John Brooks

Getty Images

USMNT Roundtable: Berhalter, Dest, and the future

1 Comment

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.

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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.

Adams (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

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.

Zardes (AP Photo/David Dermer)

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?

[ RELATED: Julian Green thriving at CM ]

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.

FBL-NED-USA-FRIENDLY

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! 
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

USMNT: The morning after Mexico

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
2 Comments

Having slept, albeit briefly, on the United States men’s national team’s 3-0 home loss to Mexico in a friendly, it’s no surprise to see the Sun back up in the sky.

[ MORE: 3 things | USMNT player ratings ]

The night was a comedy of disappointment, beginning with John Brooks’ groin issue costing the USMNT its best center back for Gregg Berhalter’s system.

Not the end of the program or even the manager (Get a GM)

Is it “just a friendly,” as some might ask? In most situations you’d say so, but this was Berhalter against Tata Martino’s Mexico for a second time in two months. And to lose decisively… yeesh.

Still, this isn’t the death knell for the Berhalter project, as some might say. And that’s not a glib nod toward Berhalter’s brother’s status as the federation’s next CEO.

Berhalter needs help with player identification and scouting from above. Earnie Stewart is going to hire a new general manager, who hopefully will come from a pool of more than two interviews.

That guy can hopefully help Berhalter better realize that he isn’t Herb Brooks to the rest of the world’s Soviet Union. It doesn’t take a miracle collection of “lesser” talent to make deep runs in tournament, and over-performing (incredibly well) with Columbus’ lack of spending isn’t the same as doing it against Mexico (let alone France or Brazil).

Despite Friday’s foibles (see below), Berhalter is a heck of an in-game guy and there’s reason to believe deploying this possession style against most of CONCACAF will be dynamite.

Berhalter has no answers for possession failure

In our opinion, Gregg Berhalter’s bristling response to a media ‘narrative’ stemming from his side’s miserable failure to deal with Mexico’s high press on Friday shows just how deeply he understands the lack of options available to him last night, and how poor of a decision it was to stick with the system (at least in a one-game context against your rivals. The bad night still may somehow benefit his men in terms of experience).

With Brooks absent, Berhalter opted for Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long at the back. Long is a tenacious, energetic defender… a mauler. Both Zimmerman and Brooks are no slouches in that department, but both are far better passers than Long.

And what Brooks brings that Zimmerman does not, at least as much, is a terrific ability to both dribble and ping long balls out of the back. He’s coming at you in possession, like a train (Unfortunately this train is often in the shop for repairs).

Now you throw in the unavailability of Matt Miazga, also injured and a better passer and ball mover than Long, and there’s a problem. It’s probably also worth noting that Fulham center back Tim Ream, a left back with the USMNT, was still a comparably magnificent passer during a miserable defensive season with the Cottagers last campaign.

Here are the above-mentioned four, without Long because his passing numbers aren’t in the ballpark this year and he’s not on the field for that. It’s also worth noting that two of the above players’ performance scores come from markedly better competitions than MLS.

@WhoScored

Brooks is a level above the three and there’s are arguments to be made for any of the other three alongside him, but with him out playing for possession would need to come through Zimmerman. That didn’t work on Friday, as Zimmerman had a poor day with the ball at his feet and his keeper had a worse one. Wil Trapp, playing atop the center backs could only manage short sideways passes.

The answer wasn’t in Berhalter’s bench when it came to his desire to play out of the back (Tyler Adams, a right back in his system presumably for this reason, was also out of the lineup). And he never flipped the switch and asked his midfield to battle for 50/50 balls amongst other options.

That super weird penalty, though

This one’s a small one, but glossed over by the immediate fallout of a 3-0 loss.

Late in the match Sebastian Lletget slipped Jordan Morris into the box with a delightful pass, and the Seattle man won a penalty.

Christian Pulisic handed the ball to young Josh Sargent, who would see his effort saved by Jonathan Orozco.

At first blush, our thought was it was unselfish from Pulisic to offer an international goal to his younger teammate. Some voices online claimed the Chelsea star didn’t want to take a pen in the rain, but that seems a bit much, doesn’t it?

What was your verdict?

What’s going to happen on Tuesday versus Uruguay?

Neither Brooks nor Miazga, as stated above. No Adams, Yedlin, nor Weah. Heck, no Altidore, Gonzalez, or Bradley, who know a thing or two about messing with Mexico.

Mexico is a firm favorite against the USMNT when both teams are healthy. As I wrote on Friday, Berhalter would’ve been justified to hang this one on injuries and a lack of depth. He probably didn’t want to hang the player pool out to dry (or the development system behind it), but sinking into a bunker mentality was… interesting, at best.

Now Brooks goes back to Wolfsburg, while Zack Steffen and the stretchered-off Alfredo Morales return to Fortuna Dusseldorf (who play Friday). Sean Johnson is back at NYCFC and Christian Pulisic to Chelsea.

Here’s a first look at a likely XI, as Berhalter continues to court Sergino Dest while blooding some other younger folks.

Does he call up Brad Guzan if he’s not going to play the veteran? Seems likely we could see a halftime split between the Atlanta United man and 24-year-old Jesse Gonzalez. Plus the vocal veteran could help cool any nerves on show from 22-year-old Miles Robinson.

Guzan

Dest — Robinson — Zimmerman — Ream

Yueill — Roldan

Morris — Lletget — Pomykal

Sargent

That would leave Corey Baird and Nick Lima as the only players yet to feature, and Lima would either enter for Dest or Ream, while Baird isn’t in feature player mode.

Strengths and weaknesses of the USMNT

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
1 Comment

The United States men’s national team tangles with Mexico on Friday in its latest attempt at building toward the 2022 World Cup.

Rivals El Tri are bringing a Golden Generation-based roster to the party, and the weaknesses of Mexico are, well, very very few.

The USMNT is another story. Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks may well be on pace for a Golden Generation itself should Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Josh Sargent continue to progress and mature with top level experience, and there are a bevy of young players like FC Dallas’ Paxton Pomykal and Ajax’s Sergino Dest who, too, inspire hope for the short-term and long-term.

STRENGTH: The midfield

This feels so good to say. After a few years of Michael Bradley dipping in form and coaches hoping Wil Trapp is the answer, the Yanks now have multiple players delivering on a high level for club and country. That allows Bradley to, at worst, be a terrific depth asset.

Christian Pulisic is on pace to become the best attacking player in USMNT history — a mantle we believe currently resides with Clint Dempsey — and Weston McKennie is a complete player and one of Schalke’s most important. Tyler Adams is the “right back” in Berhalter’s formation, but he’s a midfielder in possession and a very good one.

Alfredo Morales is getting his latest chance to impress, Pomykal is a delightful young prospect who may eventually allow Pulisic to play out wide, and Julian Green’s 2.Bundesliga heroics have not even been enough to get a call-up. That’s depth (or questionable call-ups, but we’ll get to that).

WEAKNESS: Left back

Gregg Berhalter has attempted to short-circuit a weakness that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s prime, a void unfilled by Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jorge Villafana, Edgar Castillo, Justin Morrow, Greg Garza, and a host of out-of-position prayers unanswered. Berhalter’s ideal back four is not traditional, with Tyler Adams or another right back defending in that spot but moving into the midfield in possession. So far, Tim Ream has been okay as a LCB, but the team still badly needs a strong, true, speedy man on the left.

Beasley was a key to many USMNT cycles (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

STRENGTH: The coach, in-game

Just look at what Caleb Porter, a decent-enough MLS coach in his own right, has done with Columbus since taking over for Berhalter, who was clearly making a fine meal out of lesser ingredients. There’s a chance that his desire to be a possession-based monster won’t work out at the USMNT level, but he’s such a good coach that it would be stunning if he didn’t find a fix.

WEAKNESS: The coach, in selection

Look, every coach has his or her favorites. Berhalter coached Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp at Columbus, and both continue to get called up to the team. Zardes is a serviceable player who out-performs his advanced stats and finishes goals. He’s the 2019 Chris Wondolowski (even if Chris Wondolowski is still active in 2019). Trapp is, well, one of Berhalter’s favorites.

There is a clear desire or preference from Berhalter to see Major League Soccer players make it work. For now, that’s kinda okay. But see this below chart with the ratings of American players amongst their peers in MLS across three different online rating services. Berhalter is calling up players who sit outside the Top 100 in form in MLS this season.

Hopefully, whoever Earnie Stewart hires to be the new USMNT GM will help. I mean, at least reward the American player having the best season of all Yanks in MLS (It’s FC Dallas’ 28-year-old Ryan Hollingshead, by the way).

STRENGTH: John Brooks

We’d love to say center back is a strength in general, but right now it would be almost exclusively on behalf of the Wolfsburg monster. Brooks is a terrific passer with excellent vision, strong instincts, and tactical understanding. When healthy, he’s been a good Bundesliga center back. His last season and the start of this one have sputtered a bit, but at 26 it’s reasonable to think he’s just now finding his prime.

WEAKNESS: Goalkeeper (for now?)

Zack Steffen is the No. 1 goalkeeper in the USMNT pool. The youngster is back in Europe, on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf from Manchester City, and getting loads of shots fired at him by Bundesliga opposition. He’s a tremendous shot stopper who is improving in possession despite the mistakes we’ve seen in a U.S. shirt. Fellow young goalkeepers Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Jonathan Klinsmann (FC St. Gallen) are not first choice at their clubs. And for as good as veterans Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson are between the sticks, neither meets the class of prime Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, or Tim Howard, clearly elite backstops who capable of the most wondrous of performances.

Zack Steffen twitter.com/f95

STRENGTH: Youth

Look, some of this has to do with shiny new objects yet to crack in front of our eyes, but things are looking from Pomykal to Miles Robinson in MLS, Sergino Dest to Chris Gloster overseas (And don’t even get us started on the way too young but way too exciting Giovani Reyna, Borussia Dortmund’s son of one of the best American players to ever don the shirt).

The Olympic qualifying failures are hopefully in the past, and the U-20 World Cup sides have been fun to watch for years. Say what you will about the USSF under Klinsmann, Arena, Berhalter, whoever, but the prospects are being developed better both here and abroad than ever before.

WEAKNESS: Center forward (for now)

Prolific big man Jozy Altidore isn’t with the USMNT this camp due to Toronto FC commitments, and has struggled to stay healthy (He’s an absolute CONCACAF killer). Lille’s Tim Weah is also hurt, and may well be the answer here, but all eyes will be on Josh Sargent. The Werder Bremen teen is coming off his first goal of the Bundesliga season, and capable of turning this weakness to strength the minute if his elite prospect meter pushes into full throttle starter (Read the latest on Sargent here). Everyone else already has a clear flaw in their game, even Altidore’s fitness qualifies here. Gyasi Zardes is a good finisher with a very decent engine, but his poor stats in many other categories aren’t lying. Bobby Wood has dropped off the map, Andrija Novakovich is still not a fixture at Reading and on another loan, and Jordan Morris now clearly a winger.

USMNT’s Brooks scores equalizer for Wolfsburg

Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Brooks is enjoying a career year for Wolfsburg, and he just added another highlight to his strong season.

Brooks, running up in the attack in a rare foray forward, tapped home into an empty net to save Wolfsburg a point at home in its 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt. It was Brooks’ third goal of the season and second in the last two months.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The U.S. Men’s National Team centerback has played and started 29 times this season for Wolfsburg, the most games he’s ever played in a single season in Germany’s top tier. Brooks started alongside Aaron Long in the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Ecuador in Orlando in late March, and could play a key role for the USMNT this summer at the Gold Cup, unless coach Gregg Berhalter decides to let him rest this summer.

Big takeaways, winners, losers from USMNT friendlies

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
1 Comment

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