For the third game running Pulisic, 21, has been an unused sub for Chelsea and when asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the game about defensive injuries perhaps impacting the chance for the American winger to come on, Lampard wasn’t blaming a lack of playing time on injuries.
“He wasn’t a victim of the injuries. I’ve got a squad to pick from. Before that he had played a few games,” Lampard said. “Willian has come back in and been sharp and looked good. I decided to go with Mason [Mount] today, because we needed to stay strong in midfield and play Mason high up the pitch. That is my choice to make. He will get ample opportunities. He is a young player as well as everyone is talking about Mason and Tammy and Fikayo. He is actually as young, if not younger, than some of them. His chances will come.”
Lampard then dismissed reports that Pulisic hasn’t quite settled in to life at Chelsea after arriving in England this summer following his $73 million transfer from Borussia Dortmund, and suggested that the likes of Ross Barkley, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro all haven’t got the minutes they deserve.
That led to many fans of the USMNT and Chelsea lambasting Lampard for favoring Mount, Willian and Pedro and already saying that Pulisic made a big mistake moving to Stamford Bridge.
“I have to make choices. There is him sitting on the bench, Pedro sitting on the bench, Ross Barkley on the bench, Batshuayi, who deserves more minutes for the way he’s training at the minute. Those are the unfortunate choices I need to make,” Lampard added.
Pump the breaks here. Chelsea are six games into the PL season and Pulisic has had chances, and will get more chances, to shine.
But with Callum Hudson-Odoi close to returning and Ruben Loftus-Cheek also on the road to recovery, soon there will be even more competition for Pulisic to get past to get some minutes. That kind of competition is normal at any top club.
What now for the American star?
He has to keep focusing on getting on the pitch and when he gets his next chance, which is likely to come against Grimsby Town in the League Cup on Wednesday, he needs to take it. So far he hasn’t quite done that, but he’s shown glimpses of promises and certainly enough for a large chunk of Chelsea fans to be upset that Pedro and Willian are starting ahead of him.
Pulisic has been a little guilty of playing it too safe early in his Chelsea career. Backwards and sideways passes have been plentiful, and the pace and power of the PL is certainly a step up from what he experienced in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. The switch to a 3-4-3 formation didn’t help him either, and Lampard seems to want to play at least one more experienced winger in Pedro and Willian each game.
Being more direct and taking more risks is what Pulisic needs to do if he wants to impress Lampard and become a regular for Chelsea.
It sounds simple, but it is anything but.
Pulisic joined Chelsea to improve as a player and take his game to the next level. The hard work getting to this point was just the start. Make no mistake about it, the Pennsylvanian native is facing the biggest test of his career and it’s off to a bit of a rocky start.
That’s okay. As long as he can stay focused and make the most of upcoming opportunities, starting with Grimsby then Brighton then Lille in the UEFA Champions League.
USMNT fans are already envisaging Pulisic not seeing the pitch agains until December, and the youngster leaving on loan in January. That won’t be the case but Pulisic does have to step up his game based on what we’ve seen so far.
Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.
Wild nights, positive or negative, deserve reflection one day later. Here’s our bid to put the USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Canada in context less than 24 hours later…
The humbling of Gregg Berhalter is one of two distinct hopes for his survival as United States men’s national team coach.
The other is an unreliable route, one filled with long-term health for his best players on some pie-in-the-sky road where he utilizes the same 12-14 players per game for the rest of his tenure.
So, yeah, the first one is pretty key.
Coaches are by nature arrogant, and Berhalter earned his confidence by nurturing a suboptimal Columbus Crew roster into an over-performing playoff mainstay despite owner and former showgirl Rachel Phelps trying to move the club to Miami (Movie reference No.1, achieved).
When Berhalter beat out the field of two to lay claim to the USMNT position, he won over the media with Powerpoint slides about Pep Guardiola-inspired possession, which assumed to the delight of the American fan base that the nation had the immediate tools to out-class most of CONCACAF simply by being organized. He even had people handing him cute nicknames and defending the idea of using a Bundesliga regular defensive midfielder as a right back because he was generous with his time. Who needs La Masia when you’ve got the DA?
It should be pointed out that the philosophy’s failure through nine months doesn’t entirely destroy the idea to try it, but Berhalter’s often bizarre player selection and tactical destruction at the hands of Jamaica, Mexico, and now Canada have hastened the end of his honeymoon period almost as effectively as his the federation’s refusal to interview anyone other than Berhalter and Oscar Pareja. I mean, who needs Sergino Dest’s optimism when you can keep trying to jam a Wil Trapp-sized Wil Trapp through an Andrea Pirlo-shaped hole?
So you get what we had last night, a tire fire of a match in which his midfield had no idea what to do with the ball and his forwards might as well have been on a monastic retreat. According to the broadcast, Berhalter thought a miserable first half was due to his men not moving the ball fast enough side-to-side. His answers via subs, even before they were down, were to take off Christian Pulisic and leave creative minds Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Boyd on the bench. After the game, he claimed his players weren’t working hard enough and didn’t match Canada’s desire.
Here’s the problem, though, that’s on Berhalter, too. There were myriad articles out there, including several on this site, detailing Canada’s desperation to get results in the CONCACAF Nations League in order to move into a Top Six CONCACAF spot on the FIFA Rankings and qualify for the Hex.
All it takes is a cursory look at the Canada roster to see that their electric attackers were their hope of winning the match, and that pressing their relatively weak group of defenders — one of whom has only been a defender for a year — was probably a great idea.
But Berhalter again stuck with his idea that the United States men’s national team program, even without several of its best players, could implement his system anywhere, against anyone.
And it failed spectacularly.
The thing is that Berhalter is actually quite a decent coach, as he proved in Columbus, but whether or not he lives to show it to this American audience in this particular job depends on his accepting the shortcomings of his depleted roster.
I want to talk to you about Aaron Long, and not because of his “Stranger Things” lifeguard haircut (TV show reference No. 1, achieved).
Aaron Long is a mauler, the sort of player who’d be beloved by many segments of the USMNT community in several generations. He gets stuck in, has a good work rate, and can factor on set pieces in the attacking third.
What he does not do very well — and I’ve covered this a lot in this space — is pass the ball and aid in possession. Since breaking into MLS in 2017, the now 27-year-old center back has completed 76, 69, and 65 percent of his passes with the New York Red Bulls.
Part of that is a function of the Red Bulls’ system; The team doesn’t really care at all about possession, passing at a terrible 68.6 percent, and not one of their players had a completion rate above 80 percent this year. By comparison, 197 players in Major League Soccer completed 80 percent or more of their passes this season (WhoScored).
This is not an argument that Long shouldn’t be in the U.S. system. While he’s had a rough couple of months in the shirt, he’s in the mix for the toughest American center backs in the game.
Might this possession-based idea look a lot better when healthy? Of course, that’s what we mentioned above. John Brooks is by far the best passing center back in the pool, and has been out of the mix for sometime due to injury. The same is true for the side’s best No. 6 in Adams.
But what the Yanks were for so long was difficult to break down, a hassle to play against. Berhalter needs that right now, and he’s got the horses to do it (Watch Jordan Morris’ legs keep moving for 90 minutes if you need proof). Success could then require admitted in front of a microphone that his team can’t hack his system right now, and that he talked down to an entire room last month when they just spit facts his way. That’s humbling, and it’s not fun. But it’s needed.
Adding to the issue is that it’s easy to see the Yanks still emerging from their group by beating Canada in Orlando next month and then walloping Cuba. But if Berhalter hasn’t been humbled and sees victories against the 53rd and 145th ranked teams in EloRatings as validation, well, I’ve got some truly valuable early 1990s baseball cards to sell you for a premium price.
Arrogance does nothing for you if it’s ill-founded. That confidence has felled countless executives, coaches, and players over the years (and yes, even average writers). Being outfoxed by Tata Martino is one thing, but having no reaction to the plan of John Herdman is another (That’s not a shot at Herdman, who had done well with the New Zealand and Canada women, but let’s be real).
We won’t learn whether Berhalter has learned from his errors via results next month, rather by what he does to try and get those results. When Martino beat him in the Gold Cup Final, the rematch two months later was far worse. He gets a second chance to match wits with Herdman next month, and it really cannot get much worse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice (Movie reference No. 2, achieved).
Last month, I wrote that Berhalter’s duties including the following bare minimum goals.
Qualify for the World Cup
Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)
No. 1 is still far away, but 2-4… woah. We’re one Alphonso Davies star show away from finishing 2019 without a Gold Cup and no place in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. Sergino Dest might’ve skipped town for Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands set-up either way, but being shoehorned at left back last month probably helped his decision.
Finally, a number of people on Twitter pointed out that Canada is due plenty of respect for out-dueling the USMNT on Tuesday. Absolutely! But if you think a nation with under 1 million registered soccer players should be absolutely clowning a nation with 4 million-plus, a side they hadn’t beaten let alone dominated in 34 years, then you’re not getting the point. There’s room for Canada and the U.S. to both be good, but the Yanks looked like a steaming hot mug of spoiled milk to Canada’s well-chilled bag of the fresh stuff. No good.
Your move, Gregg. Do what you did last night, and last month, and you’ll get the same results. Your only other option is Voodoo dolls of Alphonso Davies and Scott Arfield.
Dueling reports out of French outlet Le10 Sport claim that Mbappe is set to be offered a monster new $55 million annual contract from Les Parisiens, with Real Madrid ready to offer the big man almost $40 million per year.
The new PSG figure would give Mbappe the richest deal in football, while Real’s offer would sit below only Lionel Messi (at least until the Barcelona legend gets his new deal this winter).