We’ll be waiting for September for the next USMNT on-field action and there are plenty of things worth monitoring when it comes to the progress of Gregg Berhalter’s men even before the next ball is struck by men in red, white and blue.
The four brightest American talents in Europe all have new coaches, as Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic (Frank Lampard), Schalke’s Weston McKennie (David Wagner), RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams (Julian Nagelsmann), and Wolfsburg’s John Brooks (Oliver Glasner) aim to impress their new bosses.
There is uncertainty for Matt Miazga, Tyler Boyd, and Zack Steffen as well. The first two don’t know whether they’ll be with their current clubs, Chelsea and Vitória de Guimarães, by August or on loan, while Steffen has to win the Fortuna Dusseldorf goalkeeper job in his return to Europe on loan from Manchester City.
Throw in Josh Sargent’s hope of winning first team time at Werder Bremen and Tim Weah’s chance to impress new owners at Lille, and this August will have something to say about the fate of the USMNT heading into September’s break. That’s all without mentioning Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin also getting a new manager.
From a calendar standpoint, what’s actually next is a pair of friendlies, expected to see Mexico and Uruguay visit the American shores in early September.
The next two international breaks hold CONCACAF Nations League matches home and away against Canada and Cuba, and the Yanks will be heavily favored to advance to the semifinals in March 2020 (If Gregg Berhalter’s men do finish behind the Canucks, well, see ya later pal).
After that, it’ll be World Cup qualifying (though we’re still waiting on the format with which CONCACAF will choose its three automatic qualifiers and one inter-confederation playoff participant for the winter 2022 tournament in Qatar).
Anyway, those Nations League matches won’t see the Yanks at full strength, at least in theory. October sees the U.S. U-23 side’s chance to qualify for and play in the Olympics for the first time since 2008.
Jason Kreis will hope to do what Andreas Herzog and Caleb Porter could not, and lead the U-23s to the Olympics.
It’s a valuable experience for a generation of players, and can be a tremendous boost for a nation which finally has its U-20 program in order and thriving at the U-20 World Cup.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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?
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.
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:
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.
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?
“From the second that we walked off the field [after the semifinal] in Nashville, every single guy understood what was coming,” Bradley went on to say. “Whether you’ve played in this game or you haven’t, a U.S-Mexico final speaks for itself.”
That just about sums it up.
Sunday will mark the first meeting between Gregg Berhalter and Gerardo “Tata” Martino in the fishbowl that is U.S.-Mexico. Each head coach took charge at the start of 2019, making their first tournament at the helm a successful one thus far. That could all change by starting out with a defeat in their U.S.-Mexico debut, though Berhalter is already intimately familiar with the rivalry from his playing days, including the Americans’ famous 2002 World Cup round-of-16 triumph in Jeonju, South Korea.
Prior to conceding to Jamaica in the 69th minute of the two sides’ semifinal on Wednesday, the Yanks hadn’t conceded a goal all tournament — 14-0 through their first 429 minutes. It’s been a tougher slog at the other end of the field of late, however. After scoring 10 goals amid relatively disappointing performances against Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago in their first two group games, Berhalter’s side was only able to grind out 1-0 victories over each of Panama and Curacao. The USMNT appears to have saved its best performances for last, though. Christian Pulisic scored twice against Jamaica and Weston McKennie added the other goal in what was easily his best outing in the red, white and blue.
Sunday will be the sixth time the USMNT and Mexico have met in the Gold Cup final, with Mexico holding a commanding advantage in trophy deciders: four wins (1993, 1998, 2009 and 2011) to just one defeat (2007).