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USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Report: Inter Miami first in line to sign USMNT’s Boyd

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Inter Miami’s first big signing could turn out to be a player who just announced himself to mainstream U.S. Soccer fans.

According to a report in The Athletic, Inter Miami has gained the discovery rights to sign U.S. Men’s National Team winger Tyler Boyd. The 24-year-old only recently came to U.S. Soccer’s attention due to only having played in friendly matches for the New Zealand National Team, and the New Zealander-American filed his one-time switch in May to be eligible for the USMNT during the Gold Cup.

[READ: Terry backs Lampard for Chelsea manager job]

He immediately opened his account with two goals against Guyana and five shots, two on target in the USMNT’s 6-0 thrashing of Trinidad and Tobago.

Boyd is currently under contract with Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes, but he’s played little for them since joining in 2015. He spent the 2017-2018 season with Tondela in the Portuguese Liga and then spent the last six months in Turkey with MKE Ankaragücü, scoring six goals in 14 games to help them stave off relegation. According to multiple reports, Boyd is down to the final year of his contract with Guimaraes, and it’s possible that he could be off to Turkey again – reports in Turkey state Besiktas is interested – or potentially elsewhere.

That’s where Inter Miami come in. With the club expected to launch in the 2020 season, it could sign Boyd this summer – as a Designated Player or use Targeted Allocation Money to pay down his salary and transfer fee – and loan him out for six months before beginning life in the Miami area when the team begins play next season. There’s plenty of precedent for this, including with what New York City FC did with Frank Lampard and to an extent, David Villa, as well as what FC Cincinnati did in a sense – signing Fatai Alashe and Fanendo Adi and loaning them to the team competing in USL in 2018.

Based on the little we’ve seen for Boyd, he would surely be a success in any system that gives him the freedom to attack down the wing and cut in, creating shooting lanes for him and his teammates. Of course, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter may prefer for Boyd to play in Europe and test himself against a higher-level of opposition.

Report: ‘Toxic’ environment inside U.S. Soccer sees employees rage

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According to a report by the New York Times, current and former U.S. Soccer employees have been anonymously posting scathing reviews of the organization on a networking website called Glassdoor, describing what the NYT report calls a “terrible and toxic place to work.”

The New York Times found the posts and conducted its own investigation, confirming that they accurately reflect feelings inside the organization. They anonymously interviewed current and former employees who described “a culture of fear and intimidation” that has “morale at an all-time low.”

NYT reporter Andrew Das led the investigation and uncovered what he describes as a “behind-the-scenes revolt” that is active and ongoing, with posts flowing onto the networking site even as the U.S. women compete in the Women’s World Cup. The posts began in May, Das reports, and there have been seven new writeups since the start of the event in France.

The Times report details the grumblings within the organization that has become frustrated with a hierarchy dominated by a few longtime executives who have consolidated power and do not delegate tasks to those within.

“Pay is absolutely abysmal. The hiring process is a joke,” wrote one review titled “Dream Job, Nightmare Organization.” “Talented people are getting crushed by this organization left and right, mainly because of being overworked, underpaid, and treated incredibly poorly by the upper management. This results in a lot of current employees doing one or two other jobs in addition to their own, with no pay increase, no overtime, no time off, no title change, and no recognition.”

“Stop taking advantage of people’s love for the game,” the post continued. “Just because we love soccer so much doesn’t give you the right to overwork us to the point where you make us hate it. This was my dream job.”

In a phone interview with the New York Times, an employee called the posts “a cry for help” and said they were motivated by the coming change in leadership with CEO Dan Flynn set to retire and his second-in-command Jay Berhalter – the brother of national team coach Gregg Berhalter – the favorite to take over.

“Nothing will change unless the leadership changes,” the post reads. “Bring in an outside CEO. Please, just stop it with the nepotism. There are still so many hard-working, talented people in the organization that deserve so much better than this. U.S. Soccer has so much potential to be a fantastic organization, but change needs to happen.”

“Executives are more interested in what benefits them rather than ‘making soccer the preeminent sport in America’,” another post reads.

Das writes that he reached out to U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro who said they are aware of the posts but would not comment.