A passionate, perhaps even fiery bit of conference call USMNT small talk prior to a Wednesday’s staff meeting inspired us to bring the conversation to the ProSoccerTalk space.
It started with a hot USMNT topic: Whether there’s real danger of Ajax starting right back Sergino Dest throwing his years of history with the USMNT youth development program away to focus on earning a place with the celebrated Dutch national team, so we’ll start there.
Sergino Dest has two caps for the United States and a longstanding history with the youth national team set-up. He is not 19 until March and starting at right back for Ajax.
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being no danger of his leaving for the Netherlands and 10 being he’s going to reject USMNT for the Oranje before Gregg Berhalter can cap-tie him next month, what do your rate his chances of being a USMNT player well into the future and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: 5/10. He starts for Ajax at right back and he should be the USMNT’s long-term full back in that area. No questions about it. But the fact the Netherlands are already sniffing around says a lot about his talent, plus Dest probably wasn’t best pleased with being chucked in at left back by Berhalter.
The Dutch national team needs some cover in full back areas and Ronald Koeman isn’t scared to promote young players quickly. I think we’ve seen Dest in a USMNT jersey for the final time, and that is why I’m giving this a 5/10. If there wasn’t the possibility of losing him to the Netherlands, it would be a 9/10.
Nick Mendola: 6/10. We have to hope that Dest is a bit myopic and excited about the prospect of latching onto a starting spot for a half-decade or more. While the 18-year-old is still a bundle of potential, he’s also played in six matches between the Eredivisie and UEFA Champions League for the biggest club in the Eredivisie. Put into perspective: He turns 19 in November, and is a regular contributor to a Starting XI with national team starters for the Netherlands, Argentina, Mexico, Serbia, Morocco, and Cameroon. Also, they haven’t lost a match he’s played this season.
If I’m Dest and have interest in the Netherlands, am I willing to bet on myself at the expense of not playing in the CONCACAF Nations League? Really it comes down to how often he’s envisioned himself a USMNT player, and how long he’s willing to wait out Holland, because Ajax isn’t a place where careers go to die. Rather, it’s often the platform that launches them to even bigger places. The Dutch team’s starters this break were Denzel Dumfries wide in a 3-5-2 and Joel Veltman, a CB a Ajax, in the 4-4-2. It’s not a long jump to Dest.
Kyle Bonn: 3/10. He’s simply not good enough to play regularly for the Netherlands right now, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll develop the defensive consistency to ever be an option for them. He starts now for the United States because full-back remains, along with DM, a position of horrid depth for the national team, but he has a long way to go for a spot with the Netherlands. He has lots of promise, and that may cause the Dutch federation to try and turn his head, but I think he sticks with the U.S.
Dan Karell:3/10. Obviously this is similar to the Jonathan Gonzalez situation, except the main difference is Dest has actually been capped. Yes, Nick, he’s been played on the wrong side of the field for him, but the U.S. coaching staff clearly values him and wants him to know they’ll find a way to get him in the lineup one way or another. The Netherlands, though they do often cap a lot of young players, can’t do that. Plus, as of today, is Dest ahead of Denzel Dumfries or Hans Hoteboer, another recent Netherlands call-up? Probably not.
Which player in the pool is the most difficult to replace? You cannot say Christian Pulisic.
Joe Prince-Wright: Tyler Adams. He is so solid and reliable that he is the kind of player you don’t realize how good he is until he’s gone. For Gregg Berhalter, Adams’ intelligence on and off the ball is particularly important. He plugs gaps defensively and is good enough on the ball to get attacks going. The USMNT need Adams to be fit over the next few years if they’re going to make the 2022 World Cup.
Nick Mendola: I want to say John Brooks, but his recent injury history means they’ve been “replacing” him for so long that he barely qualifies as an answer to the question. As the architect of this question, I’ll cheat in response and say there is not one player outside of Pulisic who answers this question well (yet. Let’s hope Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, or Dest change my mind).
Kyle Bonn: Michael Bradley. Yep, I said it. As we’ve seen with Wil Trapp, the United States player pool has struggled mightily to produce a holding midfielder that can cover the back line and also distribute forward. While Bradley isn’t at his best defending, he’s far better than teacher’s pet Trapp, and he can distribute with the best of them, something the US sorely misses with Bradley off the pitch. He’s indispensable for this squad, partly because he can still ball – despite what people say about him – and partly because the player pool is so absurdly thin at maybe the most important position in the modern game.
Dan Karell: It’s gotta be Tyler Adams or really, Michael Bradley. Many USMNT fans have wanted Bradley and Jozy Altidore to be banished from the national team after playing a role in the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but in the case of both, and really with Bradley, there hasn’t been a better player stepping up. From 2013-2015, it was hoped that Trapp could be that player, but in 2019, after a few years of stagnation with the Columbus Crew, it’s clear Trapp isn’t good enough to push Bradley out the door.
Which USMNT player is getting too much abuse from the fans and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: Probably Gyasi Zardes. Has he got the best first touch? No. Is he the best finisher on the planet? No. But he works hard, in my opinion he is better suited out wide and then cutting in to impact the play and he is a handful when on form. Zardes isn’t as bad as he’s being made out to be.
Nick Mendola: It’s Zardes. He’s a place holder as we wait for Josh Sargent to climb up to Jozy Altidore’s level, and fans can’t help but judge him. Honestly, he should be getting these call-ups right now and his status as a former Crew star under Berhalter makes it a bit too easy to claim he should be further down the depth chart. Put plainly, the USMNT center forward pool has no one else beyond Altidore, Sargent, and Tim Weah. Bobby Wood and Andrija Novakovich have stalled, and Aron Johannsson hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Kyle Bonn: Jozy Altidore. Michael Bradley gets a close second here (see above) but Jozy quite frankly receives a TON of abuse for the leading goalscorer in U.S. history. For a player who has given so much to this national team and been a consistent provider of not just goalscoring but also a team-first attitude, the crowd who slights him is vast. It’s simply not fair. While Josh Sargent is the future of the striker spot with the national team, Jozy Altidore is still the best option when healthy and fit.
Dan Karell: Is there any one player? Will it ever end? It’s probably Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp. At this point, both players hit their ceiling a while ago and there’s no point in complaining about them, we know what they can, and can’t, do. Perhaps Jordan Morris has gotten a little too much stick too. The man is coming off a torn ACL and when a lot of his game was predicated on speed, it’s not easy to find that old speed/form back again after a major surgery like that. Fans just assume you return to 100% and it just never works like that.
Which player currently outside the USMNT picture should be getting a look?
Joe Prince-Wright:Danny Williams is an interesting character and seems to have that nasty streak the USMNT are missing in midfield. With his experience in the Bundesliga, English Championship and Premier League, I’d say he’s worth a shot in central midfield. If his injuries calm down, the likes of McKennie and Adams could have a true destructive force alongside them who they can work off.
Nick Mendola: Hmmmm. We’re another few weeks of solid Julian Green performances from his being the answer, and there’s an argument to be made he’s already the answer. Johnson is a good shout, but is he like Nagbe and not interested in playing under Berhalter? I’m going to stick with Green. He’s 24, a top player in the 2.Bundesliga, and has goals against Belgium and France on his resume. How is he not one of the 40-some players to get a call from GB?
Kyle Bonn: Fabian Johnson. A regular starter for a top-half Bundesliga side isn’t even in the mix. That’s absurd. He hasn’t really produced the consistent career many expected from him about 6 years ago, but given Berhalter’s struggles to find consistency in the lineup, it’s maddening that Johnson has all but been forgotten. And Josh Sargent needs to become a regular in this squad. Now. Not just for friendlies.
Dan Karell: It’s kind of hard to say, because the players that are constantly missing but would normally make it are always injured. John Brooks. Matt Miazga, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah, McKennie/Pulisic in the past. Perhaps one player who deserves another look – for me – is Jonathan Lewis. He’s always injected some energy and pace late into matches and I really think he can be a game-changer. He just has to leave the smoldering crater that is the Colorado Rapids.
Mix Diskerud, just for his flowing locks of hair…kidding! He’s been injured since the summer, but I’d love to see Duane Holmes get a run out there from the start. Another player I’m excited that is finally back is Sebastian “Da Boy” Lletget. He’s dynamic, great under pressure, and a talented 8 that should help the U.S. out. It will be interesting to see whether he tries moving abroad this offseason or signs a new deal in MLS.
Is the USMNT on the right path? Why or why not?
Joe Prince-Wright: Not yet, and they are a long way from getting to a point where I’m saying ‘you know what, I can see the light and I like it.’ Berhalter’s philosophy is clear and it is worrying these group of players haven’t picked it up. And that is the main problem. He isn’t getting the chance to drill these tactics into the same group of players day in, day out. The US are trying to possess the ball but a lot of the players being selected don’t seem to be as comfortable on it as they should be. At what point does Berhalter say: ‘my fundamentals aren’t working with the squad I have at my disposal?’ Probably never. And that’s the biggest issue facing the USMNT in the months ahead.
Nick Mendola: The program is moving in the right direction, from the youth levels upward, but whether Berhalter’s program is on the up will lead you to the antacid aisle. I’m leaning toward no. It’s only been nine months, but the signs of progress are only when compared to his first month on the job. Saying the side is better than it was under Bruce Arena or Jurgen Klinsmann would be an unfair comparison (Their best players, like Pulisic, are simply maturing).
I think it’s probable the Yanks will not fail to qualify for another World Cup in our lifetimes unless CONCACAF is combined with CONMEBOL. It’s really, truly difficult to put together our population, resources, and confederation and be left with failure in Couva (Something that, still, needed a ghost goal for Panama to knock the Yanks out of the running). But if you put this team in a “Group of Death” right now, I’d mark them down for a first round exit and at least one extremely ugly loss.
My hope is health and a general manager. Berhalter needs counsel in who he calls up, and someone willing to tell him when he’s letting his ego override reality (Out-of-form MLS players probably shouldn’t get the call over in-form ones from any league, for example). And we’d like Berhalter a whole lot more if Tyler Adams and John Brooks had been available to him for more than a handful of combined matches.
Kyle Bonn: That’s probably not a question that can be answered in one or even two parts. The USMNT is on the right track given there is still time before World Cup qualifying, and Berhalter is looking to find what players fit not only his vision, but also fit together as more than a sum of the parts. In addition, the youth talent is probably at a higher level than we’ve seen with this federation in a LONG time, there is little debating that.
The performances, however, paint a picture that the process is likely to take longer than the U.S. has time for. Berhalter at this point needs to take what’s in front of him and transition quickly from a performance-based coach to a results-based coach. The experimentation period is almost over. Time to start acting like it.
Dan Karell:Yes. Fans are fickle and have short memories. Remember when Mexico almost didn’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup? Mexico in 2013 was AWFUL. Meanwhile, the U.S. were in a really good spot. We had Michael Bradley, Tim Howard (and Brad Guzan), Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron in their prime, and there was also Clint Dempsey, Herc Gomez, and Jermaine Jones. While Dempsey and Jones were on the way down, they were still star players who you could count on for goals or securing a result.
Could Matt Miazga, Aaron Long, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and Josh Sargent develop into those stars? Sure. But they’re not there now, and it may take 2-3 years. For Mexico, it’s taken a few years for Raul Jimenez and Hector Herrera to grow into World Class stars, and they have more players than ever playing and testing themselves in Europe, with others right on their tails in Liga MX. It’s cyclical in nature. The U.S. is at the bottom of the roller coaster. Only one way to go. Up!
Preface: This is a long preface to a forthcoming Q&A and Best XI roundtable with the PST staff, inspired by a pretty passionate staff meeting on Wednesday.
Gregg Berhalter actually has more time to mess around with the USMNT than any manager in recent history, and that’s not a veiled shot at the federation hierarchy.
Winning Gold Cups and the CONCACAF Nations League would be great, and we’d love to see Jason Kreis’ U-23 men deliver a rare Olympic appearance and success, but the gold standard for the USMNT remains its performance in the World Cup.
Even a still-growing soccer culture like the American one should sleepwalk into a World Cup with adequate management, but we’ve seen failure is not an impossible when Jurgen Klinsmann and later Bruce Arena combined to give other teams a chance at their spot.
Qualifying is going to be come an after thought in just one more cycle when the field grows ahead of the 2026 tournament, and the 2022 World Cup qualification process is a bit easier for CONCACAF’s powers.
The Hexagonal remains as the final stage of qualifying for a World Cup, but the Hex members will not have to participate in a fourth round in order to advance to the stage. FIFA instead will give new responsibility to its Nations League.
The six teams to qualify for the Hex will be based on FIFA ratings, a heavy shot to any country not named Mexico and the Unites States (and, perhaps, Costa Rica). Not only are the FIFA ratings far from ideal, it’s a rarity that teams other than aforementioned three are in the Top 40.
Average rankings since start of FIFA system
Costa Rica: 45
Trinidad and Tobago: 67
El Salvador: 93
There’s one more step for the fourth place team after the Hex, which sees three teams qualify for the World Cup. The fourth place team previously would meet a playoff team from another confederation for a berth in the World Cup, but now has to face the “champion” of teams ranked 7th and lower in CONCACAF in a pre-playoff playoff.
All of this is to say Berhalter’s job, overly-simplified, is:
Qualify for the World Cup
Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)
This is an awfully long runway to say that Berhalter’s USMNT is still a solid year away from playing a match that truly affects Goal No. 1 (The rankings used are from June 2020, and the Hex games will not begin until September).
No. 2 involves beating Cuba twice and taking at least four of six points from Canada over the next four months. The former should be straight-forward. The latter a challenge (especially if this group is tasked with stopping Alphonso Davies and Co.).
No. 3, so far, is a resounding meh. The Yanks have beaten a bunch of B-teams and then Jamaica and Ecuador. They’ve lost to literally everyone of consequence besides draws versus the B-plus teams of Chile and Uruguay (the latter coming Tuesday).
He has eight wins, four losses and two draws. The wins are over Panama (2x), Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Jamaica. The losses: Mexico (2x), Jamaica, Venezuela.
Home-and-away CNL matches against Cuba and Canada will finish his first year in charge.
As for job objective No. 3, the pressing matter is one Sergino Dest. The Ajax right back made his USMNT debut this international break, switched to the left side — he’s played some there as a youth, but almost exclusively on the right — in order to, we guess, see if he can be the answer to a USMNT question that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s defensive prime.
That’s actually okay, provided Berhalter let Dest know the objective. We have to assume that’s the case, because using him at left back in the “system” which utilizes center midfielder Tyler Adams as a right back would be an dramatic waste of pace and creativity.
Ultimately, that’s why the bad performances cause so much consternation amongst USMNT supporters. Berhalter is a good coach, but his management has been baffling from the outside looking into camp.
Berhalter believes he can “Herb Brooks” an amazing team out of components. He needs results to boost anyone’s confidence that’s possible, and is not getting them. Trusting the process is difficult when there hasn’t been a hat-hanging moment from a very protected schedule of fixtures.
We also have to note that the USMNT, not one of the deepest pools in the world by any stretch of the imagination, was without John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Adams, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and DeAndre Yedlin for both matches of this break, and lost Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales, and Zack Steffen for the second.
Perhaps the overall American soccer community bears some responsibility for this, treating the process like blooding youth and ignoring experience is the way to get the job done.
That’s what cuts so deep about the USMNT problem, which is shared by so few countries in the world: The Yanks obviously aren’t a side like Germany, Brazil or even England, where the next player up is going to be guaranteed adequate during the experimentation process.
The question is whether they are more like Panama or Costa Rica, who are going to call in effective players regardless of whether there’s a 3 at the start of their age or not. Whataboutism is brutal, but shoot, if we’re going to spend two years and use every advanced stat we can find to berate Jurgen Klinsman for not calling up 30-year-old Benny Feilhaber and his 1 assist in 40 caps, then perhaps it’s fitting we discuss Bundesliga and Championship starters not getting called up in positions of weakness (Fabian Johnson, Eric Lichaj).
And, honestly, I want my national team to be one who takes a look at short-term solutions and in-form players. For example — and this is going to make a lot of people yell — if Berhalter is going to call up the 150th best player in MLS on a regular basis, can he put the same league trust in a 28-year-old having the best season of any American in the domestic league? For every 500-word think piece on Andrew Carleton when he’s 17 and how he projects, maybe trust information if it tells you a slightly older guy might be onto something?
Familiarity and “my guys” is a concept a lot of coaches choose, but let’s look at the 2019 seasons of the following wide men. Three were called up by Berhalter, while the fourth is the above-named player (via WhoScored’s comparison tool).
Moving on, consider this very basic exercise as simply an observation. Look at the players by their FIFA ratings (thanks, USMNT Only).
Getting past the hilarious 69 put on Timothy Weah and a pretty lofty 76 handed to DeAndre Yedlin, the names still in gold half-inspire this question: Should the American national team be ignoring players based on age?
For now, and at the Gold Cup, that’s okay. But the question is where are we as a nation? Fabian Johnson is 31 and Darlington Nagbe 29, but is it fair to completely rule them out of the fold due to perceived attitude and age? And should
Let’s leave Pulisic, Bradley, McKennie, Altidore, and any injured players out of the equation and ask the difference, if any, between these two sides in a theoretical match right now (Hint: It’s not about league).
Two notes: This assumes every player is convinced to accept a call-up, as Darlington Nagbe isn’t loving the Berhalter era and several vets would require a conversation.
Also, It was very hard to find a striker for the second squad with Sargent and Zardes in camp while Altidore is excused to be with Toronto FC. Thinnnnnnn….
Tuesday’s Starters vs. Uruguay
Cannon — Long — Ream — Dest
Lletget — Roldan
Boyd — Sargent — Morris
– versus –
Johnson — Green — Pomykal
Nagbe — Cameron
Robinson — Opara — Birnbaum — Lichaj
All of the above theoretical exercises are merely fueled by the end of a painful international break — both in results and activity, so thanks for coming back club soccer — but the fact that it isn’t a “Yeah, clearly the team that started would’ve won” situation should say something, and it’s also why we still really don’t know where we are with Berhalter Ball one year into the project.
Strikers Bobby Wood (Hamburg) and Robert Lewandowski (Bayern) were frustrated, combining for just 47 touches, and it took a fittingly messy goal to separate the two. It came from French midfielder Corentin Tolisso and pulled Bayern level with leaders BVB on points, three goals back in differential.
Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2 Borussia Dortmund
BVB is, quite officially, in a bit of a funk. Nuri Sahin and Marvin Philipp gave the visitors a 2-0 lead, but Eintracht sprung for goals in the 64th and 68th minutes to deny the leaders more than a point. Christian Pulisic ran his socks off, as usual, with more than 11km covered, but will not look back on his 90 minutes fondly. It happens.
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-5 Bayer Leverkusen
American left winger Fabian Johnson buried a seventh minute goal… then watched the visitors put five of their six shots on target home for a gnarly home loss.
The United States men’s national team won the Gold Cup with a B- or even high-C team, so this is not the end of the world, but Bruce Arena’s latest round of World Cup call-ups should set off alarm bells for those hoping for the Yanks’ best team this summer in Russia.
While perhaps it’s time to stop assuming the Americans will rise to their level in this month’s World Cup qualifiers, we’ll continue to choose the realistic-if-optimistic take that a side with Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, and Michael Bradley should defy CONCACAF opposition almost regardless of their roster mates. And most of the questionable inclusions are unlikely to see more than a few minutes on the pitch.
Saying that, in some ways it feels like Arena is trolling American soccer with his call-ups, perhaps knowing that the expected success regardless of his roster can make a false statement about the player pool. And there’s a snarky part of me wondering if releasing this roster on Sunday morning instead of during halftime of a nationally-televised MLS match is more than a simple coincidence.
The U.S. has two of its easiest qualifiers left on the docket, with Panama arriving on Oct. 6 and a trip to essentially-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, so Arena can do what he wants despite the desperation.
Arena is a bit shorthanded due to injuries, with star center back John Brooks and sub striker Jordan Morris out. Altidore and Cameron are just returning from injuries, too, but started for their clubs this weekend.
So who’s healthy and gone from last month’s disappointing showing? Johnson and Eric Lichaj.
Fabian Johnson "devastated and surprised" to be omitted but "certainly believes" teammates will pull through.
Who’s in? Michael Orozco, Benny Feilhaber, Juan Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes.
Who’s been overlooked? Now we move into opinion, but Vitesse center back Matt Miazga, Toronto FC left back Justin Morrow, Seattle’s Cristian Roldan, New England’s Lee Nguyen, and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie all have legit reasons to raise a hand and proffer a, “Uhhhh, coach?”
You might then say, “Woah, Nick, that’s not completely in line with Bruce Arena’s recent expectations that he was going to avoid bringing in new faces and ride with the horses that got him to this point.”
Right, depending on how you read Arena’s comments, but so is the coach.
Orozco, the 31-year-old Club Tijuana back, is uncapped under Arena and not currently starting for the Mexican club.
Agudelo has one goal since returning from the Gold Cup, and has never played in a meaningful away match for the USMNT.
Feilhaber has four caps since the start of 2013.
Calling Gyasi Zardes over Fabian Johnson might be more egregious than anything Jurgen ever did.
Zardes had been a long-time part of the side until a post-Copa America Centenario injury, returning to the fold for the Ghana friendly and Gold Cup, so it’s less of a stretch philosophy wise even if he’s being trotted out at right back for the LA Galaxy by Sigi Schmid.
I guess I just don’t get it, even acknowledging that Arena’s forgotten more soccer in his life than I’ve watched in mine.
Even noting his struggles last month, dropping Johnson reeks of the full-blooded American critiques which have always tasted wrong. And the call-up of Orozco is baffling and has the faint scent of expert Jurgen Klinsmann trolling (not that any manager would be so petty in such a big spot). To say something audacious and improbable, I’d keep Morrow over Orozco based only on his Saturday night hat trick alone.
Again, it’s not that this roster dooms the Yanks in its next two matches, or that the same roster couldn’t defeat Syria or Australia if needed in November.
But it’s a troubling idea that Arena, making huge decisions for American soccer, is neglecting one of the generation’s most accomplished players in Johnson and reaching into the MLS bin for players he hasn’t previously used in meaningful matches. It’s the sort of head-scratcher that worries you about summer in Russia, assuming they get there.