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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.

Benfica loanee Parks readies for playoffs with NYCFC

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Keaton Parks plays the kind of hard-to-quantify midfield role that sends both stat nerds and eye test takers to a very good place.

Barely 22, the New York City FC midfielder doesn’t stand out in any one particular area. Since arriving on loan from Benfica, the American shuttler (of sorts) ranks near the top of the club rankings in pass percentage and aerials won while chipping in tackles and successful dribbles.

[ MORE: PST talks public pitches, youth development with NYCFC director Reyna ]

He’s averaging near one key pass per game but has just a goal and an assist, due more to his responsibility in Dome Torrent’s system than a particular skill set (He has eight goals and seven assists across two-plus seasons between Varzim and Benfica B).

“In the midfield it really helps to play both sides of the ball,” Parks told ProSoccerTalk. “I take pride in doing that, and I love to make a tackle as much as getting in the attack and assisting or scoring goals. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not scoring or making all of the assists. I like to be the solid player who keeps the balance on the team.”

(Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Parks has been an enigma to American soccer fans for some time in that he’s been in a celebrated club in Benfica but playing in a developmental role that’s near impossible to track without single-minded dedication to Portuguese football (Dramatic? Sure, but you try to catch every Liga Pro game).

But in moving to New York City FC to play under Dome Torrent, he’s had an easier transition than most due to his upbringing with Benfica, which annually ranks amongst the top possession teams in Portugal. Torrent, of course, left his last managerial gig at Girona in Spain to spent a decade-plus on Pep Guardiola‘s staff at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.

“Dome likes to play a possession style, a confident style,” Parks said. “I still have to fight for my spot on the team but the playing style I was used to right away.

“You can see the experience Dome has, and he mirrors a little bit of what Pep does, so it’s been amazing to be able to learn from him and see the experiences of the players he’s been able to coach in his career.”

NYCFC begins its playoff run on Wednesday against Toronto FC at Citi Field in Queens, and Parks says he’s feeling better after missing three matches with injury.

And while he’s focused on the playoffs — “We want to win the Cup and be at the top” — there is a question of what’s next for him, still on the books at a perennial UEFA Champions League club but very important with a CONCACAF Champions League club.

[ MORE: MLS Playoffs preview/predictions ]

“I’m just going to be looking forward to whatever club I’m at next, whether here or back at Benfica or wherever I am and also with the U-23s going into Tokyo next summer.”

He’ll, in theory, be an imperative part to Jason Kreis, ironically a former NYCFC man himself, and the Yanks bid for a first Olympic run in three cycles. The team should be powerful, and Parks is happy.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “We have so much talent on the team with guys playing first division all over the world. I believe we can make a run all the way to these Olympics.”
NYCFC and Toronto FC kick off 7 p.m. ET Wednesday at Citi Field.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

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We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

Man City’s Guardiola issues Rodri update; Zinchenko also injured

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola expects to be without Rodri for at least a couple of matches after his heavily relied-on midfielder hurt his hamstring on Tuesday.

Rodri was removed from the match after 40 minutes, having partnered with Fernandinho at center back for the second-straight match.

[ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta ]

A center mid and a fine one by trade, Rodri’s absence coupled with the still-hurt Aymeric Laporte leaves City significantly weaker in its heart.

“I think tomorrow we will know and hopefully it will be between 10 days if it is not broken,” Guardiola said. “If it is broken, it will be three weeks or one month.”

The club also announced before the match that Oleksandr Zinchenko had suffered a knee injury and will undergo tests.

City visits Aston Villa this weekend and then hosts Southampton in the League Cup and the Premier League before a visit to Atalanta in the Champions League.

That’s when Liverpool at Anfield arrives on the schedule, and the absence of Rodri would take some of the luster off of it for sure.