U.S. Men’s National Team

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U.S. National Soccer Team players association speaks out against U.S. Soccer

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Even though the U.S. Men’s National Team doesn’t have to play multiple matches per year on artificial turf like the U.S. Women’s National Team, the USMNT players are taking a stand against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

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In a statement, the U.S. National Soccer Team players association said that it opposes playing on both turf or grass laid on top of turf due to player safety concerns. Since Nippert Stadium is an artificial turf surface, it’s expected that U.S. Soccer will pay to fly in and lay down grass on top of the field ahead of the USMNT’s friendly match with Venezuela on June 9.

“In the view of the Players Association, this is just one more example of a serious problem that the United States Soccer Federation is not advancing the interests of the sport of soccer or the interests of the players or the fans, but is solely focused on generating ever-increasing revenues and profits for the Federation, its employees, its sponsors, and private businesses associated with the Federation,” the the players said in its statement, after corresponding with U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro via e-mail.

The players association highlighted a section of the U.S. Soccer press release in announcing the friendly match in Cincinnati, noting the strong FC Cincinnati fan support. This backed the players association’s point that U.S. Soccer is more interested in revenues than player safety.

Even with all of our society’s technological advances, it appears that only old-fashioned planting and allowing grass to gain roots deep in the soil is the best way to ensure a strong, stable field, and not one that will come up with a quick change of direction. Issues at Yankee Stadium recently highlighted this problem.

New York City FC captain Alex Ring, who played in that match, said he slipped on some of that temporary sod and suffered an injured ankle, but soldiered on to play through the pain for the final hour of the game.

“It hurts, unfortunately,” Ring told reporters on April 6, via Front Row Sports. “What can I say? I can’t complain about the pitch, but it happens after 30 minutes and you play the whole game with a sore ankle, it’s not the best.”

While coming to Cincinnati and bringing the USMNT to cities it has never been before – this will be the first USMNT trip to Cincinnati – is an important mission for U.S. Soccer, it’s also surprising because the beautiful pitch at Crew Stadium, the heart and soul of U.S. Soccer, is right up the road. Of course, Crew Stadium’s capacity is much smaller than Nippert Stadium, which I’m sure had something to do with this decision.

The USMNT hasn’t had to play on grass laid on top of turf since the 2017 Gold Cup semifinals against Costa Rica, which was played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is an indoor facility and thus uses artificial turf.

For U.S. Soccer, that now means all of its senior national team players are against the federation’s current position. The USWNT has made its sentiments known about playing on turf, even before Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in a match on a turf pitch in bad shape, and they’ve even recently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Soccer is engaging in gender discrimination against the USWNT players.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s a bad look for U.S. Soccer that all of its main players are against the federation in one form or another, and together they could use their media platforms to make an even bigger statement.

Behind the Scenes: USMNT coach Berhalter gives tactical insight on squad

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In a short clip, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter broke down what he liked, and didn’t like, from two moments during the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Ecuador last Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

[READ: International Champions Cup schedule announced]

Both plays focused on how the U.S. reacted to having the ball in the attacking third and losing it, and what players could have done better to shut down a counter-attack from Ecuador. Like it or not, it’s great that Berhalter is lifting the curtain and showing fans how he watches film after games to find little mistakes to fix. No previous USMNT coach has allowed this much access to the media, so props to Berhalter for that. While it’s still much too early to judge him based on results on the field, he’s certainly earning approval from fans and media alike for how open he is to answering tactical questions as well as providing this kind of insight to supporters.

Watch the video below:

USMNT Transfer Roundup: Saief joins FC Cincy, Galaxy sign Corona

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Two players in the U.S. Men’s National Team player pool will now be playing in Major League Soccer.

First, FC Cincinnati announced that it had signed winger Kenny Saief on loan from RSC Anderlecht in Belgium. The team didn’t disclose transfer details, but it’s likely there is an option to buy Saief at the end of the loan. It’s also unclear whether Saief’s contract was paid down with allocation money.

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“We are excited to add a player of Kenny’s caliber to our team,” FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch said in a statement. “He is someone who comes to our club with significant top-tier experience. We look forward to welcoming Kenny to Cincinnati and integrating him within our group immediately.”

Later in the day, the LA Galaxy posted that it had signed midfielder Joe Corona, using TAM (targeted allocation money) in the deal. Corona joined on a free transfer from Club Tijuana, where he spent most of the last nine years since turning professional in 2010.

“Joe is an experienced and quality player who can immediately address an area of need for our club,” said LA Galaxy GM Dennis te Kloese said in a statement. “I am familiar with Joe from his time in Liga MX and think he can be an impactful player on our roster. We are excited to welcome Joe to our team and look forward to his contributions.”

In both cases, it was a chance for the players to find some much-needed playing time. After excelling when he first moved to Anderlecht, Saief became a second-choice player this fall. He’s only started twice, playing 12 times in Belgian league matches with 307 minutes clocked. As Saief hopes to be part of this next USMNT cycle, it was important for him to get regular playing time, even if it was outside of Europe. Plus, in the U.S. he can leverage his U.S. passport into a good contract and be a domestic player for a team in search of a star attacker to play with Fanendo Adi.

Part of how Saief joined FC Cincinnati was through its former captain, fellow Israeli Dekel Keinan.

Corona on the other hand has been with the USMNT since 2012, but has never fully become the star many thought or hoped he would become. Corona has amassed 23 caps for the USMNT but outside of Gold Cups, he hasn’t played at a World Cup and was not in the USMNT squad for the last round of World Cup qualifying. Considering he’ll be 32 when the 2022 World Cup takes place, his days with the USMNT may be number. However, with him playing close to home, expect him to once again be considered for a role at this summer’s Gold Cup.

Projecting USMNT squad for March friendlies

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In a little more than two weeks, members of Gregg Berhalter’s first full U.S. Men’s National Team squad will be making their way to Florida, ahead of the first of two friendlies.

Since these friendlies are part of FIFA’s official international window, everyone will be available for selection – barring injuries. Following the USMNT’s annual January camp, in which Berhalter got to assess and analyze some of the top domestic-based players, Berhalter now can test his playing style with the dozens of Americans playing abroad. Berhalter recently visited some USMNT players in Europe, and right now he’s likely whittling down his 23-man roster for the upcoming matches.

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The U.S. is set to face Ecuador in Orlando on March 21 and Chile in Houston on March 26. Take a look at who we think may be called up for these matches, assuming everyone is healthy.

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USMNT player ratings v. Costa Rica

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The U.S. men’s national team closed out its annual early-season training camp on Saturday with its second victory, defeating Costa Rica 2-0 in San Jose’s Avaya Stadium. While it was a second friendly against a fellow CONCACAF side without its full complement of players, the domestic-based U.S. squad showed signs of improvement, especially in the second half.

Following a first half in which the U.S. weren’t able to execute its game plan, the team came out of the gates like a horse in the Kentucky Derby for the second half, and rode that wave of energy to victory. Take a look below at some of the standouts – and those who missed an opportunity to impress – in a match that was the last chance for these domestic players to prove they belong with the foreign-based squad.

Zack Steffen – 6

Steffen didn’t really have much to do all game. He made one save, caught one cross and his worst moment may have been slipping on the grass, as torrential rain during parts of the match made the field a bit slippery, especially around the goal mouth. Steffen did play the initial pass in Arriola’s goal, so he’ll get credit for that, and by earning another cap, his chances of earning a work permit in England continue to rise.

Nick Lima – 6

Playing in his home stadium, Lima again showed that he may have a future for the USMNT as an outside back. The 24-year-old had a shot clang off the post and he delivered some good service from the right side. He’s certainly a player to watch for in the next year or two.

Walker Zimmerman – 7

Zimmerman, playing again with Aaron Long as a pair of tall, physical centerbacks, recorded a second-consecutive clean sheet. Zimmerman made numerous headed clearances and perhaps his only fault was being out of position on a counter-attack, in which he had to haul down David Guzman, which earned him a yellow card. All in all, a solid performance.

Aaron Long – 7

The New York Red Bulls centerback continues to raise his game to new levels, and along with Zimmerman he’s forming a good partnership. Long’s distribution was neat, especially in the second half, and he held Costa Rica’s attack at bay playing a high line. He got into the attack on a couple of occasions as well.

Daniel Lovitz – 6

The first USMNT player with the Montreal Impact had another solid, if not spectacular performance at left back. With Arriola bombing down the left wing, Lovitz often stayed back and provided support. Overall, he contributed to a clean sheet but didn’t truly stand out, which is the sign of a good defender.

Cristian Roldan – 6

Like most of the USMNT players, Roldan really came to life in the second half, becoming more dynamic, attacking right down the heart of Costa Rica’s defense and linking up with his midfield and forward teammates. Roldan hit the post and had another shot go wide, in a play where he probably should have hit the target. However, his work defensively, was impressive, helping the U.S. win the ball back a few times and start a counter attack.

Wil Trapp – 7

Operating in the deep-lying playmaker role, Trapp used his vision and long-range of passing to unlock Costa Rica’s defense over and over again. He found Arriola in space countless times and even Lewis in space late to set up Lletget’s winner. Trapp, who along with Zardes and Steffen know Berhalter’s style of play, looked very comfortable in his role, though I’m not sure it was enough to become a permanent starter over Michael Bradley. However, the competition is heating up.

Djordje Mihailovic – 6

It was a game of two halves for Mihailovic as well. In the first half, Mihailovic wasn’t nearly as sharp as he looked against Panama, and had a few turnovers. Of course, he was also getting hacked all over the pitch, which may have made an impact on him mentally. He seemed back to his creative, normal self in the second half, combining with his midfield partners and leading to some goal-scoring opportunities. His best chance on goal came on a cross from Paul Arriola, but Mihailovic poked it over the bar. Mihailovic was taken off in the 63rd minute, likely to avoid suffering a serious injury after being fouled six times.

Corey Baird – 6 

Baird, in his second start, was a good outlet on the right for the U.S., especially in the second half, providing width. His pace bothered Waylon Francis at times but he was never truly a threat on goal, finishing with one shot. He was offside on his last moment of action, a header on goal that sailed over the bar.

Gyasi Zardes – 5 

Zardes had a few good moments holding up the ball, and he worked hard defensively, but it was a missed opportunity for Zardes to prove that he belongs with the main USMNT group going forward. Zardes failed to get on the end of a lot of crosses from Arriola and Lima, and Zardes finished with just one shot on target. He was substituted in the 78th minute, prior to both goals being scored. Perhaps that’s a sign?

Paul Arriola – 8

Playing down the left wing, Arriola was a threat all game long, even delivering some crosses with his weaker left foot. Costa Rica’s defense could not handle his pace, and he took advantage of that deficiency as well as all the space provided to create many second-half chances. He finally got his just rewards for a hard-working performance with a goal of his own.

Gregg Berhalter – 8

Whatever Berhalter said at halftime got the team to come out of the gates flying for the second half. Berhalter continues to press many of the right buttons, and his substitutes Lletget and Lewis combined for the first goal, while Lletget set up the second one. The opponent doesn’t compare to a full-strength side, but it’s a sign that Berhalter knew where to make changes (left side of the field, in this case) and just about all his second-half decisions were perfect.

Subs

Sebastian Lleget – 9

Coming on in the 63rd minute, Lleget brought more dynamism to the game as a left central midfielder, attacking down the left with pace and power. He was a constant threat to Costa Rica’s defense and enjoyed a dream sequence, scoring a goal in his return to Avaya Stadium, where he suffered a devastating injury the last time he played in that venue. He then played a perfect, outside-of-the-boot pass to Arriola for the USMNT’s second goal. Man of the Match performance in less than a half-hour of action.

Jonathan Lewis – 7

Lewis injected more pure speed and dribbling ability into the game and attacking a Costa Rican defense that was already gassed down their right side from dealing with Arriola all game long. Lewis’ creativity helped with his second assist in as many games, and he nearly set up another goal as well. Terrific performance off the bench for the 21-year-old.

Christian Ramirez – 6

Ramirez only had 12 minutes on the field, but his flick-on header in the 88th minute allowed Lletget to dribble into space and set up Arriola for the USMNT’s second goal. A small play, but little moments lead to big ones.