PRO SOCCER TALK | NBC SPORTSPST Select Team

Top 25 players in the USMNT player pool right now

0 Comments

There’s reason to be worried about the United States men’s national team and the 2022 World Cup following the latest round of player call-ups from Gregg Berhalter.

That’s not because this roster in itself is inherently bad, or that Berhalter’s choices are a singular terrible moment that signals the downfall of his tenure.

And it’s also not because this unit will not qualify for Qatar. They probably will. It’s worth discussing whether they should be entering this window without qualification in the bag, yes, but this is more of a big-picture discussion.

[ MORE: Best XI for qualifiers | USMNT World Cup qual. schedule]

Most people would agree that the age of the USMNT roster and an analysis of the player pool means the side is likely to be at the peak of its powers heading into the 2026 World Cup, but that doesn’t mean the Yanks can’t do real damage at this winter’s World Cup with a halfway decent draw. Talking about how darn young your team is compared to historical version of it is only impressive if you aren’t leaving older players behind out of principles or stats (Just ask Frank Lampard how good it was to play the youth of Chelsea when Thomas Tuchel put the vets back out there and won the European Cup).

Look at the philosophy behind, construction of, and performance by Berhalter’s unit and it’s very difficult to imagine he’s going to make an unbiased selection of the best group of players for a World Cup, adopt the appropriate mentality for a growing power in the sport, and humbly appreciate whichever international opponent stands between him and USSF immortality.

By far the least of the problems caused by the uncertainty of Berhalter’s plan for the program is our USMNT Player Pool Power Rankings, for there is now a “Top 25 USMNT players in the world” and a “Top 25 USMNT players to Gregg Berhalter” that are very different. The key word is the modifier: Very. Every national team manager is going to have a preference or three — Ask any MLS fan about Jurgen Klinsmann and Benny Feilhaber — but Berhalter’s got a bunch than are more than hunch than punch.

The prevalence of advanced stats now makes it possible to compare players from different leagues. If we accept that the top five leagues in Europe are, while a different animal in style, largely superior to MLS.

John Brooks as an example

Let’s start here: Even without explicit acknowledgment or even much innuendo, we have to operate in a mindset that Gregg Berhalter sees John Brooks’ personality or reputation inside of the team as reason to keep him out of the squad. His omission in the Fall felt appropriate given form and both coach and player handled the issue with class, so it seems like the veteran back “got it.”

But Brooks is healthy and playing well for Wolfsburg now. Of backs to play more than 15 league matches, he’s

  • 18th In clearances
  • 11th in aerial duels won percentage
  • 18th in ground duels won percentage
  • 37th In interceptions
  • ninth in accurate long balls per game
  • 18th in clearances
  • 20th in passes attempted
  •  not made an error that’s led to an opposition shot
  • is 25th in SofaScore rating.

Regardless, even a dipped-in-form Brooks is superior to most of the backs of the pool, so whether it’s just a clash of strong personalities or a story we won’t get for a long time, let’s try to accept that Berhalter knows what he’s leaving home and hope that somehow the trade-off is worth it.

As an exercise and with expectation but without pre-judgment, I’ve used the site FBRef.com and its collection of StatsBomb data to put Brooks and the four called-up USMNT pool center backs into the same FBRef.com comparison.

With the caveat that we used the 2021 MLS seasons of James Sands, Miles Robinson, and Walker Zimmerman instead of Sands’ rarely-used start at Rangers and three-match sample sizes for the latter, here’s how Brooks and Erik Palmer-Brown stack up alongside the aforementioned trio. We’ve excluded Aaron Long as he returns from a long-term injury.

Current USMNT CBs stat leaders in club play, per 90 minutes

Passes attempted: Robinson, 59.9 (Brooks 2nd, 59.6)

Passes completed: Robinson, 51.5 (Brooks 3rd, 50.5)

Pass percentage: Sands, 90 (Brooks 3rd, 84.7)

Pass progression distance: Brooks, 410.5 yards (Robinson 2nd, 364.9)

Tackle percentage: Palmer-Brown, 73.7 (Brooks 3rd, 54.3)

Pressure percentage: Palmer-Brown, 38.8 (Brooks 2nd, 38.6)

Shots blocked: Brooks, 1.94 (Robinson 2nd, 1.84)

Tackles+interceptions: Brooks, 4.22 (Palmer-Brown 2nd, 4.18)

Clearances: Zimmerman, 5.9 (Brooks 2nd, 5.5)

Distance progressed: Robinson, 290 (Brooks 2nd, 243.7)

Aerial duels won %: Zimmerman, 76.7 (Brooks 5th, 65.3)

Yep. Brooks leads in some huge categories lauded by Berhalter and is only worse than 3-of-5 in aerial duels won (which is, actually, stunning). And it’s encouraging to see the deeper numbers/analytics explain the Erik Palmer-Brown call-up, a long-time promising defender who is probably not meriting a ton of eyeballs at Troyes.

That’s not to say that he’s a beast among beasts and destined for the very upper reaches of the Bundesliga, which was once a thing. But he’s a strong player who is going to have a strong selection of very good teams from which to choose his next club this summer, and it wouldn’t be surprising if sometime soon we read a hit-piece on why he’s out of the national team fray right now, or learn that he said, “Don’t call me up if I’m not starting.”

I have zero proof of either, which are concocted in a logical lab, but I just can’t calculate another explanation.

Two Big Worries

Presuming the Yanks qualify for Qatar — because if they don’t (and they won’t), U.S. Soccer House should be the most dramatically and peacefully overturned apple cart in sports history — there are two huge worries for U.S. men’s national team fans.

1) The omitted XI

Realistically, in how many meaningful international should an argument be able to be made that a program the stature of the United States men’s national team has 11 healthy players that could defeat any group of XI chosen from the called-up squad.

So, let’s be true here, who wins this matchup?

Called up XI

Sean Johnson, Reggie Cannon, Aaron Long, James Sands, DeAndre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta, Luca de la Torre, Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, Jordan Morris, Jesus Ferreira.

Healthy and uncalled XI

Brad Guzan, John Brooks, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream, Joe Scally, Julian Green, Frankie Amaya, Paxton Pomykal, Sebastian Lletget, Djordje Mihailovic, Josh Sargent

Guzan, Amaya, Pomykal, and Ream probably shouldn’t be a part of the discussion and Green and Greuther Furth have struggled, but could you make an argument for calling the others up over the “Called up XI” members (which includes Johnson, Acosta, and Yedlin who are easy to explain as members of the roster but we needed to hit 11)?

We thinks so.

2) Know-it-all arrogance limits USMNT’s ceiling

But really, it just feels at times like Berhalter is one of those managers who believes he’s operating on a higher plane, one that a writer or a player or most of his peers could not possibly understand with their non-galaxy brains. And that’s combined with a stubborn streak that’s made him walk from proverbial beach sand into chest-deep ocean waters, shift back and forth in his stance until he’s ankle-deep, and just hope he’s read the waves right.

And maybe that hope isn’t even coming from Berhalter, but from USMNT fans who are looking at one of the less than 20 World Cups they get to see in their lifetime (until Gianni Infantino starts staging them monthly, at least). Hope is powerful and never dies, paraphrasing the famous quote from “Shawnshank Redemption,” and to be staring down the next World Cup with varying hopeful pleas — one that Berhalter won’t mess up the next week or the players will overcome the nonsense and another that he won’t bungle the World Cup once in Qatar — is a tremendously disappointing vibe.

One Big Asterisk*

Let’s also celebrate the incredible depth of the United States men’s national team, which barely registered blips with Julian Araujo choosing Mexico for his national future and Tyler Boyd not being on the radar after starring right away following a switch from New Zealand to the USMNT.

There was a time that either of those would’ve dominated all of our conversations — remember Jonathan Gonzalez and Gedion Zelalem — but are now just met with mild exhalations and groans.

Not only are MLS academies churning out top players in Major League Soccer as well as a bevy of exports to Europe, but here’s a list of players not even mentioned above or in the player pool rankings below:

Nicholas Gioacchini, Montpellier
Konrad de la Fuente, Marseille
Mark McKenzie, Genk
Justin Che, Hoffenheim
Henry Kessler, New England
Matt Miazga, Alaves
Bryan Reynolds, AS Roma
Sam Vines, Antwerp
Shaq Moore, Tenerife
Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew
Jackson Yueill, San Jose
Matthew Hoppe, Mallorca
Jonathan Lewis, Colorado

Top 25 players in the USMNT player pool right now

Before we go any further with this list, here’s a reminder of how we sort the talent with some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one that could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Konrad de la Fuente is a better long-term prospect than Gyasi Zardes, but the Columbus Crew forward is currently better prepared for the stage than the Marseille youngster.
  • Finally, if you’re breaking a tie between players… ask which you’d be more upset to hear was unavailable for a USMNT camp.

Here we go

Players with an * were unavailable for this month’s qualifiers, # went unselected, last ranking In parentheses

1.  Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (1)
2. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig (2)
3. Weston McKennie*, Juventus (3)
4. Timothy Weah, Lille (4)
5. Yunus Musah, Valencia (5)
6. Antonee Robinson, Fulham (6)
7. Miles Robinson, Atlanta United (13)
8. John Brooks# , Wolfsburg (18)
9. Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund (9)
10. Chris Richards*, Hoffenheim (11)
11. Walker Zimmerman, Nashville (7)
12. Jordan Pefok, BSC Young Boys (16)
13. Sergino Dest*, Barcelona (8)
14. Joe Scally#, Borussia Monchengladbach (15)
15. Brenden Aaronson, Red Bull Salzburg (12)
16. Zack Steffen, Manchester City (10)
17. Kellyn Acosta, Colorado Rapids (22)
18. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (20)
19. Ricardo Pepi, Augsburg (17)
20. Gianluca Busio, Venezia (19)
21. Ethan Horvath, Nottingham Forest (NR)
22. Erik Palmer-Brown, Troyes (NR)
23. Cameron Carter-Vickers#, Celtic (NR)
24. Matt Turner*, New England Revolution, loan from Arsenal (21)
25. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders (NR)

A six-pack of MLS questions as the 2021 season is upon us

MLS
nycfc.com
0 Comments

There are 27 teams in this Major League Soccer season and there’s enough intrigue around the new season to justify at least one thought on the task at hand for every team from Atlanta to Vancouver (unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time).

[ MORE: 2021 MLS schedule ]

Which, by the way, is one of the longest road trips in MLS, the equivalent of going from Old Trafford to the Camp Nou, returning to Manchester, and then doing half of a second trip to Barcelona.

[ MORE: European transfer prospects in MLS ]

That’s not as much of a thing this MLS season, though, where the Western Conference and Eastern Conference are staying apart during the regular season, and the league’s three Canadian teams are posting up with American hosts for the start of the season (Vancouver will play early home matches at Real Salt Lake, Toronto at Orlando and Tampa, and Montreal at Inter Miami).

Who’s the worst?

Keeping in mind that this is a league in which more than half of the field will make the playoffs, it says something that five clubs are considered massive longshots to even make the postseason.

New boys Austin FC (80 percent), relatively new boys FC Cincinnati (91%), and much-changed DC United (87%) join displaced Montreal (75%) and Vancouver (89%) are the only clubs with missing the playoffs in more than 60 percent of simulations by fivethirtyeight.com.

Might the worst team come from outside this group? Absolutely, this is MLS, but I’m comfortable saying that FC Cincinnati has enough intrigue to be the biggest positive surprise of the group.

How will the Philadelphia Union replace the kids?

The Supporters’ Shield winners by three points, will Jim Curtin’s men be able to overcome the transfers of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie? The latter may be the bigger loss given the lack of standout center backs of his ilk readily available in MLS.

How quickly can Ronny Deila settle much-changed NYCFC?

Gone are Alex Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Alexandru Mitrita. with Alfredo Morales, Chris Gloster, and Thiago Andrade among those arriving in New York City.

That said, the union of Morales and Keaton Parks will be something to watch if NYC to adapt quickly to life without Ring, who chewed up minutes in every season after arriving from Koln.

Speaking of Morales, which moving USMNT alum or former prospect will have the best season?

Bobby Wood has joined Rubio Rubin at Real Salt Lake, a double addition in the same ballpark as NYCFC’s pickups of Morales and Gloster. Gedion Zelalem is with Delia, too, while FC St Pauli youngster Leon Flach has moved to Philadelphia while Wolfsburg II center back Michael Edwards went to Colorado but will head on loan to Switchbacks FC.

As for names who’ve had their most success in MLS, Djordje Mihailovic and Mason Toye are in Montreal, Matt Polster in New England, and Matt Besler, Nick Lima, and Joe Corona are with Josh Wolff in Austin.

Wil Trapp and Juan Agudelo join Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United, while Corey Baird hopes to kickstart his USMNT career under former national team coach Bob Bradley at LAFC.

Who will have a better first season: Greg Vanney at LA Galaxy or Chris Armas with Toronto?

Obviously we aren’t talking strictly about points, or are we? What Vanney did with TFC last season despite the Reds playing outside of their country was pretty remarkable, and he heads to an LA team which was bad but does have some pieces in the form of Efrain Alvarez, Jona Dos Santos, and Chicharito, old TFC pal Victor Vazquez, and arriving wild cards Kevin Cabral and Yony Gonzalez. As for Armas, he’s already got a banner CCL win over Club Leon and a well-established leadership group.

Who will be the most over-discussed personality in the league?

We bet you think we’re talking someone like Chicharito or Josef Martinez, alas, we are not.

Have you heard that Austin is owned by Matthew McConaughey? Well do you know David Beckham hired his old pal Phil Neville to manage Inter Miami and signed Stoke City’s Ryan Shawxcross?

Yes. Yes, you have.

European giants eye Bayern’s American center back

Chris Richards
Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
0 Comments

A report in Germany says four of the world’s biggest clubs are looking at FC Dallas export and Bayern Munich II defender Chris Richards.

Two of those clubs play in the Premier League, the others are from La Liga.

Richards celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday and was set to star in the U.S. Olympic team should it had qualified for Tokyo 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic changed the schedule.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Bild claims that Arsenal, Chelsea, Valencia, and Barcelona are monitoring Richards, who also plays right back.

Three of the four have experience with Americans in the fold, including current Chelsea man Christian Pulisic and budding Barcelona starlet Konrad de la Fuente. Gedion Zelalem was a highly-touted Arsenal prospect and now plays with New York City FC.

The report also speculates that it will not be too long before Richards gets called into regular training with the first team, noting that Richards went 45 minutes in January against for Bayern’s first team.

Richards has started 22 of 23 matches for Bayern II, scoring twice and playing nearly 2000 minutes. Bayern II sits seventh, six points back of leaders MSV Duisburg.

The pathway to Valencia’s first team might be a bit easier to walk, but Richards will have a big battle to get into the first teams of all of the aforementioned teams. Staying with Bayern may make the most sense.

MLS Week 1 preview: New teams, players, and stars

Getty Images
0 Comments

AThe 2020 Major League Soccer season is here. This weekend, the new campaign gets under way with two new teams, a new defending Supporters’ Shield winner, and a new superstar.

Debuts are the theme as Inter Miami and Nashville SC both take the field for the first time this weekend across Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions Seattle Sounders host the Chicago Fire and their new logo. Chicharito leads the L.A. Galaxy as the visit the Houston Dynamo.

The new clubs both get tough welcomes to the league, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United and Inter Miami traveling to Western Conference finalists LAFC. Atlanta has plenty of new faces of its own, with captain Michael Parkhurst retired while both Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel having departed. Miles Robinson is injured to start the season, and given how Atlanta started the season last year, they could be vulnerable this weekend. LAFC has seen Walker Zimmerman and Tyler Miller move on, and after playoff disappointment last season, they have plenty to prove themselves.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions NYCFC starts the season on the road at Columbus on Sunday afternoon, under new management in Ronny Deila. Gedion Zelalem also joins, although he struggled last season at Sporting KC. The Philadelphia Union, off a 55 point season last campaign, visit FC Dallas who doesn’t have much new of note except new contracts for Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira.

The defending champs host the Chicago Fire, with Seattle seeing a designated player depart in Victor Rodriguez with Joao Paulo arriving in his stead. RSL, who finished third in the West last season, announced Thursday the addition of Guiseppe Rossi and he could be in line to see time as they travel to Orlando S.C. on Saturday. After a promising season of growth, Minnesota United switched out goalkeepers, bringing in LAFC’s Miller for Vito Mannone. Abu Danladi is also gone, having departed for Nashville in the expansion draft, and Luis Amarilla has arrived in his place with a promise of goals, with a West Coast trip to Portland his first challenge.

Full MLS Week 1 slate

Saturday:
D.C. United v. Colorado Rapids (1:00 p.m. ET)
Montreal Impact v. New England Revolution (3:00 p.m. ET)
Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy (3:30 p.m. ET)
San Jose Earthquakes v. Toronto FC (5:30 p.m. ET)
FC Dallas v. Philadelphia Union (6:00 p.m. ET)
Orlando S.C. v. Real Salt Lake (6:00 p.m. ET)
Nashville S.C. v. Atlanta United (8:00 p.m. ET)
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Sporting KC (10:30 p.m. ET)

Sunday:
Columbus Crew v. NYCFC (12:30 p.m. ET)
New York Red Bulls v. F.C. Cincinnati (1:00 p.m. ET)
Seattle Sounders v. Chicago Fire (3:00 p.m. ET)
LAFC v. Inter Miami (5:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. ET)

Main takeaways from MLS contract deadline day

Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
0 Comments

Major League Soccer saw a lot of big names in the news as “Contract Deadline Day” played out across the U.S. and Canada.

— The New York Red Bulls watched two all-timers walk out the door, as Bradley Wright-Phillips did not get a new contract and the club declined its option on Luis Robles (STORY).

— Not a player move, but Austin FC announced the hiring of former NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna to the same position.

[ MORE: PST’s talk 1v1 with Reyna earlier this season ]

— Toronto FC is yet to reach a deal to keep Michael Bradley in town, but remains in contract talks with its captain. The same is true for Nicolas Benezet, while Drew Moor is out-of-contract.

— And that’s also what’s happening in Portland with Diego Valeri, the longtime star in talks with the team despite not having his option picked up.

Chicago Fire announced a new branding initiative, changing its logo from a classic crest to something else and dropping the SC for an FC. Like Columbus before them, everyone will still call them the fire and ignore the SC, FC, or whatever see. It’s what happens when you take a formal nickname.

The club also cut ties with playmakers Nico Gaitan and Aleksandar Katai.

— Minnesota United remains in talks to bring back Reading loanee and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner Vito Mannone, and that means longtime backstop Bobby Shuttleworth will hit the open market.

— Orlando declined its option on Dillon Powers, and also let the clock run out on the contract of one-time megastar Sacha Kljestan.

— Real Salt Lake did not reach an agreement with Kyle Beckerman on a new deal, though MLSSoccer.com thinks he’s still in the mix.

— New England is letting Juan Agudelo walk into free agency.

— Atlanta United exercised the contract option for Julian Gressel, but he’s being badly underpaid and the club needs to find salary room for a proper new deal.

— Thierry Henry is keeping his two brightest attacker, with Ignacio Piatti getting another year at the club and Saphir Taider seeing his loan from Bologna made permanent.

— The Philadelphia Union did not exercise their option on Marco Fabian, and are letting Haris Medunjanin leave without a new deal.

— Roman Torres did not see his option exercised by the Sounders, and Kim Kee-hee is also leaving the club.

— Sporting KC waves goodbye to Seth Sinovic, Krisztian Nemeth, Benny Feilhaber, and Gedion Zelalem.

Powered by WordPress VIP