Gyasi Zardes

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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.

3 things learned from USMNT’s lackluster win

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What did we learn from the U.S. men’s national team’s uninspiring victory over Curacao in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Gold Cup on Sunday?

Quite a lot, very little of which was actually positive…

[ MORE: USMNT uninspiring in Gold Cup QF win over Curacao (video) ]

Bradley is a wonder on the ball, but a liability without it

Each of the following is true, no matter which side of the “Michael Bradley is amazing/Michael Bradley is a waste of a roster spot” debate you fall on:

  • Bradley’s range of passing and vision to thread through balls to all parts of the field remains an absolute joy to watch and tends to be the only time the USMNT attacks in a non-vanilla manner
  • Bradley’s defensive discipline rating is a 0 on a scale of any number, and his ability to recover once out of position — which, again, is just about always — is a negative integer

Bradley picked out passes that split three or four opposing players on at least two occasions Sunday night — one of which even found its intended target — and remains the only midfielder player on the field who consistently looks to raise the tempo of attacking play and try anything even remotely aggressive.

It’s not all Bradley’s fault that the midfield is a gigantic mess out of possession, but he’s supposed to be the one who can see issues like this and fix them. If anyone else would apply pressure in an organized manner, he wouldn’t feel the need to go on heroic runs up the field to chase the ball 1-on-10, but they don’t, and he does.

[ HIGHLIGHTS: USWNT holds off France in riveting quarterfinal ]

The system and striker are at odds with one another

Without quicker transition from defending to the counter-attack — due in large part to the aforementioned lack of pressing — opponents have plenty of time to transition themselves back into defensive shape before the Americans even enter the final third of the field. This means lots of possession and passes all around the penalty area, but very little penetration into the box.

For this reason, the center forward has to drop into the midfield to 1) pull defenders out of position, 2) create space for others to run into, and 3) serve as the primary playmaker. None of those things are the strengths of Gyasi Zardes, who Gregg Berhalter insists on starting at center forward. Zardes is great at exactly one thing: getting on the end of crosses and finishing with his first touch. The problem with that is: chances like that are only ever created on the counter, otherwise there are two and three and four defenders in the box to contend with. If the USMNT isn’t going to play quickly — to Zardes’ greatest ability — he shouldn’t be on the field.

If only there was a player on the roster who excels at play-making when he drops between the lines. If only

[ MORE: Jill Ellis, Phill Neville at odds over USWNT scoping out England hotel ]

At least the defense looks pretty good

Fact: the USMNT is yet to concede a single goal at this Gold Cup.

Also fact: the first goal the USMNT concedes at this Gold Cup will probably be the one that knocks them out.

Also fact, sadly: Curacao was the most impressive team the USMNT has faced at this Gold Cup, and they were in complete control of the entire second half of this game.

That doesn’t bode well as the Yanks head to next week, where they’ll face Jamaica and (likely) Mexico, should they advance to the final.

USMNT starts slow, destroys T&T with five second-half goals (video)

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The U.S. men’s national team’s quest to reclaim the Gold Cup once again needed a long runway to take off, but resulted in an emphatic 6-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago and a place in the quarterfinals being sealed in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | Gold Cup ]

Gyasi Zardes and Aaron Lon scored twice each, to go with individual tallies from Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola. No margin of victory can erase the memories of what happened in Couva, Trinidad, in November 2017, but the USMNT’s second-half explosion will have eased some fears over the team’s recent struggles to adapt to new head coach Gregg Berhalter’s system.

The opening 15 minutes were a painful continuation of the Yanks’ struggles from their tournament-opening victory over Guyana — only worse. Rather than struggling to retain possession and create chances of their own, the significant jump in competition resulted in an early onslaught of chances for the Soca Warriors.

Zack Steffen was forced to make a pair of saves inside the first 10 minutes. Each came from long distance and only posed a threat if Steffen were to misread the flight of the ball or mishandle on the catch or punch, but the ease with which the red shirts of T&T flowed through the heart of the American midfield was certainly alarming.

After slowing the game’s frenetic tempo, the USMNT settled in just a bit and was rewarded with a goal in the 41st minute. Pulisic lofted a dangerous cross toward the six-yard box, where Long was situated after a corner kick. The New York Red Bulls center back rose quickly and headed the ball into the ground with enough power to sneak it home off the outstretched hands of Marvin Phillip.

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Norway tops Australia on PKs | Germany reaches QF ]

The second half began with the USMNT firmly on the front foot, sitting a bit deeper in defense and springing quickly on the counter-attack. Weston McKennie got on the ball with time and space in midfield and connected a sensational diagonal through ball to Arriola in behind on the left wing. Arriola’s left-footed shot was, however, dragged a couple feet wide.

Tyler Boyd, who scored twice against Guyana, nearly added a third goal to his haul this tournament, but the 24-year-old’s left-footed curler from 20 yards out went agonizingly wide of Phillip’s right-hand post in the 55th minute.

For all of the pressure the USMNT managed to put on T&T through the first 15 minutes of the second half, it was nearly undone in an instant when Levi Garcia got in behind right back Nick Lima and fired a first-time shot just wide of Steffen’s right-hand post. Cordell Cato sprang Garcia with a quick diagonal ball from a giveaway in midfield, and served as a warning shot that T&T was a threat.

[ COPA AMERICA: Brazil destroys Peru to join Chile, Colombia in QF (video) ]

Phillips was called into action again in the 64th minute, though he knew very little about the face-save he made to keep his side’s deficit at one. Pulisic got to the endline where he whipped a cross into the six-yard box and found Arriola. His effort on goal came off his foot and hit Phillips’ face a yard away.

Barely a minute later, Phillips was helpless to deny the Yanks a second goal. Michael Bradley floated a diagonal ball to Lima halfway into the 18-yard box; he headed it straight across the face of goal to Zardes seven yards out, at which point the finish was elementary.

There was nothing elementary about the finish on Zardes’ second goal, just three minutes later. Pulisic cut inside from the left wing and took a trio of defenders with him, opening up the cut-back ball to Zardes at the top of the box. He needed just one touch to control and set up his shot before striking a well-placed curler inside the far post to make it 3-0.

The floodgates were officially open two minutes later, when Zardes was denied his hat trick twice in a matter of 10 seconds — first, he smashed Arriola’s cross off the post from 15 yards out; was then denied by Phillips as he headed another cross from Arriola on target from six yards out.

Pulisic did what Zardes couldn’t — he made it 4-0 — in the 73rd. Jordan Morris worked his way down the right side of the box before cutting inside and laying a square ball to Pulisic on the left, where he had all the time he needed to pick his spot and finish back to the right.

Arriola tacked on the fifth goal five minutes later, in the 78th, making good on another simple pass from Morris. Long chested a high-bounding rebound home for the USMNT’s sixth and final goal mere seconds before the final whistle.

USMNT player ratings from defeat of Guyana

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The United States men’s national team was solid, but not particularly impressive in its 4-0 defeat of Guyana early Wednesday to start its Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

There were stars in this one, with Weston McKennie and Tyler Boyd finding their strides, but still a lot of question marks (in some ways due to the competition).

Let’s get into it. As always, “6” is the baseline for ratings: a passable performance.

Starting XI

Zack Steffen — 6 — Had very little to do, even in possession, as expected.

Nick Lima — 6 — Looking comfortable moving forward and was aggressive in defense.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — Passed the ball well, but like his goalkeeper and fellow defenders, was largely untested.

Aaron Long — 6 — A step up from his nightmare against Venezuela.

Tim Ream — 6 — An okay cog in the back three after a rough pair of friendly losses.

Michael Bradley (Off 63′) — 6 — For the first 20 minutes, it was clear this was his first match in a month. But his game improved, capped by a remarkable assist to Boyd for the 1,000th goal in USMNT history. Fitting.

Weston McKennie (Off 74′) — 7 — A slow start, but on the night not only assisted a goal but played three or four world-class touch passes. Gregg Berhalter said the injury that cost him the final 16 minutes was a cramp. Let’s hope so.

Paul Arriola — 8 — His aggression and ambition paid off, as he rebounded from some questionable performances to get a goal and set up two others (*thou

Christian Pulisic (Off 63′) — 7 — Instantly the most dangerous player on the field, would’ve likely had a couple assists with a capable finisher up top.

Tyler Boyd — 8.5 — The former New Zealand international made a lot of fans tonight, scoring two goals, and was in position to score four or even five.

Gyasi Zardes — 5 — Credit the motor, but look forward to Jozy Altidore being back at full fitness.

Substitutions

Wil Trapp (On 63′) — 6 — Better than his miserable pair of friendlies.

Cristian Roldan (On 63′) — 6 — Looked more lively in attack, but given the opposition that’s not terribly impressive.

Djordje Mihailovic (On 74′) — N/A —

Big takeaways, winners, losers from USMNT friendlies

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For the first time in a long time, I did not have any writing responsibilities during a United States men’s national team camp. That gave me the opportunity to ask a friend to meet me out at the local soccer pub here in Buffalo and just kinda take in the match without obsessing over the player rating of each player to don a U.S. kit.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

What that allowed was a more free appraisal of how I felt about the USMNT, and frankly it was a bit surprising to see what registered in this maniacal mind.

What’s the future for the January guys who earned time in this camp?

The answer to the heading, if we’re honest, is a mixed bag.

I’ve been the first to question whether Gyasi Zardes would be called into U.S. camp with a good look at starting atop the formation for any other coach than Berhalter, who relied on him with Columbus, but the industrious if touch-trouble forward was very good for large parts of both March friendlies and played a role in both goals.

Aaron Long continues to impress at center back, to the point where it would not have been surprising if he earned another start in front of Matt Miazga.

It was less happy for Corey Baird, who at 23 still has some time to season but has not shown the requisite finishing touch to meet his fantastic engine. Nick Lima and Christian Ramirez did not feature while Jonathan Lewis only got a token call. Daniel Lovitz was good in his cameo.

We’re not in the wilderness, but a Golden Generation isn’t guaranteed

There are so many reasons to be excited as a USMNT supporter, especially if you can ignore the fact that Mexico is somehow the first and second best team in CONCACAF. Christian Pulisic is a generational player, and the side has two other 20-year-old central midfielders who are key components to their Bundesliga clubs in Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Beyond that is a strong center back in John Brooks, as well as some serious competitors to start next to him in Chelsea property Matt Miazga and the Red Bulls’ Aaron Long.

With apologies to Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin, new Man City backstop Zack Steffen, and exciting teen talents Josh Sargent and Tim Weah, it dips off a bit after that in terms of guarantees (And Weah and Sargent still have a bit to go to reach the level of even Jozy Altidore). Djordje Mihailovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Jaylin Lindsey, and Ulysses Lainez are exciting prospects, but little more than that now.

If we’re being honest, QPR’s Geoff Cameron is probably still the best partner for Brooks. And whether you hate or love Michael Bradley — more on him in a minute — you cannot say that any player has done anything to claim his place in the midfield (Hey USSF, remember Jonathan Gonzalez? Great work!).

Assuming he sticks with Adams as a right back, these is almost unquestionably the most hopeful team for 2022 given Berhalter’s formation preference. And there is A LOT of hope in hopeful given the inclusion of Weah and Sargent.

Steffen

Adams — Brooks — Long??? — Lovitz???

Bradley

McKennie — Pulisic

Weah — Altidore — Sargent

Michael freaking Bradley

This is the sixth season since Michael Bradley returned from Europe to make some big dollars in Major League Soccer, and it’s mostly been rather triumphant for Toronto FC’s captain.

The exceptions are big ones: Toronto FC failed to build on its treble-winning 2017 in MLS, spectacularly failing to make the playoffs and using Bradley as a center back for a quarter of the season, and the USMNT failing to get a draw out of Trinidad and Tobago and breaking its long streak of going to the World Cup (which is a pretty cool soccer tournament, team).

Bradley’s been quite good for TFC early this season, and Gregg Berhalter has him looking back at his best in a USMNT shirt. While Tuesday’s performance against Chile wasn’t perfect, the veteran showed a terrific range of passing including a downright ethereal bomb that Corey Baird couldn’t handle in the first half. And he did it against a midfield that included Europe-based stars Arturo Vidal and Charles Aranguiz.

Berhalter’s plan for his deep-lying center midfielder fits Bradley to a T, and allows both Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie to take care of the “be everywhere” role that Jurgen Klinsmann expected from the No. 4 (and perhaps we should go back to credit MB90 for not lighting the coach on fire a bit more often). Wil Trapp is a solid 5.5 years younger than Bradley, but not everyone has the same level of class as the TFC man. Berhalter will be wise to consider that old Bradley in 2022 might be a step up from a second-tier holding midfielder in Qatar (or just try someone who isn’t Trapp. That could also be a thing).

It’s easy to forget that Bradley is an all-time American soccer legend given what happened in Couva; The 31-year-old has 144 caps and he’s got a solid shot to become the States’ all-time leader by the time he hangs up his boots. Bradley is 20 caps back of Cobi Jones and 13 shy of Landon Donovan’s second place spot. In the words of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, we should “forget where we differ, and get big picture.”

In other words, find me the player champing at the bit to take the place of a former Serie A starter who then led the best team in MLS history? He’s not there right now.

What’s the Best XI of players Berhalter has yet to call into camp?

Every manager has guys he serially overlooks, or at least is accused of overlooking, and critics of Jurgen Klinsmann were quick to shout the names Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan from the rooftops on occasion.

No one’s clamoring for those two this go ’round, and that’s more a generational thing than anything else, but there are still some guys who’ve been on the outside looking in (and not at U-23 or U-20 camp).

Here’s a halfway-promising (or experienced) XI to consider:

Brad Guzan

Shaq Moore — Palmer-Brown — Carter-Vickers — Kyle Duncan

Russell Canouse

Darlington Nagbe  — Memo Rodriguez

Lynden Gooch — Andrija Novakovich — Kenny Saief