U.S. Soccer

Berhalter optimistic US will train in Qatar before World Cup

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Having canceled a training camp in Qatar that was to have started this week, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter is optimistic his team will train in Doha at some point before that nation hosts the 2022 World Cup.

The American men planned to train at the Aspire Academy from Jan. 5-25, but the U.S. Soccer Federation called off the trip Friday, a day after a U.S. military air strike killed a top Iranian military commander. Players, most from Major League Soccer teams, instead reported to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, where the team held a two-hour workout on Tuesday.

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“Some things happen that are out of our control,” Berhalter said after the training session. “With the turmoil in that region right now, we wanted to move venues.”

The United States has previously held the overseas camps, including in advance of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“It’s a great venue, great training facility over there,” Berhalter said. “There’s probably 10 European clubs there now as we speak. So, I think we’ll have an opportunity to get back there.”

“When you look back at the World Cup’s that we’ve played in, we generally go beforehand and get the guys used to the environment,” Berhalter added. “We think it’s a great tool to get the guys accustomed to the environment because it is different there.”

Berhalter told his team this week that it must overcome the unexpected.

“We talk all the time about dealing with adversity, and so this is just a chance,” defender Walker Zimmerman said. “Our schedule got shuffled around. Now we’re here and we’re excited.”

No players had arrived in Qatar when the decision to cancel the camp was made. Three staff members already were there: managing director of administration Tom King, team administrator Sam Zapatka and equipment manager Kyle Robertson. Zapatka and Robertson were each on the ground for just 16 hours.

The U.S. is preparing for a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against Honduras in June and begins World Cup qualifying in September.

“Things change pretty quickly,” forward Jordan Morris said. “We have no control over that. so we just deal with the situation and come here and get ready for a really important year. I think everyone is ready to get 2020 going.”

The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase. Berhalter was hired in December 2018. He led the team to 11 wins, five losses and two draws in his first year, including a 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

Berhalter called 2020 an “absolutely massive year for the team – and we’re looking forward to it.”

“I wouldn’t call it pressure, I’d call it a responsibility,” Berhalter said. “The players, the coaching staff, the whole organization feels a responsibility to the nation, to our fans to get back in the World Cup.”

Reports: Hudson to be new U.S. U-20 MNT coach

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U.S. Soccer has reportedly found a replacement for Tab Ramos as U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coach. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly an inspiring choice.

Multiple reports state that former Colorado Rapids and New Zealand National Team coach Anthony Hudson is set to become the new U.S. U-20 coach. It ends a more than two month vacancy in the position and along with Laura Harvey’s hiring as U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team coach, it leaves U.S. Soccer with just 11 vacancies in its youth national teams.

[READ: USMNT likely to play Wales in March]

Its hard to imagine how Hudson wound up with this job. He was an abject failure with the Rapids, finishing the 2018 season with just 31 points in 34 games and opening the 2019 season with seven defeats and two draws. His current MLS managerial record stands at 8-26-9.

On top of that poor domestic record, he’s never really succeeded with men’s national teams. He coached the Bahrain National Team from 2013-2014 but only earned a third-place finish in the West Asian Football Federation Championship.

After taking over the New Zealand National Team, he easily qualified out of Oceania but couldn’t prevail past Peru to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In addition, New Zealand lost all three games at the 2017 Confederations Cup.

It also doesn’t help that at least one of his former players has come out against this hire. Jared Watts, a former member of the Colorado Rapids under Hudson and a long-time U.S. youth national team member, had this to say.

In Hudson’s defense, success in the professional game isn’t necessarily a perfect barometer of whether someone will be successful youth national team coach, and vice versa. Brad Friedel was a youth coach at Tottenham during his later playing years and after retiring and then he coached the U.S. U-19 MNT before taking over the New England Revolution, and he wasn’t successful there. Similarly, John Hackworth struggled in his first pro stint at the Philadelphia Union to develop a winner after solid stunts as U.S. U-17 MNT coach.

Ultimately, it is unclear who is making decisions at U.S. Soccer regarding these hires, but Hudson has a lot to prove in the coming months to show that he is the right choice. Missing the FIFA U-20 World Cup would be a nightmare for the federation and if Hudson can’t lead the U.S. there, it will be another bad mark on his career.

What rumored Wicky departure could mean for U.S. Soccer

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On the recommendation of highly-rated soccer organization company Double Pass, U.S. Soccer created five new youth national team programs to address gaps between the Under-17s, Under-20s and Under-23s. With eight national team programs, it put U.S. Soccer in line with the rest of the world’s soccer powers as far as being on a level playing field for youth development.

And yet, if the rumors about Raphael Wicky are true, U.S. Soccer will have eight full-time youth coaching vacancies.

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With the Chicago Fire hiring Swiss national and former FC Basel sporting director Georg Heitz to the same role, there’s been talk that Wicky could follow Heitz back to MLS, and across town, after a short stint with U.S. Soccer. In one sense, Wicky’s departure wouldn’t be that surprising. In his first cycle as the head coach of the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, he led the U.S. to the final of the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, but his squad flamed out at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, getting bounced in the group stage. It could make sense that the former FC Basel manager would look forward to coaching adults again after working back with the youth players.

But if Wicky leaves, it would leave U.S. Soccer without a single full-time coach in their youth programs, which is a further gut punch to USMNT fans who see the USMNT program in an atmosphere of total negativity. Jason Kreis, who works full-time with Inter Miami CF in an undefined role in the technical department, is the U.S. Under-23 MNT coach. Steve Klein, an academy director for PA Classics, has been stepping in to be the Under-15 Boys National Team coach.

It’s all just incredibly sad for an organization that has slipped down, both in terms of on-field performance and administrative efforts since the summer of 2014. Say what you want about Sunil Gulati, but – even if it wasn’t his authority – he wouldn’t have let roles go unfilled for so long. Under current president Carlos Cordeiro, we’ve seen the U-19, U-16, and U-15 coaches stay open for vast amounts of time, while the long-time U.S. U-20 coach, Tab Ramos, left for his first MLS head coaching job.

Even worse, Dan Flynn, who let U.S. Soccer know for more than a year that he was going to leave the organization, finally stepped down in September of 2019. There still hasn’t been a replacement.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if having full-time coaches really matters in terms of USYNT youth development. Perhaps bringing in different voices can help players get a different perspective, and without the old U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla., the U.S. U-17s don’t necessarily need a steady head coach to constantly train the players.

But on the other hand, it’s the latest sign that dysfunction at the top of U.S. Soccer is making its way down, and it could certainly have harmful effects on U.S. youth development, or at least building chemistry with players who may end up suiting up for the USMNT one day.

It seems unlikely, but hopefully in the first few weeks of 2020, U.S. Soccer will be able to fill many, if not all of these vacancies, as well as work out the internal work environment problems they’re dealing with. Step No. 1? End the mandate to work in Chicago. That could start and help get more candidates excited for the job.

USMNT’s Dest, UNC’s Pinto, para athlete Mayhugh round out U.S. award winners

Sergino Dest Ajax USMNT
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U.S. Soccer announced its top honors for young male, young female, and player with a disability characters on Monday.

Ajax back Sergino Dest, University of North Carolina midfielder Brianna Pinto, and U.S. Para 7-a-Side teamer Nick Mayhugh earned the honors.

Christian Pulisic and Julie Ertz previously claimed the federation’s senior honors.

Dest, 19, committed his future to the USMNT this year after earning three caps with Gregg Berhalter’s senior team. He also went 90 minutes in four matches at the U-20 World Cup as the States ran into the quarterfinals.

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Dest is injured right now but a regular at Ajax, where he’s played in 22 matches and scored five assists. He follows Alex Mendez, Josh Sargent, and Christian Pulisic in winning the Young Male Player of the Year.

Pinto is a sophomore midfielder at UNC, who went 24-1-2 this season while losing to Stanford in penalty kicks at the College Cup Final. She scored 11 goals with six assists and has twice been called up to the USWNT. Past winners include Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly.

Mayhugh scored 19 goals in 11 games at the IFPCF World Cup and the 2019 Para Pan American Games, according to U.S. Soccer. He is just the eighth player to win the Athlete of the Year With A Disability honor.

U.S. Soccer announces Player of Year nominees

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The United States men’s national team and women’s national team will each have a star elected Player of the Year, but the similarities end there.

The USWNT won the World Cup and choosing its top performer for 2019 is an improbably difficult task. The USMNT spent much of the calendar driving its supporters crazy.

Women’s nominees
Julie Ertz
Rose Lavelle
Megan Rapinoe
Alex Morgan
Alyssa Naeher
Carli Lloyd

It’s hard to find too much fault with the half-dozen World Cup winners chosen as finalists, though arguments for Kelley O’Hara and Tobin Heath would be well heard by the writer of this post.

It seems likely Rapinoe will claim the award, considering she’s yet to win it and was probably the most visible athlete in the world this summer.

Ertz, Morgan and Lloyd have all won the honor.

Men’s nominees
Christian Pulisic
Jordan Morris
Weston McKennie
Aaron Long
Tim Ream
Gyasi Zardes

As for the men, is there a scenario in which Christian Pulisic doesn’t win the honor? Reasonably? Yes.

Some will argue that Weston McKennie might get a look over Pulisic on the balance of their seasons, but there’s a strong argument to be made for Morris given his incredible comeback from injury and standout seasons for both Seattle and the USMNT.

Pulisic had three goals and three assists at the Gold Cup, and added goals against Chile and Cuba.

Morris bagged five goals and seven assists, including four and four in the CONCACAF Nations League group stage.

Three of the six men’s finalists ply their trade in MLS, while one is in the Premier League, another in the Football League Championship, and a sixth in the Bundesliga.

Pulisic won in 2017, while Zack Steffen nabbed the award in 2018. The other four nominees have not claimed one.