Matt Miazga

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Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

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

Player ratings: USMNT starts strong, quickly fades v. Chile

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Who stood out — for better or for worse — in the U.S. men’s national team’s 1-1 draw with Chile on Tuesday?

[ MORE: USMNT, Chile wrap up March window with 1-1 draw (video) ]

GK – Ethan Horvath — 6: It was Horvath’s long ball that started the sequence on the USMNT’s goal — and it appeared he meant to hit it where it went — which is a part of the position we’ve never really seen with this team.

RB – DeAndre Yedlin — 5.5: As uninvolved in the attack as he’s been during his entire USMNT career, which is frustrating given the fact he’s playing the best soccer of his career with Newcastle United right now.

CB – Omar Gonzalez — 5.5: Not Gonzalez’s most confident, sure-footed showing defensively, but he was better and more controlled in possession than we’ve come to expect.

CB – Matt Miazga — 6: It’s quite jarring to contrast the passing maps of Miazga and Gonzalez, as Gonzalez tends to play simpler, shorter passes (oftentimes to Miazga), whereas the Miazga is tasked with progressing the ball from the backline, and doing so quite aggressively. He remains very, very good at it, by the way.

LB – Tim Ream — 5: Should have conceded a penalty when he went studs-up into Arturo Vidal in the box, and was one of few who failed to clear the danger on Chile’s equalizer. His showing when in possession was… not great.

MF – Michael Bradley — 7: Bradley’s full range of passing was on display in the first half, when he slotted a curled ball into acres of space to release Corey Baird down the right win, then dropped a feathery ball over the heads of two defenders and landed it on Baird’s foot. Finally, after a decade, a role suited to many of the things Bradley does well.

MF – Cristian Roldan — 6: If nothing else, Roldan’s presence deeper in midfield frees up Bradley to get farther forward — while still not the most advanced midfielder — and affect the game by finding spaces and applying pressure. Roldan was mostly tidy in possession, as always.

MF – Christian Pulisic — 7: The goal was stunning in how confidently he chipped the goalkeeper and strolled away, but he lasted just 34 minutes due to injury — something that’s becoming just a little too common for comfort…

RW – Corey Baird — 6.5: Baird brings an intriguing blend of skills — quick and shifty, strong and physical, always looking to attack upfield — without having fully settled on a positional home. He was constantly getting into good positions, but couldn’t produce the final ball or take the chance when it came to him.

CF – Gyasi Zardes — 6: His first touch to set up Pulisic for the goal was, in theory, sensation, assuming you believe he intentionally flicked the ball behind him as he took it down from the goalkeeper.

LW – Paul Arriola — 5.5: Considering the USMNT have barely 33 percent of possession in this game, Arriola wasn’t on the field for his creative work. He made as many, if not more, ball recoveries deep inside his own half than he completed passes.

LIVE — Pulisic rejoins USMNT v. Ecuador

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Fulham center back Tim Ream captains the United States men’s national team when Ecuador visits Florida in a much-anticipated test for Gregg Berhalter’s full-strength squad.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Ecuador ]

New York Red Bulls center back Aaron Long gets a nod next to John Brooks, meaning Ream will be at left back and Tyler Adams on the right.

Wil Trapp, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, and Paul Arriola have midfield duty, with Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes up top.

New York City FC’s Sean Johnson is in goal.

Available off the bench are Ethan Horvath, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, Cristian Roldan, Daniel Lovitz, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan Lewis, Matt Miazga, and Corey Baird.

U.S. U-23s have talent, experience to exorcise Olympic qualifying demons

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Let’s begin here: If the United States fails to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in men’s soccer, it should probably abandon the U-23 program.

That’s pretty haughty considering the Yanks have failed to qualify in three of the last four tournaments including the 2012 Games in the United Kingdom and 2016 edition in Brazil, but consider the talent on show for this March’s friendlies against Egypt and the Netherlands in Spain.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up v. Ecuador? ]

There are Bundesliga upstarts Josh Sargent and Haji Wright, not to mention Celtic’s Tim Weah. Chicago Fire midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is in the fold, as are defenders Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson.

And, oh yeah, they’ll get to add three Over-23 players while also potentially including several eligible players currently with the U-20s, full USMNT, or not called into March camp (Jonathan Lewis, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jonathan Amon, Luca de Torre). Even if the opposite happens and guys make the full USMNT or get injured, there’s depth here and plenty of it.

There have always been names when the Yanks have failed in qualifying, but hardly these degrees of depth and experience. In 2016 qualifying, Matt Miazga, Wil Trapp, and Emerson Hyndman were on the squad which couldn’t get the job done. 2012 saw Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd, and Bill Hamid.

But this group could be special, favored not just to qualify but to rival others for a spot on the podium. The hiring of longtime MLS boss Jason Kreis to oversee the group is another good decision, and he’ll have this crop of players (and more) from which to select his lineups.

Goalkeepers: Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), JT Marcinkowski (San Jose)

Defenders: Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City), Marco Farfan (Portland Timbers), Jack Maher (Indiana University), Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United), Donovan Pines (DC United), Lucas Pos (Lausanne), Antonee Robinson (Wigan), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)

Midfielders: Derrick Jones (Philadelphia), Cameron Lindley (Orlando City), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Keaton Parks (NYCFC), Eryk Williamson (Portland), Jackson Yueill (San Jose)

Forward: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Josh Perez (LAFC), Emmanuel Sabbi (Hobro), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Tim Weah (Celtic), Haji Wright (Schalke).