Thanks to the ongoing FIFA-mandated international break, life is currently pretty good for Gareth Bale, who says he “definitely have a bit more excitement playing for Wales” compared to when he’s playing — or not playing — for his club, Real Madrid.
Bale confirmed on Friday what the entire world has known for a couple of years now: that he’s thoroughly unhappy at not being allowed to leave Madrid this summer; that he never truly adapted to his home since the summer of 2013; and that his on-field performance has suffered for those reasons, as well as his extensive injury history — quotes from the BBC:
“With Wales, I’m speaking my own language and feeling more comfortable. I definitely have a bit more excitement playing for Wales.
“I’ve been with most of the players, especially the older ones, since we were in the Under-17s. It’s like playing with your mates down the park on a Sunday.
“But it still doesn’t change what I give on the pitch. I always give 100 percent wherever I am, and that’s what I always strive to do.”
As for how Bale has been painted by the Spanish media, he says he only pays attention to the negative coverage when his friends since him “funny pictures or whatever they write,” but it’s clear he feels like an outsider and that’s a key reason he was so keen to leave the club and country when a(n even more) mega-money offer came from China this summer.
“I’ve heard some stories but I don’t really take notice. My friends tend to send me some funny pictures or whatever they write.
“I find it hilarious to be honest, especially some of the pictures and stuff my friends send me. On one, it said ‘triple bogey’ and I’ve never had a triple bogey. At least give me an albatross! It’s funny.”
Unfortunately for Bale, he’ll have to continue playing nice with manager Zinedine Zidane, until January at least.
Christian Pulisic‘s struggles at Chelsea continue, but he’s far from the only American to take the field this weekend. It was an up-and-down few days for Americans overseas, as defenders struggled in England.
Still, a few had success as players like Duane Holmes and Josh Sargent contributed to significant results, while Weston McKennie helped Schalke earn a massive road win over the former Bundesliga leaders.
A few Americans are working their way back from injuries, as DeAndre Yedlin made his season debut while Timothy Weah and Matt Miazga remain sidelined. Sergino Dest continues to prove his worth to Ajax, coming off the bench into a scoreless game to help the Dutch giants eventually earn a win.
DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle – The full-back finally made his return to the field, playing 16 minutes off the bench against Leicester City as the Magpies were obliterated 5-0. The Foxes only scored one of their five goals with Yedlin on the field.
Antonee Robinson, Wigan – Played the full 90 minutes as Wigan fell 2-0 to Fulham. He has logged a full 90 minutes in every match but one so far this season. Wigan is in trouble, sitting just outside the relegation zone.
Tim Ream, Fulham – The veteran defender helped Fulham to a 2-0 win over Wigan, with goals from Tom Cairney and Joe Bryan. After missing the season opener due to an injury picked up on international duty, Ream has played every minute of Fulham’s campaign, with this win marking the club’s third clean sheet. The Whites have lost just once with Ream on the field, and sit 10th with a four-point deficit off the top.
Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — Miazga missed his fourth straight game due to a hamstring injury as Reading drew 1-1 with Swansea. It is the only point Reading has picked up in the absence of Miazga, while they had earned seven points in five matches prior.
Eric Lichaj, Hull City — A full 90 minutes at right-back saw Hull City draw with Cardiff City 2-2. The result is a microcosm of Hull’s decidedly mediocre campaign, leaving them in 16th with 10 points through nine matches, having both scored and conceded 13 goals.
Geoff Cameron, QPR — Cameron started as part of a back three and saw his CB mate Yoann Barbet sent off, resigning QPR to a 2-0 defeat at home to West Brom. Cameron himself picked up an early yellow card before the half-hour mark, his third caution in six league appearances this season.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — Stoke had a Friday league match and was beaten soundly by Nottingham Forest 3-2, leaving them bottom of the Championship table. This Potters side has conceded 20 goals through nine matches this season, most in the league. It’s a surprising and confounding situation at Stoke, given the decent talent in the squad. Carter-Vickers starts next to Bruno Martins Indi and in front of goalkeeper Jack Butland, so it’s baffling how that defensive unit could be so porous, but here we are. The woes continue for the young Spurs product.
Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes returned to winning ways with a 3-2 victory over Birmingham, picking up his first three points since returning to the Derby County lineup in late August. He performed quite well, picking up an assist of Chris Martin‘s second-minute opener, a truly hilarious goal that saw Holmes blister past a defender on the flank, deliver a ball to Martin in the middle who collected clumsily – allowing the defense to recover – before producing a classic slow-roller that had the goalkeeper all twisted up, rolling into the back of the net.
Chris Martin has scored in back-to-back games for Derby County for the first time since April 2016. ⏪
Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – The 23-year-old started and played a full 90 minutes as Sunderland topped MK Dons 2-1. They scored both goals before the half-hour mark and held on from there, with Gooch making way for a substitute in stoppage time. Sunderland sits fifth in League One, with just one loss on the season.
Weston McKennie, Schalke — Schalke picked up a big 3-1 road win over RB Leipzig that (of course) allowed Bayern Munich to slide back into the lead. McKennie started and played the full 90 minutes, but it wasn’t as pretty as you’d expect for a midfielder who played a big part of a signature win. He was initially deployed on the wing before being moved centrally.
So I saw Schalke picked up a signature Bundesliga win over EB Lepzig. I did not watch the game. I opened @StatsZone expecting to see #USMNT MF Weston McKennie having a beastly dashboard.
Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — A Sunday match saw Fortuna Dusseldorf fall at home to Freiburg 2-1 as the visitors mounted a comeback victory. Steffan was in net and recorded just one save, while Morales did not make the squad for the third straight match, out with a hamstring problem.
Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen — The youngster was in the starting lineup for the second straight game, and bagged an assist as Werder Bremen secured a solid 2-2 draw against Borussia Dortmund. He played 88 minutes and was on hand to help out in Marco Freidl’s 56th minute equalizer off a corner, flicking the ball with his head at the near post to Friedl waiting at the opposite end to score the goal that ultimately shared the points.
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Despite returning to training last weekend, Adams has yet to see action with RB Leipzig, again missing out in the loss to Schalke.
Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach — Johnson missed his third straight match with back problems as Monchengladbach won 3-0 at Hoffenheim.
Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — Chandler came off the bench again, logging 13 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-1 win over Union Berlin. Coming in for Erik Durm, Chandler saw Frankfurt cough up the clean sheet while he was on the field as Anthony Ujah got a consolation goal for the hosts in the 83rd minute.
Julian Green, Greuther Furth – Green again played the full 90 minutes as Greuther Furth fell to Holstein Kiel 3-0. After a wonderful start to the second division campaign, Greuther has been held scoreless for two straight matches now. Green played alright, logging 81% pass completion and connecting on six of his eight long balls, but that was about it for the Tampa product.
Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest made a rare bench appearance, sat in favor of Noussair Mazraoui. He came on for the Moroccan and played the final 23 minutes of a 2-0 win over FC Groningen, with both Ajax goals coming after Dest had come on the field.
Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — VVV-Venlo fell to Heerenveen 3-0 for the club’s fifth defeat in eight league matches this season, and Wright was on the field for all 90 minutes, earning his fourth start of the year. The striker has not scored a goal yet this season in 401 minutes of Eredivisie action.
Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — Payne was left out of the squad for the third straight week as Emmen beat ADO Den Haag 3-0.
Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah’s hamstring tear is going to keep him out for a good bit longer. Don’t expect him back for another few weeks at least.
Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — It seems Siebatcheu has lost his place in the Stade Rennes lineup, playing nine minutes off the bench in the midweek loss to Nantes before missing out on a spot in the squad altogether on Sunday’s game against Marseille, a 1-1 draw. The 23-year-old striker has yet to score a goal this league season.
Tyler Boyd, Besiktas – The 24-year-old started but was hauled off at halftime as Beskitas lost to Trabzonspor 4-1, deepening the club’s early season woes. The Turkish side was down 2-0 at the break, and it only got worse as the hosts made it 3-0 past the hour mark before the teams traded late goals. The club has just one win in six matches on the young season, and Boyd has been yanked at halftime in both of his last two starts, while finding himself on the bench in the other two most recent games.
Chris Richards, Bayern Munich II – The 19-year-old played another 90 minutes for Bayern’s reserve squad, winning 4-1 over Preussen Munster.
Andrija Novakovich, Frosinone – 30 minutes off the bench for Novakovich couldn’t save Frosinone as they drew 1-1 with Cosenza. He is in direct competition for a starting striker spot with former Fulham product Marcello Trotta. Neither has scored a league goal yet this season.
Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund U-19 – Claudio Reyna’s son is in good form, following up his goal last weekend with an assist across 90 minutes in a 3-2 win. He won a 41st minute penalty which eventually put Dortmund U-19 up 2-1.
Luca De La Torre, Fulham Reserves – He was not part of the squad as Fulham’s reserve side fell to Middlesbrough 4-2.
Preface: This is a long preface to a forthcoming Q&A and Best XI roundtable with the PST staff, inspired by a pretty passionate staff meeting on Wednesday.
Gregg Berhalter actually has more time to mess around with the USMNT than any manager in recent history, and that’s not a veiled shot at the federation hierarchy.
Winning Gold Cups and the CONCACAF Nations League would be great, and we’d love to see Jason Kreis’ U-23 men deliver a rare Olympic appearance and success, but the gold standard for the USMNT remains its performance in the World Cup.
Even a still-growing soccer culture like the American one should sleepwalk into a World Cup with adequate management, but we’ve seen failure is not an impossible when Jurgen Klinsmann and later Bruce Arena combined to give other teams a chance at their spot.
Qualifying is going to be come an after thought in just one more cycle when the field grows ahead of the 2026 tournament, and the 2022 World Cup qualification process is a bit easier for CONCACAF’s powers.
The Hexagonal remains as the final stage of qualifying for a World Cup, but the Hex members will not have to participate in a fourth round in order to advance to the stage. FIFA instead will give new responsibility to its Nations League.
The six teams to qualify for the Hex will be based on FIFA ratings, a heavy shot to any country not named Mexico and the Unites States (and, perhaps, Costa Rica). Not only are the FIFA ratings far from ideal, it’s a rarity that teams other than aforementioned three are in the Top 40.
Average rankings since start of FIFA system
Costa Rica: 45
Trinidad and Tobago: 67
El Salvador: 93
There’s one more step for the fourth place team after the Hex, which sees three teams qualify for the World Cup. The fourth place team previously would meet a playoff team from another confederation for a berth in the World Cup, but now has to face the “champion” of teams ranked 7th and lower in CONCACAF in a pre-playoff playoff.
All of this is to say Berhalter’s job, overly-simplified, is:
Qualify for the World Cup
Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)
This is an awfully long runway to say that Berhalter’s USMNT is still a solid year away from playing a match that truly affects Goal No. 1 (The rankings used are from June 2020, and the Hex games will not begin until September).
No. 2 involves beating Cuba twice and taking at least four of six points from Canada over the next four months. The former should be straight-forward. The latter a challenge (especially if this group is tasked with stopping Alphonso Davies and Co.).
No. 3, so far, is a resounding meh. The Yanks have beaten a bunch of B-teams and then Jamaica and Ecuador. They’ve lost to literally everyone of consequence besides draws versus the B-plus teams of Chile and Uruguay (the latter coming Tuesday).
He has eight wins, four losses and two draws. The wins are over Panama (2x), Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Jamaica. The losses: Mexico (2x), Jamaica, Venezuela.
Home-and-away CNL matches against Cuba and Canada will finish his first year in charge.
As for job objective No. 3, the pressing matter is one Sergino Dest. The Ajax right back made his USMNT debut this international break, switched to the left side — he’s played some there as a youth, but almost exclusively on the right — in order to, we guess, see if he can be the answer to a USMNT question that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s defensive prime.
That’s actually okay, provided Berhalter let Dest know the objective. We have to assume that’s the case, because using him at left back in the “system” which utilizes center midfielder Tyler Adams as a right back would be an dramatic waste of pace and creativity.
Ultimately, that’s why the bad performances cause so much consternation amongst USMNT supporters. Berhalter is a good coach, but his management has been baffling from the outside looking into camp.
Berhalter believes he can “Herb Brooks” an amazing team out of components. He needs results to boost anyone’s confidence that’s possible, and is not getting them. Trusting the process is difficult when there hasn’t been a hat-hanging moment from a very protected schedule of fixtures.
We also have to note that the USMNT, not one of the deepest pools in the world by any stretch of the imagination, was without John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Adams, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and DeAndre Yedlin for both matches of this break, and lost Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales, and Zack Steffen for the second.
Perhaps the overall American soccer community bears some responsibility for this, treating the process like blooding youth and ignoring experience is the way to get the job done.
That’s what cuts so deep about the USMNT problem, which is shared by so few countries in the world: The Yanks obviously aren’t a side like Germany, Brazil or even England, where the next player up is going to be guaranteed adequate during the experimentation process.
The question is whether they are more like Panama or Costa Rica, who are going to call in effective players regardless of whether there’s a 3 at the start of their age or not. Whataboutism is brutal, but shoot, if we’re going to spend two years and use every advanced stat we can find to berate Jurgen Klinsman for not calling up 30-year-old Benny Feilhaber and his 1 assist in 40 caps, then perhaps it’s fitting we discuss Bundesliga and Championship starters not getting called up in positions of weakness (Fabian Johnson, Eric Lichaj).
And, honestly, I want my national team to be one who takes a look at short-term solutions and in-form players. For example — and this is going to make a lot of people yell — if Berhalter is going to call up the 150th best player in MLS on a regular basis, can he put the same league trust in a 28-year-old having the best season of any American in the domestic league? For every 500-word think piece on Andrew Carleton when he’s 17 and how he projects, maybe trust information if it tells you a slightly older guy might be onto something?
Familiarity and “my guys” is a concept a lot of coaches choose, but let’s look at the 2019 seasons of the following wide men. Three were called up by Berhalter, while the fourth is the above-named player (via WhoScored’s comparison tool).
Moving on, consider this very basic exercise as simply an observation. Look at the players by their FIFA ratings (thanks, USMNT Only).
Getting past the hilarious 69 put on Timothy Weah and a pretty lofty 76 handed to DeAndre Yedlin, the names still in gold half-inspire this question: Should the American national team be ignoring players based on age?
For now, and at the Gold Cup, that’s okay. But the question is where are we as a nation? Fabian Johnson is 31 and Darlington Nagbe 29, but is it fair to completely rule them out of the fold due to perceived attitude and age? And should
Let’s leave Pulisic, Bradley, McKennie, Altidore, and any injured players out of the equation and ask the difference, if any, between these two sides in a theoretical match right now (Hint: It’s not about league).
Two notes: This assumes every player is convinced to accept a call-up, as Darlington Nagbe isn’t loving the Berhalter era and several vets would require a conversation.
Also, It was very hard to find a striker for the second squad with Sargent and Zardes in camp while Altidore is excused to be with Toronto FC. Thinnnnnnn….
Tuesday’s Starters vs. Uruguay
Cannon — Long — Ream — Dest
Lletget — Roldan
Boyd — Sargent — Morris
– versus –
Johnson — Green — Pomykal
Nagbe — Cameron
Robinson — Opara — Birnbaum — Lichaj
All of the above theoretical exercises are merely fueled by the end of a painful international break — both in results and activity, so thanks for coming back club soccer — but the fact that it isn’t a “Yeah, clearly the team that started would’ve won” situation should say something, and it’s also why we still really don’t know where we are with Berhalter Ball one year into the project.
Whether Tottenham Hotspur win or lose Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, 24 players, a coaching staff and an entire fanbase will be feeling the emotional weight of having gone through the wringer of the biggest, most important game in all of club soccer, but precious little will have actually changed about where the club goes from there.
When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed to replace Tim Sherwood back in 2014, the objectives on which he would be judged were clear: stabilize the first-team squad after a period of unsettling turnover, and get the club back into the Champions League by the time the new stadium was set to open (whenever that would eventually be). As would become the calling card of Pochettino’s tenure, things moved quicker than expected and he needed just two seasons to get them there, and now it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the Champions League without Tottenham in it (three straight seasons with another on the horizon, and a trip to the final).
In that way — and so many others — Pochettino has normalized success at a club starved of such satisfaction for the longest time, for much of its tortured existence. “Spursy” used to be finding the worst, most painful way to fail; now, it’s facing up to some of the biggest clubs in the world without an ounce of fear and seeing themselves as every bit an equal — it’s the most tangible way in which the team represents its manager. Win or lose, this doesn’t change.
If we’re all presently in agreement that Pochettino has done a masterful job to massage an already-short, then injury-ravaged, squad and guide it (somehow) to this game, that won’t have changed and suddenly become untrue based on the result of 90 (or 120) minutes against. If he was on the shortlist for every managerial vacancy in the world, he’ll still be there after a defeat.
Having endured two straight transfer windows without signing a single player, followed by the season (and three-fourths) away from home that would never end, followed by the injury crisis brought about by the lack of transfer dealings, followed by stoppage-time deficits (or deficits that nearly were) into the final seconds of the quarterfinals and semifinals, Spurs’ season has already gone to the brink of falling apart in that cruelest, most painful way imaginable, only for Pochettino’s men to drag themselves through to the other side as lilywhite heroes time and again. Win or lose, that incredible ride doesn’t get erased.
On the other hand, Spurs upsetting the applecart and knocking off Liverpool — the heavy favorites that they are — wouldn’t change the fact that Pochettino’s project is still just that: a project now ahead of schedule, but still with far to go.
The goal was never to get to this one final, on this one day, in this one season; it was always to set the club up for long-term sustainability, so as to claim their place as one of the Premier League’s elite in the same way we now think of Manchester City and Chelsea, and the way we used to think of Manchester United and Arsenal. Part of those club’s present-day narratives are down to their own hilarious failings, to be sure, but another (not insignificant) part is down to being a dysfunction operation in comparison to what’s been happening at White Hart Lane.
It should be said, in the interest of fairness: Saturday’s showpiece in Madrid does have the feeling of a crossroads moment for the club.
A number key figures could very well move on in the summer. Toby Aldeweireld, who has a $31-million release clause in his contract going forward, and Christian Eriksen, who could be one of any number of stars headed to Real Madrid, are chief among them. Their theoretical departures would, of course, allow for necessitate a bit of transfer activity to breathe new life into the squad — something Spurs fans desperately crave — but with it would come a sense of tearing down and rebuilding a core group that has traced a trajectory beyond anything once thought possible.
To shed the tags of “bottlers” and “sure, finishing above your rivals is nice, but you still haven’t won a trophy” by winning the Champions League trophy — the trophy — at the expense of Liverpool, and before Man City or Arsenal could do it, would be the cherry on top of the ride of a lifetime. This might be as good as it ever gets for Spurs, which means one or two things has gone horrifically wrong in the future, which makes this present moment mean that much more.