Christian Pulisic has already shown his dedication to new club Chelsea by joining the club’s preseason tour of Japan earlier than expected, and it has made an impression on new manager Frank Lampard.
The USMNT star linked up with the squad just over a week after the Gold Cup final loss to Mexico, cutting short a vacation with his family to get as much time with his new Blues teammates and coaching staff as possible before the upcoming Premier League season. That has seen Lampard sing his praises, an important step in earning playing time amid a crowded but wide-open first-team Blues squad.
“Christian joins us on Tuesday when we get there,” Lampard said of Pulisic’s plans to join up with the squad in Japan, where they are headed after topping St. Patrick’s Athletic in Dublin, Ireland. “He is flying in separately as he has had short break but fair play, he wanted to get there quickly which I appreciate.”
“It is a huge move for him to a big club and he is a top young player who will only go one way. It was important we start the season as well as we can. I know we have injuries but we will need him. I have not met him, I have spoken to him, but it is a good impression.”
It’s a good thing that Pulisic is looking to make a mark on his new boss, because his competition is doing the same. Willian, who picked up a knock in the Copa America and did not play in the final against Peru, was not expected to make the trip to Japan at all, but is now set to link up with the squad.
Pulisic has been hard at work even during his post-Gold Cup week off, with his father posting a video of them training together on Twitter.
A handful of Premier League teams were in action on Saturday as preseason training ramps up. While many clubs are on the way to East Asia and North America, those who weren’t took part in a few matches in Europe.
The headliner was Chelsea topping St. Patrick’s Athletic, 4-0, at Richmond Park in Dublin. Olivier Giroud scored a brace, while Mason Mount and Emerson added goals as well.
It was Chelsea’s second game of the preseason and second under the watchful eye of Frank Lampard. Chelsea made wholesale changes at halftime, as all 22 players who took part each played just 45 minutes as the team grows in match fitness.
Elsewhere, Brighton defeated FC Liefering while in Austria, 5-2. Lewis Dunk, the immortal Glenn Murray, Jurgen Locadia, Leandro Trossard and Florin Andone all scored for the Premier League side. Brighton’s Graham Potter also made 11 changes at halftime, giving everyone a chance to make a good impression in front of him.
We’ll be waiting for September for the next USMNT on-field action and there are plenty of things worth monitoring when it comes to the progress of Gregg Berhalter’s men even before the next ball is struck by men in red, white and blue.
The four brightest American talents in Europe all have new coaches, as Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic (Frank Lampard), Schalke’s Weston McKennie (David Wagner), RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams (Julian Nagelsmann), and Wolfsburg’s John Brooks (Oliver Glasner) aim to impress their new bosses.
There is uncertainty for Matt Miazga, Tyler Boyd, and Zack Steffen as well. The first two don’t know whether they’ll be with their current clubs, Chelsea and Vitória de Guimarães, by August or on loan, while Steffen has to win the Fortuna Dusseldorf goalkeeper job in his return to Europe on loan from Manchester City.
Throw in Josh Sargent’s hope of winning first team time at Werder Bremen and Tim Weah’s chance to impress new owners at Lille, and this August will have something to say about the fate of the USMNT heading into September’s break. That’s all without mentioning Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin also getting a new manager.
From a calendar standpoint, what’s actually next is a pair of friendlies, expected to see Mexico and Uruguay visit the American shores in early September.
The next two international breaks hold CONCACAF Nations League matches home and away against Canada and Cuba, and the Yanks will be heavily favored to advance to the semifinals in March 2020 (If Gregg Berhalter’s men do finish behind the Canucks, well, see ya later pal).
After that, it’ll be World Cup qualifying (though we’re still waiting on the format with which CONCACAF will choose its three automatic qualifiers and one inter-confederation playoff participant for the winter 2022 tournament in Qatar).
Anyway, those Nations League matches won’t see the Yanks at full strength, at least in theory. October sees the U.S. U-23 side’s chance to qualify for and play in the Olympics for the first time since 2008.
Jason Kreis will hope to do what Andreas Herzog and Caleb Porter could not, and lead the U-23s to the Olympics.
It’s a valuable experience for a generation of players, and can be a tremendous boost for a nation which finally has its U-20 program in order and thriving at the U-20 World Cup.
Gregg Berhalter is winning over his detractors. Now he needs to start winning against Mexico.
The United States men’s national team manager failed in his first bid to win a trophy, the 2019 Gold Cup, albeit against a much better Mexico team which was highly-favored to win its eighth trophy.
There were stumbles along the way — the men clearly expected to waltz past Curacao — but the Yanks largely passed tests in paving the way to the CONCACAF Nations League and 2022 World Cup qualifying.
Let’s talk about the good and the bad. We’ll try to avoid the meh.
Necessary negatives: The extended extended extended proving ground
Imagine, for a moment, you’ve moved to another country. Hey, maybe you have. Congratulations on your international jet-setting ways.
Now you’ve found one place around the corner from your apartment where you like the food. It tastes like home. The person who runs the place knows your name and always thanks you for your business.
But now your new friends are showing you other places. They are tastier places which are also healthier for you.
Still, you keep going back to the first place. It’s served you well.
It’s called Gyasi and Wil’s Family Restaurant, and Gregg Berhalter loves the lunch special.
This was one of the prime stumbling blocks of Berhalter’s early tenure as USMNT boss and one of its only true setbacks before his questionable substitutions in the Gold Cup Final against Mexico.
Berhalter overachieved in a big way during his time as Columbus Crew boss, and that was aided in no small way by midfielder Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. One needs to look no further than Caleb Porter’s first season with a very similar Columbus roster to see just how well Berhalter did in Ohio.
But Trapp has been average at-best for the last four seasons in MLS and doesn’t have a place anywhere off the fringes of the national team pool (He’s been especially suspect this year in the United States’ top flight).
And to a lesser extent, the same is true for Zardes. Even in last year’s 20-goal season with Columbus, his stats were not wonderful (aside from the goals and yes, goals are pretty important in soccer).
Berhalter gave 17 of Trapp’s 19 caps to the midfielder, but only used him twice in the Gold Cup run (once off the bench). Trapp captained the side in his first eight caps under Berhalter, and again in June’s friendly slaughter at the hands of Salomon Rondon and Venezuela.
He’s just okay, not a mainstay, and it took Berhalter some time to realize that Michael Bradley was the far superior option despite being nowhere near his peak powers and a sudden turnover machine.
Zardes is not the answer at striker, although he put in a solid sub shift on Sunday, and Berhalter made sure he asked that question continually over the past half-year. He’s capable of the sublime and there’s currently a place for him in a 23-man roster, but that’s it. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 50 career caps, and here are the ones that come outside of CONCACAF:
Anyway, the point is not to dog Trapp and Zardes. They are pool players, but are unlikely to be regular difference makers for the USMNT. Berhalter, as is his right, gave them a loyal chance to stake a claim to their preferred places. Neither has been exceptional despite a wealth of experience in his system. The game’s not over, but it seems their role is as mid-level boss.
Pulisic is a wonder, and we wonder what’s next (Alternatively titled: Don’t hurt him, Lamps)
Christian Pulisic is a terrific player with world class potential. He is a worker, a playmaker, a finisher, and a burgeoning leader.
But the key part of this is that the kid continues to show up bigger when it matters.
Not 21 until September, Pulisic’s first Gold Cup saw him post three goals and three assists in five matches. Prior to this summer, he has seven goals and seven assists in World Cup qualifiers.
Even including his failure to meet the score sheet in the Copa America Centenario, Pulisic has 10 goals and 10 assists in 21 tournament matches for the USMNT. Compare that to three goals in nine friendlies. Guy’s a gamer.
Now he goes to Chelsea, a new club with a new manager who did not purchase him (but will surely be no stranger to his exploits). Frank Lampard will need Pulisic to show him something, but the price tag means the American will get every chance to do so.
That said, this isn’t a plea for “Lamps” to play Pulisic, rather develop him. The player is a dynamite winger, but Lampard was one of the most complete attacking midfielders of his generation. We’d argue the hiring is a good one. Let’s hope to be proven correct.
Chances taken, squandered, and everything in between
Here is a partial list of players left off the USMNT roster: John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Antonee Robinson, Paxton Pomykal, Duane Holmes, Sebastian Lletget, Russell Canouse, Andrija Novakovich, and Bobby Wood.
Some went uncalled by Gregg Berhalter, yeah, but all remain prospects to get regular spots on the team.
Of the men who were called into the squad, there are several who entered the tournament as undoubted long-term mainstays: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Zack Steffen among them. Others had a good handle on a place in the squad moving forward. While not perfect, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore ensured that they won’t be headed to the retirement unless they make that choice.
It’s difficult to get a read on Berhalter, and whether he’s dismissed a player or simply rotating according to some unnamed plan.
He benched Tyler Boyd with the U.S. in dire needed of attacking creativity against Mexico. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman were pretty decent in the tournament, so maybe he had just seen enough?
Reggie Cannon seized his opportunity to lay claim to a fullback’s place in the pool, and Boyd looked good to most of us (again, how does Berhalter really feel?). Jordan Morris had his moments.
Paul Arriola seems to have made the right impression on his coach, while Berhalter has a very high opinion of Cristian Roldan (His engine is elite, but production remains absent).
All told, the coach is doing a decent job
I’ve written a number of times that the U.S. Soccer Federation did Gregg Berhalter no favors with the mysterious hiring process, because he’s a worthy hiring.
The loss against Mexico stings but it doesn’t scar, maybe because Berhalter’s Yanks pummeled Trinidad and Tobago for a measure of revenge and staked fair claims of superiority over Panama and Jamaica.
His system is asking a lot out of this player pool, but once we see the full-throated team with John Brooks leading out of the back with his under-appreciated distribution and Tyler Adams spying Pulisic, Weah, and other electric attackers, the Yanks are going to roar through CONCACAF.
Injuries could cost them, yeah, and the youth we’ve seen shine with the U-20s and (hopefully) the U-23s heading into the Olympics need to be nurtured into contributors.
As of right now, you’d bet on the USMNT to sit in the top three spots for the Hex and it’s reasonable to expect Berhalter to develop the young players into a squad that can rival Mexico’s by the Nations League finals or the Hex.
That’s when Berhalter will get his next serious chance to rival Tata Martino. And this time, he won’t have to plug in maybes and what ifs.
Hopefully. And that adverb is the one that applies to almost every USMNT question.
Bonus item: USWNT
After 1300 words on the men, here are a dozen or so on the women that matter just as much: Pay them equally. They’re the best we’ve got, and it’s the right thing to do anyway.
Lampard, 41, knows he will be given a little extra time compared to most given his legendary status as their all-time leading goalscorer and winning every trophy possible during his glittering 13-year career in west London.
But he must hit the ground running at his former club as Chelsea negotiate a 12-month transfer ban, the loss of Eden Hazard and all the while try to challenge for trophies domestically and in Europe, while at the very least finish in the Premier League’s top four.
Here’s a look at what Lampard should focus on.
Use club legend status sparingly
Lampard is called Super Frank by everyone connected with Chelsea for a reason. He won every major trophy possible during his incredible career at Stamford Bridge and nobody has scored more goals than him in the famous blue shirt.
He knows that he can’t rely on his legendary status as a player. And he shouldn’t if he wants to be successful.
“My playing career is over. I am now in a position to work really hard to be successful in,” Lampard said. “I don’t want to take credit for my playing career. It should last five minutes. I should be judged on what I do here going forward.”
That is the correct way to approach this. At times Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a little too keen to bring up past achievements at United and relate them to his current role as the head coach. Lampard shouldn’t make that same mistake. His legendary status at Chelsea will be intact however his stint as manager turns out, but he must be careful to not harp on about the glory years too much.
Replace Hazard’s influence
Lampard has said it will be a team approach in replacing Hazard’s goals and assists, as the Belgian star departed for Real Madrid earlier this summer.
Chelsea’s new manager was right to state that losing Hazard is a blow but he didn’t seem overly bothered about something that happened when he wasn’t at the club and he couldn’t control. Let’s hope Lampard doesn’t start rolling out the ‘well, we lost Hazard over the summer’ line when Chelsea have a few poor results in December…
Promote youth team players sensibly
There is a strong feeling that Lampard will usher in plenty of young players right away, but that could be a bad move.
Chelsea still have a lot of very talented experience players. N’Golo Kante, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Willian are key members of this squad and it should remain that way. But under Lampard the likes of Mason Mount, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham and Fikayo Tomori will all be given chances to develop into first team players.
“Part of my job now is to develop the great young players we have here,” Lampard has noted.
But he knows that he needs his entire squad, many of whom he played with like Luiz, Azpilicueta and Willian, to buy-in to what he’s doing right away if this is going to go well in Year One.
“I want players that whether you are 18 years of age or 32 years of age, you feel like Chelsea is your club,” Lampard said. “My idea is to work with the best squad and to get the most out of them and be as competitive as we can be.”
Promoting youngsters for the sake of it helps nobody. Doing it sensibly while still being brave enough to chuck them in at the deep end must be Lampard’s mindset. He knows that his squad will be stretched to the limits and youngsters will play a big role this season, even if they don’t play the starring roles many expect.
Be strong enough to implement his philosophy
Lampard has played with some of the players he now manages and that does create an odd dynamic.
It is something which could get in the way of him being brave enough to stamp his authority on the dressing room. Yes, what he has achieved as a player will earn him plenty of respect from Chelsea’s squad but after a few poor results we will see what kind of character he is as a head coach. And we all know Chelsea’s dressing room is extremely strong when it comes to trying to impact the future of a manager.
With the experience of just one year as a manager, Lampard has to be strong enough to stand his ground and stick to his playing philosophy, as he did at Derby with a flexible 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond formations.
Asked during his opening press conference about his relative inexperience in management, Lampard gave a quite brilliant answer.
“I presumed that question would come quite early,” Lampard said. “I thought about it a lot. It’s an obvious question and I understand. In one year in management, you get the Chelsea job which doesn’t come around very often. Football is littered with stories of inexperienced managers who do spectacularly well and some who don’t, as well as experienced managers who do well or don’t. What I do believe in is that I played under a lot of fantastic managers and tried to glean whatever I could from them, and that stands me in good stead. I know a lot about this club but I have to prove it. I believe in myself and I have to show I am ready to manage this club. Be it with one year experience or 10 years of experience.”
Keep expectations realistic
Lampard said Chelsea should be “there or thereabouts” in terms of winning the Premier League title and although he says the board haven’t set a minimum target of finishing in the top four, he knows that it is expected.
Keeping realism is key for Lampard this season.
“There are variables, we know about the transfer ban and that Man City and Liverpool pulled away last year. We all have to be realistic about that,” Lampard said. “We should never stop trying to be there, as Chelsea, we are working to try to be there. It is important we start this season competitive and wanting to win.”
At Chelsea it has always been important to be successful and win trophies, and even if you are able to do that it wouldn’t guarantee you a long-term job.
With other factors impacting Lampard’s first few years in charge, he will get a little extra leeway. Even if he doesn’t want it.
“I am a realist. The last thing I want to do is ask for any favors going into something,” Lampard said. “As a manager you understand very quickly that you have to be successful.”