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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

U.S. U-23s have talent, experience to exorcise Olympic qualifying demons

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Let’s begin here: If the United States fails to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in men’s soccer, it should probably abandon the U-23 program.

That’s pretty haughty considering the Yanks have failed to qualify in three of the last four tournaments including the 2012 Games in the United Kingdom and 2016 edition in Brazil, but consider the talent on show for this March’s friendlies against Egypt and the Netherlands in Spain.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up v. Ecuador? ]

There are Bundesliga upstarts Josh Sargent and Haji Wright, not to mention Celtic’s Tim Weah. Chicago Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is in the fold, as are defenders Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson.

And, oh yeah, they’ll get to add three Over-23 players while also potentially including several eligible players currently with the U-20s, full USMNT, or not called into March camp (Jonathan Lewis, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jonathan Amon, Luca de Torre). Even if the opposite happens and guys make the full USMNT or get injured, there’s depth here and plenty of it.

There have always been names when the Yanks have failed in qualifying, but hardly these degrees of depth and experience. In 2016 qualifying, Matt Miazga, Wil Trapp, and Emerson Hyndman were on the squad which couldn’t get the job done. 2012 saw Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd, and Bill Hamid.

But this group could be special, favored not just to qualify but to rival others for a spot on the podium. The hiring of longtime MLS boss Jason Kreis to oversee the group is another good decision, and he’ll have this crop of players (and more) from which to select his lineups.

Goalkeepers: Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose)

Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Jack Maher (Indiana University), Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United), Donovan Pines (DC United), Lucas Pos (Lausanne), Antonee Robinson (Wigan), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)

Midfielders: Derrick Jones (Philadelphia), Cameron Lindley (Orlando City), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Keaton Parks (NYCFC), Eryk Williamson (Portland), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)

Forward: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Josh Perez (LAFC), Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Tim Weah (Celtic), Haji Wright (Schalke).

Jason Kreis hired as United States U-23 head coach

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The United States youth national team announced on Tuesday that it has hired Jason Kreis as head coach, with the former Major League Soccer boss taking charge ahead of the run towards qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

Considered a candidate for the senior national team job before Gregg Berhalter was hired, Kreis spent 11 years as a head coach in MLS in charge of Real Salt Lake, NYCFC, and Orlando City.

“Jason’s qualities and experience made him stand out as the best candidate to lead our U-23 Men’s National Team in this important cycle towards the 2020 Olympics,” said USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart. “The U-23s are a significant part of our program, and Jason is an experienced head coach with significant success both in league and Concacaf competitions. His knowledge of the player pool is impressive, and we are confident in his ability to implement the style of play we are building with the senior MNT and throughout our national teams. We appreciate the willingness of Inter Miami CF to allow us the opportunity to take advantage of Jason’s abilities to guide this group.”

According to ESPN soccer journalist Doug McIntyre, Kreis was not Stewart’s first choice for the position, but did not mention who was.

Kreis will take charge with the team ramping up its preparation for Olympic qualification. He has already selected a squad for training camp this week in Spain, with friendlies against Egypt and the Netherlands to come on March 22 and 24. The tournament to decide CONCACAF qualifiers will take place in October. The United States has not made an Olympics since 2008.

The U-23 squad for training camp this week features Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Antonee Robinson, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Djordje Mihailovic.

Man City completes epic three-goal comeback to top Swansea in FA Cup

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Sergio Aguero scored in the 88th minute to complete a three-goal comeback as Manchester City tops Swansea City 3-2 in FA Cup action on Saturday.

20 minutes in, the Swans stunned the Premier League leaders by scoring twice in the opening half-hour to take an early 2-0 lead. Fabian Delph scythed down Connor Roberts in the box and Matt Grimes buried an emphatic penalty to take the lead and set the Liberty Stadium alight.

Nine minuets later, the Swans doubled the lead with an absolutely stunning buildup that made the home side look more like the visitors. As Swansea produced a glittering counter, Daniel James cut inside from the left flank and fed Nathan Dyer who touched to Bersant Celina to finished fabulously with a curler.

Celina, a Kosovo international and former Man City youth product, scored in his third straight FA Cup game and Swansea secured a 2-0 lead into halftime.

The visitors needed a bit of luck to find their way back in, and they got that with 21 minutes to go as the ball took a few Man City bounces in the box and it fell to Aguero who found Bernardo Silva for the opener. United States international Cameron Carter-Vickers was then called for a foul on Raheem Sterling with 15 minutes to go, and it put Aguero at the spot.

While the Argentine’s penalty struck the left post and bounded parallel to the goal mouth, it deflected off goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt‘s leg and found its way in to level the score.

Then, the controversy. In the 88th minute, Aguero bagged the winning strike as he redirected Bernardo Silva’s cross into the back of the net with his head, having beat Carter-Vickers to the ball. Replays, however, showed that Aguero was clearly leaning offside on the delivery.

The play was not reviewed, as while VAR is made available at some of the FA Cup matches as the English governing body continues to slowly roll out the new technology, this match was not one of those, leaving the referees exposed to their own mistakes. Nevertheless, Manchester City is moving on to the FA Cup semifinals, while Swansea will refocus on the Championship where they sit 15th in the table.

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)