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USMNT-Ecuador preview: Competition level rises

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team has never allowed a goal, albeit with a bevy of MLS players in the USMNT shirt going against domestic-based players from Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday’s opponent is Ecuador, and this is a proper international break. No, La Tricolor won’t present the same challenge as Chile, who visits Houston on March 26, but Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia are a step up from the CONCACAF visitors of January and February.

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The U.S. is unbeaten in its last three matches against Ecuador, winning two and drawing one. The last meeting was during Jurgen Klinsmann’s remarkable Copa America Centenario, as the Yanks navigated Jermaine Jones’ 52nd minute red card and both sides played most of the second half with 10 men in a 2-1, Clint Dempsey-inspired win.

Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t as young this go-round, with Michael Bradley, Tim Ream, and Gyasi Zardes among those who’ve featured for several American coaches.

It’s also the first time U.S. fans will see Christian Pulisic since his sale to Chelsea and loan back to Dortmund, likely playing attacking center midfield as the most important piece of the Yanks’ XI (with apologies to John Brooks).

What will be second-most in focus for U.S. fans is Tyler Adams as right back, a move which makes sense in Berhalter’s possession system where the RB is stationed as a center mid, but takes the 20-year-old out of the center of the park when the opposition has the ball.

This most likely says that Berhalter is unwilling to take Bradley out of his lineup just yet, because Schalke’s Weston McKennie is likely to start as is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. And it also isn’t a ringing endorsement of Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who Berhalter is calling a winger despite a distinct problem with his finishing touch.

But GB knows his stuff, and in some ways the Ecuador match is a logical progression towards a Chile which will put Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, and a back line with more than 300 combined caps on the pitch next week. So handle Ecuador, and move forward.

Who stands to gain or lose the most in USMNT camp?

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The USMNT will convene for Gregg Berhalter’s second camp in charge of the national squad as the international break temporarily brings a halt to most club competitions.

Leading towards international friendlies against Ecuador and Chile five days apart on Thursday and next Tuesday, the camp will provide Berhalter another opportunity to see what the national team talent pool can potentially provide him and get a look at players he will have to make decisions on ahead of more high-leverage matches. There will be experimentation, Berhalter has confirmed, and players will get a chance to make an impression.

With some players involved in aforementioned tinkering while other players sit in precarious club situations, who stands to gain the most this camp, and who could be facing their last chance to make an impression?

Most to gain

1) Tyler Adams

The former New York Red Bull midfielder has enjoyed a positive start to life in the German top flight, and could bring his good form back to the national team camp. That’s not the focus of his national team situation, however.

Gregg Berhalter confirmed that he will experiment with Adams at right-back during this week-long stretch, a curious idea with the possibility of Adams being minimized at his best midfield position in Berhalter’s setup. Many are predicting Berhalter to eventually settle on a 4-3-3 formation, which could force him into a different role. When asked if moving him out wide could minimize his ball-winning strengths, Berhalter didn’t sound terribly convinced of the idea yet, but was hopeful the coaching staff will eventually be rewarded for their creativity.

“This is the beginning phases and we want to test it and we want to see how it looks and we want to see how he adapts and what it gives our team overall,” Berhalter said. “When you’re looking at the profile of a Michael Bradley or a Wil Trapp – a very controlling player – and you have the dynamic guy next to him in Tyler who can come inside and still be influential from that position, we think it’s exciting and we want to take a look at it. It may not work exactly as we have planned and we have to adapt but in theory it’s something worth trying.”

Adams, therefore, could gain a lot this camp. While he’s already a bright young talent with a clear place on the squad no matter the eventual formation used in games that matter, Adams could stamp his place in a team in a position of weakness should the experiment pay off.

2) Sebastian Lletget

With the comeback from his brutal 2017 injury finally complete having appeared in the last four national team matches off the bench, Sebastian Lletget could be primed for his first national team start in over two years, and this is the perfect chance to show off his usefulness to the new boss. Lletget has started the 2019 MLS season well, a completely dominant force in the Galaxy’s 3-2 win over Minnesota United on Saturday, completing 77/83 passes in a creative attacking role and scoring the eventual winning goal.

Lletget is a perfect fit for the 4-3-3 as a controlling winger who can pinch inside and cause havoc on and off the ball, or use his speed to create space and deliver a cross from the flank. If he performs at a high level this camp – and he should see ample time on the wing given the makeup of the roster – it could be a breakout point for the 26-year-old in the prime of his career during this World Cup cycle.

3) Jordan Morris

Morris has not made an appearance for the USMNT since January of 2018 due to injury, but now he’s back in the fold. It couldn’t come at a better time, with Morris in excellent form to start the 2019 MLS season. The 24-year-old has three goals and an assist through the team’s first three league matches amidst a perfect start for Seattle.

With Josh Sargent and Tim Weah both involved in U-23 Olympic qualifying, this seems the perfect opportunity for Morris to re-insert himself into the USMNT forward conversation in front of the new boss.

Most to lose

1) Tim Ream

With Fulham floundering towards relegation in the Premier League amidst a historic defensive calamity, Tim Ream has been at the center of the Whites’ struggles at the back. At 31 years old and the next World Cup still three years away, it’s possible that this is Ream’s last opportunity to state his case at the national team level. He was Fulham’s best player just a year ago in their promotion campaign, rock solid at the back for essentially the entire season, but as he finds life difficult in the English top flight, anything short of a perfect camp could see Ream flushed out of the setup.

2) DeAndre Yedlin

Anything gained by Tyler Adams in this camp would be DeAndre Yedlin’s loss. The incumbent first-choice right-back suddenly has competition from an experimental adversary, and that could mean Yedlin finds himself in no-man’s land. Berhalter said that they would push Yedlin further up the field into a winger role to accommodate Adams, but a player being moved from his natural position to make way for an experiment is never a good sign.

Yedlin has plenty to gain by performing well in his new role, but he has more to lose should it go poorly and Adams succeeds. The Newcastle defender has worked hard on his defensive abilities over the past few years, to some marketable improvement, and so the experiment is understandable but at the same time somewhat puzzling. Should Adams make the switch with ease, Yedlin could find himself without a clear role in Berhalter’s potential 4-3-3 setup.

3) Gyasi Zardes

Still without a national team goal since 2016 and just one assist in that same timeframe, Gyasi Zardes is slowly slipping down the USMNT pecking order as others continue to step up. He has been deployed out wide continuously at the national level despite finding renewed success in a striker role at Columbus, and it’s clear it’s a weakness for him. It feels like the 27-year-old has reached a breaking point with the USMNT, and if he continues to fire blanks up front and be plagued by poor touches and questionable on-ball decision-making, he won’t be part of the 2022 World Cup conversation for much longer.

SQUAD

GK: Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas).

DEF: John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Omar Gonzalez (Atlas), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)

MIDFIELDERS (7)Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

FORWARDS (6): Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Christian Ramirez (LAFC), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC).

Berhalter: RB Leipzig’s Adams to play RB, Yedlin a winger

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USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter made some waves on Monday with the news that he’ll deploy RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams at right back.

Adams, 20, is a box-to-box center mid in the Bundesliga but has played some right and left back with the New York Red Bulls.

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Berhalter will thus play DeAndre Yedlin as a right winger, which masks some of the dodgy defensive decisions he’s made at Newcastle United. And the former Columbus Crew man likely wants a nerve center sort of player a bit more advanced on the right of his formation when it has the ball.

RBL is unbeaten with Adams in the Bundesliga, with five wins and three draws as he’s gone 90 five times (and one appearance was just a couple minutes).

It’s an intriguing choice by Berhalter, who would know that fellow center mid Weston McKennie plays plenty of right back at Schalke in the same league as Adams.

And plenty of people gave Jurgen Klinsmann grief for using Kellyn Acosta at left back, though there’s a gulf of difference between where Acosta was in his career at FC Dallas and Adams’ rich vein of form for RBL.

Yedlin pleads new Rafa deal: ‘He has brought Newcastle together’

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USMNT fullback DeAndre Yedlin is hoping Newcastle United’s hierarchy can meet Rafa Benitez‘s demands and keep the Spaniard around St. James’ Park for a long time.

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Yedlin, 25, has become a Premier League regular after helping Newcastle to promotion, and Benitez has turned the flier into a much-improved defender.

But owner Mike Ashley’s general reluctance to improve the team has Benitez questioning whether to consider a new contract with the Magpies despite a clear appreciation for the city and club.

Yedlin could hardly have better words for his boss. From The Chronicle:

“I think everyone has seen how he has brought the city together,” Yedlin said. “Even though we may not have started the season the best, we’ve ended it very well so I think, yeah, it’s very important. As we all know, all the fans love him, the players love him and it would be great if he stayed.”

Yedlin has appeared 91 times for Newcastle since arriving from Spurs, and counts 83 Premier League experiences between the Magpies, rivals Sunderland, and Tottenham Hotspur.

He’s struggling this season, mostly in defense, but has become more positionally responsible. That should help the USMNT, even if it…. hasn’t been translating to recent appearances.

Almiron sizzles for Newcastle (video)

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  • Smith sent off, 10th minute
  • Rondon with goal, assist
  • Almiron makes first Premier League start
  • Newcastle four points clear of 18th

Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez scored as Newcastle United collected a cool three points with a 2-0 defeat of 10-man Huddersfield Town at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Newcastle and MLS record transfer Miguel Almiron was fantastic in his first Premier League start, doing everything but score including drawing a 20th minute red card from Tommy Smith.

Newcastle moves onto 28 points, four clear of the drop zone, while the visiting Terriers remain 14 points back of safety with 11 matches to play in their PL season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The team’s traded early chances, but Miguel Almiron nearly made himself an instant Newcastle hero when sprung 1v1 with Jonas Lossl. But his chip hit the post and Salomon Rondon’s rebound hit the same piece of iron.

Another Newcastle break led to a Fabian Schar shot directly to Lossl, who minutes later got a piece of Rondon’s in-tight effort on goal.

With Town under pressure, Tommy Smith saw straight red for a foul on Almiron.

The ex-Atlanta United man would get the next chance, with Lossl stopped his near-post effort.

Lossl then lost an Almiron shot between his legs and Chris Lowe cleared the effort.

Yedlin cued up Perez for another shot that Lossl tipped out for a corner, and Rondon’s diving attempt to head a as Huddersfield was happy to get to halftime down just a man and not a goal or three.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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Isaac Hayden‘s mistouch turned into a fine assist, as Rondon lashed past Lossl within 90 seconds of the match’s restart.

The Magpies doubled its advantage and started working on their goal differential when Perez completed a move started by an Almiron cross and moved ahead by Yedlin and Rondon.

Almiron almost cued Perez up for 3-0, but the Spaniard spun his shot just wide of the near post. Almiron was then stopped by Lossl before Longstaff hit the cross bar.

The Paraguayan import got wild applause when he was replaced by Christian Atsu with under 10 minutes to play.