Burning questions

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Burning question: How will the USMNT perform as World Cup hosts?

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We know the question is fraught with variables, but let’s consider this question during this dead period in world soccer: What should we expect from the United States men’s national team at the home World Cup.

The USMNT will presumably have a ninth World Cup under its belt when it joins Canada and Mexico in hosting the 2026 World Cup.

Expectations will be sky-high for the Yanks, eight years removed from failure to qualify for the 2018 tournament and 22 years after hosting the World Cup that would jumpstart soccer in this country.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

It’s wild to think about a 27-year-old Christian Pulisic leading the Yanks as presumed captain. Health-willing, the winger will be somewhere in the 80-cap range and potentially have a resume as decorated as any in history at his age.

Let’s begin by talking about who will be on the roster, considering we cannot know the identity of the coach or which players will explode onto the scene. Maybe Keegan Rosenberry or Donovan Pines get chances and grasp them. Maybe both disappear from the picture. Six years is a long time, so we’ll stick with the familiar.

Given the tremendous changes at the top of U.S. Soccer and a spirit amongst fans which has been downright venomous, it may be difficult to imagine Gregg Berhalter will still be at the helm unless his side has a remarkable tournament in Qatar, but it’s possible (For what it’s worth, Berhalter’s USMNT playing career happened alongside new USMNT general manager Brian McBride).

So let’s look at the class of players who are in the picture now and would also still be in their primes, assuming health.

Near certainties

We’re lending some leeway to Dest, Weah, and Reyna given their early and impressive starts to careers at elite European clubs, and a little bit to Steffen, too; Whether the Fortuna Dussseldorf loan man is the No. 1 is a conversation to be had, but his experience gives him a foothold as a member of the corps.

  • Pulisic, 27
  • Weston McKennie, 27
  • Tyler Adams, 27
  • Zack Steffen, 31
  • Giovanni Reyna, 23
  • Tim Weah, 26
  • Sergino Dest, 25

The wily vets: We know there will be late bloomers and those that play deep into their 30s — Gyasi Zardes may become the USMNT’s new Chris Wondolowski if he hasn’t already — but these five names are well-established now and well-liked by the hierarchy.

  • Jordan Morris, 31
  • John Brooks, 33
  • DeAndre Yedlin, 32
  • Walker Zimmerman, 33
  • Cristian Roldan, 31

Young, experienced, but with questions: It’s a touch harsh to have Sargent here, as recency bias is the challenge (He’s struggled of late but has a very strong resume at Werder Bremen and with the USMNT). He also will have to contend with a pool of very deep and young attackers.  Miazga and Horvath also possess the resume and acumen, but there are enough minor questions about playing time — getting it and keeping it — at the very top levels of Europe.

  • Josh Sargent, 26
  • Matt Miazga, 30
  • Ethan Horvath,  30

How will they fare with a step up? There’s nothing to dislike about this crew apart from where they are playing now. Cannon, Miles Robinson, and Yueill are in a strengthened MLS but that is still not a guarantee on the international stage. Antonee Robinson was denied a January move to AC Milan, and the Wigan Athletic man is going to get a big look from someone soon since he plays left back. Cannon and he will get a chance almost as soon as the transfer window opens again.

  • Reggie Cannon, 28
  • Antonee Robinson, 28
  • Miles Robinson, 29
  • Jackson Yueill, 29

Oh, we sure do hope so: Whether playing on second sides of German powers, dipping their toes in the Premier League like Aston Villa’s Indiana Vassilev, or in a sea of MLS or Eredivisie hopefuls, there are a ton of buoyant young players waiting for their turn on the stage.

We include older Cameron Carter-Vickers due to his loan experience in the Championship, and two names on here are the wildest of wild cards. Folarin Balogun is lighting up the PL2 for Arsenal but has repped England youth since playing for the Americans, while Konrad de la Fuente is training with Barcelona’s first team but there’s a looooong road from Barcelona B to first team playing time.

Even this list leaves off Brandon Servania, James Sands, Charlie Kellman, and a host of others with seemingly effervescent futures.

  • Chris Richards, 26
  • Indiana Vassilev, 25
  • Ulysses Llanez, 25
  • Jesus Ferreira, 25
  • Konrad de la Fuente, 24
  • Paxton Pomykal, 26
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers, 28
  • Richie Ledezma, 25
  • Chris Gloster, 25
  • Alex Mendez, 25
  • Mason Toye, 27
  • Sebastian Soto, 25
  • Folarin Balogun*, 24

So what does it mean?

Having already qualified and playing on home soil, the Yanks will be playing in an expanded field. Unless the nation experiences unparalleled drop-offs in form and development, the side will enter the tournament with high expectations at home.

A perceived group of death will no longer be met by “Well, maybe next time.” Questions will be more on defenders than anything else, although the U.S. men have yet to find the latest from the Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller time line of elite backstops (Honorable mention to Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando).

Admitting that the exercise of, “What’s gonna happen in six years?” is rooting deeply in our current soccer landscape’s dormant state, we project the Yanks to be in the knockout rounds with a chance — however small or large — to get past whoever gets in their way.

Burning question: Which clubs have the best crest, look in soccer?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Which clubs have the best crest and uniform combination?

It’s a difficult one, as some are great on the former and others on the latter. Look at the Premier League alone. Liverpool and Chelsea have terrific crests, iconic even, but the Reds and Blues’ traditional uniforms are not altogether different from several big clubs in the world. It’s difficult to lay claim to red.

We’re not kicking either of the above clubs out of the house party, but here are five looks that are inevitably theirs.

That said, you might argue the case of either club and we’d encourage you to do so in the comments.

Without further ado…

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil during their golden era.

Brazil

The yellow shirt with a dosing of green around the neck is instantly associated with Brazil, though the more green on the collar the better. The blue shorts matter here, too, completing a look worn by some of the greatest players of all-time. That helps the brand.

Celtic

The green and white hoops are unmistakable, as is the four-leaf clover. Celtic actually wore green-and-white horizontal stripes for the early part of their existence, but the hoops were the proper switch.

Barcelona

The Blaugranas — blue and dark red, don’t you know? — striped-top has met the stripes in its crest, which also is topped by the red-and-white cross and red and gold stripes of the Barcelona coat of arms. Many say the stripes were brought to Spain by its Swiss leader, Joan Gamper.

Arsenal

The Gunners moved white sleeves onto their red tops in the 1930s, and the look is one of the most iconic in the world. While the crest has changed more than a few times, the addition of a cannon from the middle of the last century onward has been everpresent.

(Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Also considered:
Ajax
River Plate
Real Madrid
England
Argentina
AC Milan
Inter Milan
The Netherlands
Mexico
Dozens more…

Burning question: Best player you’ve ever seen live

Neymar
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We’ve all had the chance to have Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah, and others blow our minds on television screens, but there’s something special about seeing the magic in living color.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

So we’re wondering: Who’s the best player you’ve ever seen live? Hit up the comments section with your takes, and allow me to walk you through mine.

International: It’s August 10, 2010 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and your United States men’s national team is taking the field for the first time since Ghana ended the World Cup dreams of Bob Bradley’s boys with a 2-1 defeat in Rustenberg.

The vibe at the AO tailgate is lively, friends from all over the country gathered in the Garden State to see the hosts welcome a Brazil side that blew a halftime lead against the Netherlands to bow out in the World Cup quarterfinals.

It’s fortunate that the AO seats that wound up in my hands were a few rows behind Tim Howard, because that was the end to see most of the first half.

Brazil left Kaka and Luis Fabiano at home, which begged what they might’ve done with those two pulling the strings. It’s not worth too much debate, because Mano Menezes’ Starting XI included Robinho, Ramires, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, and Alexandre Pato and a kid making his international debut.

His name was Neymar, and any hopes of the youngster being humbled by the big crowd and his first cap were dashed immediately. While it wasn’t the virtuoso show we’d see so many times in Barcelona, PSG, and Brazil shirts moving forward, it was clear this kid had it.

The thumping header at the back post meant it took less than a half-hour for Neymar Jr. to show us his first of 61 senior goals and counting for Brazil. He was young, naive, unrefined… and electric.

Club: This one’s more difficult, if only because the majority of the senior action I’ve seen in person has been in Major League Soccer, with a few jaunts overseas. There’s always a ‘guy’ who stands out, though, per game, whether a young and gigantic Andy Carroll for Newcastle at Stoke in 2009, Niklas Dorsch running the midfield for Heidenheim in relegating Duisburg from the Bundesliga last Spring, or Frank Lampard and Kaka dueling in Orlando a few years earlier.

But the most dominant forces I’ve seen on a consistent basis have both had ties to Canada. On the MLS side, any chance to see Sebastian Giovinco for Toronto FC at BMO Field was a chance to catch a firefly, but in terms of sheer dominance I’m looking to the ladies.

Christine Sinclair was the best player on a loaded Western New York Flash roster when I was their play-by-play man during the 2011 WPS season. Now the all-time leading scorer amongst women, Sinclair punished teams that season and stood out despite a roster that included Marta, Alex Morgan, Caroline Seger, Ashlyn Harris, and McCall Zerboni amongst others.

Sinclair scored in regulation of a final against Philadelphia that went to penalty kicks, and converted her spot kick, too. If Zlatan is a lion, she’s part of the same pride. A force.

(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

College/Amateur: Before my alma mater unceremoniously cut men’s soccer, the University at Buffalo played in the Mid American Conference and delivered all sorts of high drama. The highlight was usually the visit of Akron, a national champion who had been neck-and-neck with the Buffalo Bulls in the 2000s before putting a stranglehold on the rivalry. UB was the runner-up to Akron in 2015 and 2016 behind a brilliant team featuring now-USL player Russell Cicerone and a future New Zealand club captain in Fox Slotemaker. The 2016 season gives us our story.

The Zips had a freshman on the right side who was almost always in the right place, with mind-bending pace to help with the times he was caught astray. Jonathan Lewis had spent a season abroad with Bradford City before opting for school, and he was a one-and-done in Ohio after recording 12 assists, one in that game. I’ve seen some incredible college talents, but Lewis was the best by a good margin. He’s now earned six USMNT caps and 48 MLS appearances between NYCFC and Colorado at the age of 22.

Burning Question: What one rule would you change?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game. Today’s topic is rule changes.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

With VAR instituted this season, the rulebook has never been under more scrutiny. Some people have criticized the offside rule, claiming the rules must adapt to the changing times and the improved technology. Others have attacked the penalty kicks tiebreaker, saying it doesn’t fairly determine the outcome of a match.

So, with that in mind, let’s break down some of the rules we could change.

The obvious one: The handball rule

While the offside rule has been the most scrutinized over the past year with the implementation of VAR in the Premier League and beyond, the handball rule is almost certainly the most unanimously despised rule of the current times. More specifically, a handball in regards to the buildup to a goal.

The current rule in the FIFA rulebook states: The following ‘handball’ situations, even if accidental, will be a free kick:

  • The ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand/arm
  • A player gains control/possession of the ball after it has touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunity

While this sounded nice in theory, in practice it was horrible. Goals were chalked off because the ball brushed an attacker’s arm, even if the attacker gained no advantage and it did not help the attacker in his creation of the goalscoring opportunity. Goals were even chalked off in the buildup to a score, and while that is being changed this coming season, with IFAB

Man City was held to a point by Spurs early in the season thanks in large part to the late winner being chalked off for a clip off Aymeric Laporte’s arm, and it only got worse from there. Leicester City saw a key goal chalked off in a 1-0 loss to Norwich City just days before the suspension of Premier League play, with Kelechi Iheanacho barely grazing the ball with his hand before scoring what would have been the go-ahead goal.

There’s been near-unanimous outrage over this rule, and it has to go.

The controversial one: The offside rule

With VAR firmly entrenched in the world of soccer, the offside rule has come under increased scrutiny over the past calendar year, with fans believing the technology has ruined the spirit of the rule.

Thanks to video review, offside decisions are being scrutinized down to the millimeter, and goals are being cancelled for inch-tight calls. Offside decisions have always been black & white, but unlike the goal-line technology, the fluidity of offsides in the past and the difficulty of making a call has always given fans more leeway to accepting tight decisions even if they were incorrect. Now, with technology making the calls truly black & white, many fans feel the calls have hampered attacking play.

The problem is there are no good solutions to fix the problems presented. Some have suggested a six-inch allowance for attackers in offside decisions, but all that will do is push the black & white line six inches further, meaning there will still be inch-tight decisions further out. Other ideas floated include a margin of error, likely visualized by a thicker line for the defender than the attacker on replay. This idea is similar to the “umpire’s call” in cricket where the rules write into law an admission that technology cannot always be pinpoint accurate. The issue that arises here is that while in cricket the technology is attempting to predict the flight of a ball, VAR is simply placing lines on a field with far less assumptions or predictive room for error needed.

At the end of the day, there is no good solution, and fans are probably going to have to simply get used to the new way of doing things. Some good goals will be ruled out, and VAR can certainly improve its methods to allow for more transparency, but as far as the laws of the game are concerned, this one is here to stay.

The long-debated one: Penalties

Penalty shootouts have been debated for years as a match-decider.

Let’s just put this to bed right here: Are penalties a fair sporting way to determine a match? No. Is there a better, more fun option to decide a game without running the players to death? No. This one’s also here to stay, thanks in part because there’s few better options and also in part because they’re downright tense and fun. Leave penalties alone.

The other long-debated one: Away goals

The away goals rule is another tiebreaker often disparaged for its non-sporting qualities. While detractors of the away goals rule have more to stand on than those who dislike penalties, and it probably could be done away with altogether with very few people even taking note, it’s not the problem those who call for change make it out to be.

The dark horse: Goalkeeper protection

While the rules protecting goalkeepers are talked about on rare occasions, they have mostly become an accepted part of today’s game. Which is ridiculous. The amount of play goalkeepers are afforded while entirely uncontested is flat out ridiculous. Every time a goalkeeper goes up to claim a ball in the air and is left unchallenged is a crime.

While yes, there were far too many goalkeeper injuries in the past, the rules in today’s game are an overreaction. There has to be a middle ground for players to challenge a goalkeeper’s authority while still keeping the netminders safe.

Burning question: Which soccer stadium do you have to visit?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the first one focuses on something we all love: a stadium.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

First question: What is one stadium you have to visit in your lifetime?

We are talking specifically for a soccer game here. What is one stadium you have on your bucket list and why?

Want to hear mine? Of course you do.

Well, I checked one off my lengthy list back in 2016 as I went to the San Siro to see Southampton against Inter Milan in the UEFA Europa League and I have to tell you, when I saw that stadium for the first time it was one of those moments when the hairs literally stood up on the back of my neck and my jaw dropped. As a kid I had a huge book full of the best players, stadiums and managers in history and would flick through it front to back night after night and I always paused on a photo of the San Siro in awe. Dreams became reality.

It was a foggy day in November and the four pillars of the brutalist structure ascended into the clouds and dominated the local skyline like the Coliseum. With very few buildings around it, that further reinforced how iconic of a stadium the San Siro. With plans to demolish it announced recently, I’m glad I got to visit it when I did, even though the plans to tear it down may be delayed or changed such has been the public outrage.

So that’s one ticked off the list.

In terms of the others, Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu and Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera in Buenos Aires are others, so too is Rangers’ Ibrox home in Glasgow and Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. In short, I have a lot of stadiums I want to visit in the coming years and I’m sure you do too and have discussed this very question at length in soccer bars across the USA.

And you’ve been letting us know across our social accounts too.

 

Let us know in the comments section below the ONE stadium you have to visit in the soccer world and why, and it doesn’t have to be a mega-stadium. What about those incredible small stadiums you see in Norway tucked away in the fjords? Or a wild atmosphere in eastern Europe or central America?

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