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Four burning questions regarding Berhalter’s plans for USMNT

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New USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has a lot to consider regarding the player pool of his squad, and we’ve got a lot to consider about him.

[ MORE: Adams off to RB Leipzig ]

There’s little doubt that Berhalter is a heck of a coach, and there’s reason to believe he’ll thrive with the team.

But what does he really think about the quality of the stars in MLS, and overseas? And does his work with the Crew tip his hand at all in terms of how he’ll line up the Yanks.


Personnel will dictate what he sticks with, but what formation gets first dibs?

Berhalter operated in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 for most of this season, switching to the latter for the last 10 starting lineups of the regular season and three MLS Cup Playoff games.

Part of that 4-3-3 was very much akin to a 4-2-3-1, with Federico Higuain operating atop a midfield pyramid.

It’s worth noting that no teams beat Berhalter’s Crew more often than Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls (7). It’s not a stretch to say he’ll have respected impressions of Tyler Adams, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Aaron Long, and their peers (Altidore, for example, has five goals and an assist in seven games against Berhalter).

Who has caught his eye abroad, aside from Pulisic, McKennie, etc? And is this an MLS litmus test?

When you consider the men from outside MLS set to star for the USMNT in future seasons, there’s little doubt about the new guard of Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and John Brooks, but who else might Berhalter have admired in studying those who followed his career path and spent most of the careers abroad?

Experienced hands who could be in line for another or deeper run with the USMNT are Alfredo Morales, Eric Lichaj, Geoff Cameron, Lynden Gooch, and Emerson Hyndman.

A deeper look, though, raises the question of how many MLS players will get continued, deep assessments given how many USMNT players or prospects are in top European environments. For example, you could call up a 23-man roster based entirely on the continent and feel confident you’ve made few errors (assuming a transfer Steffen happens).

This isn’t a shot at MLS, who developed many of these players (I’ll denote that with a *). It’s rationality, and a compliment.

Goalkeepers (3): Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Zack Steffen* (Columbus->Man City – reportedly), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin)

Defenders (8) : John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Matt Miazga* (Nantes), DeAndre Yedlin* (Newcastle United), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Shaq Moore (Reus), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Erik Palmer-Brown* (NAC Breda),

Midfielders (8): Geoff Cameron* (QPR), Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie* (Schalke), Tyler Adams* (RB Leipzig), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Romain Gall* (Malmo)

Forwards (4): Bobby Wood (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (PSG), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Haji Wright (Schalke)

SCOTLAND — Emerson Hyndman of Hibernian (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

How big of a day is this for Wil Trapp?

The Columbus Crew defensive midfielder has already captained the USMNT eight times under Dave Sarachan. That’s 8-of-11 caps for a 25-year-old, and it’s been whispered that his continued inclusion may’ve been a sign Berhalter was coming for some time.

But is that simply connecting too many dots? Yes, Trapp was a mainstay for Berhalter with the Crew, but he’s often struggled to star when given the chance in a U.S. shirt at a time when few other players had the opportunity.

Trapp was the 12th-rated American defensive midfielder with more than 10 appearances in MLS this season, according to WhoScored. Taking away anyone not rated strictly as a holding or DCM, Trapp is behind six players: Russell Canouse, Sean Davis, Cristian Roldan, Tyler Adams, Jeff Larentowicz, and Benny Feilhaber. The first four are the same age or younger than Trapp, and 18-year-old Chris Durkin wasn’t far behind the Crew man.

Another thing to keep in mind, which is completely coincidental and speculation, is that Transfermarkt compares two American players to Artur, Berhalter’s preferred midfield mate for Trapp with the Crew: 23-year-old Kellyn Acosta of the Colorado Rapids and 21-year-old Keaton Parks of Benfica.

Will any other Crew players get a chance to shine?

Gyasi Zardes, 27, scored 20 goals while leading the Crew in minutes this season, but Berhalter has had success with any number of strikers in his system. Ola Kamara and Kei Kamara each had prolific seasons for Columbus.

Goalkeeper Zack Steffen, 23, is already entrenched in the USMNT plans, whether he can outplay Ethan Horvath or not.

Aside from Trapp and the two above, there are not many other Americans under 30 who’ve seen many minutes under Berhalter since Ethan Finlay left town in 2017.

It’s also probably bad news for Kekuta Manneh, who washed out of Columbus and has yet to score for St. Gallen in Switzerland.

The USMNT year-in-review: Eleven matches, many questions

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The calendar year has not ended for the United States men’s national team, even if its playing slate concluded Tuesday with a 1-0 stoppage time loss to Italy in Belgium.

(Bring on Berhalter, because it’s reportedly too late for anyone else).

[ MORE: USSF announces Player of Year finalists ]

The USMNT’s schedule this season was daunting, a visit from Bolivia the closest thing to a walkover and away matches to France, England, and Italy.

Interim coach Dave Sarachan finished his run with three wins, five losses, and four draws — all but one coming in 2018 — the most notable results being a draw with France prior to Les Bleus winning the World Cup and a win over Mexico in Tennessee courtesy of Tyler Adams.

Its leading goal scorer was Bobby Wood, and Josh Sargent was the only other player to score more than once. The other goal scorers were Tim Weah, Julian Green, Tyler Adams, and Kellyn Acosta.

Jan. 28 — USMNT 0-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina — Ike Opara was our Man of the Match in a drab affair to start the year.

March 27 — USMNT 1-0 Paraguay — A Wood penalty before half time was earned by Adams and set up by Marky Delgado. Adams had his strongest performance in a U.S. shirt, and the Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga pairing was promising at the heart of the defense. Wil Trapp was also quite good.

May 28 — USMNT 3-0 Bolivia — Zimmerman, Sargent, and Weah were part of an extremely encouraging rollover of an inferior opponent.

June 2 — Republic of Ireland 2-1 USMNT — Wood scored in first half stoppage to give the Yanks a surprising lead, but disappointing errors from Bill Hamid and Miazga allowed the hosts to snare a 90th minute win.

June 9 — France 1-1 USMNT — Green’s 44th minute goal was nice, but this was Zack Steffen’s coming-out party. That said, was it even the Yanks’ best goalkeeper performance of the year. Ask Tuesday.

Sept. 7 — USMNT 0-2 Brazil — Roberto Firmino and Neymar scored first half goals, but this moment was not too big for the  young Yanks (even if it was a case of not being experienced enough to know “their place”).

Sept. 11 — USMNT 1-0 Mexico — Tyler Adams’ 71st minute goal from an Antonee Robinson feed was a nice moment for the Yanks. Miazga’s taunting of Diego Lainez may have not been classy, but it was a moment for the future of the USMNT-El Tri rivalry.

Oct. 11 — USMNT 2-4 Colombia — Acosta and Wood scored after halftime to give the Americans a stunning 2-1 lead, but Los Cafeteros very much restored order. It was one to forget on the whole, but Acosta and Weah showed glimpses of what could be.

Oct. 16 — USMNT 1-1 Peru — Sargent looked set for his first match-winning goal in an American shirt, but DeAndre Yedlin lost track of Edison Flores in the 86th to nullify what should’ve been a fine day for Sarachan through youngsters Weah and Sargent.

Nov. 15 — England 3-0 USMNT — Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen. One of the worst halves of Christian Pulisic’s U.S. tenure led into an improved-for-him-but-pretty-much-no-one-else second.

Nov. 20 — Italy 1-0 USMNT (in Belgium) — The Yanks close off their season by wasting a prime performance from Ethan Horvath, with Sebastian Lletget losing track of Inter Milan youngster Matteo Politano on a stoppage time goal.

So what did we learn, huh?

— Well, there are still major questions as to who is going to line up next to John Brooks, whether in a back three or four, for the next run of World Cup qualifying.

— And what about in goal? Ethan Horvath has made a claim to the job presumably heading to Zack Steffen, and either goalkeeper could literally spend the better part of a decade in the job.

— DeAndre Yedlin was once presumed the right back for the next decade, but his performances in a USMNT shirt have been haphazard at best. Can a new coach get him in line with his performances for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle, or might Reggie Cannon or Shaq Moore be in play.

— The U.S. still doesn’t have an experienced left back, and perhaps this will all be about Antonee Robinson learning on the job (though Moore was perfectly fine playing out-of-position against Italy).

— Is it two center mids or three, and is Michael Bradley coming back into the fold?Because Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are penciled in for a while, and Kellyn Acosta has had fits and starts. Wil Trapp clearly also has a fan club in the USMNT hierarchy, and his club head coach is probably getting the job. So…. 4-1-4-1?

— Here’s something we already knew: This team goes as far as Christian Pulisic takes them.

— If Josh Sargent doesn’t start getting more meaningful playing time and Bobby Wood keeps living on his plateau, then you’re gonna be real mad when Jozy Altidore is striker No. 1 next summer.

So who is the USMNT’s Best XI right now?

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There was, let’s say, consternation in USMNT circles when Tyler Adams was not included in the Starting XI against England, and more when the Yanks fell 3-0 at Wembley to England’s second-choice stars.

Interim coach Dave Sarachan, who’s done a fine job all things considered, deprived U.S. supporters of the chance to watch key pieces Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Adams together in their senior shirts.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

It probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Adams was decent in his limited action, but Wil Trapp wasn’t a nightmare in captaining the squad. But it does show that the side still has a question of who fits in their peak 11.

Let’s start with the “no one’s debating this unless they’re Bruce Arena” aspect of this: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Adams, John Brooks, and Zack Steffen are no doubters. DeAndre Yedlin is very close to a no-doubter despite bad performances in his last two caps, and Bobby Wood makes the cut because Josh Sargent is yet to get any real first team experience at Werder Bremen and Jozy Altidore‘s just completed an injury-riddled 2018.

Zack Steffen

DeAndre Yedlin — XX — John Brooks — XX

Christian Pulisic — Weston McKennie — Tyler Adams — XX

XX — Bobby Wood

Who fills those spots?

CB2 — Geoff Cameron is still probably the best America has aside from Brooks, though Aaron Long has impressed and Matt Miazga has put in more good performances than bad for the club and country. Walker Zimmerman is on the up, too.

LB — Haha. Haha. Hahahahahaha. The endless question of American soccer purgatory. There’s hope that Antonee Robinson will continue to progress at Everton (currently on loan at Wigan) but the only other options are sincerely veteran: Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow, and believe it or not Edgar Castillo (I am conveniently leaving out sueno, Jorge Villafana, in that he’s rarely impressed me at the international level).

Maybe we need to go to a back three.

LM — Neither Julian Green, Kenny Saief, nor Tim Weah have shown the diligence in tracking/marking to outwardly lay claim to this, and there aren’t a ton of true left midfielders who could lay claim to this. Could we cheat a little and use Kellyn Acosta here? Maybe…

ST2 — Is Josmer healthy? This is still Altidore, then, but the best beyond him are either young and unproven or also injured (Jordan Morris, Sargent, Andriya Novakovich). Weah could also be played here if he’s not used at left mid.

Have your answers? Cool, well we are taking our own advice and going for a back three. Let’s fill those blanks after this photo of Harry Winks and Tim Weah.

 (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Zack Steffen

John Brooks — Matt Miazga — Aaron Long

DeAndre Yedlin — Weston McKennie — Tyler Adams — Kellyn Acosta

Christian Pulisic — Bobby Wood — Tim Weah

Bench: Ethan Horvath, Danny Williams, Wil Trapp, Josh Sargent, Kenny Saief, Walker Zimmerman, Eric Lichaj.

Is that squad qualifying for a World Cup? Yes. Is it hanging with Mexico? Probably not, but that’s why we lean on the hope in room for growth in a young team.

Now since we’ve gotten to the meat of it, let’s then imagine the USMNT’s XI should the side not have embarrassed itself by not qualifying for the World Cup. How many names would be different?

In that instance, it would not have totally torn itself up over the past 13 months. Yes, it would’ve given the kids a chance, but names like Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore would not have been largely ignored by whoever’s been in charges. Wins would’ve still mattered quite a bit.

So while all these men wouldn’t have necessarily been called up this week to face England and Italy, here’s an XI of players who are likely the Yanks’ very best chance of winning a do-or-die match right now (And yes, we know Geoff Cameron is playing center mid for QPR at the moment. And don’t laugh: 30-year-old winger Fabian Johnson is contributing fairly regularly for the No. 2 team in the Bundesliga).

I’ll save you the everpresent comment of “Oh, man, (insert Jozy or Bradley here), enough with that. It’s over.” There, I said it for you. Now let’s get back to theoretical, right now, win or go home match.

Zack Steffen

DeAndre Yedlin — Geoff Cameron — John Brooks — Justin Morrow

Danny Williams — Michael Bradley

Christian Pulisic — Weston McKennie — Fabian Johnson

Jozy Altidore

Three things we learned: England v. USMNT

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LONDON — England beat the U.S. men’s national team 3-0 at Wembley on Thursday, as Gareth Southgate‘s much-changed side started strongly and held the young Americans at arms length for much of the contest.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Match recap ]

First half goals from Jesse Lingard and Trent Alexander-Arnold set England on their way, while Callum Wilson scored a debut goal to make it 3-0 in the second half. Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood had great chances to score in each half, but Dave Sarachan’s USMNT didn’t really get going in front of almost 70,000 fans at the home of soccer.

Here’s what we learned from a rough outing for the USMNT as Wayne Rooney said farewell to England with a win.


PULISIC LOOKS A LITTLE JADED

In the build-up to this game, Christian Pulisic just didn’t seem too happy. He met with various media outlets in the UK to discuss how he is the future star of U.S. Soccer and how the hopes of a nation are on his shoulders and so on and so forth, which is nothing he hasn’t heard before. But maybe it was the fact he was an unused sub for Borussia Dortmund in their big 3-2 win against Bayern Munich before the international break, or maybe he, like most U.S. fans, is struggling to get excited about this program right now.

Pulisic — who was playing for the U.S. for the first time since May and just the second time in 13 months — could have been the hero for the USMNT at Wembley. In the 24th minute he was clean through after a mix-up in the England defense but when faced with Jordan Pickford one-on-one, his strike lacked conviction and Pickford saved well. Pulisic then switched off for England’s first goal, just moments later, as he allowed England to find Lingard on the inside left channel and the Manchester United winger curled home. He played on the right in the first half but drifted inside in the second half and got on the ball more, with a few more clever flicks and crosses, but his touch looked off and he didn’t have that spark we’ve seen time and time again.

There is no doubt that this is still Pulisic’s team moving forward, but the USMNT’s 20-year-old sensation seems a little jaded right now. After several injuries early in the 2018-19 campaign, you can understand why.

Ahead of the game Pulisic told Pro Soccer Talk, among other U.S. outlets, that a new head coach should be “someone who has a plan and someone who has an idea of how we want to play moving forward.” Right now the lack of direction is clear for the USMNT as Dave Sarachan has done the best he can on an interim basis, but Gregg Berhalter’s impending arrival should be sped up as quickly as possible. Pulisic and the other USMNT youngsters need to know what the plan is moving forward.


3-5-2 BEST FIT FOR THIS USMNT SQUAD

Antonee Robinson going down with an untimely injury ahead of this game could have changed Dave Sarachan’s tactical plan considerably. Away at France in June the USMNT played in a 3-5-2 formation and looked solid in a 1-1 draw. Yes, they suffered tough moments defensively but they stood tall and grabbed a draw. Against an England reserve team, they never really looked in this. Before Pulisic had his big chance England could have had at least two goals and they got behind DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana way too easily.

The two USMNT fullbacks may not be totally to blame for that as Pulisic and Weah ahead of them did not dig in and do their defensive work in the first half. Julian Green looked totally off the pace in support of Bobby Wood in what turned into a 4-4-2 formation at times. Tyler Adams (somehow left out of the starting lineup) alongside Wil Trapp and Weston McKennie in central midfield would give the U.S. a better balance, while Robinson and Yedlin down the flanks as wing backs allows them to be at their attacking best without worrying about tracking back too much. Against the so-called elite teams, a 3-5-2 formation should be the go-to setup for the USMNT moving forward.


ENGLAND SHOW WHY ROONEY WAS RIGHT TO RETIRE

Wayne Rooney came on after 58 minutes for his 120th and final cap for England and was given a wonderful reception by the home fans at Wembley. Before the game England’s all-time leading goalscorer was given a guard of honor by both sets of players as he walked out onto the Wembley pitch with his children and was applauded. Rooney has more caps than the entire England starting lineup put together, as the magnitude of his service over the years was clear for all to see.

The way this England reserve side performed in this game, especially in the first half, proved why Rooney was right to call time on his international career in August 2017. The pace and power of Sancho, Lingard, Wilson and Alli ripped the U.S. defense apart and if you think that Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane are in reserve, it shows you the incredible depth of England’s attacking options. None of them are quite like Rooney, and his unique skillset is still valued in the game. But Southgate’s young Three Lions side are now about pace and power rather than the cerebral beauty of Rooney’s passes and touch.

Every time he got the ball England’s fans urged him to shoot, and Rooney came close twice late on, but in the end this night showcased exactly why he stepped away from the Three Lions after 13 years of playing for them. A legendary career came to an end at the appropriate time.

England v USMNT preview

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  • First time England, USA meet since 2010 World Cup
  • Rooney to wear no.10 jersey for England, captain side
  • Christian Pulisic to return for USMNT

The U.S. national team continue their gruelling set of friendly matches in 2018 by facing No.5 ranked England at Wembley on Thursday.

[ MORE: Pulisic ready to lead USMNT ]  

To thicken the plot around this game, Wayne Rooney is coming out of retirement for one final game for England as the Three Lions’ all-time leading goalscorer will make his 120th and final appearance. Rooney, 33, will come on as a second half sub and wear the captains armband, his famous number 10 jersey and also receive a guard of honor.

[ MORE: USMNT’s star trio align at Wembley ]  

It is highly likely the USMNT”s interim head coach Dave Sarachan will take charge of his final two matches for the U.S. against England and then Italy next Tuesday, with Gregg Berhalter widely expected to take charge in the coming weeks.

On the pitch, Christian Pulisic will play for the U.S. national team for the first time since May and just the second time in the past 13 months, as he links up with Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie for the first time in the senior team.


Team news

England will start with Fabian Delph, who will captain the team, while the likes of Jadon Sancho and Callum Wilson are also expected to start with the Three Lions facing a crucial UEFA Nations League clash against Croatia on Sunday. Gareth Southgate will use plenty of his second-string players against the USMNT.

Antonee Robinson is the latest USMNT player to miss the friendlies against England and Italy through injury. The Everton defender (on loan at Wigan) rolled his ankle in training and the English born left back will not feature in either game. Josh Sargent trained on his own on Wednesday at Wembley and was described as “day-to-day” by Sarachan.


What they’re saying

Dave Sarachan on his message for the young USMNT players: “The message will be the same: enjoy the moment, play without fear, compete. Have 90 minutes of football that is something you will remember. They are not afraid and they are excited.”

Gareth Southgate on England’s competition for places: “I think we have put young players in whatever situation it has been. We played young players in the World Cup and in Seville last month so it doesn’t really matter what the situation is. If the players are good enough we will play them. That competition for places is really intense and we need that because the challenge since the World Cup has been embraced by the players and we have had some good results against some top teams.”


Prediction

The U.S. national team will come up against a weakened England side on Thursday and that will enhance their chances of causing a huge upset. That said, England are in the top five of the world rankings for a reason and even their so-called “B team” this will be a huge test for a young USMNT squad. A 3-1 win to England, with Rooney wrapping up the victory with a goal off the bench, seems about right.