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Report: MLS discussing significant change to Designated Player Rule

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Major League Soccer is toying with a change to its roster structure aimed at spreading the wealth, according to The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal.

That’s both a literal and figurative turn of phrase.

Currently, the league allows teams three Designated Players. Put too simply: a Designated Player is a player that is considered outside the team’s salary cap.

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Some of the biggest names in league history have come via the DP rule, and they’ve brought immense cred to the league: Wayne Rooney, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sebastian Giovinco, David Beckham, and Didier Drogba are a handful of players who fit the bill.

Well now the league is aiming at making sure at least one of the three DPs is under the age of 23, which would eliminate DP triumvirates like Toronto FC’s uniting of Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore.

The idea is that players under the age of 23 bring a lot more money to the table when they are sold than the the older guys.

The new plan would break down something like this, via The Athletic:

Sources said that the league and its influential product strategy committee are considering a new set of DP rules designed to more strongly encourage the signing of younger players. Under these new rules, if none of a team’s three DPs are under 23 years old, the annual spend for one of those players would be capped at a sum of $1 million plus that season’s maximum budget charge. In 2019, that total would’ve been $1.53 million, or the upper limit for a player who could be bought down using targeted allocation money. If teams have at least one U-23 DP, they would be able to spend any amount on all three of their DPs.

Stejskal cites sources as saying it’s not just about making money for its coffers, but that it could help close the gap between those spending boatloads and those not quite willing to do that.

My opinion? I don’t like it, unless the league is going to let all of the sale money stay with the individual clubs.

There has to be another to encourage teams to sign young bucks without taking away from the people bringing neutral fans to the table. And if a team feels it’ll get more acclaim from three David Villas than three Matias Pelegrinis well, which name did the average fan need to look up?

Take your average U-23 hot shot who’s yet to reach his peak. He may score some bangers and capture the league’s imagination a la Miguel Almiron. And that’s great, especially Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, and other markets which have really embraced their clubs regardless of the stars’ identities.

Some of that is myopic, and the league’s progress has rocketed because of players from all over the planet. Scientifically speaking, MLS is 100 times better than it was even 10 years ago. To put age restrictions on DPs in order to fuel transfer fees not just for clubs, but for the league itself? Nah.

Finally, I have to beg a little bit of ignorance to the incredibly complicated world which is the MLS rulebook. If I’m missing something, well, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Klinsmann claims he could have taken USMNT to World Cup quarterfinals

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Time has a habit of blurring memories. So it’s perhaps within that context that it’s best to judge former U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments about the state of the USMNT, and what he said he could accomplish if he hadn’t been fired in 2016.

Now with Hertha Berlin on an interim basis and in Florida for a mid-season training camp, Klinsmann told ESPN that he believed had he been allowed to stay on as USMNT coach, he could have led the side to the quarterfinals, if not the semifinals in the 2018 World Cup. In reality, the USMNT began World Cup qualifying with two demoralizing defeats, leading to his dismissal after a year in which the cracks began showing. The U.S. mostly took care of business at home but couldn’t beat Costa Rica at home, and eventually the loss at Trinidad and Tobago, combined with other results, meant the U.S. missed out on the World Cup.

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“As I said, I’d take that team in Russia to the final eight, maybe even the final four because there was a building block there and there was a plan for it and the plan got interrupted and it got even more interrupted when the U.S. didn’t qualify for Russia,” Klinsmann told ESPN.

It’s hard to know what kind of plan Klinsmann is talking about. Sure, there was a plan to go to the World Cup, but it’s clear the players weren’t executing that plan. Whether because the game-by-game plans were inadequate or the players weren’t good enough, the “plan” wasn’t working. Remember, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones had to run over to the sidelines in the USMNT’s 2-1 defeat to Mexico because Klinsmann’s tactical plan was so convoluted. Most pundits believe that the first 30 minutes doomed the USMNT to the defeat.

Then, the U.S. went down to Costa Rica and got smashed, 4-0, in which it looked ill-prepared to deal with the heat, crowd, and CONCACAF-style tactics. So maybe Klinsmann would have recovered in 2017 and qualified the U.S. for the World Cup, but it’s certainly possible they could have continued to collapse and be out of the World Cup before the final matchday. That’s how bad it was.

Even if Klinsmann did get the USMNT to the World Cup, would Christian Pulisic have been enough to lead the team to the quarterfinals or further? The squad was in massive need of a refresh, but at the time no one had beaten out the likes of Jozy Altidore, Bradley, Jones, or Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, among many others. And you can argue the current USMNT players in those positions aren’t playing much better than the ones they replaced.

Perhaps with time, Klinsmann has forgotten some of those harsh moments and remembers the good times. He still talks about how the U.S. emerged from the “Group of Death” at the 2014 World Cup – a good achievement but not one that was impossible – and a couple of good performances at the Gold Cup and Copa America Centenario.

But there’s no doubt that for all of Klinsmann’s positives, he helped put the U.S. on the path to where it is now. The sooner he understands that, the better.

Michael Bradley re-signs with Toronto FC

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Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley has re-signed with the Major League Soccer franchise.

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Bradley, 32, saw his previous contract run out at the end of the 2019 season but he has now agreed a new deal with the Canadian side and Toronto have squeezed him into their salary cap by using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM).

During his six season stint so far in Toronto, Bradley has led the team to three MLS Cup finals as TFC stunned MLS with a run to the final against Seattle in 2019. They lost on that occasion but beat Seattle in 2017 and Bradley’s displays, along with that of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and now Alejandro Pozuelo have seen Toronto become one of the most consistent teams in MLS.

Explaining his reasons for signing a new deal in Toronto, Bradley revealed that he wants to take them onto bigger and better things.

“I feel so attached to the city of Toronto, the club, the team. I love it here and I am really proud of what we’ve been able to do over the past six years,” Bradley said. “Beyond the success, I am equally as proud of the mentality and identity this club has taken on. The relationship between the club and the city, the club and the fans are both very special and I’m proud to have played a part in that. What we have in Toronto doesn’t exist everywhere. My family and I are so happy to remain in Toronto and we’d like to thank everyone at Toronto FC for ensuring that this process was done quietly and professionally behind the scenes. I’m looking forward to continuing to play in the biggest games and competing for trophies every year.”

Bradley still has plenty left in the tank, as last season showed, and despite rumors that he would link up with his father, Bob Bradley, at LAFC, he is staying in Ontario.

That’s great news for Toronto FC as despite plenty of criticism from USMNT fans over recent years, Bradley has continued to deliver consistency and leadership at BMO Field.

Rating the USMNT’s complete 2019 season

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2019 was supposed to be the year that the USMNT put the disaster in Trinidad & Tobago officially behind them. Instead, they flopped and floundered their way to more questions than answers in a year of change and doubt.

The first game of the year was also the first game of the Gregg Berhalter era, and while there were plenty of positive signs early on, it began to fall apart midway through the summer, and by the end of yesterday’s comprehensive win over troubled Cuba, there is plenty of unknown moving forward.

Berhalter began his tenure with friendly wins over Panama and Costa Rica, outscoring those opponents 5-0 and seeing the emergence of fringe players like Djordje Mihailovic, Daniel Lovitz, and Christian Ramirez who had broken out under interim boss Dave Sarachen but were also afforded some time with the main man in charge. It quickly became clear, however, that those players were not the ones to take the U.S. forward as the regulars returned for the win over Ecuador.

Flaws began to slowly emerge in the Ecuador win and the ensuing Chile draw in March, and as Berhalter dug in for the long spring international layoff, he prepared the plan for the Gold Cup summer. Whatever the plan, it did not emerge as expected. Veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore returned for the summer slog, but they were powerless to stop the train from slowly screeching to a halt. The group stage went well against inferior opponents – including a 6-0 drubbing of Trinidad & Tobago to secure some minor revenge for two years prior – but a 1-0 win over lowly Curacao in the quarterfinals saw bubbles being to rise.

The US managed to get by Jamaica in the semis thanks to Christian Pulisic‘s textbook heroics, but the finals were a different story. A 1-0 loss to Mexico that saw the U.S. thoroughly dominated was the first real coin to drop, followed by a thorough 3-0 butt-whooping by Mexico’s B-side two months later in a friendly on home soil.

It all fell apart from there. They drew 1-1 with Uruguay’s backups a few days later, and then after skating by defection-laden Cuba, the worst result of the slate saw the U.S. stunned in Canada in Nations League play. The result not only proved a humbling reminder of the team’s work to do, but also put their Nations League standing in real jeopardy far earlier than any fan deemed acceptable.

The U.S. rescued its position and secured passage to the next round of the competition, but real problems remain. Berhalter’s coaching and tactical acumen have been questioned on multiple fronts, with many wondering whether his possessional style of play is too ambitious for a country still searching for top talent.

Still, the most pressing issue seems to be the suddenly paper-thin talent pool that currently troubles the nation. Injuries to players like John Brooks, Michael Bradley, and even Pulisic have left the United States forced to deploy players far below World Cup quality in their stead. Formerly promising critical young players such as DeAndre Yedlin and Weston McKennie have seemingly regressed, but with little behind them in terms of depth, Berhalter is forced to toil on hoping they recapture their form of not long ago.

Amid a toilsome year, the capture of Sergino Dest and the true emergence of Jordan Morris are individual success stories that deserve merit. Dest heavily considered his eligibility for the Netherlands but was ultimately swayed by Berhalter’s vision. Morris has returned from a serious knee injury by reinventing himself as an inverted winger, and his style switch has been an unmitigated triumph, transforming from a questionable developmental project to a near-lock in the squad.

In addition, Christian Pulisic’s rise to international stardom must also be considered. Unlike the development of Yedlin and McKennie which have been suddenly put in peril, Pulisic has continued to excel at the club level, moving to Chelsea and bursting onto the Premier League scene after a brief period of uncertainty. He continues to carry the U.S. side as well when given a chance, but as the Gold Cup disappointment shows, he clearly can’t do it on his own.

Still, in a year with few competitive matches against teams of the quality the United States aspires to equal, Berhalter failed the test. The overall body of work was simply not acceptable. He has the full support of U.S. Soccer for now – at least publicly – but there is much to be done as the U.S. moves further into the World Cup cycle and towards a potential return to the big dance. Berhalter must continue to establish his identity, but more importantly he must develop a talent pool that both excels at developing its most important players and finds those who can contribute in positions of its greatest need.

While the small success stories deserve to factor in, the simple fact is Berhalter does not deserve a passing grade, as questions of where the United States fit into the larger world picture suddenly loom large.

OVERALL GRADE: D+

Full 2019 USMNT results

Jan 28 – W 3-0 vs. Panama (friendly)
Feb 2 – W 2-0 vs. Costa Rica (friendly)
Mar 22 – W 1-0 vs. Ecuador (friendly)
Mar 27 – D 1-1 vs. Chile (friendly)
June 6 – L 1-0 vs. Jamaica (friendly)
June 9 – L 3-0 vs. Venezuela (friendly)
June 19 – W 4-0 vs. Guyana (Gold Cup)
June 23 – W 6-0 vs. Trinidad & Tobago (Gold Cup)
July 1 – W 1-0 vs. Curacao (Gold Cup QF)
July 4 – W 3-1 vs. Jamaica (Gold Cup SF)
July 8 – L 1-0 vs. Mexico (Gold Cup Finals)
Sept 7 – L 3-0 vs. Mexico (friendly)
Sept 11 – D 1-1 vs. Uruguay (friendly)
Oct 12 – W 7-0 vs. Cuba (CONCACAF Nations League)
Oct 16 – L 2-0 @ Canada (CONCACAF Nations League)
Nov 16 – W 4-1 vs. Canada (CONCACAF Nations League)
Nov 19 – W 4-0 @ Cuba (CONCACAF Nations League)

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

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Christian Pulisic is the best American soccer player in the world.

Of this, there is little debate.

But there is a debate to who is second, third, and well down the line, and we’ve got our last chance to really assess the full crop with Major League Soccer now out of season for a few months.

[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose from November ]

Let’s set 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 which 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 Chris Richards of Bayern Munich II is a better long-term prospect than 32-year-old Tim Ream, but most would rather have the Fulham man in a big spot right now.

Top 25 USMNT players – November 2019

*not currently a part of USMNT squad due to injury
**not currently a part of USMNT squad due to coach’s decision

  1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea*
  2. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig*
  3. John Brooks, Wolfsburg
  4. Weston McKennie, Schalke
  5. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf
  6. Sergino Dest, Ajax
  7. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
  8. Matt Miazga, Reading (on loan from Chelsea)**
  9. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen
  10. Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Man City)*
  11. DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United
  12. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC*
  13. Tim Ream, Fulham
  14. Timothy Weah, Lille*
  15. Julian Green, Greuther Furth**
  16. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders
  17. Ike Opara, Minnesota United**
  18. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC*
  19. Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach**
  20. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (on loan from Spurs)**
  21. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas
  22. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy
  23. Miles Robinson, Atlanta United*
  24. Paul Arriola, DC United
  25. Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes

Next up, established: Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Bill Hamid (DC United).

Next up, youth: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona U19), Alex Mendez (Ajax U19), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund U19), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg U19), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Donovan Pines (DC United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)