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USMNT heading into end of Berhalter’s first year

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Preface: This is a long preface to a forthcoming Q&A and Best XI roundtable with the PST staff, inspired by a pretty passionate staff meeting on Wednesday.

Gregg Berhalter actually has more time to mess around with the USMNT than any manager in recent history, and that’s not a veiled shot at the federation hierarchy.

Winning Gold Cups and the CONCACAF Nations League would be great, and we’d love to see Jason Kreis’ U-23 men deliver a rare Olympic appearance and success, but the gold standard for the USMNT remains its performance in the World Cup.

Even a still-growing soccer culture like the American one should sleepwalk into a World Cup with adequate management, but we’ve seen failure is not an impossible when Jurgen Klinsmann and later Bruce Arena combined to give other teams a chance at their spot.

[ MORE: USMNT-Uruguay recapPlayer ratings ]

Qualifying is going to be come an after thought in just one more cycle when the field grows ahead of the 2026 tournament, and the 2022 World Cup qualification process is a bit easier for CONCACAF’s powers.

The Hexagonal remains as the final stage of qualifying for a World Cup, but the Hex members will not have to participate in a fourth round in order to advance to the stage. FIFA instead will give new responsibility to its Nations League.

The six teams to qualify for the Hex will be based on FIFA ratings, a heavy shot to any country not named Mexico and the Unites States (and, perhaps, Costa Rica). Not only are the FIFA ratings far from ideal, it’s a rarity that teams other than aforementioned three are in the Top 40.

Average rankings since start of FIFA system

Mexico: 15
USA: 21
Costa Rica: 45
Honduras: 55
Jamaica: 60
Trinidad and Tobago: 67
Canada: 80
Panama: 89
El Salvador: 93

There’s one more step for the fourth place team after the Hex, which sees three teams qualify for the World Cup. The fourth place team previously would meet a playoff team from another confederation for a berth in the World Cup, but now has to face the “champion” of teams ranked 7th and lower in CONCACAF in a pre-playoff playoff.

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

All of this is to say Berhalter’s job, overly-simplified, is:

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

This is an awfully long runway to say that Berhalter’s USMNT is still a solid year away from playing a match that truly affects Goal No. 1 (The rankings used are from June 2020, and the Hex games will not begin until September).

No. 2 involves beating Cuba twice and taking at least four of six points from Canada over the next four months. The former should be straight-forward. The latter a challenge (especially if this group is tasked with stopping Alphonso Davies and Co.).

No. 3, so far, is a resounding meh. The Yanks have beaten a bunch of B-teams and then Jamaica and Ecuador. They’ve lost to literally everyone of consequence besides draws versus the B-plus teams of Chile and Uruguay (the latter coming Tuesday).

He has eight wins, four losses and two draws. The wins are over Panama (2x), Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Jamaica. The losses: Mexico (2x), Jamaica, Venezuela.

Home-and-away CNL matches against Cuba and Canada will finish his first year in charge.

As for job objective No. 3, the pressing matter is one Sergino Dest. The Ajax right back made his USMNT debut this international break, switched to the left side — he’s played some there as a youth, but almost exclusively on the right — in order to, we guess, see if he can be the answer to a USMNT question that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s defensive prime.

That’s actually okay, provided Berhalter let Dest know the objective. We have to assume that’s the case, because using him at left back in the “system” which utilizes center midfielder Tyler Adams as a right back would be an dramatic waste of pace and creativity.

Ultimately, that’s why the bad performances cause so much consternation amongst USMNT supporters. Berhalter is a good coach, but his management has been baffling from the outside looking into camp.

Berhalter believes he can “Herb Brooks” an amazing team out of components. He needs results to boost anyone’s confidence that’s possible, and is not getting them. Trusting the process is difficult when there hasn’t been a hat-hanging moment from a very protected schedule of fixtures.

We also have to note that the USMNT, not one of the deepest pools in the world by any stretch of the imagination, was without John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Adams, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and DeAndre Yedlin for both matches of this break, and lost Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales, and Zack Steffen for the second.

Perhaps the overall American soccer community bears some responsibility for this, treating the process like blooding youth and ignoring experience is the way to get the job done.

That’s what cuts so deep about the USMNT problem, which is shared by so few countries in the world: The Yanks obviously aren’t a side like Germany, Brazil or even England, where the next player up is going to be guaranteed adequate during the experimentation process.

The question is whether they are more like Panama or Costa Rica, who are going to call in effective players regardless of whether there’s a 3 at the start of their age or not. Whataboutism is brutal, but shoot, if we’re going to spend two years and use every advanced stat we can find to berate Jurgen Klinsman for not calling up 30-year-old Benny Feilhaber and his 1 assist in 40 caps, then perhaps it’s fitting we discuss Bundesliga and Championship starters not getting called up in positions of weakness (Fabian Johnson, Eric Lichaj).

And, honestly, I want my national team to be one who takes a look at short-term solutions and in-form players. For example — and this is going to make a lot of people yell — if Berhalter is going to call up the 150th best player in MLS on a regular basis, can he put the same league trust in a 28-year-old having the best season of any American in the domestic league? For every 500-word think piece on Andrew Carleton when he’s 17 and how he projects, maybe trust information if it tells you a slightly older guy might be onto something?

Familiarity and “my guys” is a concept a lot of coaches choose, but let’s look at the 2019 seasons of the following wide men. Three were called up by Berhalter, while the fourth is the above-named player (via WhoScored’s comparison tool).

Moving on, consider this very basic exercise as simply an observation. Look at the players by their FIFA ratings (thanks, USMNT Only).

Getting past the hilarious 69 put on Timothy Weah and a pretty lofty 76 handed to DeAndre Yedlin, the names still in gold half-inspire this question: Should the American national team be ignoring players based on age?

For now, and at the Gold Cup, that’s okay. But the question is where are we as a nation? Fabian Johnson is 31 and Darlington Nagbe 29, but is it fair to completely rule them out of the fold due to perceived attitude and age? And should

Let’s leave Pulisic, Bradley, McKennie, Altidore, and any injured players out of the equation and ask the difference, if any, between these two sides in a theoretical match right now (Hint: It’s not about league).

Two notes: This assumes every player is convinced to accept a call-up, as Darlington Nagbe isn’t loving the Berhalter era and several vets would require a conversation.

Also, It was very hard to find a striker for the second squad with Sargent and Zardes in camp while Altidore is excused to be with Toronto FC. Thinnnnnnn….

Tuesday’s Starters vs. Uruguay

Guzan

Cannon — Long — Ream — Dest

Yueill

Lletget — Roldan

Boyd — Sargent — Morris

– versus –

Wood

  Johnson — Green — Pomykal

 Nagbe — Cameron

Robinson — Opara  — Birnbaum  — Lichaj

Horvath

Unused/uncalled XI

All of the above theoretical exercises are merely fueled by the end of a painful international break — both in results and activity, so thanks for coming back club soccer — but the fact that it isn’t a “Yeah, clearly the team that started would’ve won” situation should say something, and it’s also why we still really don’t know where we are with Berhalter Ball one year into the project.

Everton season restart preview

Everton season restart preview
Photo by Everton FC via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Everton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Toffees when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Located six points back of the top seven, Everton will hope their long pause allowed Carlo Ancelotti’s system to sink deeper into the minds of his Toffees players. A three-match challenge of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea which yielded a lone point would’ve left Everton feeling burnt and sour for a good, long time. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s strong attacking seasons are ready for the rebound.

[ MORE: Ranking every Everton player in 2019-20 ]

The return to the training ground hasn’t come without worry; Yerry Mina suffered a quad tear and may be out for the season, while summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin has experienced another setback and won’t be able to pitch into the fight for Europe.


Tactical analysis: Whether it’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin alone up top or partnered with Richarlison, Ancelotti likes power in the final third. He’s deployed Gylfi Sigurdsson a bit further back at times, trusting that Fabian Delph or Tom Davies could handle the lion’s share of the dirty work. Everton’s full back pair is one of the best in the game, so much so that back-ups Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman would start an awful lot of places. The crosses will be whipped into the mix. The biggest questions remains in goal, as Jordan Pickford is an excellent shot-stopper who hasn’t been very good at that this season but can distribute at a very high level. That part of his game is why he’s still there, and could be a big part of the 2019-20’s conclusion.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Pickford —–

— Sidibe— Keane — Holgate — Digne —

—– Gomes —– Delph —–

— Bernard — Sigurdsson —  Richarlison —

—– Calvert-Lewin —– 

There are still plenty of questions here, with Alex Iwobi, Tom Davies, Seamus Coleman, and Theo Walcott would love to get their places in this XI. Mina’s injury means Micheal Keane will need to find his form of last season or even the one before that (or the one before that).


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Liverpool, Leicester City, Southampton, Aston Villa, Bournemouth
Away: Norwich City, Spurs, Wolves, Sheffield United

Predicted finish: Presuming a start versus Liverpool, Everton has a chance to make a major statement to anyone who’d fathom listening. There are 12 points of the remaining 27 that really should be in the bag and another three (Leicester at Goodison) that look solid. Leave the derby out of it and the remaining three away tilts (Spurs, Wolves, Blades) are European six-pointers. Everton has one of the more interesting stories to tell when the PL resumes.

Premier League social media wrap: Antonio, Pereira urge unity

Premier League social media
Photo by Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United via Getty Images
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The Premier League’s social media world was again focused on activism on Wednesday.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

West Ham forward Michail Antonio’s mind is understandably still on the racial issues which have gripped the world in a particularly strong way the past nine days.

A day after all 20 Premier League clubs and a large number of players and coaches spoke out against racism, Antonio wants to make sure that people don’t think one day of speaking up is enough to change a historical struggle.

He’ll appreciate another statement from Leicester City’s squad.

The Foxes gather center circle to take a knee, with Ricardo Pereira saying “humanity coms first” and echoing Weston McKennie’s “Enough is enough” video.

A huge number of Premier League players have donated shirts for a raffle to raise funds for the National Health Services’ charities as part of their #PlayersTogether campaign.

It’s a challenge to find more Premier League stars that have not posted about #ShirtsForHeroes than those that have, so we’ll choose should-be PFA Player of the Year midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

It must’ve been chilly in Manchester.

Odion Ighalo is clearly happy to be back with United through January after it looked like the Nigerian striker was going back to Shanghai Shenhua.

But, man, both Ighalo and Luke Shaw in the wool hats/toques/skullies/whatever you want to call them.

Christian Benteke was none-too-pleased with the hassle he got from teammate Jordan Ayew at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

The Belgian striker’s words were in jest, no doubt, after Palace gave him photos of the club’s leading scorer taking advantage of being allowed full contact in practice.

Benteke hasn’t been scoring and will always be judged by his price tag(s), but he’s been better this season as a hold-up man and pest up top. Let’s see if he can lead the Eagles onto something special.

Eintracht nears safety with second-half surge past Bremen

Werder Bremen v. Eintracht Frankfurt recap
Photo by STUART FRANKLIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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Andre Silva and Stefan Ilsanker sent Eintracht Frankfurt to Bundesliga safety and sent Werder Bremen crashing to a new reality in a 3-0 at the Weserstadion on Wednesday.

Eintracht’s 35 points put it eight points clear of the bottom three with five matches to play, while Bremen’s three-match unbeaten run ends with it standing three points back of 15th-place Mainz.

Silva has scored 12 goals on loan from AC Milan, eight coming in the Bundesliga and four in the five matches since the league returned from the coronavirus pause.

For Ilsanker, his goals mark his first ever in the Bundesliga over 87 appearances, and first in any competition since scoring for RB Leipzig in the 2015-16 2.Bundesliga season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

The first half was very cagey, with little to report aside from a penalty denied Bremen, who again looked nothing like the side that’s been in the relegation places for so much of the season.

Eintracht thought it’d gone ahead with a Dominik Kohr goal before the hour mark, but either a slight offside or handball by the passer counted against his hopes.

The visitors scored as the clock struck 60:00. Makato Hasebe starts the play and Filip Kostic crossed for Silva to head inside the near post.

Bremen boss Florian Kohfeldt responded by putting USMNT striker Josh Sargent in for Davie Selke.

Davy Klaassen wasted a 78th minute counter attack as Bremen showed some desperation and Leonardo Bittencourt hit a wayward attempt a minute later.

Ilsanker made it 2-0 within moments of subbing into the match, a Bas Dost-redirected corner kick landing in his path for a close-range finish. Fellow sub Jonathan de Guzman then spun a free kick around the fray for an emphatic Ilsanker header.

Americans Abroad: Sargent’s half-hour was non-descript. Dost flicked the corner kick before Sargent could head clear. He was eight-of-eight passing on 11 touches and completed his lone long ball. Sargent won 2-of-3 duels and drew a foul. Judging by what we saw from Davie Selke, Sargent could get another turn in the Starting XI versus Wolfsburg.

Timmy Chandler was an unused sub for Eintracht, a little over a week after playing super sub with a match-winning goal.

Crystal Palace season restart preview

Crystal Palace season restart preview
Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Crystal Palace is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Eagles when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Palace has navigated injuries and a disappointing season from superstar Wilfried Zaha to sit within striking distance, or at least hoping distance, of a place in the Europa League. The journey won’t be easy, with six of nine matches coming against top five hopefuls, but Roy Hodgson’s done a good job at Selhurst Park despite limited contributions from the center forward position.

[ MORE: Ranking every Palace player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The club can line up in what looks to be either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 depending on what Roy Hodgson is asking of his Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew, and/or Andros Townsend. Zaha hasn’t lived up to his standards this season but remains the club’s best threat, with Ayew enjoying his most productive season since leaving Ligue 1 in 2015 (or Swansea two seasons ago if you’re being generous).

A lot of of what Palace has done well this year revolves around center midfielder James McArthur and the two men who join him (some combination of Cheikhou Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic and James McCarthy).


Possible XI (4-1-4-1) 

—– Guaita —–

— Ward — Dann — Cahill — Van Aanholt —

—– McCarthy —–

— Ayew — McArthur — Kouyate — Zaha—

—– Benteke—–

McCarthy had played quite well in the three-match streak leading into the pause, and was much, much better in 2020 than he’d been while struggling for starts in the first half of the season. Gary Cahill and Scott Dann have been steady if unspectacular in front of Vincente Guaita, while Van Aanholt’s best days are still elite, if fewer and farther between. Pretty solid side and good work from Hodgson with plenty of injuries to handle over the first 29 matches.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Burnley, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs
Away: Bournemouth, Liverpool, Leicester City, Aston Villa, Wolves

Predicted finish: The only thing certain is that Palace would have to fall all over itself to finish anywhere near the bottom three, even given a tricky schedule. Really, it depends upon the intensity of the competitors, because Palace is safe from relegation barring something traumatic but needs a number of signature wins to be involved in the top seven fight. And how will the Eagles react if Arsenal and Sheffield United get points from their June 17 matches-in-hand and the Europa League looks more and more an unlikely dream? Tenth seems the place, but anything can happen when eighth may be a Europa League place.