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Wolfsburg keeps Bundesliga spot with playoff win

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Wolfsburg managed a 1-0 win (4-1 on aggregate) over Holstein Kiel on Monday in the second leg of its German promotion playoff as the Bundesliga side kept its place in the top flight.

Robin Knoche scored the game-winner in the second leg, which ensured Wolfsburg’s stay in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2017/18 season.

The hosts boasted a number of quality chances in the first half, including David Kinsombi’s close-range shot that tested Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels with a save, however, Holstein couldn’t break through.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender John Brooks went the full 90 minutes for Wolfsburg, after the 25-year-old made nine starts this season for the German side in league play.

So… how could the USMNT line up at its next tournament?

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The United States men’s national team has one goal over the next 18 months since they decided to take a break from their regular World Cup participation.

That goal? Qualify for the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar*.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]

(Insert next full-time coach’s name here)’s Yanks have not one but two paths to that appetizer for the 2022 World Cup. As the 2016 Gold Cup champions, they’ve guaranteed at worst a place in the 2020 CONCACAF Cup against the 2019 Gold Cup winner.

Or, and follow me here, they could win the 2019 Gold Cup and eliminate such a CONCACAF Cup.

Being CONCACAF, any number of things could happen during the tournament, but we learned something when the U.S. was not invited to the 2019 Copa America: Without a second tournament, Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, and friends will have access to their A-plus group of players should they desire to treat the competition seriously.

For the United States and (insert next full-time coach’s name here), it would be embarrassing to do anything less in the run-up to the return of World Cup qualifying the following Fall (though an expanded field could make qualifying for that tournament much closer to “just show up for a third of your games.”).

What will the United States’ top lineup look like come next summer? Well, the next 10-12 friendlies will tell us something, but plenty is up in the air. Assuming health, there are very few certainties in the group. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks are going and probably starting; Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams also seem close to locks.

Player pool (Ages come June 2019 in parenthesis)

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (28), Zack Steffen (24), Alex Bono (25), Jesse Gonzalez (24), Ethan Horvath (24), Jonathan Klinsmann (22), Matt Turner (24).

Defenders: Brooks (26), Yedlin (25), Miazga (23), Shaq Moore (22), Cameron Carter-Vickers (21), Erik Palmer-Brown (22), Auston Trusty (20), Tim Parker (26), Walker Zimmerman (26), Danilo Acosta (21), Geoff Cameron (33), Steve Birnbaum (28), Timmy Chandler (29), Justen Glad (22), Ben Sweat (28), Nick Lima (24), Reggie Cannon (20), Antonee Robinson (21), Aaron Long (26), Keegan Rosenberry (25).

Midfielders: Adams (20), McKennie (20), Marky Delgado (24), Kenny Saief (25), Michael Bradley (31), Paul Arriola (24), Sean Davis (26), Jacori Hayes (23), Brooks Lennon (21), Cristian Roldan (24), Darlington Nagbe (28), Wil Trapp (26), Lynden Gooch (23), Danny Williams (30), Kellyn Acosta (23), Kelyn Rowe (27), Andrew Carleton (18), Luca de la Torre (21), Ale Bedoya (32), Sebastian Lletget (26).

Forwards: Pulisic (20), Tim Weah (19), Bobby Wood (26), Andrija Novakovich (22), Gyasi Zardes (27), Jordan Morris (24), Josh Sargent (19), Jozy Altidore (29), Clint Dempsey (36), Aron Johannsson (28), Terrence Boyd (28), Juan Agudelo (28).

Pick your 23. Here’s our best guess — GK: Steffen, Horvath, Klinsmann. DEF: Brooks, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Cameron, Chandler, Yedlin, Moore, Robinson. MID: Adams, McKennie, Delgado, Bradley, Roldan, Williams, K. Acosta, Saief. FWD: Pulisic, Wood, Altidore, Sargent.

And an XI: I think the captain Bradley is going to have to play his way out of his job at CM (unless his TFC transition to CB become full-time), so we won’t always see McKennie and Adams together is the center of the park. Robinson gets the left back gig unless Danilo Acosta makes great strides or the new coach thinks he can play Moore or Nick Lima on the other side of the pitch. We’ll go hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1, though Pulisic could well get every chance to be a No. 10 (and who knows where he’ll be playing next season in club ball).

Steffen

Yedlin — Brooks — Miazga — Robinson

McKennie — Bradley — Adams

Pulisic — Altidore — Saief

*-They still could move the 2021 Confederations Cup and 2022 World Cup from Qatar. It’s really not too late.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

PST Survey results: Who’s the 2nd best American player?

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The results of PST’s Big American Soccer Survey are in, and our staff will be walking through the results of thousands of votes in a series of posts this week.

We didn’t realize you could acronymize it to BASS, or else we would’ve done it sooner. Next up: the top dogs of the current USMNT… beyond Christian Pulisic.

[ MORE: All Big American Soccer Survey posts ]

There are a number of strong contributors to the United States men’s national team, but there’s simply no question the top player going right now is 19-year-old Pennsylvanian wizard Christian Pulisic.

In addition to being one of, if not the only American player with some electricity in his body against Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic is among the best players on a top Bundesliga team and has even been tipped as a possible replacement for Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben at Bayern Munich.

Aside from Clint Dempsey‘s five-year run between Fulham and Spurs in the Premier League, there is no American attacking player with a Top Five European league resume as strong as Pulisic who, again, is 19.

But what about beyond him? Tim Howard and Dempsey are deep into their 30s and back in MLS, while Michael Bradley’s play is not at the same level as when he left Roma for Toronto FC. The latter two, along with Jozy Altidore and perhaps sooner Paul Arriola and later Tyler Adams, are the top MLS-based Yanks (assuming they say domestic).

The European crowd have different arguments. Geoff Cameron is one of the most important players on Stoke City, while DeAndre Yedlin is a regular starter for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. John Brooks and Bobby Wood matter deeply to their Bundesliga outfits, while 19-year-old Schalke midfielder and Pulisic FIFA rival Weston McKennie is raising eyebrows here and abroad.

So where did you rank ’em?

It’s worth noting that we gave six options to go with a write-in box: Altidore, Bradley, Brooks, Cameron, Dempsey, and Yedlin. Wood and Fabian Johnson received enough write-in votes to prove they should’ve been among the options.

7) Jozy Altidore — 3 percent — A CONCACAF and MLS killer, Altidore unfortunately often needed to drop into the midfield to hold the ball up for Bruce Arena’s feeble midfield. His reputation has dropped amongst USMNT supporters since his failed move to Sunderland, but ask Eredivisie and MLS defenses whether he’s got international quality. The 28-year-old may have not been Premier League quality — many weren’t at Sunderland — but he remains a top American forward. Once an unquestioned favorite to chase down Landon Donovan and Dempsey amongst the all-time leading U.S. scorers, will young competition and Dempsey’s continued relevance keep him from achieving that objective? Altidore currently sits 16 behind both

6) Michael Bradley — 5 percent — The sentiment behind Alexi Lalas’ “Zen burn” is perhaps the reason Bradley doesn’t get enough love and has become a critical magnet amongst USMNT fans, but Toronto fans understand that Bradley’s skill set is still vital. Bradley plays calm and composed, a central midfielder who can make big tackles but usually gets to the ball before one’s needed. His USMNT performances recently make the argument for European football, but Bradley is the top American player in Major League Soccer.

5) Other — 10 percent — Wood was the leader here despite losing steam at Hamburg this season.

4) Clint Dempsey — 16 percent — Perhaps the closest thing U.S. Soccer has to a folk hero outside of Tim Howard’s Belgium performance, Dempsey’s five years between Fulham and Spurs are rarefied air for American attackers abroad. He returned from a serious heart ailment to bag 14 goals and four assists as MLS Comeback Player of the Year, and has helped Seattle not miss injured striker Jordan Morris. Also overlooked: He has five goals and three assists for the USMNT since coming back in March, and three of those goals came in an inspiring hat trick versus Honduras.

3) Geoff Cameron — 17 percent — One of Stoke’s most valuable player, Cameron’s club and country look entirely different without him. Cameron leads the Potters in interceptions per game, offsides won per game, and is behind only Joe Allen, Jese, and Eric Choupo-Moting in dribbles per game. He followed up perhaps his worst match as a USMNT player by being a game-changing sub, only to see Bruce Arena ignore him for the two most important matches of the qualifying mess.

2) John Brooks — 23 percent — The big American center back was a key part of Hertha Berlin’s strong defense last season, and is perhaps under the radar having missed the better part of this early season and the World Cup qualifying debacle. Now at Wolfsburg in a record transfer involving an American, Brooks doesn’t turn 25 until January.

1) DeAndre Yedlin — 26 percent — More than a quarter of you tabbed the Magpies right back, who took his first steps in Europe with Tottenham less than three seasons ago. Still just 24, Yedlin is the most promising American full back/wing back in some time.

USMNT player ratings: Youth drives the bus

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Player ratings from the U.S. national team’s exhibition clash with Portugal, the reigning European champions, and the first game of a very long four years as the USMNT rebuilds from the ground up with two eyes toward the 2022 World Cup…

[ VIDEO: McKennie scores on his USMNT debut… and a Horvath howler ]

GK — Ethan Horvath: 3 — Hit the above link to see Horvath’s calamitous howler. That ain’t a great way to begin your bid to take over the no. 1 shirt from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Subbed off at halftime, which was the plan before kickoff, hopefully Hovath’s confidence isn’t too badly damaged without the chance to redeem himself immediately.

RB — DeAndre Yedlin: 6 — The best thing that can be said of Yedlin is this: you know what you’re going to get from him every time he steps on the field these days, and that’s something you couldn’t always say of the 24-year-old. He’s a constant presence and performer, and should have the right back spot locked down for much of the next two World Cup cycles.

CB — Matt Miazga: 6.5 — The best part of Miazga’s game is how quickly he reads, and reacts to, dangerous situations. There’s no one in the player pool who defends on the front foot as much as Miazga. As such, he’ll always require a partner who’s a brilliant emergency defender, which is hardly the strength of John Brooks, given his size and lack of recovery speed.

CB — John Brooks: 6.5 — Seeing Brooks on the field after three months out with a thigh injury only served as a reminder that his presence might have made a massive difference last month — not that they shouldn’t have been able to qualify without him, mind you. According to recently departed head coach Bruce Arena, Brooks and Miazga could have very well been the starting duo in Russia; with any luck, the same will be true of Qatar in four years’ time.

LB — Eric Lichaj: 5.5 — While Lichaj is somehow, against all odds, still only 28 years old, he’ll be 32 years old when the next World Cup begins. If he’s called into the next two or three USMNT camps, we’ll take serious the possibility he’s an option in the medium- to short-term. Until then, he’s starting at left back simply because someone has to.

[ RECAP: USMNT draw Portugal in first game of 2022 WC cycle ]

CM — Danny Williams: 7 — With the leash cut all the way off of Weston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta ahead of him, Williams had but one job against Portugal: protect the backline when the youngsters’ press is broken. It happened on a few occasions, and Williams put out the majority of those fires. It’s a trio that lacks a true playmaker — the sexy factor, if you will — but proved highly functional for the 84 minutes they shared the field.

RM — Tyler Adams: 6 — Adams, uh, struggled in the first half (see passing chart, at right — that’s a whole lot of red arrows). He started the second half of his USMNT debut much brighter, though, as he got on the end of Danny Williams’ cross to the back post and forced Beto to make a spectacular, sprawling save. Adams is still a player with a “permanent position,” thus an important period of his development lies directly ahead. In 2017, we saw him play at least one game at all three levels wide on the right, in central midfield, and the based of the midfield.

CM — Weston McKennie: 8 — The 19-year-old Schalke midfielder 1) scored a goal on his debut; 2) smashed the crossbar with a header from close range; and, most importantly, 3) provided a bit of renewed excitement around the USMNT. McKennie and Acosta proved a formidable central midfield pairing, capable of pressing high up the field and pushing the tempo. Where they struggled, however, was in unlocking further advanced attackers into the final third. That will, in theory, come with time and repetition — two things the USMNT has in abundance over the next 18-30 months.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 6.5 — Acosta and McKennie had very similar games to one another, with the obvious exception of McKennie’s goal and near-goal. Given that Acosta is three years McKennie’s senior, you’d have hoped to see a bit more connectivity from his side of the field. Alas, no such luck in this one.

LM — Juan Agudelo: 5.5 — The good: in his 59 minutes on the field, Agudelo misplaces just three passes. The bad: not a single one of his 15 completed passes was played in the forward direction (in fact, not a single one of his 18 attempted passes was played forward). He’s already a tough fit on the wing further forward; playing the 24-year-old (yes, really) even deeper seems an impossible exercise to assess.

[ MORE: Brooks-Miazga the center-back partnership of the future ]

FW — C.J. Sapong: 5.5 — With the midfield set up to create turnovers and chances on the counter, Sapong’s physical presence and accompanying hold-up play was hardly a perfect fit, but he made the most of his very limited opportunities.

Sub — Bill Hamid: 6 — Only forced to make two saves — both routine — in his 45 minutes on the field, Hamid managed to avoid hurting his stock.

Sub — Cameron Carter-Vickers: 5 — While Miazga’s strength is the speed with which he reads the game, the polar opposite must be said for Carter-Vickers, thus he’s not terribly suited to play alongside Miazga. Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see them play together.