The USMNT’s schedule this season was daunting, a visit from Bolivia the closest thing to a walkover and away matches to France, England, and Italy.
Interim coach Dave Sarachan finished his run with three wins, five losses, and four draws — all but one coming in 2018 — the most notable results being a draw with France prior to Les Bleus winning the World Cup and a win over Mexico in Tennessee courtesy of Tyler Adams.
Its leading goal scorer was Bobby Wood, and Josh Sargent was the only other player to score more than once. The other goal scorers were Tim Weah, Julian Green, Tyler Adams, and Kellyn Acosta.
Jan. 28 — USMNT 0-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina — Ike Opara was our Man of the Match in a drab affair to start the year.
June 2 — Republic of Ireland 2-1 USMNT — Wood scored in first half stoppage to give the Yanks a surprising lead, but disappointing errors from Bill Hamid and Miazga allowed the hosts to snare a 90th minute win.
June 9 — France 1-1 USMNT — Green’s 44th minute goal was nice, but this was Zack Steffen’s coming-out party. That said, was it even the Yanks’ best goalkeeper performance of the year. Ask Tuesday.
Sept. 11 — USMNT 1-0 Mexico — Tyler Adams’ 71st minute goal from an Antonee Robinson feed was a nice moment for the Yanks. Miazga’s taunting of Diego Lainez may have not been classy, but it was a moment for the future of the USMNT-El Tri rivalry.
Oct. 11 — USMNT 2-4 Colombia — Acosta and Wood scored after halftime to give the Americans a stunning 2-1 lead, but Los Cafeteros very much restored order. It was one to forget on the whole, but Acosta and Weah showed glimpses of what could be.
Oct. 16 — USMNT 1-1 Peru — Sargent looked set for his first match-winning goal in an American shirt, but DeAndre Yedlin lost track of Edison Flores in the 86th to nullify what should’ve been a fine day for Sarachan through youngsters Weah and Sargent.
Nov. 15 — England 3-0 USMNT — Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen. One of the worst halves of Christian Pulisic’s U.S. tenure led into an improved-for-him-but-pretty-much-no-one-else second.
Nov. 20 — Italy 1-0 USMNT (in Belgium) — The Yanks close off their season by wasting a prime performance from Ethan Horvath, with Sebastian Lletget losing track of Inter Milan youngster Matteo Politano on a stoppage time goal.
So what did we learn, huh?
— Well, there are still major questions as to who is going to line up next to John Brooks, whether in a back three or four, for the next run of World Cup qualifying.
— And what about in goal? Ethan Horvath has made a claim to the job presumably heading to Zack Steffen, and either goalkeeper could literally spend the better part of a decade in the job.
— DeAndre Yedlin was once presumed the right back for the next decade, but his performances in a USMNT shirt have been haphazard at best. Can a new coach get him in line with his performances for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle, or might Reggie Cannon or Shaq Moore be in play.
— The U.S. still doesn’t have an experienced left back, and perhaps this will all be about Antonee Robinson learning on the job (though Moore was perfectly fine playing out-of-position against Italy).
— Is it two center mids or three, and is Michael Bradley coming back into the fold?Because Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are penciled in for a while, and Kellyn Acosta has had fits and starts. Wil Trapp clearly also has a fan club in the USMNT hierarchy, and his club head coach is probably getting the job. So…. 4-1-4-1?
— Here’s something we already knew: This team goes as far as Christian Pulisic takes them.
— If Josh Sargent doesn’t start getting more meaningful playing time and Bobby Wood keeps living on his plateau, then you’re gonna be real mad when Jozy Altidore is striker No. 1 next summer.
There was, let’s say, consternation in USMNT circles when Tyler Adams was not included in the Starting XI against England, and more when the Yanks fell 3-0 at Wembley to England’s second-choice stars.
Interim coach Dave Sarachan, who’s done a fine job all things considered, deprived U.S. supporters of the chance to watch key pieces Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Adams together in their senior shirts.
It probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Adams was decent in his limited action, but Wil Trapp wasn’t a nightmare in captaining the squad. But it does show that the side still has a question of who fits in their peak 11.
Let’s start with the “no one’s debating this unless they’re Bruce Arena” aspect of this: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Adams, John Brooks, and Zack Steffen are no doubters. DeAndre Yedlin is very close to a no-doubter despite bad performances in his last two caps, and Bobby Wood makes the cut because Josh Sargent is yet to get any real first team experience at Werder Bremen and Jozy Altidore‘s just completed an injury-riddled 2018.
DeAndre Yedlin — XX — John Brooks — XX
Christian Pulisic — Weston McKennie — Tyler Adams — XX
XX — Bobby Wood
Who fills those spots?
CB2 — Geoff Cameron is still probably the best America has aside from Brooks, though Aaron Long has impressed and Matt Miazga has put in more good performances than bad for the club and country. Walker Zimmerman is on the up, too.
LB — Haha. Haha. Hahahahahaha. The endless question of American soccer purgatory. There’s hope that Antonee Robinson will continue to progress at Everton (currently on loan at Wigan) but the only other options are sincerely veteran: Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow, and believe it or not Edgar Castillo (I am conveniently leaving out sueno, Jorge Villafana, in that he’s rarely impressed me at the international level).
Maybe we need to go to a back three.
LM — Neither Julian Green, Kenny Saief, nor Tim Weah have shown the diligence in tracking/marking to outwardly lay claim to this, and there aren’t a ton of true left midfielders who could lay claim to this. Could we cheat a little and use Kellyn Acosta here? Maybe…
ST2 — Is Josmer healthy? This is still Altidore, then, but the best beyond him are either young and unproven or also injured (Jordan Morris, Sargent, Andriya Novakovich). Weah could also be played here if he’s not used at left mid.
Have your answers? Cool, well we are taking our own advice and going for a back three. Let’s fill those blanks after this photo of Harry Winks and Tim Weah.
Bench: Ethan Horvath, Danny Williams, Wil Trapp, Josh Sargent, Kenny Saief, Walker Zimmerman, Eric Lichaj.
Is that squad qualifying for a World Cup? Yes. Is it hanging with Mexico? Probably not, but that’s why we lean on the hope in room for growth in a young team.
Now since we’ve gotten to the meat of it, let’s then imagine the USMNT’s XI should the side not have embarrassed itself by not qualifying for the World Cup. How many names would be different?
In that instance, it would not have totally torn itself up over the past 13 months. Yes, it would’ve given the kids a chance, but names like Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore would not have been largely ignored by whoever’s been in charges. Wins would’ve still mattered quite a bit.
So while all these men wouldn’t have necessarily been called up this week to face England and Italy, here’s an XI of players who are likely the Yanks’ very best chance of winning a do-or-die match right now (And yes, we know Geoff Cameron is playing center mid for QPR at the moment. And don’t laugh: 30-year-old winger Fabian Johnson is contributing fairly regularly for the No. 2 team in the Bundesliga).
I’ll save you the everpresent comment of “Oh, man, (insert Jozy or Bradley here), enough with that. It’s over.” There, I said it for you. Now let’s get back to theoretical, right now, win or go home match.
The top three teams in the Serie A table had already taken the field earlier in the weekend, but there was plenty of Sunday action for the Italian top flight to digest.
AC Milan was the headliner as they traveled to Udinese, and it took some incredibly late fireworks for the visitors to come away with all three points and stay fourth in the Serie A table. With Gonzalo Higuain off at halftime with a back injury, there were no goals through the 90 minutes. They went to stoppage time, and it was then that things got crazy.
Five minutes into added time, Udinese substitute Bram Nuytinck, who only came on 10 minutes earlier, was controversially sent off. He clearly clipped Samu Castillejo on a breakaway, but as it was a professional foul to prevent a counter opportunity with little actual malice, it was generally thought to have deserved a yellow card. Instead, referee Marco Di Bello showed Nuytinck a straight red, reducing Udinese to 10 men.
That clearly changed the flow of the final few minutes, and Milan capitalized. The visitors won the ball on the midline and had another chance to break. While Udinese seemed to recover before Milan could find space, somehow Romagnoli rifled a howitzer into the top-right corner and gave Milan the win seven minutes deep into stoppage time. While initially the assistant had his flag raised for offside early in the buildup, VAR confirmed the linesman’s call was very incorrect and the goal stood, while AC Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso was sent off for arguing during the check.
The goal for Romagnoli is his second straight stoppage-time winner after scoring in the 91st minute of a midweek win over Udinese.
Elsewhere, both Lazio and Torino bagged four goals, with the former keeping pace with Milan near the Champions League places. Lazio hammered SPAL 4-1 behind a pair from Ciro Immobile who is red-hot in league play. Immobile’s brace gave him five goals in his last five games and seven in his last seven. Danilo Cataldi and Marco Parolo both added a goal each and it kept Lazio level with AC Milan on points, while also drawing them closer in goal differential, still back in fifth position.
Torino also put four past its opponent, with a 4-1 road win over Sampdoria. Andrea Belotti answered Immobile’s brace with one of his own, and Torino was already 3-0 up thanks to one from Iago Falque before Fabio Quagliarella earned a consolation for the hosts. Armando Izzo finished things off for Torino 12 minutes from time and the visitors jumped into seventh in the table.
Parma entertained relegation-threatened Frosinone and while the hosts fell a man down in the 61st minute as Leo Stulac was sent off for a studs up tackle after a heavy touch, they held on for a 0-0 draw. Sassuolo earned a 2-0 road win over Chievo Verona in a game that featured an own-goal that will leave Emanuele Giaccherini red in the face.
Duvan Zapata snatched a 70th minute winner to give Atalanta a 2-1 win over Bologna. Zapata latched onto a loose ball in the box as the defense appeared to freeze for just a moment, and he pounced for the win. Before that, Ibrahima Mbaye’s third-minute goal had been cancelled out by Gianluca Mancini just before the hour mark. The win moved Atalanta to 10th on 15 points, while Bologna remains in 17th, just three points above the relegation zone.
Ah it’s that time again. The time where we can chuckle at one of the more fluky own-goals of the year. Unless you’re a Chievo Verona fan, then you’re not laughing.
Emanuele Giaccherini, a former Premier League player with Sunderland, was on the wrong end of the clincher for Sassuolo in a 2-0 Serie A win over Chievo Verona in the 94th minute. Goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino made a fabulous one-on-one save on Domenico Berardi right on the doorstep, and when the rebound fell to Giaccherini at the far post all by himself, instead of marshalling the ball to safety away from net, he attempted to chest it back to the goalkeeper for collection.
Unfortunately, Sorrentino was sprawled out on the ground, and the chested ball was just out of reach. Disaster.
Fortunately, it’s not like the goal was a backbreaker. Chievo was hoping to equalize, but with just two minutes left in added time and Chievo a man down, it was probably unlikely anyways.
One year to the day since they lost in Trinidad & Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as a result, interim head coach Dave Sarachan is preparing his team to play two friendlies against Colombia and Peru over the next week and he has two friendlies against England and Italy in November to see out the calendar year.
With so many changes in terms of the player pool, no permanent manager and a new GM in Earnie Stewart getting to grips with his role, it will be intriguing to see what happens to the USMNT over the next 12 months.
Below our writers discuss the key issues facing them right now and what is on the horizon for the Stars and Stripes.
It is one year since the disaster in Trinidad & Tobago which ended the USA’s 2018 World Cup hopes. How would you sum up the past 12 months for the USMNT after that huge shock?
NICK MENDOLA: It’s difficult to sum up the last 12 months because there’s a new level of scrutiny to everything the federation does regarding the USMNT. Frankly, the failure of the team in qualifying has opened the door to all critiques, from reasonable to absurd. The ensuing “This is fine meme” reactions from admin, to the presidential election, to a World Cup of “What if Christian Pulisic was on our TV screen?” and the subsequent coaching search has been surreal. At best, it’s been an unusual time. At worst, it’s exposed a rudderless and stubborn hierarchy.
JOE PRINCE-WRIGHT: I agree with Nick. The fact it has taken this long to appoint a new head coach borders on gross negligence, while the pain of watching a World Cup without the U.S. was extreme. Christian Pulisic leads the young bucks trying to restore pride in the program and I think Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah will be around for quite some time. However, there’s a lingering feeling that Oct. 10, 2017 will go down as the date where we look back and say that is where U.S. Soccer lost its way a little. I hope I’m wrong but it will take a lot more than a few friendly wins and a decent performance at the Gold Cup next summer to turn this around.
DAN KARELL: I think it’s been an incredibly disappointing last 12 months. U.S. Soccer CLEARLY had no plan in place for missing out on the World Cup, and delaying any potential coaching hires until a new president was elected in February, then until the World Cup rights had been awarded for the 2026 World Cup, and then again after hiring a MNT GM in Ernie Stewart is a mistake, especially if they end up with a coach from MLS, which at this point looks most likely, unless the jokes about Jose Mourinho actually comes true. Last December, U.S. Soccer could have hired one of the many qualified domestic coaches available, at least to coach through the Gold Cup if not through the next World Cup, so that there was some sort of plan in place. Instead, the next national team coach has missed 12 months of chances of getting to know the next crop of players, seeing them up close and how they interact with one another on the field, as well as perhaps better handling the Christian Pulisic situation, which has gone from understandable at first to questionable now. At this point, they might as well go with Sarachan.
KYLE BONN: There’s been some good, some bad, and some frustration. The introduction of the new faces has been a comprehensive success. The national system has flushed out some bright and promising talents that a year ago would have struggled to see time amongst the high-leverage matches and retreading of old veterans. The young players were already on the radar of those in the national system obviously, but the showcasing of Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent,Timothy Weah, Tyler Adams, Marky Delgado, Antonee Robinson, and many others to the fans and giving them time to prove their worth has been invaluable. However, the lack of direction without a permanent head coach has been baffling. While the players begin to prove how they can fit in to the future, there has been a massive void left unfilled in a position that will shape the program’s future. Until that happens, it’s impossible to label the aftermath of the disappointment a success.
Heading into this international break, what do you want to see from this squad?
MENDOLA: Frankly, given the absences of the best players, I just want to see players take their chances by the scruff of the neck. And goals. I want to see goals.
KARELL: I don’t really have any expectations, I just hope no one else gets injured and players build some chemistry. So I guess on that basic level, those are my expectations. But there’s just this air of uncertainty over the whole MNT program and I don’t know what to think until a coach is hired.
JPW: Have to agree with Nick and Dan. Expectation levels are so low that a lot of USMNT fans aren’t too bothered win, lose or draw right now. That is not a good thing for the program overall. I’d like to see the veterans (Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan) integrated back into the lineup and I’m intrigued to see exactly what impact that has on these young players.
BONN: With a number of promising youngsters injured, it’s going to be hard to draw too many conclusions from the current crop. I would like to see the veterans provide some insight to the young guns, and I would like to see the two groups mesh as well as possible.
With so many of the USMNT’s top youngsters going down with injuries for this camp – Pulisic, Adams and McKennie are out – are you buying into the reports regarding the commitment levels to the national team, which were mainly focused on Pulisic?
MENDOLA: I am not concerned about this, unless there are those saying the same things about all of the programs around the world. For example, allegations aside, Cristiano Ronaldo is still absent from Portugal despite Nations League matches. While chemistry matters, the next tournament that matters is the Gold Cup. That’s rarely been an all hands on deck event anyway. So let’s not hold Pulisic to a standard we didn’t expect from Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard before him.
JPW: Pulisic is a rare case in all of this. If he calls you and says he needs a rest, you rest him. Just like England, Argentina and Portugal would do with Harry Kane, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively. At this point, Pulisic is vital to the USMNT and you need to bend over backwards to make him happy. That said, he doesn’t seem like he has any real ego at all and he is a team player who always enjoys playing for the USMNT. The fact he has only been in one camp in the past 12 months is more about untimely injuries and the need for a rest than anything more sinister. I think the one thing we can say about these young U.S. players is that they’re committed and fight for the jersey. At this point, what more can you ask for?
KARELL: At this point, there’s nothing you can do if these are actually injuries keeping the players out. But I do think in retrospect, the USMNT made a mistake not constantly calling in Pulisic to camps. I know he is still a young man but precisely because of that, I think he could have handled constant call-ins more than a veteran could. Instead, they made excuses every call-up except for the one in May in which Pulisic, tired after a long season, was kind of forced to play. Since then, the relationship has been bad between the federation and his family. Perhaps that could have been avoided with regular call-ups before the May/June games. That was the more appropriate time to give him a rest. rudderless and stubborn hierarchy.
BONN: Absolutely not. The international matches that Pulisic has missed in the past were all valid excuses. Whether he needed to focus on his club situation or just flat out rest after a difficult season, Pulisic is doing what is best for him, and when it comes to the superstars in a low-leverage time period for the international squad, what’s best for Pulisic long-term is also what is best for the national team. I’m not worried about his commitment to the national team one iota, nor am I worried about that from some of those who suffered injuries. It’s impossible to judge something like that until matches of higher leverage roll around, and I have not doubt they will bring their best at that time.
Who would be your choice to come in as the new USMNT head coach? And why?
MENDOLA: It’s difficult to answer who I want without knowing the marketplace/demand. If I’m limited to MLS coaches and those who’ve already managed internationally and are on the market, then Peter Vermes and Tata Martino top my list. But with the US Soccer budget and theoretical acclaim, I’d much rather have a boss with active connections in top leagues, high level experience in player and program development, and political savvy. I’m not saying there’s a Carlo Ancelotti out there, but I bet there is…
KARELL: If it’s not going to be Dave Sarachan at this point, then I’d prefer to see either Oscar Pareja or Gregg Berhalter get it. Both were terrific players who carry that important clout in the locker room, and both have proven to be good man managers and tacticians for their clubs. Of course, it’s a different game at the international level because coaches don’t have time to implement tactical structures, so it may be best to get someone who will be pragmatic with the resources available.
JPW: Gregg Berhalter. With his brother Jay involved high up in U.S. Soccer and given his relationship with Stewart, this is a very good fit. It helps to work with people you like and know in order to get results. Aside from those factors, Berhalter has worked wonders at Columbus considering all of the issues that franchise has had off the pitch. He develops young players and has a clear identity which is based on a solid defensive unit. That sounds perfect for the identity the USMNT are trying to create with this young team. Sarachan should be in the running, so too should Jesse Marsch and Peter Vermes, but the latter two have pretty cushy gigs right now and Sarachan will likely get a position within U.S. Soccer somewhere after his stint as interim boss is over.
BONN: In an ideal world, I would absolutely love to see Tata Martino run the US national team, but that seems highly unlikely given his own personal interests. I also think seeing Jesse Marsch come back and coach the national team would be much more successful than any other in-house choices, but again he’s unlikely having just taken a job in Europe. I think I think Gregg Berhalter makes the most sense, even if he’s somewhat underwhelming.
Do you feel confident that this young squad can develop and become a dominant force in CONCACAF and make a splash at the next two World Cups?
JPW: I am unsure. There’s no doubt there are several talented youngsters playing at top clubs across Europe and in some of the best leagues in the world, but how will they all develop over the next 4-6 years? That is impossible to predict but I think the U.S. will see increasing pressure from Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica, just like the did in qualifying in 2018. Their players heading to MLS has helped them catch up with the U.S. and Mexico has moved on to a whole other level. Hot take: I think if the U.S. reaches the next World Cup it would be a massive success. Anything else in 2022 would be a bonus. Not qualifying isn’t as unlikely as you would think…
MENDOLA: Yes. Mexico is in a golden generation but so, too, should the U.S. if it doesn’t try to placate stakeholders at the expense of courting top talent. And the Jonathan Gonzalez embarrassment can never happen again.
KARELL: I honestly don’t feel very confident right now. With some of these guys, there’s a lot of potential but also unrealized talent. Wil Trapp is a good player, but at 25 now, I expected him to be in Europe or playing at a higher level than staying in his comfort zone with the Crew. And it showed against a half-hearted Brazil team, who walked all over the Americans last month. This team, while it has a high ceiling, is not anywhere close to reaching it. Perhaps it could get there in 2-4 years, but I need to see some improvement across the board. Think faster, play faster.
BONN: I don’t see why not. The performances the last year with almost exclusively youngsters and new faces have been promising, so with a mix of vets and a permanent head coach, there’s no reason they can’t. It took a one-in-a-million perfect storm to keep them out last time, I think they’ll be back in the mix this cycle.
What is the one thing you’d like to see the U.S. Soccer Federation do over the next 12 months in terms of helping the USMNT? What can the leaders do better?
MENDOLA: Leaders can let Stewart hire who he wants and largely get out of the way. That’s over simplifying, but now I’m really fired up!
KARELL: I’d like US Soccer to make a hire already for MNT coach and give that coach autonomy to watch current and potential players, hold mid-week training camps to get to know players, and have two distinct tactical systems, one for the gritty, rough and tumble CONCACAF (Big Ten) region and another for European opponents and the World Cup (SEC). Did I get my college sports analogies correct?
JPW: Echoing what Nick and Dan said, they need a new coach and they need him now. USSF needs to let Stewart and his coach get on with things on the playing side and assess things in late 2019. Only then will we really know if the USMNT is on the right path. The main focus for USSF has to be talent identification and making sure they don’t miss out on snapping up the best dual national youngsters who are eligible to play for the USMNT.
BONN: They need to not only hire a coach, but implement a plan that runs up and down the food chain, so everyone is on the same page. And be transparent! Let the public know exactly what this plan entails, what’s the drawback from letting fans in the doors a bit? It’s hard to see where that hurts the setup.
Is now the right time to reintegrate veteran players like Brad Guzan and Michael Bradley? If it is, who else should return to the squad in November for the games against England and Italy?
MENDOLA: Bradley? Yeah for sure, although he’s had an adventurous season as a center back/center mid “save this disaster because you’re the captain” at Toronto FC and returning to the national team to face scrutiny may somehow be a respite for him. Guzan I don’t entirely get. He’s experienced and can provide a guiding hand but if this is about playing time i don’t really get it. Has he clearly shown he’s above the level of any of the young bucks they could drop between the sticks? If he’s there to be the “break glass in case of emergency” then okay.
JPW: I’m with Nick. Bradley makes sense but I think Steffen has been superb for the USMNT whenever he’s played. Bradley was always going to return and I’d expect to see Altidore and Ream return in November. Long-term, those three and maybe Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams could return to the fold but that’s about it. The youngsters deserve to be trusted.
KARELL: Sure, why not. The veterans have been exiled from the MNT for the last 12 months, deservedly so since they suffered a disgraceful fate that condemned the US to sit on the sidelines this summer. But at this point, it’s not a bad idea to get Bradley, Guzan, and other vets like Alejandro Bedoya, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams so the young guys can see what the level they need to aspire to is every day in MNT practice. At this point, it’s hard to say who should or shouldn’t be in the squad because the games don’t matter and there isn’t a permanent a coach yet. I would lean towards giving most of the spots to younger guys but Sarachan can invite some veterans, even MLS vets, to help guide the youngsters.
BONN: Yes, for sure, but the need for a head coach remains. It’s hard to see the team ramping up its preparedness no matter who is in the squad if there’s nobody leading the ship. The vets should be allowed to help the kids fully integrate, but without true leadership it will be an uphill battle. Make that hire!