPN crew.

Unfortunately for Bornstein, this may be the highlight of his national team career. He did make the 2010 World Cup squad and started twice, including the matches against Algeria and Ghana, but he never truly took the next step in his career to become a star left back.

After a calamitous performance against Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which also Bob Bradley his USMNT job, Bornstein was dropped and hasn’t been seen from again on the national team stage.

However, even though he’s only a club player these days, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Honduras, that’s for sure.

Euro 2020 qualifying: France settles for draw with Turkey

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Euro 2020 qualifying continued on Monday and included a top-of-the-group clash in Group H.

[READ: England rout Bulgaria in game marred by racist chants]

France 1-1 Turkey

France spoiled a chance at home to put one foot in Euro 2020 after conceding late in the match and settling for a draw with Turkey.

Despite playing without a lot of starters – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Hugo Lloris are all out injured – France still was strong in the first half and peppered Turkey with 12 shots. Goalkeeper Mert Gunok made an outstanding double-save in the first half and Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü did his best to keep Antoine Griezmann in front of him.

In the 72nd minute, Olivier Giroud came on the field as a substitute and four minutes later, he put France in front to the delight of the home crowd at the Stade de France. What else, but a header off a corner. However, the lead didn’t last long. Off a free kick in the 82nd minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery was nodded home by Kaan Ayhan. The 1-1 draw leaves both France and Turkey tied with 19 points from eight qualifying matches. It also means that Turkey hasn’t lost to France over two games in this qualifying cycle.

Here’s a look at the rest of Monday’s scores:

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying scores

Group A

Bulgaria 0-6 England

Kosovo 2-0 Montenegro

Group B

Lithuania 1-2 Serbia

Ukraine 2-1 Portugal

Group H

Iceland 2-0 Andorra

Moldova 0-4 Albania