The United States men’s national team announced that star striker Jozy Altidore has withdrawn from camp ahead of CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada, meaning he’ll miss the chance to play for the squad at the home of his club.
Altidore, 29, has the ninth-most caps in American history (115) and his 42 goals are 15 shy of the record shared by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. He was set to feature along with Michael Bradley when the Yanks meet Canada at BMO Field on Tuesday.
When healthy, he’s still a force for the Stars and Stripes and scored 11 times with eight assists in 22 MLS appearances for Toronto FC this season. The Reds have a playoff date looming with DC United on Oct. 19, and are 4-4-4 when Altidore doesn’t play this season (9W-6L-7T when he does).
Altidore went uncapped in 2018 and missed plenty of the Copa America Centenario in 2016. He has a goal and an assist for Berhalter in five appearances.
His injury means more playing focus on Josh Sargent and Gyasi Zardes, and perhaps an increased role for Corey Baird. Jordan Morris has been excellent as a wing, but could also play as a center forward if needed.
A passionate, perhaps even fiery bit of conference call USMNT small talk prior to a Wednesday’s staff meeting inspired us to bring the conversation to the ProSoccerTalk space.
It started with a hot USMNT topic: Whether there’s real danger of Ajax starting right back Sergino Dest throwing his years of history with the USMNT youth development program away to focus on earning a place with the celebrated Dutch national team, so we’ll start there.
Sergino Dest has two caps for the United States and a longstanding history with the youth national team set-up. He is not 19 until March and starting at right back for Ajax.
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being no danger of his leaving for the Netherlands and 10 being he’s going to reject USMNT for the Oranje before Gregg Berhalter can cap-tie him next month, what do your rate his chances of being a USMNT player well into the future and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: 5/10. He starts for Ajax at right back and he should be the USMNT’s long-term full back in that area. No questions about it. But the fact the Netherlands are already sniffing around says a lot about his talent, plus Dest probably wasn’t best pleased with being chucked in at left back by Berhalter.
The Dutch national team needs some cover in full back areas and Ronald Koeman isn’t scared to promote young players quickly. I think we’ve seen Dest in a USMNT jersey for the final time, and that is why I’m giving this a 5/10. If there wasn’t the possibility of losing him to the Netherlands, it would be a 9/10.
Nick Mendola: 6/10. We have to hope that Dest is a bit myopic and excited about the prospect of latching onto a starting spot for a half-decade or more. While the 18-year-old is still a bundle of potential, he’s also played in six matches between the Eredivisie and UEFA Champions League for the biggest club in the Eredivisie. Put into perspective: He turns 19 in November, and is a regular contributor to a Starting XI with national team starters for the Netherlands, Argentina, Mexico, Serbia, Morocco, and Cameroon. Also, they haven’t lost a match he’s played this season.
If I’m Dest and have interest in the Netherlands, am I willing to bet on myself at the expense of not playing in the CONCACAF Nations League? Really it comes down to how often he’s envisioned himself a USMNT player, and how long he’s willing to wait out Holland, because Ajax isn’t a place where careers go to die. Rather, it’s often the platform that launches them to even bigger places. The Dutch team’s starters this break were Denzel Dumfries wide in a 3-5-2 and Joel Veltman, a CB a Ajax, in the 4-4-2. It’s not a long jump to Dest.
Kyle Bonn: 3/10. He’s simply not good enough to play regularly for the Netherlands right now, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll develop the defensive consistency to ever be an option for them. He starts now for the United States because full-back remains, along with DM, a position of horrid depth for the national team, but he has a long way to go for a spot with the Netherlands. He has lots of promise, and that may cause the Dutch federation to try and turn his head, but I think he sticks with the U.S.
Dan Karell:3/10. Obviously this is similar to the Jonathan Gonzalez situation, except the main difference is Dest has actually been capped. Yes, Nick, he’s been played on the wrong side of the field for him, but the U.S. coaching staff clearly values him and wants him to know they’ll find a way to get him in the lineup one way or another. The Netherlands, though they do often cap a lot of young players, can’t do that. Plus, as of today, is Dest ahead of Denzel Dumfries or Hans Hoteboer, another recent Netherlands call-up? Probably not.
Which player in the pool is the most difficult to replace? You cannot say Christian Pulisic.
Joe Prince-Wright: Tyler Adams. He is so solid and reliable that he is the kind of player you don’t realize how good he is until he’s gone. For Gregg Berhalter, Adams’ intelligence on and off the ball is particularly important. He plugs gaps defensively and is good enough on the ball to get attacks going. The USMNT need Adams to be fit over the next few years if they’re going to make the 2022 World Cup.
Nick Mendola: I want to say John Brooks, but his recent injury history means they’ve been “replacing” him for so long that he barely qualifies as an answer to the question. As the architect of this question, I’ll cheat in response and say there is not one player outside of Pulisic who answers this question well (yet. Let’s hope Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, or Dest change my mind).
Kyle Bonn: Michael Bradley. Yep, I said it. As we’ve seen with Wil Trapp, the United States player pool has struggled mightily to produce a holding midfielder that can cover the back line and also distribute forward. While Bradley isn’t at his best defending, he’s far better than teacher’s pet Trapp, and he can distribute with the best of them, something the US sorely misses with Bradley off the pitch. He’s indispensable for this squad, partly because he can still ball – despite what people say about him – and partly because the player pool is so absurdly thin at maybe the most important position in the modern game.
Dan Karell: It’s gotta be Tyler Adams or really, Michael Bradley. Many USMNT fans have wanted Bradley and Jozy Altidore to be banished from the national team after playing a role in the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but in the case of both, and really with Bradley, there hasn’t been a better player stepping up. From 2013-2015, it was hoped that Trapp could be that player, but in 2019, after a few years of stagnation with the Columbus Crew, it’s clear Trapp isn’t good enough to push Bradley out the door.
Which USMNT player is getting too much abuse from the fans and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: Probably Gyasi Zardes. Has he got the best first touch? No. Is he the best finisher on the planet? No. But he works hard, in my opinion he is better suited out wide and then cutting in to impact the play and he is a handful when on form. Zardes isn’t as bad as he’s being made out to be.
Nick Mendola: It’s Zardes. He’s a place holder as we wait for Josh Sargent to climb up to Jozy Altidore’s level, and fans can’t help but judge him. Honestly, he should be getting these call-ups right now and his status as a former Crew star under Berhalter makes it a bit too easy to claim he should be further down the depth chart. Put plainly, the USMNT center forward pool has no one else beyond Altidore, Sargent, and Tim Weah. Bobby Wood and Andrija Novakovich have stalled, and Aron Johannsson hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Kyle Bonn: Jozy Altidore. Michael Bradley gets a close second here (see above) but Jozy quite frankly receives a TON of abuse for the leading goalscorer in U.S. history. For a player who has given so much to this national team and been a consistent provider of not just goalscoring but also a team-first attitude, the crowd who slights him is vast. It’s simply not fair. While Josh Sargent is the future of the striker spot with the national team, Jozy Altidore is still the best option when healthy and fit.
Dan Karell: Is there any one player? Will it ever end? It’s probably Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp. At this point, both players hit their ceiling a while ago and there’s no point in complaining about them, we know what they can, and can’t, do. Perhaps Jordan Morris has gotten a little too much stick too. The man is coming off a torn ACL and when a lot of his game was predicated on speed, it’s not easy to find that old speed/form back again after a major surgery like that. Fans just assume you return to 100% and it just never works like that.
Which player currently outside the USMNT picture should be getting a look?
Joe Prince-Wright:Danny Williams is an interesting character and seems to have that nasty streak the USMNT are missing in midfield. With his experience in the Bundesliga, English Championship and Premier League, I’d say he’s worth a shot in central midfield. If his injuries calm down, the likes of McKennie and Adams could have a true destructive force alongside them who they can work off.
Nick Mendola: Hmmmm. We’re another few weeks of solid Julian Green performances from his being the answer, and there’s an argument to be made he’s already the answer. Johnson is a good shout, but is he like Nagbe and not interested in playing under Berhalter? I’m going to stick with Green. He’s 24, a top player in the 2.Bundesliga, and has goals against Belgium and France on his resume. How is he not one of the 40-some players to get a call from GB?
Kyle Bonn: Fabian Johnson. A regular starter for a top-half Bundesliga side isn’t even in the mix. That’s absurd. He hasn’t really produced the consistent career many expected from him about 6 years ago, but given Berhalter’s struggles to find consistency in the lineup, it’s maddening that Johnson has all but been forgotten. And Josh Sargent needs to become a regular in this squad. Now. Not just for friendlies.
Dan Karell: It’s kind of hard to say, because the players that are constantly missing but would normally make it are always injured. John Brooks. Matt Miazga, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah, McKennie/Pulisic in the past. Perhaps one player who deserves another look – for me – is Jonathan Lewis. He’s always injected some energy and pace late into matches and I really think he can be a game-changer. He just has to leave the smoldering crater that is the Colorado Rapids.
Mix Diskerud, just for his flowing locks of hair…kidding! He’s been injured since the summer, but I’d love to see Duane Holmes get a run out there from the start. Another player I’m excited that is finally back is Sebastian “Da Boy” Lletget. He’s dynamic, great under pressure, and a talented 8 that should help the U.S. out. It will be interesting to see whether he tries moving abroad this offseason or signs a new deal in MLS.
Is the USMNT on the right path? Why or why not?
Joe Prince-Wright: Not yet, and they are a long way from getting to a point where I’m saying ‘you know what, I can see the light and I like it.’ Berhalter’s philosophy is clear and it is worrying these group of players haven’t picked it up. And that is the main problem. He isn’t getting the chance to drill these tactics into the same group of players day in, day out. The US are trying to possess the ball but a lot of the players being selected don’t seem to be as comfortable on it as they should be. At what point does Berhalter say: ‘my fundamentals aren’t working with the squad I have at my disposal?’ Probably never. And that’s the biggest issue facing the USMNT in the months ahead.
Nick Mendola: The program is moving in the right direction, from the youth levels upward, but whether Berhalter’s program is on the up will lead you to the antacid aisle. I’m leaning toward no. It’s only been nine months, but the signs of progress are only when compared to his first month on the job. Saying the side is better than it was under Bruce Arena or Jurgen Klinsmann would be an unfair comparison (Their best players, like Pulisic, are simply maturing).
I think it’s probable the Yanks will not fail to qualify for another World Cup in our lifetimes unless CONCACAF is combined with CONMEBOL. It’s really, truly difficult to put together our population, resources, and confederation and be left with failure in Couva (Something that, still, needed a ghost goal for Panama to knock the Yanks out of the running). But if you put this team in a “Group of Death” right now, I’d mark them down for a first round exit and at least one extremely ugly loss.
My hope is health and a general manager. Berhalter needs counsel in who he calls up, and someone willing to tell him when he’s letting his ego override reality (Out-of-form MLS players probably shouldn’t get the call over in-form ones from any league, for example). And we’d like Berhalter a whole lot more if Tyler Adams and John Brooks had been available to him for more than a handful of combined matches.
Kyle Bonn: That’s probably not a question that can be answered in one or even two parts. The USMNT is on the right track given there is still time before World Cup qualifying, and Berhalter is looking to find what players fit not only his vision, but also fit together as more than a sum of the parts. In addition, the youth talent is probably at a higher level than we’ve seen with this federation in a LONG time, there is little debating that.
The performances, however, paint a picture that the process is likely to take longer than the U.S. has time for. Berhalter at this point needs to take what’s in front of him and transition quickly from a performance-based coach to a results-based coach. The experimentation period is almost over. Time to start acting like it.
Dan Karell:Yes. Fans are fickle and have short memories. Remember when Mexico almost didn’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup? Mexico in 2013 was AWFUL. Meanwhile, the U.S. were in a really good spot. We had Michael Bradley, Tim Howard (and Brad Guzan), Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron in their prime, and there was also Clint Dempsey, Herc Gomez, and Jermaine Jones. While Dempsey and Jones were on the way down, they were still star players who you could count on for goals or securing a result.
Could Matt Miazga, Aaron Long, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and Josh Sargent develop into those stars? Sure. But they’re not there now, and it may take 2-3 years. For Mexico, it’s taken a few years for Raul Jimenez and Hector Herrera to grow into World Class stars, and they have more players than ever playing and testing themselves in Europe, with others right on their tails in Liga MX. It’s cyclical in nature. The U.S. is at the bottom of the roller coaster. Only one way to go. Up!
The United States men’s national team tangles with Mexico on Friday in its latest attempt at building toward the 2022 World Cup.
Rivals El Tri are bringing a Golden Generation-based roster to the party, and the weaknesses of Mexico are, well, very very few.
The USMNT is another story. Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks may well be on pace for a Golden Generation itself should Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Josh Sargent continue to progress and mature with top level experience, and there are a bevy of young players like FC Dallas’ Paxton Pomykal and Ajax’s Sergino Dest who, too, inspire hope for the short-term and long-term.
STRENGTH: The midfield
This feels so good to say. After a few years of Michael Bradley dipping in form and coaches hoping Wil Trapp is the answer, the Yanks now have multiple players delivering on a high level for club and country. That allows Bradley to, at worst, be a terrific depth asset.
Christian Pulisic is on pace to become the best attacking player in USMNT history — a mantle we believe currently resides with Clint Dempsey — and Weston McKennie is a complete player and one of Schalke’s most important. Tyler Adams is the “right back” in Berhalter’s formation, but he’s a midfielder in possession and a very good one.
Alfredo Morales is getting his latest chance to impress, Pomykal is a delightful young prospect who may eventually allow Pulisic to play out wide, and Julian Green’s 2.Bundesliga heroics have not even been enough to get a call-up. That’s depth (or questionable call-ups, but we’ll get to that).
WEAKNESS: Left back
Gregg Berhalter has attempted to short-circuit a weakness that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s prime, a void unfilled by Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jorge Villafana, Edgar Castillo, Justin Morrow, Greg Garza, and a host of out-of-position prayers unanswered. Berhalter’s ideal back four is not traditional, with Tyler Adams or another right back defending in that spot but moving into the midfield in possession. So far, Tim Ream has been okay as a LCB, but the team still badly needs a strong, true, speedy man on the left.
STRENGTH: The coach, in-game
Just look at what Caleb Porter, a decent-enough MLS coach in his own right, has done with Columbus since taking over for Berhalter, who was clearly making a fine meal out of lesser ingredients. There’s a chance that his desire to be a possession-based monster won’t work out at the USMNT level, but he’s such a good coach that it would be stunning if he didn’t find a fix.
WEAKNESS: The coach, in selection
Look, every coach has his or her favorites. Berhalter coached Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp at Columbus, and both continue to get called up to the team. Zardes is a serviceable player who out-performs his advanced stats and finishes goals. He’s the 2019 Chris Wondolowski (even if Chris Wondolowski is still active in 2019). Trapp is, well, one of Berhalter’s favorites.
There is a clear desire or preference from Berhalter to see Major League Soccer players make it work. For now, that’s kinda okay. But see this below chart with the ratings of American players amongst their peers in MLS across three different online rating services. Berhalter is calling up players who sit outside the Top 100 in form in MLS this season.
Hopefully, whoever Earnie Stewart hires to be the new USMNT GM will help. I mean, at least reward the American player having the best season of all Yanks in MLS (It’s FC Dallas’ 28-year-old Ryan Hollingshead, by the way).
If you’re playing in @MLS, it’s about Berhalter thinking he can get WAY more out of players than they are showing in league play.
Also, form. Baird is ranked between 234-335 amongst all players in MLS but has 3 goals in the last 2 weeks. So he’s in, I guess.#USMNTpic.twitter.com/i28yfnK0rD
We’d love to say center back is a strength in general, but right now it would be almost exclusively on behalf of the Wolfsburg monster. Brooks is a terrific passer with excellent vision, strong instincts, and tactical understanding. When healthy, he’s been a good Bundesliga center back. His last season and the start of this one have sputtered a bit, but at 26 it’s reasonable to think he’s just now finding his prime.
WEAKNESS: Goalkeeper (for now?)
Zack Steffen is the No. 1 goalkeeper in the USMNT pool. The youngster is back in Europe, on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf from Manchester City, and getting loads of shots fired at him by Bundesliga opposition. He’s a tremendous shot stopper who is improving in possession despite the mistakes we’ve seen in a U.S. shirt. Fellow young goalkeepers Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Jonathan Klinsmann (FC St. Gallen) are not first choice at their clubs. And for as good as veterans Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson are between the sticks, neither meets the class of prime Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, or Tim Howard, clearly elite backstops who capable of the most wondrous of performances.
Look, some of this has to do with shiny new objects yet to crack in front of our eyes, but things are looking from Pomykal to Miles Robinson in MLS, Sergino Dest to Chris Gloster overseas (And don’t even get us started on the way too young but way too exciting Giovani Reyna, Borussia Dortmund’s son of one of the best American players to ever don the shirt).
The Olympic qualifying failures are hopefully in the past, and the U-20 World Cup sides have been fun to watch for years. Say what you will about the USSF under Klinsmann, Arena, Berhalter, whoever, but the prospects are being developed better both here and abroad than ever before.
WEAKNESS: Center forward (for now)
Prolific big man Jozy Altidore isn’t with the USMNT this camp due to Toronto FC commitments, and has struggled to stay healthy (He’s an absolute CONCACAF killer). Lille’s Tim Weah is also hurt, and may well be the answer here, but all eyes will be on Josh Sargent. The Werder Bremen teen is coming off his first goal of the Bundesliga season, and capable of turning this weakness to strength the minute if his elite prospect meter pushes into full throttle starter (Read the latest on Sargent here). Everyone else already has a clear flaw in their game, even Altidore’s fitness qualifies here. Gyasi Zardes is a good finisher with a very decent engine, but his poor stats in many other categories aren’t lying. Bobby Wood has dropped off the map, Andrija Novakovich is still not a fixture at Reading and on another loan, and Jordan Morris now clearly a winger.
For the last seven years, Eden Hazard has graced the Chelsea touchline with a spectacular brilliance, ebbing and flowing through midfielders and around defenders like water in a babbling brook splashes and curls around the rocks in its path.
With Hazard off to Real Madrid, Chelsea reluctantly must begin anew. A new winger has arrived, not to take Hazard’s place – an impossible task in and of itself – but to write his own legacy and build his own following at the London club, one that can blaze a trail no American has trekked before.
Premier League stardom.
Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, DeAndre Yedlin, and others have proven Americans belong at the highest level, but none have achieved the kind of recognition that Pulisic is capable of achieving. None have done what Christian Pulisic hopes to do – shed his nationality and become not an American in the Premier League, but simply a goalscoring and creative force in England’s top flight.
Pulisic has the ability to produce enough brilliance that no longer will Americans have to “blaze a trail” in Europe or “reach new heights” because the Hersey-born kid will have set the bar high enough to erase those terms from the lexicon. This is not to say that Pulisic will win the Ballon d’Or, or that he will become a club legend with the likes of Lampard or Drogba or even Hazard – that much sustained brilliance is in and of itself impossible to predict, for that is precisely what makes a particular career so legendary.
No, the American simply has to be himself, for Borussia Dortmund and U.S. National Team fans have already seen what he can do when his excellence is allowed freedom of expression. If Frank Lampard and Chelsea allow Pulisic the same autonomy showed to Hazard, they shall reap the rewards of his inate exuberance and boyish glee. If USMNT fans have learned anything by watching Pulisic over the last few years, it is that he genuinely, authentically loves to play the game, and that love has both expression and reverberation on the pitch in both quantifiable and imperceptible results.
Yes indeed, this is unquestionably setting the bar extremely high for a player just 20 years old, a peril the American media has failed to traverse numerous times with countless talented players in the past. Yet Pulisic is intrinsically different – he no longer has to prove himself. He has withstood the beatings of CONCACAF and scaled the Yellow Wall where other Dortmund players have wilted under its immense pressure. This is as battle-tested as 20-year-olds come, and Chelsea now possesses a player capable of setting Stamford Bridge alight.
As a giant of the Premier League over the entirety of the league’s existence, the Blues have seen countless stars come and go, and Pulisic’s level of talent is not especially unique to the Stamford Bridge dressing room where so many world-class stars have come before him. Yet none of that should matter to the American youngster who doesn’t need to emulate any of the greats or look to club history for inspiration, as his best comes from within. Pulisic doesn’t need to reach the heights of Hazard to be considered a star, he just needs to do what he’s done the last three years at Borussia Dortmund and let the truly big stage and the truly bright lights do the rest.
Now, as the Premier League season draws nearer and Chelsea looks forward to its opening match against Manchester United on Sunday, all eyes will be on Pulisic – not that that’s anything new to him. Pulisic will succeed as long as he stays true to himself at Chelsea, taking with him the inspiration of his glittering predecessor but also putting his head down and doing what he does best.
Green, an England international with 12 caps to his name, came up through the Norwich City academy and played eight professional seasons with the Canaries before moving to West Ham, Queens Park Rangers, Leeds United, and Huddersfield Town before ending his career with the Blues. In total, Green amassed 267 Premier League appearances, keeping 55 clean sheets.
“Following an incredible evening in Baku on Wednesday and after a 23-year career spanning three decades, I’ve decided that now is the right time to announce my retirement from professional football,” Green said in a statement via Chelsea’s official website.
“Being part of the group and celebrations with such a special squad of players after winning the Europa League seems a fitting way to end what’s been an amazing journey for me in the game. I’ve loved every moment and feel privileged to have enjoyed the career I have. I’ve played with, and against, some of the best players in the world and have experienced so much that professional football has to offer.”
The Three Lions veteran was most well known in the United States for making an error in the 2010 World Cup against the USMNT, allowing Clint Dempsey‘s weak, speculative shot to clatter off his hands and into the back of the net. He was benched after that and did not make another World Cup appearance in his career.