2019 Gold Cup

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Judging the USMNT’s summer

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Gregg Berhalter is winning over his detractors. Now he needs to start winning against Mexico.

The United States men’s national team manager failed in his first bid to win a trophy, the 2019 Gold Cup, albeit against a much better Mexico team which was highly-favored to win its eighth trophy.

There were stumbles along the way — the men clearly expected to waltz past Curacao — but the Yanks largely passed tests in paving the way to the CONCACAF Nations League and 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Let’s talk about the good and the bad. We’ll try to avoid the meh.

Necessary negatives: The extended extended extended proving ground

Imagine, for a moment, you’ve moved to another country. Hey, maybe you have. Congratulations on your international jet-setting ways.

Now you’ve found one place around the corner from your apartment where you like the food. It tastes like home. The person who runs the place knows your name and always thanks you for your business.

But now your new friends are showing you other places. They are tastier places which are also healthier for you.

Still, you keep going back to the first place. It’s served you well.

It’s called Gyasi and Wil’s Family Restaurant, and Gregg Berhalter loves the lunch special.

This was one of the prime stumbling blocks of Berhalter’s early tenure as USMNT boss and one of its only true setbacks before his questionable substitutions in the Gold Cup Final against Mexico.

Berhalter overachieved in a big way during his time as Columbus Crew boss, and that was aided in no small way by midfielder Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. One needs to look no further than Caleb Porter’s first season with a very similar Columbus roster to see just how well Berhalter did in Ohio.

But Trapp has been average at-best for the last four seasons in MLS and doesn’t have a place anywhere off the fringes of the national team pool (He’s been especially suspect this year in the United States’ top flight).

And to a lesser extent, the same is true for Zardes. Even in last year’s 20-goal season with Columbus, his stats were not wonderful (aside from the goals and yes, goals are pretty important in soccer).

Berhalter gave 17 of Trapp’s 19 caps to the midfielder, but only used him twice in the Gold Cup run (once off the bench). Trapp captained the side in his first eight caps under Berhalter, and again in June’s friendly slaughter at the hands of Salomon Rondon and Venezuela.

He’s just okay, not a mainstay, and it took Berhalter some time to realize that Michael Bradley was the far superior option despite being nowhere near his peak powers and a sudden turnover machine.

Zardes is not the answer at striker, although he put in a solid sub shift on Sunday, and Berhalter made sure he asked that question continually over the past half-year. He’s capable of the sublime and there’s currently a place for him in a 23-man roster, but that’s it. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 50 career caps, and here are the ones that come outside of CONCACAF:

Bolivia: 2 goals
Paraguay: 1 assist
Ecuador: 2 goals
Chile: 1 assist
Netherlands: 1 goal

Anyway, the point is not to dog Trapp and Zardes. They are pool players, but are unlikely to be regular difference makers for the USMNT. Berhalter, as is his right, gave them a loyal chance to stake a claim to their preferred places. Neither has been exceptional despite a wealth of experience in his system. The game’s not over, but it seems their role is as mid-level boss.

Pulisic is a wonder, and we wonder what’s next (Alternatively titled: Don’t hurt him, Lamps)

Christian Pulisic is a terrific player with world class potential. He is a worker, a playmaker, a finisher, and a burgeoning leader.

We need not spent too much detailing his exploits in the tournament, which earned him a place in the Best XI.

But the key part of this is that the kid continues to show up bigger when it matters.

Not 21 until September, Pulisic’s first Gold Cup saw him post three goals and three assists in five matches. Prior to this summer, he has seven goals and seven assists in World Cup qualifiers.

Even including his failure to meet the score sheet in the Copa America Centenario, Pulisic has 10 goals and 10 assists in 21 tournament matches for the USMNT. Compare that to three goals in nine friendlies. Guy’s a gamer.

Now he goes to Chelsea, a new club with a new manager who did not purchase him (but will surely be no stranger to his exploits). Frank Lampard will need Pulisic to show him something, but the price tag means the American will get every chance to do so.

That said, this isn’t a plea for “Lamps” to play Pulisic, rather develop him. The player is a dynamite winger, but Lampard was one of the most complete attacking midfielders of his generation. We’d argue the hiring is a good one. Let’s hope to be proven correct.

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Chances taken, squandered, and everything in between

Here is a partial list of players left off the USMNT roster: John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Antonee Robinson, Paxton Pomykal, Duane Holmes, Sebastian Lletget, Russell Canouse, Andrija Novakovich, and Bobby Wood.

Some went uncalled by Gregg Berhalter, yeah, but all remain prospects to get regular spots on the team.

Of the men who were called into the squad, there are several who entered the tournament as undoubted long-term mainstays: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Zack Steffen among them. Others had a good handle on a place in the squad moving forward. While not perfect, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore ensured that they won’t be headed to the retirement unless they make that choice.

It’s difficult to get a read on Berhalter, and whether he’s dismissed a player or simply rotating according to some unnamed plan.

He benched Tyler Boyd with the U.S. in dire needed of attacking creativity against Mexico. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman were pretty decent in the tournament, so maybe he had just seen enough?

Reggie Cannon seized his opportunity to lay claim to a fullback’s place in the pool, and Boyd looked good to most of us (again, how does Berhalter really feel?). Jordan Morris had his moments.

Paul Arriola seems to have made the right impression on his coach, while Berhalter has a very high opinion of Cristian Roldan (His engine is elite, but production remains absent).

All told, the coach is doing a decent job

I’ve written a number of times that the U.S. Soccer Federation did Gregg Berhalter no favors with the mysterious hiring process, because he’s a worthy hiring.

The loss against Mexico stings but it doesn’t scar, maybe because Berhalter’s Yanks pummeled Trinidad and Tobago for a measure of revenge and staked fair claims of superiority over Panama and Jamaica.

His system is asking a lot out of this player pool, but once we see the full-throated team with John Brooks leading out of the back with his under-appreciated distribution and Tyler Adams spying Pulisic, Weah, and other electric attackers, the Yanks are going to roar through CONCACAF.

Injuries could cost them, yeah, and the youth we’ve seen shine with the U-20s and (hopefully) the U-23s heading into the Olympics need to be nurtured into contributors.

As of right now, you’d bet on the USMNT to sit in the top three spots for the Hex and it’s reasonable to expect Berhalter to develop the young players into a squad that can rival Mexico’s by the Nations League finals or the Hex.

That’s when Berhalter will get his next serious chance to rival Tata Martino. And this time, he won’t have to plug in maybes and what ifs.

Hopefully. And that adverb is the one that applies to almost every USMNT question.

Bonus item: USWNT

After 1300 words on the men, here are a dozen or so on the women that matter just as much: Pay them equally. They’re the best we’ve got, and it’s the right thing to do anyway.

USMNT places three, Mexico seven, on Gold Cup Best XI

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Three United States men’s national team members were named to a Gold Cup’s Best XI littered with players from champions Mexico.

At least one of the honored Yanks will surprise you.

Christian Pulisic was probably penciled onto a number of ballots before the tournament, and he delivered in a big way for Gregg Berhalter.

[ MORE: Arnautovic leaves West Ham ]

Aaron Long was also a regular for the coach, though he had his share of fits and starts, and Michael Bradley played some exceptional passes and showed his typical calm… even the giveaways came too easy for 150-times capped American.

Canadian forward Jonathan David was the only other player not to wear El Tri colors, and he won the Golden Boot with six goals.

As for Mexico, Raul Jimenez leads the line and goalkeeper Guillermo “Memo’ Ochoa is between the sticks.

The other five are defenders Luis Rodriguez, Carlos Salcedo, and Jesus Gallardo, as well as midfielders Jonathan dos Santos and Andres Guardado.

A number of big goal scorers including Uriel Antuna of Mexico and Lucas Cavallini of Mexico, did not make the cut, nor did Haiti’s energetic Duckens Nason.

Berhalter: USMNT lacked “some composure” that Mexico “certainly had”

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team showed plenty of progress over the 2019 Gold Cup, but ultimately fell short in a 1-0 final loss to rivals Mexico on Monday.

Why?

“What we lacked was some of the calmness, some of the composure,” Berhalter said. “We knew it was going to be a big event and a semi-hostile crowd. The calmness is what we lacked. Mexico certainly had it, and they played particularly well in the second half.”

The Yanks failed in their bid to match Mexico on seven Gold Cup trophies, and a lot of the social media sphere was focused on Berhalter’s uninspiring substitutions of Cristian Roldan, Gyasi Zardes, and Daniel Lovitz.

[ WWC: Three things we learned: USWNT v. Netherlands | Player ratings ]

Berhalter is proving quite adept at explaining his moves in a sensible, rational way (even if we doubt they will sway too many people that the approach was a good one).

“It became a very vertical game and it opened up a lot of space. We needed to avoid that by being able to keep the ball, move the ball side-to-side, get them moving more horizontally than vertically. We were rushing attacks in the second half, much too direct, and it cost us energy. We didn’t give up many good chances.

“When we brought on Cristian, the idea was the help us keep possession. We had a difficult time in the center of the field tonight and we thought he was going to give us help. With Gyasi, it was just a case of fresh legs. Jozy put in a good shift. In Daniel’s case, now we wanted width. We wanted to move our wingers inside and get our crosses into the penalty box. We were willing to risk more.”

CONCACAF posted the full post-match interview:

Three things from USMNT’s loss to Mexico

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Gregg Berhalter’s first tournament, the 2019 Gold Cup, as U.S. men’s national team head coach is in the books.

Sure, Sunday’s final defeat to Mexico stings — as does any defeat to El Tri — but the 2022 World Cup is still more than 36 months away. With that in mind, what did we learn about the USMNT on Sunday and throughout this tournament?

[ MORE: USA beat Netherlands, win back-to-back World Cups (video) ]

Baptism by fire for so many players

The intensity, the speed, the rash challenges, the constant antics. These are the things that have come to best explain the U.S.-Mexico rivalry, and they were all on full display from the opening whistle on Sunday.

The likes of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, seasoned veterans of the last decade, weren’t at all bothered and have learned to embrace the extracurriculars. Surprisingly, many of the first-timers adapted quickly and found their footing without any major causes for concern, even in the game’s opening minutes.

Right back Reggie Cannon (21 years old with five caps) was arguably the best American player in the first half (non-Christian Pulisic division); Weston McKennie took it upon himself to play the role of enforcer on multiple occasions; Paul Arriola was his usual steady self and shied away from no dirty elbow.

No one backed down, no one played timidly, no one took the bait and harmed the team. As far as intense, high-stakes games go, this was a surprisingly mature performance.

[ MORE: Three things we learned: USA v. Netherlands | Player ratings ]

Berhalter got his subs wrong

Locked in a 0-0 game, Berhalter made the following substitutions early in the second half:

  • Cristian Roldan for Jordan Morris (61′)
  • Gyasi Zardes for Jozy Altidore (64′)

While bringing Zardes on for Altidore doesn’t look great on paper, he’s the only center forward Berhalter could realistically call upon off the bench. Not to mention, Altidore wasn’t having the best game of his career, even if you take out of his inexcusable miss in the 8th minute. The whole thing is… whatever.

The idea behind bringing Roldan on for Morris — with Tyler Boyd taking up space on the bench — is indecipherable. Did he want an extra body in central midfield to create more possession and slow the game down? Was it all about pushing Pulisic out to the wing? Can anyone make any sense of this?

Alternatively, Djordje Mihailovic, an actual no. 10.

Down a goal in a cup final, with fewer than 10 minutes remaining, Berhalter did the following:

I’m sorry, he did what?

The left back came off, which is a totally normal move when you’re down a goal and throwing all caution to the wind… to be replaced by another left back.

I don’t even need to launch into a tirade to explain why this is insane.

Alternatively, bring Boyd on and overload one wing, or give Pulisic a totally free role to drift anywhere and everywhere. Heck, bring Jonathan Lewis into a game that was entirely too stretched for anyone’s liking and let him run at defenders one on one. Simply put, there were a number of different ways Berhalter could have gone with his final sub, and what he did might have actually been the worst possible option.

[ MORE: Rose Lavelle “a straight up superstar” after stellar World Cup run ]

A positive tournament for the USMNT

Let’s end on a happy note, why don’t we?

The USMNT looked completely lost at sea when they began this tournament three weeks ago. By the time the quarterfinals and semifinals rolled around, that was no longer the case — and, against much tougher competition. It’s clear that Berhalter was able to make a lot of progress in a short period of time, and that should be held up as a hugely promising sign going forward.

We can bicker over whether or not “the system” or “the player pool” should dictate how the team plays on a given day, but when he has a full complement of players healthy and available for selection (e.g., Tyler Adams, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Josh Sargent), they actually match up quite well.

The issue, as always, is that the player pool is still the player pool. Even when Adams and Sargent come back into the team later this year, the USMNT will still be thin in those positions, but at least they’ll have a quality starter to build upon, right?

USMNT wastes early chances, falls to Mexico in Gold Cup final (video)

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The U.S. men’s national team had its chances, but made nothing of them, before the defense finally gave way and succumbed to the relentless pressure of Mexico in the 2019 Gold Cup final on Sunday.

[ MORE: USA beat Netherlands, win back-to-back World Cups (video) ]

This is the story of a game full of missed chances very early on — missed chances that everyone in the world knew would come back to bite the USMNT in the end.

The Americans had two golden scoring chances inside the game’s first eight minutes. Jozy Altidore‘s hold-up play send Christian Pulisic into the box with one defender and the goalkeeper to beat. He was able to slide past the former, but the latter, Guillermo Ochoa, stood tall and saved Pulisic’s shot. Altidore followed up with a hopeful bicycle attempt, to no avail.

Three minutes later, Altidore had the 10-out-of-10 chance that are so few and far between in finals. After twisting away from Hector Moreno at the top of Mexico’s penalty area, Altidore had Ochoa in headlights with either side of the goal fully exposed. His left-footed shot bounced helplessly wide.

The speed with which the game turned into a classic U.S.-Mexico battle, particularly for a cup final, was jarring. Weston McKennie and Andres Guardado engaged one another in some pushing and shoving early in the first half; Luis Rodriguez booted the ball off a prone Pulisic, which prompted Altidore to sprint 40 yards across the field to confront him before being forcibly removed from the situation; McKennie squared up to Moreno after he drove a knee into Altidore’s back already face-down on the ground.

[ MORE: Three things we learned: USA v. Netherlands | Player ratings ]

Guardado cleared off the line what looked set to become the game’s opening goal in the 50th minute. Jordan Morris rose above everyone and sent a powerful header back across the face and goal and had beaten Ochoa, but Guardado was lurking at the near post and headed the ball clear just as it began to cross the goal line.

The breakthrough was long overdue for a game as open as this one, but it was unquestionably worth the wait. Raul Jimenez set up Jonathan dos Santos with a clever backheel on the edge of the penalty area, and dos Santos’ left-footed finish was never going to be saved as he laced it toward the far post out of Zack Steffen’s reach.

[ MORE: Rose Lavelle “a straight up superstar” after stellar World Cup run ]

Sunday’s triumph gives Mexico 11 all-time CONCACAF titles (eight during the Gold Cup era), once again four ahead of the Americans.