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It’s hard to be humbled. Anything less could cost Berhalter his job

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Wild nights, positive or negative, deserve reflection one day later. Here’s our bid to put the USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Canada in context less than 24 hours later…

The humbling of Gregg Berhalter is one of two distinct hopes for his survival as United States men’s national team coach.

The other is an unreliable route, one filled with long-term health for his best players on some pie-in-the-sky road where he utilizes the same 12-14 players per game for the rest of his tenure.

So, yeah, the first one is pretty key.

Coaches are by nature arrogant, and Berhalter earned his confidence by nurturing a suboptimal Columbus Crew roster into an over-performing playoff mainstay despite owner and former showgirl Rachel Phelps trying to move the club to Miami (Movie reference No.1, achieved).

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

When Berhalter beat out the field of two to lay claim to the USMNT position, he won over the media with Powerpoint slides about Pep Guardiola-inspired possession, which assumed to the delight of the American fan base that the nation had the immediate tools to out-class most of CONCACAF simply by being organized. He even had people handing him cute nicknames and defending the idea of using a Bundesliga regular defensive midfielder as a right back because he was generous with his time. Who needs La Masia when you’ve got the DA?

It should be pointed out that the philosophy’s failure through nine months doesn’t entirely destroy the idea to try it, but Berhalter’s often bizarre player selection and tactical destruction at the hands of Jamaica, Mexico, and now Canada have hastened the end of his honeymoon period almost as effectively as his the federation’s refusal to interview anyone other than Berhalter and Oscar Pareja. I mean, who needs Sergino Dest’s optimism when you can keep trying to jam a Wil Trapp-sized Wil Trapp through an Andrea Pirlo-shaped hole?

So you get what we had last night, a tire fire of a match in which his midfield had no idea what to do with the ball and his forwards might as well have been on a monastic retreat. According to the broadcast, Berhalter thought a miserable first half was due to his men not moving the ball fast enough side-to-side. His answers via subs, even before they were down, were to take off Christian Pulisic and leave creative minds Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Boyd on the bench. After the game, he claimed his players weren’t working hard enough and didn’t match Canada’s desire.

Here’s the problem, though, that’s on Berhalter, too. There were myriad articles out there, including several on this site, detailing Canada’s desperation to get results in the CONCACAF Nations League in order to move into a Top Six CONCACAF spot on the FIFA Rankings and qualify for the Hex.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

All it takes is a cursory look at the Canada roster to see that their electric attackers were their hope of winning the match, and that pressing their relatively weak group of defenders — one of whom has only been a defender for a year — was probably a great idea.

But Berhalter again stuck with his idea that the United States men’s national team program, even without several of its best players, could implement his system anywhere, against anyone.

And it failed spectacularly.

The thing is that Berhalter is actually quite a decent coach, as he proved in Columbus, but whether or not he lives to show it to this American audience in this particular job depends on his accepting the shortcomings of his depleted roster.

I want to talk to you about Aaron Long, and not because of his “Stranger Things” lifeguard haircut (TV show reference No. 1, achieved).

Aaron Long is a mauler, the sort of player who’d be beloved by many segments of the USMNT community in several generations. He gets stuck in, has a good work rate, and can factor on set pieces in the attacking third.

What he does not do very well — and I’ve covered this a lot in this space — is pass the ball and aid in possession. Since breaking into MLS in 2017, the now 27-year-old center back has completed 76, 69, and 65 percent of his passes with the New York Red Bulls.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Part of that is a function of the Red Bulls’ system; The team doesn’t really care at all about possession, passing at a terrible 68.6 percent, and not one of their players had a completion rate above 80 percent this year. By comparison, 197 players in Major League Soccer completed 80 percent or more of their passes this season (WhoScored).

This is not an argument that Long shouldn’t be in the U.S. system. While he’s had a rough couple of months in the shirt, he’s in the mix for the toughest American center backs in the game.

Might this possession-based idea look a lot better when healthy? Of course, that’s what we mentioned above. John Brooks is by far the best passing center back in the pool, and has been out of the mix for sometime due to injury. The same is true for the side’s best No. 6 in Adams.

But what the Yanks were for so long was difficult to break down, a hassle to play against. Berhalter needs that right now, and he’s got the horses to do it (Watch Jordan Morris’ legs keep moving for 90 minutes if you need proof). Success could then require admitted in front of a microphone that his team can’t hack his system right now, and that he talked down to an entire room last month when they just spit facts his way. That’s humbling, and it’s not fun. But it’s needed.

Adding to the issue is that it’s easy to see the Yanks still emerging from their group by beating Canada in Orlando next month and then walloping Cuba. But if Berhalter hasn’t been humbled and sees victories against the 53rd and 145th ranked teams in EloRatings as validation, well, I’ve got some truly valuable early 1990s baseball cards to sell you for a premium price.

Arrogance does nothing for you if it’s ill-founded. That confidence has felled countless executives, coaches, and players over the years (and yes, even average writers). Being outfoxed by Tata Martino is one thing, but having no reaction to the plan of John Herdman is another (That’s not a shot at Herdman, who had done well with the New Zealand and Canada women, but let’s be real).

We won’t learn whether Berhalter has learned from his errors via results next month, rather by what he does to try and get those results. When Martino beat him in the Gold Cup Final, the rematch two months later was far worse. He gets a second chance to match wits with Herdman next month, and it really cannot get much worse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice (Movie reference No. 2, achieved).

Last month, I wrote that Berhalter’s duties including the following bare minimum goals.

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

No. 1 is still far away, but 2-4… woah. We’re one Alphonso Davies star show away from finishing 2019 without a Gold Cup and no place in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. Sergino Dest might’ve skipped town for Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands set-up either way, but being shoehorned at left back last month probably helped his decision.

Finally, a number of people on Twitter pointed out that Canada is due plenty of respect for out-dueling the USMNT on Tuesday. Absolutely! But if you think a nation with under 1 million registered soccer players should be absolutely clowning a nation with 4 million-plus, a side they hadn’t beaten let alone dominated in 34 years, then you’re not getting the point. There’s room for Canada and the U.S. to both be good, but the Yanks looked like a steaming hot mug of spoiled milk to Canada’s well-chilled bag of the fresh stuff. No good.

Your move, Gregg. Do what you did last night, and last month, and you’ll get the same results. Your only other option is Voodoo dolls of Alphonso Davies and Scott Arfield.

State of play in CONCACAF Nations League

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Well, well, well…

Canada’s controlling 2-0 defeat of the USMNT on Tuesday adding some intrigue to the final two match days of the CONCACAF Nations League next month

[ USMNT-CANADA: Time for change? | Player ratings ]

Mexico nearly provided another shock at Azteca thanks to a relative inability to break down Panama, but young stunner Jose Juan Macias scored for the fourth time in three caps to lead El Tri to a 3-1 win on the night.

Roberto Alvarado saw his 28th minute goal canceled out by pre-halftime own goal, and Mexico had better than 75 percent possession when Macias bagged his winner. Rodolfo Pizarro rounded out the scoring in stoppage time.

Here’s where we sit in the battle for four semifinal spots. The semifinals and finals will be staged in June.

Group A

Canada’s defeat of the USMNT means the Yanks need to make the most of the Canucks visit to the Orlando next month and smash Cuba in the Cayman Islands. Overall goal difference is the second tie breaker, and the Yanks are four behind Canada. A two-goal win in Florida would mean the Yanks would simply need a victory over Cuba to advance to the semifinals. Canada advances with a draw against the U.S., while Cuba has already be relegated to League B.

Group B

Mexico now has six points to Panama’s three and Bermuda’s three. El Tri will visit Panama next and can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a draw or better. Even if Panama beats Mexico, Tata Martino’s men would need to get nothing from Bermuda at Azteca to fail to make the semifinals. Bermuda needs Panama to beat Mexico before getting a blowout win at Azteca. Not looking good.

Group C

Honduras is onto the semifinals. Whether Martinique or Trinidad and Tobago, both on two points, can avoid relegation by getting a superior result against Honduras in November. Honduras heads to Martinique before hosting T&T.

Group D

Curacao had five points compared to its rivals two each and can advance to the semifinals with a home defeat of Costa Rica. If Los Ticos claims the three points, then it will have at least a two-goal advantage on Haiti heading into a home finale.

Three things from ugly USMNT loss in Canada

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We were warned after Couva that perhaps, somehow, the United States men’s national team still had some ways to go before really hitting rock bottom.

It seemed absurd, but after 10 months of the Gregg Berhalter era, which followed the least interesting manager search of all-time, perhaps the warning was needed and should’ve been heeded.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT had no answers and no options on Tuesday in Canada, showing no urgency and getting bossed off the pitch against a team which may not qualify for the Hex.

Time for a change? It’s not insane to consider it. The team Berhalter rolled out, with several players who aren’t even standouts in MLS, was inept in Ontario.

Either the plan or players the problem, and both point one way

Canada’s John Herdman and his desperate team were ready for a fight, and the visitors apparently thought their talent and reputation would win the day.

Nuh-uh.

The book on Canada was electric attackers and suspect defense, so what did Gregg Berhalter spring for his opening salvo? No pressing on the back line and two plodding center backs. Tim Ream could work with an athlete like Matt Miazga. Aaron Long, too, but Berhalter put both players together (Long certainly grew into the game).

The result was that Alphonso Davies was shifted mainly to the side of the field with Daniel Lovitz, and man did he run wild.

So did Canada’s midfield who out-worked the Yanks up-and-down the center of the park. It was sad, and littered the match with doubt heading into the break.

Granted the U.S. is short several injured players and lost Jozy Altidore just before the international break, but Berhalter had no answers on his bench, or at least couldn’t manufacture one.

And that’s a huge part of the issue here. If you don’t have any sugar, might wanna prepare something other than cookies.

He removed Christian Pulisic at the hour mark, who had been poor and reportedly sick (see below) but still represents the best playmaker in his pool. Aside from the Chelsea man’s missed 1v1 duel with Borjan, there were no real attacking moments.

This was so bad, and absolutely according to plan by Herdman. No, not Tata Martino this time… John Herdman.

There is every reason to doubt Berhalter right now, and just as many to think that U.S. Soccer hierarchy wouldn’t consider remedying the situation on account of pride.

Given the way national team soccer works, it would not be off-color if the federation pulled the chute on Berhalter. The only possible excuse is injury, but Berhalter knew what he had in this camp and still rolled this plan out there in Toronto.

Pulisic frustrated, off-color, sick, and subbed?

Christian Pulisic didn’t have to do much in Friday’s demolition of Cuba, and he couldn’t do much of anything on Tuesday when asked to carry the team.

The Yanks were absolutely bamboozled in the first half which often had the match asking Pulisic to run wild once the ball actually found its way to him.

But he was dispossessed too often in any event, and missed a necessary goal when Jordan Morris sent him alone 1v1 with Milan Borjan. Yeah, that’s a Champions League goalkeeper with Milan Borjan, but this is the pride and joy of the program and it’s best product maybe ever.

Still, for Berhalter to pull him after 60 minutes begs the question of whether there’s an injury here. If not, well, there are a lot more questions than answers.

EDIT: Berhalter said after the game that Pulisic had been struggling with flu-like symptoms.

Davies roars, Steffen saves USMNT from blowout

While the Yanks’ best players wasn’t in rhythm, Canada’s was borderline symphonic.

Former Vancouver Whitecaps phenom and current Bayern Munich youngster Alphonso Davies was a problem for the Americans from Moment No. 1, and the only thing that could slow him was a 53rd minute leg injury.

Davies had the U.S. back line on its toes all night, and cooked Tim Ream early in the match before doing the same to Aaron Long on a play the Red Bulls man did very well to recover and slide to safety.

Fortunately for Gregg Berhalter, Zack Steffen is used to being put in bad positions due to his starring stint on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf. The goalkeeper made a phenomenal 1v1 stop on Davies in the first half and was often forced to command his box under duress.

2 years since Couva, has the USMNT learned from its biggest failure?

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Two years ago yesterday, the United States men were eliminated from World Cup contention with a devastating loss to Trinidad & Tobago, missing out on the big dance for the first time in eight cycles.

It was a disaster of epic proportions, a miss so colossal it promised to bring with it sweeping changes and overhauls in order to prevent it from ever happening again.

And yet, two years on, has anything significant really changed?

The feeling of uncertainty, pessimism, and confusion still reigns strong with the USMNT setup, and despite the cataclysmic event in Couva two years ago, little has actually changed for the program. The talent pool is subject to endless experimentation with little established consistency in the starting lineup, the youth setup is struggling to recruit talented dual nationals, and results are still below the expected level of competition and growth.

Gregg Berhalter, as far as we know, has not fundamentally changed much with his hire. Billed as a new era of the USMNT, the same players are still called in, the same mistakes plague the team on the field, and there is little improvement to give fans hope for the future.

Inspecting the other high-profile teams that missed the 2018 World Cup – the Netherlands and Italy – both have made sweeping changes and ushered in a youth movement that has brought marketable changes to the squad. The Netherlands immediately progressed to the Nations League final behind a youth backbone that took Ajax to the Champions League semifinals, while Italy is perfect through six matches of Euro 2020 qualification under Roberto Mancini after making sweeping changes to the youth setup.

In fact, the USMNT is poised to potentially lose a key dual national to the Netherlands in Sergino Dest, who is still deciding on his future despite having played for the United States youth setup.

Meanwhile, the United States’ youth movement has sputtered. Weston McKennie’s development has stalled amid his inability to reign in his wild and erratic tendencies. Tyler Adams, John Brooks, and Timothy Weah have contracted the injury bug, while Christian Pulisic is stuck on the bench while he integrates into the Chelsea squad. Jonathan Gonzalez was wooed by Mexico and now they could lose Dest too as some accuse U.S. Soccer of failing to remain in constant contact with potential prospects. Just last week Berhalter naively said, “it’s not U.S. Soccer’s job to develop players.”

Despite a promise to turn over a new leaf, the U.S. is still light years behind where it should be expected to be. They were beaten by Mexico in the Gold Cup final by Tata Martino, who wasn’t even contacted about the U.S. vacancy and subsequently hired by their arch rivals. They were thumped 3-0 by the same squad weeks later in a friendly on home soil. An unconvincing draw against a Uruguay B side didn’t do much to alleviate the pessimism days later.

While the U.S. still sorts through its numerous litany of struggles, fans are wondering when the promised changes will come. Questions remain for Berhalter as he continues the rebuild, with an over-reliance on players from his old stomping grounds Major League Soccer often casting doubt onto his ability to select a squad.

CONCACAF Nations League play looms tonight, with a matchup against Cuba before a game against Canada on Tuesday. This is a chance for the U.S. men to slowly rebuild trust within the fan base. It will take a significant finish in the competition to sway those with doubts, but it is possible to start somewhere. Still, the signs point to continued frustration and uncertainty in the future, and there is much work ahead to undo that.

Ultimately, two years from D Day, would one be surprised if another Couva repeat took place again? Is this squad past the devastating loss to a point where it’s avoidable? If fans waffle on answering those questions affirmatively, has the group really moved on? There is still a long way to go, and World Cup qualifying begins in less than a year’s time.

Making a title case for each MLS playoff team

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Major League Soccer’s playoff format has made the route to the MLS Cup Final a bit easier for a Cinderella.

Yes, the home games have dried up for Team Nos. 5-7 in all likelihood.

[ WATCH: Zlatan statue unveiled ]

Yes, home games in MLS have provided a wild advantage, with only three teams posting sub-.500 records at home and only two teams above . 500 away from home.

And yes, having so many playoff teams should allow for the top seeds to waltz — Less than 42 percent of the league misses the playoffs.

But making the final means winning three games now, instead of outlasting a superior team over 180 minutes home and away. And that means it’ll be difficult to rule out anyone.

So here is at least one reason all 14 teams can lift the MLS Cup.

New England Revolution — Bruce Arena is on a revenge mission, and Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been let loose to worry about little besides scoring. Easily the longest of long shots.

FC Dallas — Young and hungry, FCD has the sixth-best possession numbers in MLS (52.6 percent) and passes better than anyone other than Toronto.

New York Red Bulls — Only four teams scored more goals from open play than the Red Bulls’ 39, and New York leads the league in tackles. They are a tough out, but their 68.6 percent passing percentage is shocking.

Portland Timbers — One of five teams to score double-digit goals from set pieces and the leader in goals off the counter (7), the Timbers have a sneaky good tactician and obviously strong motivator in Gio Savarese.

DC United — Only LAFC allowed fewer goals than Bill Hamid and his center back pairing of Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum. Also, Wayne Rooney is a difference maker and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him ride out of MLS on top of the league.

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Toronto FC — Haven’t lost since Aug. 3, and have made two Cup final runs under Greg Vanney. Experience is key, and TFC is the best passing team in MLS (85.3 percent).

LA Galaxy — Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the best attackers in the history of football, even without any defenders.

Minnesota United — Their path to the title demands overcoming both LA sides, but Ike Opara and the Loons have been solid at deploying Adrian Heath’s defensive game plan. Vito Mannone at the back is capable of stealing games, and Jan Gregus and Osvaldo Alonso are about as tough a midfield duo as you’ll find in MLS.

Philadelphia Union — Take a walk around the advanced stats pages, and you’ll see Jim Curtin’s men at or near the top of the league is just about everything. A complete if unspectacular team who can catch opponents off guard.

Real Salt Lake — The lack of an out-and-out star scorer scares us, but RSL gets scoring from all over the team sheet and has motivation to send Nick Rimando out on top.

Seattle Sounders — Another team which has done this dance before, they have a pair of game-changers in Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris.

Atlanta United — They did it last year, Pity Martinez is finally firing on all cylinders, and you know they’d love to send Michael Parkhurst out on top. Don’t rule out the champs.

New York City FC — For at least two rounds, Dome Torrent’s men will host more weary opponents on their postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium. That’s a huge advantage, and they would be one LAFC misstep away from hosting the final.

LAFC — I mean, come on. This is the best regular season team of all-time with a top-end manager in Bob Bradley. As long as they respect their opposition and dodge heat in El Trafico should it happen, the title is theirs.