Raheem Sterling has heard the criticism that he can’t finish chances, and he has responded. On the field, that is.
Behind a double from Sterling, England toppled Spain 3-2 with a vicious counter-attack that juxtaposed Spain’s sleepy, wasteful attack on Monday in Sevilla. The match marked the first time that Spain has ever conceded three or more goals in a competitive home match.
The Manchester City winger was the first on the scoresheet just 18 minutes in as England flowed forward on a counter-attack and with the two-on-three break, Marcus Rashford delivered a beautiful feed to Sterling who blasted his effort past a statue-like David De Gea. The break was actually started way back with Jordan Pickford, who touched past a charging defender and delivered an absolute bullet of a pass to Harry Kane just before the midfield stripe.
Spain dominated possession throughout the match, but they suffered from similar ills as this summer’s World Cup, unable to produce enough dangerous moments and embarrassing failures at the back. England, on the other hand, was happy to sit back and pick its spots on the break, and they were clinical when given the chance.
¡¡GOOOOLAAAAAZOOOOO!! Con un contragolpe mortal, Sterling lanza un riflazo al Angulo que dejó frio a De Gea@SeFutbol 0-1 @England
Marco Asensio skied a shot over the bar in the 18th minute, and Spain would rue its wastefulness as England would double its lead on the half-hour mark. Rashford was the one to finish it off on the counter this time, taking a pinpoint feed from Kane and volleying the bouncing ball into the back of the net after leaking behind the defense and beating Jonny to the spot.
Sterling would grab England’s third before halftime as England would display a bit of venomous half-court play. Kieran Trippier did the heavy lifting with a brilliant chip over the Spanish back line, finding Kane who had snuck behind Sergio Ramos and slid to meet the ball, tapping in front of net for Sterling who finished from the doorstep with ease.
¡GOOOOOOOOL! Esto ya es goleado, Sterling marca el tercero para los británicos.@SeFutbol 0-3 @England
Spain held a whopping 77% of the possession in the first half, but could only muster two shots on target out of 10 total efforts. In the second half, the pressure would finally pay off as the white-hot Paco Alcacer picked up a consolation on a corner in the 58th minute, heading in the goal on his first touch after coming off the bench to replace Iago Aspas. Alcacer has become an ultimate super-sub this season, scoring 10 goals for club and country in just 277 total minutes.
The home fans were livid when a penalty was not given as Jordan Pickford grappled with Rodrigo before completing a tackle in the 63rd minute, but only a corner was given. Spain pushed harder as the second half wore on, and Alcacer came close to a second with five minutes left as he struck a shot against his own man.
Spain bagged a second in the 97th minute with literally the final kick of the match, as Marco Asencio crashed a shot against the bar, and while Nathan Chalobah on his England debut cleared momentarily, it was sent back in by Dani Ceballos to the head of a diving Sergio Ramos. There was no more time for an equalizer, however, as the referee brought the game to an end even before the ensuing kickoff.
The competitive home loss is the first for Spain in 15 years, and it means England moves ahead of Spain to the top of Nations League League A Group 4 by a one-point margin.
Harry Kane would rather play his way through his ongoing 479-minute goal drought for England than opt for a bit of rest after playing nearly 4,000 minutes (equivalent to more than 40 shifts of 90 minutes) for club and country thus far in 2018.
Speaking after England’s 0-0 draw with Croatia on Friday, Kane was asked whether or not he’s concerned by the fact he’s not scored for the national team since the Three Lions’ round of 16 triumph over Russia on July 3 (six appearances). Much like his managerGareth Southgate, Kane essentially shrugged off the rough patch as part of the ebbs and flows a footballer experiences over a prolonged period of time.
He has, after all, led the Premier League in combined goals over the least four-plus seasons, and he’s currently second in 2018-19 despite the obvious lack of form. In case anyone had forgotten, he’s happy to remind them — quotes from the Guardian:
“When you set the standards that I’ve set over the last few years and you fall a little bit below them, people are going to talk. That’s just the game we are in. I’m experienced enough now to know that and not to get too high or too low.
“I just stay focused on my job and what I need to do. In the Premier League, I’m second-top goalscorer. I’d like to have scored more for England recently but, as a striker, you go through spells where maybe it goes off the bar, whereas other times it comes off your heel and goes in the back of the net like in the World Cup.
“I don’t think my game has dipped. It’s been tough after the World Cup, not getting much rest, but I think I’ve dealt with it well. I’ve stayed fit and stayed healthy. That’s my main priority at the start of the season. Now it’s building on that and pushing forward over the winter period.”
“I thought I played well against Croatia in a tough game. When you are up there, you just have to battle, hold it up, bring others into play. For me, it’s just focus on my job for the team. I’ll be ready to go Monday.”
Still, it’s painfully apparent to anyone who has watched Kane on a game-by-game basis for the last four years that he’s not playing up to his maximum potential. He hasn’t done so since suffering an ankle injury early last spring, only to miss a very brief period of time before being rushed back for the conclusion of the PL season.
Harry Kane hasn’t scored a goal for England since July 3, in the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup, but Gareth Southgate insists he is unconcerned about the Tottenham Hotspur striker’s ongoing goal drought.
Most forwards wouldn’t elicit mass hysteria over six appearances (479 minutes) without a goal on the international stage — it’s hard to score goals, you know — but most forwards aren’t Kane, either. From the first time he put on the senior-team shirt and marked his debut with a goal, Kane has been bagging them with ease — 19 in 33 caps thus far.
For that reason, Southgate refuses to panic or stray from the course that says one of the world’s best, most complete forwards should be the first name on the team sheet every time out. Plus, he can sense that once Kane finds the net again, the floodgates will open; he sensed the moment was close in Friday’s 0-0 draw with Croatia — quotes from the Guardian:
“He buried that chance but was just offside, but Harry will get us goals. We were a real threat. The most important thing for the team is we create chances, look dangerous, and I have faith the players who didn’t score will score.
“This feels like a game we should have won but I was really pleased with the way we played. We dictated the flow for a long period and the second-half performance was excellent, pushing right to the end. I couldn’t ask for more from the players. We just have to make sure we finish the chances. On another day, we will”
On the other hand, Kane hasn’t exactly been the sharpest version of himself since injuring his ankle in mid-March. He was likely rushed back for the finish of the Premier League season, followed by the World Cup with a very short week’s break in between. A prolonged period of rest wasn’t possible post-World Cup either, as the PL season began in early August. At some point — whether by design or another injury that may come along — he’ll likely need a few weeks of rest and rehabilitation to regain top form for club and for country.
One year to the day since they lost in Trinidad & Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as a result, interim head coach Dave Sarachan is preparing his team to play two friendlies against Colombia and Peru over the next week and he has two friendlies against England and Italy in November to see out the calendar year.
With so many changes in terms of the player pool, no permanent manager and a new GM in Earnie Stewart getting to grips with his role, it will be intriguing to see what happens to the USMNT over the next 12 months.
Below our writers discuss the key issues facing them right now and what is on the horizon for the Stars and Stripes.
It is one year since the disaster in Trinidad & Tobago which ended the USA’s 2018 World Cup hopes. How would you sum up the past 12 months for the USMNT after that huge shock?
NICK MENDOLA: It’s difficult to sum up the last 12 months because there’s a new level of scrutiny to everything the federation does regarding the USMNT. Frankly, the failure of the team in qualifying has opened the door to all critiques, from reasonable to absurd. The ensuing “This is fine meme” reactions from admin, to the presidential election, to a World Cup of “What if Christian Pulisic was on our TV screen?” and the subsequent coaching search has been surreal. At best, it’s been an unusual time. At worst, it’s exposed a rudderless and stubborn hierarchy.
JOE PRINCE-WRIGHT: I agree with Nick. The fact it has taken this long to appoint a new head coach borders on gross negligence, while the pain of watching a World Cup without the U.S. was extreme. Christian Pulisic leads the young bucks trying to restore pride in the program and I think Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah will be around for quite some time. However, there’s a lingering feeling that Oct. 10, 2017 will go down as the date where we look back and say that is where U.S. Soccer lost its way a little. I hope I’m wrong but it will take a lot more than a few friendly wins and a decent performance at the Gold Cup next summer to turn this around.
DAN KARELL: I think it’s been an incredibly disappointing last 12 months. U.S. Soccer CLEARLY had no plan in place for missing out on the World Cup, and delaying any potential coaching hires until a new president was elected in February, then until the World Cup rights had been awarded for the 2026 World Cup, and then again after hiring a MNT GM in Ernie Stewart is a mistake, especially if they end up with a coach from MLS, which at this point looks most likely, unless the jokes about Jose Mourinho actually comes true. Last December, U.S. Soccer could have hired one of the many qualified domestic coaches available, at least to coach through the Gold Cup if not through the next World Cup, so that there was some sort of plan in place. Instead, the next national team coach has missed 12 months of chances of getting to know the next crop of players, seeing them up close and how they interact with one another on the field, as well as perhaps better handling the Christian Pulisic situation, which has gone from understandable at first to questionable now. At this point, they might as well go with Sarachan.
KYLE BONN: There’s been some good, some bad, and some frustration. The introduction of the new faces has been a comprehensive success. The national system has flushed out some bright and promising talents that a year ago would have struggled to see time amongst the high-leverage matches and retreading of old veterans. The young players were already on the radar of those in the national system obviously, but the showcasing of Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent,Timothy Weah, Tyler Adams, Marky Delgado, Antonee Robinson, and many others to the fans and giving them time to prove their worth has been invaluable. However, the lack of direction without a permanent head coach has been baffling. While the players begin to prove how they can fit in to the future, there has been a massive void left unfilled in a position that will shape the program’s future. Until that happens, it’s impossible to label the aftermath of the disappointment a success.
Heading into this international break, what do you want to see from this squad?
MENDOLA: Frankly, given the absences of the best players, I just want to see players take their chances by the scruff of the neck. And goals. I want to see goals.
KARELL: I don’t really have any expectations, I just hope no one else gets injured and players build some chemistry. So I guess on that basic level, those are my expectations. But there’s just this air of uncertainty over the whole MNT program and I don’t know what to think until a coach is hired.
JPW: Have to agree with Nick and Dan. Expectation levels are so low that a lot of USMNT fans aren’t too bothered win, lose or draw right now. That is not a good thing for the program overall. I’d like to see the veterans (Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan) integrated back into the lineup and I’m intrigued to see exactly what impact that has on these young players.
BONN: With a number of promising youngsters injured, it’s going to be hard to draw too many conclusions from the current crop. I would like to see the veterans provide some insight to the young guns, and I would like to see the two groups mesh as well as possible.
With so many of the USMNT’s top youngsters going down with injuries for this camp – Pulisic, Adams and McKennie are out – are you buying into the reports regarding the commitment levels to the national team, which were mainly focused on Pulisic?
MENDOLA: I am not concerned about this, unless there are those saying the same things about all of the programs around the world. For example, allegations aside, Cristiano Ronaldo is still absent from Portugal despite Nations League matches. While chemistry matters, the next tournament that matters is the Gold Cup. That’s rarely been an all hands on deck event anyway. So let’s not hold Pulisic to a standard we didn’t expect from Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard before him.
JPW: Pulisic is a rare case in all of this. If he calls you and says he needs a rest, you rest him. Just like England, Argentina and Portugal would do with Harry Kane, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively. At this point, Pulisic is vital to the USMNT and you need to bend over backwards to make him happy. That said, he doesn’t seem like he has any real ego at all and he is a team player who always enjoys playing for the USMNT. The fact he has only been in one camp in the past 12 months is more about untimely injuries and the need for a rest than anything more sinister. I think the one thing we can say about these young U.S. players is that they’re committed and fight for the jersey. At this point, what more can you ask for?
KARELL: At this point, there’s nothing you can do if these are actually injuries keeping the players out. But I do think in retrospect, the USMNT made a mistake not constantly calling in Pulisic to camps. I know he is still a young man but precisely because of that, I think he could have handled constant call-ins more than a veteran could. Instead, they made excuses every call-up except for the one in May in which Pulisic, tired after a long season, was kind of forced to play. Since then, the relationship has been bad between the federation and his family. Perhaps that could have been avoided with regular call-ups before the May/June games. That was the more appropriate time to give him a rest. rudderless and stubborn hierarchy.
BONN: Absolutely not. The international matches that Pulisic has missed in the past were all valid excuses. Whether he needed to focus on his club situation or just flat out rest after a difficult season, Pulisic is doing what is best for him, and when it comes to the superstars in a low-leverage time period for the international squad, what’s best for Pulisic long-term is also what is best for the national team. I’m not worried about his commitment to the national team one iota, nor am I worried about that from some of those who suffered injuries. It’s impossible to judge something like that until matches of higher leverage roll around, and I have not doubt they will bring their best at that time.
Who would be your choice to come in as the new USMNT head coach? And why?
MENDOLA: It’s difficult to answer who I want without knowing the marketplace/demand. If I’m limited to MLS coaches and those who’ve already managed internationally and are on the market, then Peter Vermes and Tata Martino top my list. But with the US Soccer budget and theoretical acclaim, I’d much rather have a boss with active connections in top leagues, high level experience in player and program development, and political savvy. I’m not saying there’s a Carlo Ancelotti out there, but I bet there is…
KARELL: If it’s not going to be Dave Sarachan at this point, then I’d prefer to see either Oscar Pareja or Gregg Berhalter get it. Both were terrific players who carry that important clout in the locker room, and both have proven to be good man managers and tacticians for their clubs. Of course, it’s a different game at the international level because coaches don’t have time to implement tactical structures, so it may be best to get someone who will be pragmatic with the resources available.
JPW: Gregg Berhalter. With his brother Jay involved high up in U.S. Soccer and given his relationship with Stewart, this is a very good fit. It helps to work with people you like and know in order to get results. Aside from those factors, Berhalter has worked wonders at Columbus considering all of the issues that franchise has had off the pitch. He develops young players and has a clear identity which is based on a solid defensive unit. That sounds perfect for the identity the USMNT are trying to create with this young team. Sarachan should be in the running, so too should Jesse Marsch and Peter Vermes, but the latter two have pretty cushy gigs right now and Sarachan will likely get a position within U.S. Soccer somewhere after his stint as interim boss is over.
BONN: In an ideal world, I would absolutely love to see Tata Martino run the US national team, but that seems highly unlikely given his own personal interests. I also think seeing Jesse Marsch come back and coach the national team would be much more successful than any other in-house choices, but again he’s unlikely having just taken a job in Europe. I think I think Gregg Berhalter makes the most sense, even if he’s somewhat underwhelming.
Do you feel confident that this young squad can develop and become a dominant force in CONCACAF and make a splash at the next two World Cups?
JPW: I am unsure. There’s no doubt there are several talented youngsters playing at top clubs across Europe and in some of the best leagues in the world, but how will they all develop over the next 4-6 years? That is impossible to predict but I think the U.S. will see increasing pressure from Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica, just like the did in qualifying in 2018. Their players heading to MLS has helped them catch up with the U.S. and Mexico has moved on to a whole other level. Hot take: I think if the U.S. reaches the next World Cup it would be a massive success. Anything else in 2022 would be a bonus. Not qualifying isn’t as unlikely as you would think…
MENDOLA: Yes. Mexico is in a golden generation but so, too, should the U.S. if it doesn’t try to placate stakeholders at the expense of courting top talent. And the Jonathan Gonzalez embarrassment can never happen again.
KARELL: I honestly don’t feel very confident right now. With some of these guys, there’s a lot of potential but also unrealized talent. Wil Trapp is a good player, but at 25 now, I expected him to be in Europe or playing at a higher level than staying in his comfort zone with the Crew. And it showed against a half-hearted Brazil team, who walked all over the Americans last month. This team, while it has a high ceiling, is not anywhere close to reaching it. Perhaps it could get there in 2-4 years, but I need to see some improvement across the board. Think faster, play faster.
BONN: I don’t see why not. The performances the last year with almost exclusively youngsters and new faces have been promising, so with a mix of vets and a permanent head coach, there’s no reason they can’t. It took a one-in-a-million perfect storm to keep them out last time, I think they’ll be back in the mix this cycle.
What is the one thing you’d like to see the U.S. Soccer Federation do over the next 12 months in terms of helping the USMNT? What can the leaders do better?
MENDOLA: Leaders can let Stewart hire who he wants and largely get out of the way. That’s over simplifying, but now I’m really fired up!
KARELL: I’d like US Soccer to make a hire already for MNT coach and give that coach autonomy to watch current and potential players, hold mid-week training camps to get to know players, and have two distinct tactical systems, one for the gritty, rough and tumble CONCACAF (Big Ten) region and another for European opponents and the World Cup (SEC). Did I get my college sports analogies correct?
JPW: Echoing what Nick and Dan said, they need a new coach and they need him now. USSF needs to let Stewart and his coach get on with things on the playing side and assess things in late 2019. Only then will we really know if the USMNT is on the right path. The main focus for USSF has to be talent identification and making sure they don’t miss out on snapping up the best dual national youngsters who are eligible to play for the USMNT.
BONN: They need to not only hire a coach, but implement a plan that runs up and down the food chain, so everyone is on the same page. And be transparent! Let the public know exactly what this plan entails, what’s the drawback from letting fans in the doors a bit? It’s hard to see where that hurts the setup.
Is now the right time to reintegrate veteran players like Brad Guzan and Michael Bradley? If it is, who else should return to the squad in November for the games against England and Italy?
MENDOLA: Bradley? Yeah for sure, although he’s had an adventurous season as a center back/center mid “save this disaster because you’re the captain” at Toronto FC and returning to the national team to face scrutiny may somehow be a respite for him. Guzan I don’t entirely get. He’s experienced and can provide a guiding hand but if this is about playing time i don’t really get it. Has he clearly shown he’s above the level of any of the young bucks they could drop between the sticks? If he’s there to be the “break glass in case of emergency” then okay.
JPW: I’m with Nick. Bradley makes sense but I think Steffen has been superb for the USMNT whenever he’s played. Bradley was always going to return and I’d expect to see Altidore and Ream return in November. Long-term, those three and maybe Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams could return to the fold but that’s about it. The youngsters deserve to be trusted.
KARELL: Sure, why not. The veterans have been exiled from the MNT for the last 12 months, deservedly so since they suffered a disgraceful fate that condemned the US to sit on the sidelines this summer. But at this point, it’s not a bad idea to get Bradley, Guzan, and other vets like Alejandro Bedoya, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams so the young guys can see what the level they need to aspire to is every day in MNT practice. At this point, it’s hard to say who should or shouldn’t be in the squad because the games don’t matter and there isn’t a permanent a coach yet. I would lean towards giving most of the spots to younger guys but Sarachan can invite some veterans, even MLS vets, to help guide the youngsters.
BONN: Yes, for sure, but the need for a head coach remains. It’s hard to see the team ramping up its preparedness no matter who is in the squad if there’s nobody leading the ship. The vets should be allowed to help the kids fully integrate, but without true leadership it will be an uphill battle. Make that hire!
And I get that, really I do. But is there any doubt that Messi and Ronaldo remain the two best players in the world? And is there a really an argument that any player had a better season that either one?
Let’s go strictly cosmetic stats to start to separate the goal producers, which leaves Kante, Modric, and others for another discussion.
Outstanding seasons, no doubt. Ronaldo still managed better than a goal-per-game while helping Real Madrid the first Champions League threepeat since the 1970s. Salah was the best part of the most scintillating non-possession based attack in the world. Griezmann and Messi’s numbers speak for themselves, while Mbappe — sorry Joe — for me sits a clear fifth.
Messi rates better in possession and defensive statistics, but here’s what I’d ask you to consider in assessing last season. Your favorite club earns a massive win against Barcelona, Liverpool, Real, Atleti, or PSG. Insert each players’ name, and which one feels more of an indictment on your win:
“Yeah, but (insert player here) didn’t play.”
EPILOGUE: For what it’s worth, there’s a huge sentimental part of me that says Griezmann’s continued stardom on an understated Atleti or Kante’s game-changing performance in three different champion midfields (Chelsea, Leicester City, France) should lift the trophy. But it’s going to go to one of the more prolific scorers… and that means Messi.