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Big takeaways, winners, losers from USMNT friendlies

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For the first time in a long time, I did not have any writing responsibilities during a United States men’s national team camp. That gave me the opportunity to ask a friend to meet me out at the local soccer pub here in Buffalo and just kinda take in the match without obsessing over the player rating of each player to don a U.S. kit.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

What that allowed was a more free appraisal of how I felt about the USMNT, and frankly it was a bit surprising to see what registered in this maniacal mind.

What’s the future for the January guys who earned time in this camp?

The answer to the heading, if we’re honest, is a mixed bag.

I’ve been the first to question whether Gyasi Zardes would be called into U.S. camp with a good look at starting atop the formation for any other coach than Berhalter, who relied on him with Columbus, but the industrious if touch-trouble forward was very good for large parts of both March friendlies and played a role in both goals.

Aaron Long continues to impress at center back, to the point where it would not have been surprising if he earned another start in front of Matt Miazga.

It was less happy for Corey Baird, who at 23 still has some time to season but has not shown the requisite finishing touch to meet his fantastic engine. Nick Lima and Christian Ramirez did not feature while Jonathan Lewis only got a token call. Daniel Lovitz was good in his cameo.

We’re not in the wilderness, but a Golden Generation isn’t guaranteed

There are so many reasons to be excited as a USMNT supporter, especially if you can ignore the fact that Mexico is somehow the first and second best team in CONCACAF. Christian Pulisic is a generational player, and the side has two other 20-year-old central midfielders who are key components to their Bundesliga clubs in Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Beyond that is a strong center back in John Brooks, as well as some serious competitors to start next to him in Chelsea property Matt Miazga and the Red Bulls’ Aaron Long.

With apologies to Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin, new Man City backstop Zack Steffen, and exciting teen talents Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, it dips off a bit after that in terms of guarantees (And Weah and Sargent still have a bit to go to reach the level of even Jozy Altidore). Djordje Mihailovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Jaylin Lindsey, and Ulysses Lainez are exciting prospects, but little more than that now.

If we’re being honest, QPR’s Geoff Cameron is probably still the best partner for Brooks. And whether you hate or love Michael Bradley — more on him in a minute — you cannot say that any player has done anything to claim his place in the midfield (Hey USSF, remember Jonathan Gonzalez? Great work!).

Assuming he sticks with Adams as a right back, these is almost unquestionably the most hopeful team for 2022 given Berhalter’s formation preference. And there is A LOT of hope in hopeful given the inclusion of Weah and Sargent.

Steffen

Adams — Brooks — Long??? — Lovitz???

Bradley

McKennie — Pulisic

Weah — Altidore — Sargent

Michael freaking Bradley

This is the sixth season since Michael Bradley returned from Europe to make some big dollars in Major League Soccer, and it’s mostly been rather triumphant for Toronto FC’s captain.

The exceptions are big ones: Toronto FC failed to build on its treble-winning 2017 in MLS, spectacularly failing to make the playoffs and using Bradley as a center back for a quarter of the season, and the USMNT failing to get a draw out of Trinidad and Tobago and breaking its long streak of going to the World Cup (which is a pretty cool soccer tournament, team).

Bradley’s been quite good for TFC early this season, and Gregg Berhalter has him looking back at his best in a USMNT shirt. While Tuesday’s performance against Chile wasn’t perfect, the veteran showed a terrific range of passing including a downright ethereal bomb that Corey Baird couldn’t handle in the first half. And he did it against a midfield that included Europe-based stars Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz.

Berhalter’s plan for his deep-lying center midfielder fits Bradley to a T, and allows both Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie to take care of the “be everywhere” role that Jurgen Klinsmann expected from the No. 4 (and perhaps we should go back to credit MB90 for not lighting the coach on fire a bit more often). Wil Trapp is a solid 5.5 years younger than Bradley, but not everyone has the same level of class as the TFC man. Berhalter will be wise to consider that old Bradley in 2022 might be a step up from a second-tier holding midfielder in Qatar (or just try someone who isn’t Trapp. That could also be a thing).

It’s easy to forget that Bradley is an all-time American soccer legend given what happened in Couva; The 31-year-old has 144 caps and he’s got a solid shot to become the States’ all-time leader by the time he hangs up his boots. Bradley is 20 caps back of Cobi Jones and 13 shy of Landon Donovan’s second place spot. In the words of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, we should “forget where we differ, and get big picture.”

In other words, find me the player champing at the bit to take the place of a former Serie A starter who then led the best team in MLS history? He’s not there right now.

What’s the Best XI of players Berhalter has yet to call into camp?

Every manager has guys he serially overlooks, or at least is accused of overlooking, and critics of Jurgen Klinsmann were quick to shout the names Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan from the rooftops on occasion.

No one’s clamoring for those two this go ’round, and that’s more a generational thing than anything else, but there are still some guys who’ve been on the outside looking in (and not at U-23 or U-20 camp).

Here’s a halfway-promising (or experienced) XI to consider:

Brad Guzan

Shaq Moore — Palmer-Brown — Carter-Vickers — Kyle Duncan

Russell Canouse

Darlington Nagbe  — Memo Rodriguez

Lynden Gooch — Andrija Novakovich — Kenny Saief

Philadelphia Union teen pegs Atlanta back in 1-1 draw

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18-year-old Philadelphia Union youth product Brenden Aaronson bagged his first MLS goal as they went to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and earned a 1-1 draw with Atlanta United.

Frank De Boer, new boss of the defending champions, has come under fire for the team’s poor start to the season, and Sunday’s result will only serve to feed the critics with new ammunition. Atlanta held upwards of 70% possession through the match, but generated just two total shots on target.

The best chance of the opening half for the home side came in the 37th minute as Pity Martinez burst down the left and fed Josef Martinez who made a run down the middle splitting the center-backs. Martinez stretched to reach it, but it was just too far. His slide took him into Andre Blake and left last year’s MVP in a heap, but he came back on after a lengthy treatment.

Philadelphia had its own chance down the other end moments later as Fabrice-Jean Picault got free down the center, one-on-one with the goalkeeper Brad Guzan who he shook with a touch to the right. He had an open goal to shoot at from a tight angle to the right, but Miles Robinson made it back to clear off the line.

The opener came just two minutes after the halftime break, Aaronson created his own chance out of nothing, not closed down at the top of the box and shooting past a rooted Brad Guzan. Frank de Boer would make a 67th minute substitution to bring on Ezequiel Barco, and that would pay dividends just three minutes later as Atlanta equalized on a blistering Barco header.

Philadelphia thought it would go a man up in the 92nd minute, but the referee gave only a yellow card to Leandro Gonzalez after taking down Corey Burke who was free on goal. The ensuing free-kick sailed just agonizing inches over the bar off the foot of Haris Medunjanin. The shared points moved Atlanta to just two points on the season through the first three matches, five off the Eastern Conference leaders already. Philadelphia, meanwhile, earned its first point of the campaign with the draw.

USMNT roster unveiled as Pulisic, European stars return

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This is the first proper look at the U.S. men’s national team we have been waiting for under new head coach Gregg Berhalter.

Christian Pulisic has been named in the latest USMNT roster, as Berhalter’s first chance to call up players from his European contingent saw him jump at the chance to include the likes of Pulisic, John Brooks, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Tim Weah, Brad Guzan, Josh Sargent and Bobby Wood are a few of the surprise omissions among this squad, as 15 players from MLS feature and veteran defensive duo Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez return.

However, it is likely that Sargent, Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Djordje Mihailovic, Erik Palmer-Brown and Antonee Robinson are all lined up to be with the U-23 team, as preparations for the U-20 World Cup squad this summer continues.

Berhalter explained the thinking behind his selections, which is the last squad he will name before the 2019 Gold Cup this summer.

“Our goal is to keep making progress. Building on the themes of last camp, building on the style of play of last camp, but also now evaluating a new group of players,” Berhalter said. “We made progress in the first camp and it’s now asking if we can take it to another level. When we are done with this camp, it’s important that we have a good idea of our strongest group of players heading into the Gold Cup.”

After a strong January camp which saw the U.S. beat Panama 3-0 and Costa Rica 2-0, Berhalter’s playing style came through strongly with the group of MLS players he worked with. In these March friendlies he will aiming to kick that up a few notches and hope that the European-based players can add some extra sparkle to his possession-based style.

As for the friendlies, the first is against Ecuador in Orlando, Florida on Mar. 21, and the U.S. then host Chile in Houston, Texas on Mar. 26.

Below is the full 24-man squad.


USMNT roster for friendlies v. Ecuador, Chile

GOALKEEPERS (3)Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge, BEL; 3/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 6/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 8/0)

DEFENDERS (8): John Brooks (Wolfsburg, GER; 36/3), Omar Gonzalez (Atlas, MEX; 48/3), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 2/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 4/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact; 2/0), Matt Miazga (Reading, ENG; 11/1), Tim Ream (Fulham, ENG; 26/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United, ENG; 57/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7)Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, GER; 9/1), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, CAN; 143/17), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 7/2), Weston McKennie (Schalke, GER; 7/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, GER; 23/9), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 7/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 13/0)

FORWARDS (6): Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 19/3), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 2/0), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; 2/0), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 25/5), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 2/1), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 42/6)

MLS: Sporting KC goes wire to wire, Atlanta United pipped by Cincinnati

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Atlanta United was moments away from putting a disappointing start to the season to bed, but in a moment, that all washed away, and the worries remained as the defending champions slumped to a 1-1 draw. Josef Martinez opened his 2019 MLS account just five minutes in to pilfer the lead, but the attack was toothless the rest of the way, and they paid for it down the stretch.

In the 86th minute, Atlanta’s defense caved, sucked forward which allowed Roland Lamah to sneak through and Kenny Saief fed him perfectly. Lamah finished past a helpless Brad Guzan one-on-one and Atlanta was pegged back. While Atlanta United had lost its previous two season openers as well, but each time previously they bounced back in roaring fashion. With Frank De Boer in control, fans are restless to see the team improve in time to keep from falling behind the early leaders.

Goalkeepers reigned supreme as NYCFC and DC United played to a 0-0 draw at Yankee Stadium. Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson filled the highlight reel, putting together nine saves between the two. Hamid was by far the busier of the two, facing 21 total shots from the hosts, with six saves of shots on target. Johnson, meanwhile, put together three saves, all of them good enough to make the postgame recap. Aside from the few big goalkeeping moments, however, the two sides produced little of interest for fans, fitting of a scoreless draw.

Sporting KC picked up its first points of the season as they earned a 2-0 victory at home against the Philadelphia Union. Ilie Sanchez put the hosts ahead with an 11th minute penalty after Auston Trusty fouled Gianluca Busio in the box. Tim Meila was required to stop Marco Fabian’s penalty past the half-hour mark, diving to his right to save the low effort. After halftime, the problems for Philadelphia would compound as Fabian was sent off for stamping on Jonny Russell’s stomach, landing on him after leaping to avoid a challenge, producing a VAR review and ultimately a straight red.

Once Philadelphia fell a man down, they were toothless up front and the hosts took control. They killed off the game in the 80th minute with an own-goal by Jack Elliott hoping to touch a cross out of play but instead poking it into the back of his own net.

LAFC stayed perfect on the season with a 4-1 win over Portland thanks to a roaring second half. The two teams traded set-piece goals in the opening half-hour. Mark-Anthony met a corner with a wild header, burying it into the back of the net despite having his back to the goal to put LAFC up, while Jeremy Ebobisse beat Eduard Atuesta to meet a free-kick with his head. LAFC went back in front right before the break as a sliding Christian Ramirez met a Jordan Harvey cross.

The final 45 minutes was total domination from the home side, out-passing Portland in the attacking third 84-27 throughout the second half, and they were rewarded on the scoresheet. Carlos Vela finished the night with three assists on the first three goals as Adama Diomande put LAFC 3-1 up in the 65th minute, and Vela scored his first goal of the season for LAFC’s fourth with a wonderful chipped finish from a tight angle. Portland saw Diego Chara sent off in the 72nd minute in hilarious fashion after earning his second yellow for flicking the ear of Diego Rossi who flopped like a fish after the contact.

DC United tops defending champions Atlanta in season opening match

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Since leaving Ajax in 2016, new Atlanta United manager Frank De Boer has struggled in the early portions of his managerial tenures. He lost to Chievo in his first Serie A match in charge of Inter, he lost all four Premier League matches while leading Crystal Palace, and now he has a loss to begin his Major League Soccer tenure.

D.C. United found goals from Paul Arreola and Luciano Acosta on each side of the halftime break to win 2-0 its first match of the season and hand Atlanta a loss in the opener for the second straight year.

While Atlanta held more possession throughout the match, they managed just nine total shots with only two on target. Meanwhile, D.C. United whipped off 16 shots with six on target, keeping Brad Guzan busy. Acosta ran the midfield and was a constant threat for the Atlanta back line to deal with.

The match was scoreless until first-half added time when a corner swung in for D.C. and found the feet of Wayne Rooney on the doorstep. While he was unable to put the ball into the back of the net under heavy pressure, his mis-hit effort trickled to Arreola at the near post for a power blast and the lead.

Out of the break, the hosts doubled the lead through Acosta as the Argentinian whipped a long-range knuckler that swerved enough to throw Guzan off balance, wrong-footed and left to watch the ball roll past him into the back of the net. It was a bad moment for Guzan in a match where all eyes were on his performance after fellow USMNT international Bill Hamid had choice words before the match. “I’m better than Brad Guzan,” Hamid said on Sunday before the game.

Atlanta was never able to find a way back into the match, unable to complete a single pass in the penalty area all match despite a nearly 150 pass advantage throughout the match. D.C. United also doubled Atlanta United up on chances created, with the home side putting together 10 key passes to Atlanta’s five. Acosta and Arreola, the two goalscorers, also combined for five of D.C.’s 10 key passes as they were instrumental in the build-up.

The loss for Atlanta is not concerning at this point, given they fell 4-0 to Houston in last year’s season opener. They bounced back from that in extraordinary fashion, with a run of seven wins in eight matches before their next loss. It remains to be seen if De Boer can emulate the success under Gerardo Martino last year, but there is plenty to improve on after this performance.

For D.C., this result gives credence to fans who were excited to see if the club could recreate the success they had to finish out last season, hoping to carry that over to a full campaign.