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Big takeaways, winners, losers from USMNT friendlies

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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.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

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.

Steffen

Adams — Brooks — Long??? — Lovitz???

Bradley

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:

Brad Guzan

Shaq Moore — Palmer-Brown — Carter-Vickers — Kyle Duncan

Russell Canouse

Darlington Nagbe  — Memo Rodriguez

Lynden Gooch — Andrija Novakovich — Kenny Saief

US international Lynden Gooch signs Sunderland extension

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USMNT international Lynden Gooch has signed a long-term extension with current club Sunderland, keeping him at the Stadium of Light through the summer of 2022, the club has announced.

The 23-year-old Santa Cruz product debuted for Sunderland in 2016 when the club was in the Premier League, earning four starts and 19 appearances before an ankle injury slowed his season and saw him thrust to the bench. With the club relegated to the Championship, Gooch still could not find a spot in the starting lineup, and the club again dropped a level after a poor season.

This campaign, Gooch has been a regular fixture in the Sunderland lineup, making 21 league appearances so far including 20 starts. With his help, Sunderland sits third in the League One table and is firmly in the promotion conversation.

Gooch made sure manager Jack Ross, who joined the club in late May, got his due when discussing the American’s reasons for signing his extension.

“I am glad to get it all done because the manager has given me a lot of opportunities,” Gooch told the official Sunderland club website. “He has shown faith in me when I haven’t been playing well at times, but I’m delighted to be in this first team and playing because that’s the most important thing at my age. The club has completely changed since the summer and the manager was a big reason for me wanting to stay. He has had a big impact on me this season and given me the license to do what I do best. Hopefully I can continue to show the form I have done in the first-half of the season and help us get promoted.”

Gooch has four caps for the United States national team, with three of those coming in friendlies. He has not started for the national team in his career, with all four appearances coming off the bench. He last appeared for the national team back in May, playing the final 17 minutes of a 3-0 friendly win over Bolivia.

Four burning questions regarding Berhalter’s plans for USMNT

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New USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has a lot to consider regarding the player pool of his squad, and we’ve got a lot to consider about him.

[ MORE: Adams off to RB Leipzig ]

There’s little doubt that Berhalter is a heck of a coach, and there’s reason to believe he’ll thrive with the team.

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?

Experienced hands who could be in line for another or deeper run with the USMNT are Alfredo Morales, Eric Lichaj, Geoff Cameron, Lynden Gooch, and Emerson Hyndman.

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)

Defenders (8) : John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Matt Miazga* (Nantes), DeAndre Yedlin* (Newcastle United), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Shaq Moore (Reus), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Erik Palmer-Brown* (NAC Breda),

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)

SCOTLAND — Emerson Hyndman of Hibernian (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

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.

Another thing to keep in mind, which is completely coincidental and speculation, is that Transfermarkt compares two American players to Artur, Berhalter’s preferred midfield mate for Trapp with the Crew: 23-year-old Kellyn Acosta of the Colorado Rapids and 21-year-old Keaton Parks of Benfica.

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.

What did we learn about USMNT this international break?

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The U.S. men’s national team is still in a heavy state of flux as they wrapped up their September friendlies with a win against bitter rivals Mexico in Nashville on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

But what lessons have we learned about the state of the USMNT as things stand? Which players impressed for interim head coach Dave Sarachan? And what lies ahead for the USA’s caretaker boss?

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings

Let’s dive in and look at the key takeaways for the U.S. national team over the past 10-12 days.


1. Permanent coach is needed, right now
Dave Sarachan has done an admirable job considering the circumstances but now is the right time for U.S. Soccer to push hard for a new permanent coach, with the federation already saying they want to appoint a new head coach by December 2018. Sarachan has been in charge on an interim basis for almost a year and over the past 12 months the U.S. has called up 66 different players excluding the 15 players who were part of the disaster in Cuova against Trinidad & Tobago, many of whom will never play for the U.S. again. If the U.S. would’ve appointed a new head coach in March 2018 (waiting after the results of the U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election, of course) what could they have achieved over the past six months? Plenty. The USMNT has been stood still for too long. They waited for the 2018 World Cup to come and go to see if any decent managerial candidates arose from the dust of the tournament. None did. And here we are.

The leading candidates for USSF President Carlos Cordeiro and new USMNT General Manager Earnie Stewart (he started his new job on August 1) to appoint are rumored to be Gregg Berhalter, Tab Ramos, Peter Vermes, Gerardo Martino and Sarachan. The latter has led the U.S. to three wins, two defeats and three draws in his eight games in charge but Bruce Arena’s long-time assistant has been seen as a stop-gap and he will likely remain involved with the U.S. in some capacity after his steady leadership in a turbulent time for the federation on and off the pitch. Berhalter seems to be the overwhelming favorite given his brother, Jay, is instrumental in the upper echelons of the U.S. Soccer Federation and he played with Stewart for the U.S. The way he has created an identity and clear plan with the Columbus Crew, an MLS franchise about to move to Austin, Texas which has been in turmoil for many months, has been astounding. A deal for Berhalter to take charge as soon as the 2018 MLS season is over needs to be made, right now, especially with his former club the LA Galaxy now needing a new manager. We should suspect, and hope, that the USSF has dragged its heels so long to appoint a new coach because they’re waiting for Berhalter to finish things in the correct manner in Columbus. If that isn’t the case, then letting the program drift along with no clear identity or plan is something which could set them back several years and risk not making the 2022 World Cup too. Losing 6-8 months of development time isn’t ideal and it seems like that is what will happen unless Sarachan is appointed on a permanent basis.


2. Formation and identity all over the place
This will become solidified when a new permanent head coach is found, but Sarachan’s comments after the Mexico game were a little concerning.

“We nitpick on the technical side, but you saw a team tonight that played aggressively, competed hard and won most of their duels,” Sarachan side. “I think that’s been a constant over the time I’ve had the group and over the past two games against Brazil and Mexico.”

Winning battles and fighting hard are all well and good, but what is the plan? Sarachan’s decision to go with a flat back four once again versus Mexico, then play Kellyn Acosta out of position out wide when it looked much more favorable to play a diamond in midfield, was a little baffling. A three-man central defense worked so well away against France this summer and it allows the U.S. to get the best out of their flying wing backs (DeAndre Yedlin and Antonee Robinson) as well as giving them a little extra security defensively with Miazga, Carter-Vickers and either Parker or Brooks as center backs. Yet, there has been no clear, consistent message from Sarachan. The starting lineup having an average age of 23 years and five days is impressive, but with the message and formation switching most games, it’s hard to see real chemistry building among these youngsters. There’s no doubt the USMNT looked much better when forced to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation after McKennie went off injured and that was something Sarachan didn’t have any control over.

The best teams at club and international level have a clear identity. Due to 12 months in flux the USMNT doesn’t have that. Are they a 4-2-3-1 team or a 3-4-3 side? What are the key principles that are important to new GM Earnie Stewart moving forward? At the moment watching the USMNT play is like watching a toddler arrive at Disney for the first time. Plenty of youthful enthusiasm but no clear direction.


3. McKennie, Adams the future
There’s no doubt that Christian Pulisic will be the undisputed star for the USMNT for the next decade or so, but Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams will be more than capable of helping him along the way. Adams, still just 19, scored his first international goal in the win against Mexico and he played in both games, showcasing his energy and ability to play the simple pass at the right time. He and McKennie, just 20 years old, should get the opportunity to start together in central midfield in their preferred deeper positions. McKennie limped off with an injury against Mexico but the Schalke star has a big role to play in the coming years, with he and Adams looking ready to overtake Wil Trapp for those central midfield positions.

A solid, energetic base in midfield plus the ability to connect passes and keep hold of the ball intelligently is something both excel in and as we saw with Adams, he also has the ability to make those key runs forward to open up space and get on the end of things. With McKennie, Adams, Acosta, Trapp, Danny Williams, Lynden Gooch and several others ready to roll, the U.S. midfield is looking pretty good.


4. Striker situation concerning
They aren’t looking great up top though. Gyasi Zardes was chucked up front against Mexico and although he struggled for service he did look to stretch El Tri’s defense and there’s no doubt he is a bigger threat centrally than out wide. Tim Weah was a threat from out wide and looked most dangerous when cutting in from the flank. They key takeaway? We need to see a partnership, two players up top together feeding off each other a la Altidore and Dempsey during the heyday of Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign. Seeing Weah and Zardes up top together, and Weah with Wood, needs to be a priority during the next international break. That said, Wood’s struggles continue at club level (just two goals in his past 24 appearances in the Bundesliga) and his hold-up play has never been the best. What other options do the USMNT have in attack? Josh Sargent will certainly be an option in the coming years as he continues to develop at Werder Bremen, but aside from that, Andrija Novakovich has shown promise but didn’t feature in either friendly in September. Maybe a few veterans could help out in the striking department…


5. A few veterans could return and improve things
Okay, this is a sore subject. I get it. But now seems like a pretty good time to start reintegrating some of the USMNT veterans and Sarachan has intimated that will be the case this fall. With the MLS season coming to an end and plenty of U.S. players winding down for 2018, the likes of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore at Toronto FC (they need plenty of wins, and help, in their final seven games of the season to reach the MLS Cup playoffs) may be eyeing a return to the USMNT fold. After the debacle of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup last October, plenty of veteran players have been cast aside and many presumed they would never return. But in Bradley and Altidore — the former is the USA’s long-time skipper with 140 caps and the latter ranks third all-time in goals with 41 — they have players who can deliver experience in key areas and help develop the prodigious young talents. Could McKennie and Adams learn plenty about controlling the tempo of the game from Bradley by playing alongside him? Of course they can. Can Altidore teach Weah about hold-up play and how to lead the line? Yep. Elsewhere the likes of Tim Ream would suit a three man central defense perfectly but there aren’t too many veterans who would want to return to this setup or suit the role of gradually passing the torch to these youngsters. It’s all about picking a few vets to return for the games against Colombia and Peru on home soil next month, then seeing how that mix of youth and experience plays out. Despite the 2018 World Cup being done and dusted, the ghosts of Couva haven’t been fully exonerated.

Sunderland may sue two players from its Premier League relegation team

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You’ll no doubt remember Sunderland, who’ve suffered successive relegations and are competing for promotion to the Championship this season.

Their 10-year stay in the Premier League ended two seasons ago, when players like Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong were unable to help David Moyes stave off a Bottom Three finish.

[ MORE: USMNT-Mexico preview ]

Neither spent the Championship season at Sunderland, with Djilobodji heading to Dijon and N’Dong to Watford, so it was safe to say they wouldn’t be angling to put on the red-and-white striped shirts in League One.

Narrator: They did not.

N’Dong is literally AWOL and Djilobodji’s efforts at performing under contract have amounted to showing up to the Stadium of Light overweight and speaking poorly of his odds of hanging out around town during his life on Earth.

“Didier Ndong has shown no interest in returning to the football club whatsoever, we don’t even know where he is. Papy has returned but in his last conversation [before coming back] he said: ‘You’ll never see me in Sunderland again’.”

New Sunderland chairman Stewart Donald claims he’s better fit to put in a performance than Djilobodji, and says the club is fining them and perhaps suing them for damaging their value.

The Black Cats are one of five unbeaten clubs in League One, four points behind leaders Peterborough. American midfielder Lynden Gooch‘s four assists lead the team.