Wolverhampton Wanderers have a solid chance of qualifying for Europe, one season after promotion from the Championship.
Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota scored Saturday in a huge 2-1 win over seventh-place rivals Watford at Vicarage Road and now enjoy a four-point cushion on the Hornets as well as Everton, who drew Crystal Palace.
Watford could still take the Europa League place by beating Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. Their goal came from Andre Gray.
The relegation and playoff spots are still very much in flux, too. Here are some big things to know about Saturday’s action.
Norwich City 4-0 Queens Park Rangers
You don’t need to be in the coal mine to see the Canaries are likely heading back to the Premier League, destroying Geoff Cameron‘s QPR despite going down a man in the 71st minute. Cameron subbed off after 59 minutes, with QPR down 3-0 and needing an attacking miracle.
Teemu Pulki scored his 25th and 26th goals of the season for the Canaries, who have an 7-point advantage over Sheffield United and 8-point cushion on third place Leeds United.
Birmingham City 1-0 Leeds United
Leeds lost for the second time in three matches and the third time in seven, as Che Adams’ goal gave more relief to a Birmingham City side recently stung by a points deduction for reckless spending during the Harry Redknapp era. Leeds have dropped into third place.
Preston North End 0-1 Sheffield United
PNE has presented some stiff challenged this season, and Saturday was no exception, but Sheffield United made a first half David McGoldrick goal hold up over 90 minutes to move back into an automatic promotion spot.
— Aston Villa turned what looked to be like a scrappy away point into three with a late buzzsaw and sits fifth with six matches left on its schedule (though Bristol City and Derby County have matches-in-hand).
— Ahmed Hegazi conceded an own goal and was later sent off as West Brom lost 2-0 at Millwall.
— Rotherham United is within a point of safety after defeating Nottingham Forest, and seeing Reading lose their matches. Wigan is two points clear after drawing at Bristol City).
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.
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.
Adams — Brooks — Long??? — Lovitz???
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:
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?
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)
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)
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.
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.
It’s official: The United States men’s national team’s first new full-time manager since 2011 is Gregg Berhalter, the 44-times capped defender who’s coached Hammarby and the Columbus Crew.
U.S. Soccer general manager Earnie Stewart announced his choice on Sunday, months after Berhalter became the clear front-runner and 13-plus months since Bruce Arena stepped down from the post following the embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure in Couva.
Now, we can well and truly begin to move past that era. Berhalter will be introduced at a press conference in New York City on Tuesday at Noon ET.
General manager Earnie Stewart, the third man quoted in a press release from U.S. Soccer, says the controversial hiring process doesn’t leave any doubts in his mind. The USSF was said to have refused an interview with former Spanish boss Julen Lopetegui and formerly discussed the job with only four candidates including Berhalter.
“After a very thorough process, I am absolutely convinced Gregg is the right man to lead the National Team program moving forward,” Stewart said. “He ticks all the boxes with his background as a person, a successful coach and an accomplished former international player.”
Berhalter was chosen as MNT head coach after an extensive selection process led by Stewart, who worked alongside U.S. Soccer’s Chief Sport Development Officer Nico Romeijn and Chief Soccer Officer Ryan Mooney in developing the profile for the head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Interim manager Dave Sarachan did an admirable job while the USMNT navigated managerial purgatory, introducing all sorts of new blood, but Berhalter is tasked with inviting the right mix of veterans and new blood into the fold.