11/16 US ties Portugal, World Cup Teams Set without Italy, MLS Champ Games Tues, Champs League Tues/Wed, IU Butler, ND in NCAAs   

 Ok soccer fans – what an amazing week of World Cup Playoffs for Qualifying for next summer’s World Cup as Italy, Nigeria, and Ireland all fall out. Yes I just said Italy – 4 time WC Winning Italy – made every World Cup since 1958 Italy.  Unbelievable how 1 bad manager (Ventura) can ruin a team that made the finals of the European Championships in 2016.  So along with the US – the Netherlands, and Chile – 2 more World Class teams are out of the World Cup.  The only good news out of this – is the US is trying to put together a Tourney involving these top rated teams in a pre-World Cup tourney in the US next summer.  That would be cool since my favorite 3 world teams – the US, Italy and the Dutch (the big orange machine) are not playing in the World Cup.

Speaking of Cool – the US youngsters looked ok vs #3 Ranked Portugal in a 1-1 tie at Portugal on Tues afternoon.  Honestly the US out played Portugal – who while Renaldo wasn’t there – had plenty of starters from their normal team on hand. The US struck early when 17 year old Schalke man (German team) Weston McKennie scored a beaut just 15 minutes in.   Of course who takes over at goalie came to head as 22 Year Old Ethan Horvan gave up a howler to allow Portugal’s only goal.  Ethan did make some fine saves after that but look for other players to get a shot like Bill Hamid 26 who played the 2nd half and played ok.  We’ll see how he does in Europe after his recent move from DC United.  Also I think some of the other youngsters Jesse Gonzales 22, of Dallas or even 20 year old Klinsmann from the U20 squad should get their chances.  Either way – I thought John Brooks, 22, and Matt Miazga, 22,  looked solid in the middle D – and John Carter-Vickers held up well in the 2nd half for Brooks as well.  The midfield actually had guys running as Mckennie and Kellyn Acosta were all over the field as double #8s with a solid Captain Danny Williams (    ) at #6 behind them running box to box.  Finally Tyler Adams was electric up front on the wing and even Juan Aguadelo looked fine on the other wing with CJ Sapong up top.  I enjoyed watching the future – what I didn’t enjoy was the nightmare that having Bruce Arena – the coach who didn’t get us in the World Cup in the studio.  That was both painful and idiotic. I have always supported Bruce – I think he is the best US National Team coach we have ever had.  But he blew this qualification – there was no excuse for not winning that last game or at least tying the game.  How could he leave Cameron on the bench?  How?  Lots of personell decisions were blown down the stretch and him being there on the Broadcast was just IDIOTIC by Fox.

This weekend – The Madrid Derby – Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid on beIN Sports Sat at 2:45 pm at the new Atletico stadium.  In the EPL – Arsenal hosts Tottenham at 7:30 am on NBCSN, while Leicester City host Man City at 10 am.  At 1 pm Man U will host Newcastle United and US defender Yedlin on NBC.  Sunday has 2 US youngsters McKennie for Shahlke and Woods for Hamburger facing off in the Bundesliga on FS1.  MLS Conference Championships are back on Tues Night with Columbus hosting Toronto (Bradley) at 7:30 pm on ESPN and Houston hosting defending champs Seattle at 9:30 pm on Fox Sports 1.  The return legs are the following Sunday evening.

Congrats to Louisville FC for their exciting USL Championship win Monday night in Louisville – I wonder if the Indy 11 might soon be matching up against local USL teams like Louisville and Cincinnati FC?

Good luck to local college men’s teams Butler, Indiana University and Notre Dame as they all won their first round tourney games in the NCAAs. On Sunday – Butler and former Carmel High GK Eric Dick will travel to VCU at 5 pm, while #2 Indiana University hosts Old Dominion at 1 pm on BTN plus and Notre Dame hosts Big 10 Tourney Champ Wisconsin. See the Bracket  PDF

GAMES ON TV 

Sat, Nov 18

7:30 am NBCSN               Arsenal vs Tottenham

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Bayern Munich vs Ausburg

10 am NBCSN                Leicester City vs Man City

1 pm NBC            Man U vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

2:45 pm beiN Sport  Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid

Sun, Nov 19

9:30 am FS1                       Schalke (McKennie) vs Hamburger (Woods)

11 am NBCSN               Watford vs West Ham

1 pm BTN+                      Indiana U vs Old Dominion  NCAAs Men

Mon, Nov 20

3 pm NBCSN                      Brighton (Johnson) vs Stoke City (Cameron)

Tues, Nov 21  – Champs League

2:45 pm ESPN2?             Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Tottenham

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1    APOEL vs Real Madrid

2:45 pm Fox State&Soc                  Sevilla vs Liverpool

2:45 pm ??                         Man City vs Feyenoord

8 pm ESPN                          Columbus Crew vs Toronto  (MLS East Conf Final Leg 1)

10 pm Fox Sport 1        Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders (West Conf Final Leg 1)

Weds, Nov 22  – Champs League

12 noon Fox Sport 2    Qarabag vs Chelsea

2:45 pm ESPN2?             Juventus vs Barcelona

2:45 pm                                PSG vs Celtic

2:45 pm Fox Sport2     Basel vs Man United 

2:45 pm ??                         Atletico Madrid vs Roma

Thurs, Nov 23  – Europa League

1 pm Fox Sport 2           Koln vs Arsenal

3 pm Fox Sport 1           Everton vs Atalanta

3 pm Fox Sport 2           Milan vs Austria Wien

Sat, Nov 25

9:30 am                                Borussia Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Schalke (McKinnie)

10 am NBCSN                   Man United vs Brighton (Williams)

12:30 pm Fox Sport2  Borussia MGladbach (Johnson) vs Bayern Munich

12:30 pm NBCSN ?       Liverpool vs Chelsea

Sun Nov 26

7:30 pm ESPN                  Toronto vs Columbus Crew (MLS East Conf Final Leg 2)

10 pm Fox Sport 1        Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders (West Conf Final Leg 2)

EPL 2017 Schedule  

Read All the stories online – at www.theoleballcoach.com

Earn your Degree While You Watch Your Kids Soccer Practice – ½ the time and cost of Traditional School

USA

US Youngsters Impress in Draw with Portugal – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Take Aways from US tie with Portugal – Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle – MLS.com

Player Ratings USA – ESPNFC

US Manager Sarachan Happy With Youngsters – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

US Youngsters Tie #3 Portugal ESPNFC

US Next Goalkeeper Battle at Hand ESPNFC

Uncertain Futures for these 3 Youngsters  ESPNFC

5 Take Aways from US Draw with Portugal – Goal.com

Pulisic – Says US must Develop Players from U16-U18 better – ESPNFC

Here’s Christian Pulisic’s Well Written – Write-up about the World Cup  – Players Tribune

US Eyes hosting Pre World Cup Tourney with Italy, Dutch, Chile, Nigeria maybe?  Jeff Carlisle

US Ladies Tie Canada – 3 Thoughts Goal.com

WORLD

Italy’s Catestrophic playoff Failure  Marcotti – ESPNFC

Manager Ventura Missteps responsible for Italy’s ouster of WC – Mark Odgen ESPNFC

Eriksen hat trick sends Denmark past Ireland into WC

Dortmund plan to keep Pulisic Long Term ESPNFC

Sweden Players Crash TV Set – after their huge upset win

Week Discussions – Italy failings numerous – Marcotti – ESPNFC

Italy Should have picked Sebastian Giovinco from Toronto for team

What Mexico learned from Euro Friendlies

Player Ratings Mexico beat Poland 1-0

11 Superstar Players Missing from World Cup 2018

MLS

Toronto vs Columbus Preview

Eastern Conference Preview – Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew 11/22 + 11/26

3 Things Houston Needs to Do to oust Dynamo

Western Conference Preview –  Seattle vs Houston

ET Radio – does Toronto – or Dempsey need an MLS Cup to Justify Their Worth to League?

NE Revs name former US GK & Announcer Brad Friedel Manager

Cincy & Nashville make Moves in NLS Expansion Battle

MLS Hopeful North Carolina FC – leaves NASL for USL in 2018

Caleb Porter Departs as Coach of Portland Timbers

U.S. youngsters impress in 1-1 draw in Portugal, end 2017 on positive note

LEIRIA, Portugal — The U.S. men’s national team closed the book on a thoroughly disappointing 2017 with a credible 1-1 draw against reigning European champions Portugal.U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie, making his international debut, put the visitors on top in the 21st minute but a terrible error from goalkeeper Ethan Horvath allowed Portugal defender Antunes to equalize 11 minutes later.  Here are three thoughts from the Americans’ final game of the year.

  1. A glimmer of hope after disastrous 2017

Heading into Tuesday’s friendly, there were questions as to why the U.S. even opted to play this game given the bitterness at failing to qualify for the World Cup. But not only was it a chance to get a glimpse of some up and coming players, but the proceeds from the match will be donated to victims of wildfires in north and central Portugal earlier this year.As it turned out, the match was worth the Americans’ while. Caretaker manager Dave Sarachan had spoken all week about the group’s “youthful energy” and his lineup certainly trended in a youthful direction, with both McKennie and Tyler Adams being handed debuts while Matt Miazga earned just his fourth cap. That said, there was experience as well in the form of defender John Brooks and midfielder Danny Williams, both of whom performed well on the night.It’s worth noting that Portugal was fielding an under-strength side as well. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho were both left off the roster, though a smattering of regulars like Nelson Semedo and Pepe (the latter of whom was forced off early through injury) were included.The U.S. was on the front foot to start the match. A combination of aggressive pressing and sloppy Portuguese passing created a pair of chances inside two minutes, only for C.J. Sapong to fire straight at Portugal keeper Beto and Kellyn Acosta to then fire wide. The match soon settled a bit, but it was the U.S. that was creating the better opportunities.Sapong was causing all kinds of problems by drifting into wide positions and running at defenders. He put one pass on a platter for Adams in the 20th minute only for the New York Red Bull to fire straight at Beto. It proved to be a brief respite as Sapong soon found McKennie on the run and the Texas native darted around one defender before firing home to put the visitors on top.The U.S. looked solid in the back with Miazga and Brooks but Portugal equalized due to a horrible error from Horvath. Antunes’ volley from wide on the left had some venom in it but Horvath looked perfectly positioned to gather it in. Instead, as he moved low to collect the shot, the ball squirted through both hands and legs to trickle into the U.S. goal.The U.S. rebounded to start the second half as Beto denied Adams’ close-range header, Lichaj forced another smart save and McKennie saw his header hit the crossbar.The parade of substitutions that is typical of friendlies seemed to benefit Portugal as the home side began carry more of the game. Goncalo Paciencia struck the bar with an effort of his own in the 66th minute and Hamid later collected a shot that Paciencia shot straight into the air.All told, a draw was a perfectly satisfying result for the U.S. and proved to be a valuable exercise. Granted, it will be years before the disappointment at missing out on next summer’s festivities will wash away. But the process of putting some distance from that calamity has to begin at some point and given the promising performances of some of the young players, this was a match that served that purpose.Now the U.S. can head into 2018 with some more data points on who will form the core of the team going forward. 

  1. McKennie, Sapong, Miazga impress

There was plenty of anticipation surrounding the debut of McKennie given the minutes he’s logged with Bundesliga side Schalke already this season. He didn’t disappoint, either, effective at getting into the attack and timing his run to perfection in the run-up to his goal. He nearly added a second with his aforementioned header.Perhaps the biggest surprise on the night was Sapong. The Philadelphia Union forward was an absolute handful for the Portugal back-line. His holdup play was outstanding, as was his ability to link play with his teammates. In a lineup that was devoid of anyone who could be categorized as a playmaker, those traits were a boost to the U.S attack. Of course at age 28, there is the question of how much more time Sapong has at international level but he certainly did plenty to help his cause on this night.Miazga also delivered an impressive performance, partnering well with first Brooks (and later Cameron Carter-Vickers) and putting out plenty of fires. If he continues to progress at the club level, one would expect him to be part of the backbone of the side in the future.The night proved to be more of a mixed bag for Adams. His energy and defensive hustle aided the U.S. cause; so too did his running off the ball. But he needed to be better on the ball, especially in the first half when he connected just four of 15 passes, something he did improve in the second half. He’ll also rue his missed opportunities in front of goal.

  1. Hamid takes step ahead in goalkeeper battle

There was a certain logic to starting Horvath in goal. He’s logged fairly steady playing time over the course of 2017 while D.C. United’s Bill Hamid was benched for the last month of the MLS season and Jesse Gonzalez’s campaign ended a few weeks ago.

But Horvath was also benched recently by his club side, Club Brugge, and it was easy to see why. His basic error on Antunes’ goal was bad enough, but he nearly gifted the home side a second when his pass out from the back when straight to Danilo. Fortunately the Portugal midfielder could only hit his shot straight at him. Whatever hopes Horvath had of carrying some confidence back to his club were dashed.Hamid certainly did his prospects no harm, making the plays he needed to make, though one punch in particular looked a bit awkward before collecting. But club form will do plenty to dictate how the keeper battle shakes out going forward, and now it is up to him to make the most of his move to Danish side Midtjylland.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and t

Armchair Analyst: A few takeaways from USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Portugal

November 14, 20176:52PM ESTMatthewDoyleSenior Writer

It’s a friendly. More than that it was a “B” team friendly featuring few of either squad’s best players. So don’t go reading too much into the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Portugal on Tuesday.

However, don’t make the mistake of reading nothing into it, either. One of the frustrating things about friendlies for the better part of this decade is that they have often been treated as meaningless, process-deprived mad scientist-style experimentation. They can occasionally be that, but there are better ways to make use of that time.With that in mind, here are a few takeaways:

Start Weston McKennie

Have you been watching him with Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga this year? He’s been something close to a full starter for the past two months, and he brought that form with him to his full national team debut (volume up for analysis):

McKennie, so far, looks like more of a No. 8 than a No. 6 (and despite the above clip he’s not a No. 10), though the whispers I’ve heard out of Gelsenkirchen are that they think he projects, long-term, as a defensive midfielder.Whatever, wherever, I don’t care at this point. What matters is that whoever is in charge has to get him as many reps with the full squad as is possible over the next 18 months. If he fits better as a No. 8 than as a No. 6, then so be it. If it’s vice versa, that’s fine as well. I just need to see him in Red, White & Blue every time he’s available.And for the record: He was hurt during the first two weeks of October, which is why he wasn’t called up for the final qualifiers. That said, I doubt Bruce Arena would’ve given him minutes.

Get Reps for the Center Backs

John Brooks was sold for over $20 million this summer, and Matt Miazga, at age 22, has already 1) been sold to Chelsea, 2) led Vitesse Arnhem to their first significant trophy in the club’s 125-year history, and 3) been linked with a move to Ajax, as well as upper-tier Bundesliga teams.McKennie is important. Getting Christian Pulisic healthy and in his best spot is important, and getting Jonathan Gonzalez in the mix sooner rather than later is important. So is finding the right role for Tyler Adams and for Kellyn Acosta, and so is identifying the best forward option, and obviously the goalkeeper situation needs to resolve itself (I still think Brad Guzan is the right call, though obviously that can change between now and when games start to matter again).Fundamentally, though, none of the above is as important as getting a central defensive pairing together, and then giving them reps. Given their ages, performances and pedigree, right now it’s Brooks and Miazga.

Learn the Lessons of Losses

Dave Sarachan will probably never manage another USMNT game, but give him credit here: He did not make the same mistake that Arena did vs. Trinidad & Tobago. The US were out-manned in central midfield a month ago, playing a 4-1-3-2 with chalk-on-their-boots wingers and basically going 1-v-4 in central midfield. It was a high-risk/high-reward proposition that failed spectacularly because of some bad luck, but also because the gambit allowed the Soca Warriors so much time and space on the ball. They got comfortable, pushed numbers forward, and took advantage of a sleep-walking US.Sarachan trotted this team out in a 4-1-4-1. Some of the pieces were mismatched – neither Juan Agudelo nor Adams is really a winger (though both played well), and Pulisic was missed – but the structure was sound and made it difficult for Portugal to play through the middle. With the exception of about a 10-minute stretch around the hour mark, the hosts weren’t able to exert concerted pressure. 

And that’s about it from this one. Again: It’s a friendly, so don’t go off celebrating or anything, but at the same time, don’t write it off entirely. The partnerships and structure that were ripped down over the past six years need to be rebuilt now, and every outing is a chance to do just that.McKennie, Miazga, Adams, Acosta, Agudelo, Brooks, C.J. Sapong et al just took this program’s first tiny step forward, and it’s time to begin a new cycle. Let’s hope we don’t make the same mistakes that doomed the previous one. he U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

 Weston McKennie man of the match as U.S. earn draw in Portugal

The long march back to the world stage for the United States after failing to make the 2018 World Cup began in Leiria, Portugal with a friendly featuring a host of fresh faces under interim head coach Dave Sarachan. With little to play for but the launch of a new generation of players, the Americans played to a 1-1 draw with a Portuguese “B” squad.

Positives

The youth. Even before the match commenced, the theme of the day was established through the American lineup. Young players who could be a major part of getting the U.S. to Qatar in 2022 littered the field, with Kellyn Acosta, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams starting together in midfield. Matt Miazga started alongside John Brooks at the back, and 22-year-old goalkeeper Ethan Horvath started in goal.The young group pressed Portugal early and established a refreshing energy in the midfield that directly led to the Americans getting the opening goal in the 21st minute through McKinnie. In the second half, as the game slowed down and Portugal had more of the ball, the Americans still managed to create chances and give themselves a chance to win.

Negatives

It’s hard to be overly critical considering the circumstances surrounding the game and the makeup of the U.S. lineup, at least from a team perspective. Without much preparation, the young and new American team held their own against Portugal’s rotated team. Defensive communication was occasionally poor and Horvath’s howler took the shine off what was otherwise a positive first half.

Manager rating out of 10

7 — On the job for likely this single game, Sarachan got the most basic part of the task right: he called up a young, hungry, and talented group of players and set them up to start the American rebuilding process. The choice to put out Kellyn Acosta, Weston McKinnie, and Tyler Adams showed there was no tendency towards conservatism. Sarachan got a second wave of youngsters on with Lynden Gooch and Cameron Carter-Vickers coming off the bench.

The Americans seemed tactically sound and generally understood their roles. That’s all it takes for Sarachan to get a passing grade.

Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Ethan Horvath, 2.5 — Spent a half hour with little to do, he then committed a terrible mistake to gift Portugal a goal and change the tone of the match. Looked nervous throughout his half on the field.

DF DeAndre Yedlin, 6 — Caught up-field on Portuguese counters more than once, but benefited from his recovery speed and covering of teammates. Played an up-and-down game against his opposite number.

DF Matt Miazga, 8 — Played 90 minutes and was solid for most of this. Took a few risks that didn’t result in real danger. Stepped up into midfield too good effect.

DF John Brooks, 7 — Mostly solid on the defensive in during a half of play. Showed his intelligence and savvy with timely midfield interventions. Should have had a goal that was disallowed for a foul off the ball.

DF Eric Lichaj, 6 — Defended competently. Pushed into the attack well, especially in the second half and provided an extra option in the final third.

MF Danny Williams, 7 — Worked well in combination with Acosta and McKennie ahead of him. Passed well and created a dangerous chance with a cross in the second half.

MF Juan Agudelo, 5.5 — Guilty of a few sloppy moments while trying to create opportunities on the left side of the attack. Showed flashes of technical brilliance but never impacted the game.

MF Kellyn Acosta, 7.5 — Provided strong set-piece service and never looked out of place with the speed of the game. Tracked back to eliminate several opportunities for Portugal.

MF Weston McKennie, 8 — Scored the lone U.S. goal on his debut for the U.S. in a Man of the Match performance. Covered ground, passed smartly and won several recoveries.

MF Tyler Adams, 7.5 — Aided in the press that served the Americans so well in the first half. Cut inside with intelligence runs that opened up space. Had a header saved off the line.

FW C.J. Sapong, 7.5 — Much more effective in the first half when the U.S. was able to press high and find him with runs into wide areas. Held the ball up well and won several fouls in the attacking half.

Substitutes

GK Bill Hamid, 6 — Made one save that wasn’t as clean as he’d like. Otherwise, he was mostly untroubled in the second half.

DF Cameron Carter-Vickers, 6 — A step slow to start his appearance but settled into the game as the half progressed. Missed his chance to give the Americans the lead on the attacking end.

DF Jorge Villafana, 5 — Didn’t provide the attacking threat of Lichaj and largely played simple soccer, avoiding turnovers and mistakes.

MF Lynden Gooch, 7 — Used speed and power to provide a threat in wide areas after coming on. Showed the potential to be a crossing threat for the national team.

FW Dom Dwyer, NR — Had a limited impact in less than 15 minutes. Contributed three defensive actions with Portugal on the ball towards the end of the game.

MF Alejandro Bedoya, NR — Touched the ball just a handful of times as the clock approached full-time.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn. 

U.S. boss hails young Americans’ draw vs. Portugal after ‘difficult’ 2017

LEIRIA, Portugal — Acting U.S. manager Dave Sarachan said he was proud of the way his young side delivered in securing a 1-1 draw with reigning European champions Portugal after a “difficult” 2017.Both teams put out under-strength sides, with Portugal missing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho. But with the MLS Cup playoffs still going on and with some U.S. players dealing with injuries, it was the Americans that were more shorthanded, as Sarachan handed international debuts to Schalke youngster Weston McKennie and New York Red Bulls 19-year-old Tyler Adams.The reverberations from the U.S. team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup are also still being felt, and will no doubt hang over any memories of 2017. But the youthful American team acquitted itself well in this match, with McKennie netting the U.S. goal.”It is a friendly, they had a mixed group and all the rest, but we still had to come here and play on their soil, with a group of players that have only been together for six days,” said Sarachan. “Some knew each other, some didn’t, and obviously we put a lineup out with a plan. But they were the ones that went out and executed.”And what I told them after the game was 2017 was a difficult year for U.S soccer, and there were a lot of people out there that weren’t sure what this was going to look like tonight. I said to the group that I couldn’t be more proud, and the future is bright, because there were a number of players on this field that [could] have a really, I think, good and long career with the national team.”It was a night in which the number of positive individual performances far outweighed any bad ones. But Sarachan lauded the play of McKennie, Adams, and Matt Miazga. McKennie even came inches away from delivering the game-winner, only to see his second half header hit the bar.”I thought all three were very good tonight, I really did,” said Sarachan of the aforementioned trio. “I thought as a starting point they played with a lot of confidence. There was no fear. The moments that came for each player that were difficult moments I thought they handled well.”Weston obviously getting the goal but not only that, his calmness on the ball and his ability to collect balls and play the next pass was very good tonight. Tyler, his engine is remarkable, and his energy was great throughout. And Matt was very solid in the back. I thought all three guys over the course of 90 minutes had really a solid performance.”If there was one player who didn’t deliver on the night it was goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. With the U.S. leading 1-0 after McKennie’s goal, Horvath appeared to be in perfect position to collect Vitorino Altunes’ drive from the left wing, and went low to scoop the ball into his chest. Instead, the ball trickled through both arms and legs and into the U.S. goal to make the score 1-1. Horvath then misplayed a pass right to the opposition, only to have the subsequent shot hit right at him. The U.S. keeper did recover to save well at the feet of Bruma just before half-time, but the damage was done. Still, Sarachan emphasized Horvath’s eventual recovery rather than his blunder.”Ethan if he had it to do over again I think he would have saved it,” he said. “But these things happen and the thing that I’m very pleased about, and I told him this after the game was the goal goes in, and obviously it’s a big blow for him personally. But the team backed him up, said let’s get on with it. And the plays he had to make after that were excellent.”That tells you a lot because I think for even a young goalkeeper you could be so rattled that maybe you’re not ready for the next play. These things happen, I thought our team handled it great, and in the career of a goalkeeper you’re going to have moments like that.”Sarachan also singled out forward C.J. Sapong and midfielder Danny Williams for praise, Both players put in hardworking shifts, with Sapong assisting on McKennie’s goal and Williams helping to clog the middle of the field in a holding midfield role.”C.J was huge for us tonight,” said Sarachan. “Playing as lone striker is a difficult task, and you do a lot of dirty running, and a lot of grafting. I thought the moments when we needed to have some holdup play, he did well. But being able to do the work, to put some pressure on their center backs over the course of time that he played was just very important for us.”I thought Danny Williams did a great job too, being a veteran presence, a little bit deeper in the midfield, in [back] of Kellyn Acosta and Weston. He picked his spots to help cover and help defend, even the moments of the calmness out of the back. I can’t find much fault with those guys.”Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM USA’S DRAW WITH PORTUGAL

Ives Galarcep

Teenagers Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams shined, while John Brooks took on a leadership role in an encouraging USMNT performance to end 2017

You couldn’t blame U.S. national team fans for wishing they had a time machine they could have jumped into Tuesday to go back and beg Bruce Arena to call up youngsters like Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Matt Miazga.

All three looked impressive in a 1-1 draw against Portugal. Their performances may have come in a meaningless match against a Portuguese B team that looked disinterested at times, but it was still a meeting against high-level competition. The U.S. played with real purpose and energy, looking nothing like the lethargic squad that sleepwalked through the October loss to Trinidad & Tobago that ultimately cost the team its place at the 2018 World Cup.Instead of looking back at what might have been, it is a much healthier exercise to look ahead at what could come from this young nucleus of talent in the year and a half between now and the next truly meaningful matches the U.S. will play. Plenty can change in that time. Some prospects could see their trajectories stall, while others could see theirs skyrocket. Some older players will be fighting against not only a new generation of talent, but also the natural decline that comes with aging.

RELATED

The good news is Tuesday’s draw suggests there is serious talent in the pipeline to hopefully ensure that Christian Pulisic isn’t alone in his quest to revive the U.S. after the nightmare of missing out on a trip to Russia.

Here is a closer look at some key takeaways from Tuesday’s USA-Portugal draw:

MCKENNIE AND ADAMS SHINE IN DEBUTS

You couldn’t have drawn up a better moment to excite U.S. fans than having McKennie dribble through Portugal’s defense for the match’s opening goal Tuesday, a moment that perfectly encapsulated the Schalke midfielder’s considerable promise. It was McKennie who made the sliding interception to start the goal sequence before he raced down the left channel, perfectly collected a C.J. Sapong pass and deftly maneuvered to strike a collected finish he made look much easier than it was.

The goal was the key highlight, but it was McKennie’s poise and engine in midfield that made his overall performance so encouraging. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise considering McKennie has shown enough to break into Schalke’s starting lineup, but it was still exciting to watch in a U.S. uniform. It was also a chance for McKennie to show there is more to his game than being a ball-winning defensive midfielder.Adams also showed off the considerable versatility that makes him such an exciting prospect. The 18-year-old Red Bulls midfielder has already shown in MLS that he can thrive both in central midfield and as a right wing back, and Tuesday he impressed working on the right wing. He put himself in dangerous spots on multiple occasions, and came within a diving one-handed save of joining McKennie on the score sheet.For those who hadn’t seen much of Adams before, they were treated to the wide array of strengths in his game, from his speed and tenacity to his ability to deliver sharp passes and get into effective attacking positions, along with his ability to effectively defend. These are traits that could let him thrive as a right back, right wing back or potentially even as a right winger, though it’s still a good bet his club and international future lies in central midfield, where he has the characteristics to one day be a box-to-box dynamo.

BROOKS LOOKS READY TO LEAD

Injuries kept John Brooks from taking part in any of the U.S. national team’s qualifiers in the fall, and his showing against Portugal served as a painful reminder of what the U.S. was missing against Costa Rica, Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago. Brooks played well against Portugal — and had an excellent headed goal nullified by a Miazga foul — but the most promising aspect of his 45-minute appearance was how much he embraced being the leader of the back line. He was vocal and demonstrative, directing his young teammates and communicating in a way we haven’t really seen from him before.It’s an excellent sign for a player who is still just 24, but who has now made the transition from youngster to veteran. With the older central defenders in the player pool looking very likely to be passed up by a strong generation of younger options, Brooks will be called on to be more of a leader than he has been before. The key for Brooks will be for him to continue to stay healthy, an issue that has dogged him throughout his career.

HORVATH ENDURES ROUGH DAY

There may not have been a sadder sight than the image of Ethan Horvath sitting slumped on the U.S. bench with his head down as the final minutes of Tuesday’s friendly ticked away. It was clear he wasn’t about to forget the calamitous blunder he committed that gifted Portugal its goal, an error sure to live on in highlight reels for years to come.What won’t make highlight reels, but should be remembered, is how he responded after the blunder. He made several solid plays to keep Portugal from adding another goal, and while he did have one other extremely shaky moment with an ill-advised pass that led directly to a Portugal chance, Horvath was able to steady himself enough to finish out the first half.Horvath’s second U.S. appearance was a disaster, but perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise considering his form has dipped at Club Brugge enough to lead him to be benched recently. The goalkeeper position is very much a confidence position, and it was clear that Horvath’s confidence is in the gutter. That being said, he is still just 22, and writing him of for a shaky showing at that age would be extremely premature.Along with reminding us that young goalkeepers can be an adventure to follow, Horvath’s blunder should also remind us that the U.S. starting goalkeeper position is wide open heading into the next World Cup cycle. Brad Guzan isn’t ready to hang up his gloves just yet, and at 33, he may still have a part to play when meaningful matches return in two years. But a promising group of young goalkeepers is emerging to join Horvath in the chase for that coveted starting job.Bill Hamid, Zack Steffen, Alex Bono and Jonathan Klinsmann are all in their early to mid-20s and they all still have time to develop into starting options for whichever coach is handed the keys to the next qualifying cycle. Horvath may not be ready to lead the race for the top spot, but he isn’t someone who should be written off because of one bad game.

VETERANS STATE STRONG CASES

Danny Williams has largely been in the U.S. national team wilderness for the past two years, having essentially been cast off by Jurgen Klinsmann after his decision to leave the Bundesliga for the English League Championship. He was then ignored by Bruce Arena. On Tuesday, he looked very much like a player with something to offer in a defensive midfield role. That shouldn’t surprise anyone given his exploits with Huddersfield Town in the Premier League. The 28-year-old embraced this new opportunity, impressing the U.S. coaching staff enough to earn the captain’s armband ahead of other players with more national team caps. Sapong also made the most of his chance, earning a start and then showing all the qualities as a target forward to make him a player capable of offering some much-needed depth in that role. For too long it has been Jozy Altidore or bust, with Bobby Wood used in the role when Altidore has been unavailable. But Sapong showed why he finished as the top American goal-scorer in MLS in 2017, with his improved hold-up play and passing, as well as his willingness to provide defensive pressure.

Both Williams and Sapong are 28, which puts them on the outer range of potential 2022 contributors, but they both showed enough Tuesday to suggest they should be considered as options in 2018.

ARENA’S TV APPEARANCE WAS A DISASTER

If you were left shocked to see Arena on the Fox broadcast of the USA-Portugal match, you definitely were not alone. How anybody thought having the former U.S. coach serve as an analyst in the first USMNT match since he led the team to its fateful World Cup qualifying loss to Trinidad & Tobago is mind-boggling, and the result was a tone-deaf broadcast that served to sour an otherwise encouraging day for U.S. fans.Arena’s decision to actually accept the role was shocking in its lack of self awareness, but it didn’t take long to understand why he took it. Arena basically spent his time on air trying to put the team’s qualifying failure into a context that made it seem like less of a damning indictment of his handling of the job.It wound up having the opposite effect, though, with Arena dropping several head-scratching statements, such as his claim that he should have gone with essentially a full MLS-based squad in September’s qualifying loss to Costa Rica (count me among those who will give Arena the benefit of the doubt that he meant to count Pulisic as an exception). His flippant remark suggesting no players fall through the cracks in U.S. Soccer’s player development setup surely infuriated the viewers who hadn’t long since tuned out.Someone needed to save Arena from himself and tell him just ho bad an idea it was. The sad part is the appearance only did more damage to a reputation of a coach who deserves plenty of respect even with last month’s failure. Arena’s resume is unmatched among American coaches, but Tuesday’s broadcast only served to further tarnish the public’s view of him.Arena made several comments that just left you cringing, but the overarching sentiment generated by his Fox appearance was that it was an absolute disaster, not only because of what it wound up producing on air but because of the fact it served as a painful and unnecessary reminder of October’s World Cup qualifying nightmare.

 Christian Pulisic: U.S. must better develop top players from ages 16-18

In the wake of the United States’ failure to qualify for the World Cup, Christian Pulisic has called for top American teenage players to be given more opportunities to develop at an earlier age.At just 19, Pulisic was an instrumental part of the U.S.’s qualifying campaign, and he admitted he’s been “pretty depressed” since the Americans lost to Trinidad and Tobago last month. Since then, youth development in the U.S. has come under question, particularly from candidates for next year’s wide-open race for the U.S. Soccer Federation presidency.In a story for The Players’ Tribune, Pulisic suggested the best American players aged 16-18 need to be better tested during the most crucial years of their development.”For a soccer player … man, ask anyone and they’ll tell you — those age 16-18 years are everything,” Pulisic wrote. “From a developmental perspective, it’s almost like this sweet spot: It’s the age where a player’s growth and skill sort of intersect, in just the right way — and where, with the right direction, a player can make their biggest leap in development by far.”In the U.S. system, too often the best player on an under-17 team will be treated like a ‘star’ — not having to work for the ball, being the focus of the offense at all times, etc. — at a time when they should be having to fight tooth and nail for their spot.”In Europe, on the other hand, the average level of ability around you is just so much higher. It’s a pool of players where everyone has been ‘the best player,’ and everyone is fighting for a spot — truly week in and week out. Which makes the intensity and humility that you need to bring to the field every day — both from a mental and physical perspective — just unlike anything that you can really experience in U.S. developmental soccer.”FIFA rules prohibit players from leaving their native countries for clubs in other countries before they turn 18. In 2014, FIFA gave Barcelona a transfer ban for a full year for breaching these regulations, with their Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid also subsequently punished.The only exceptions are if “the player’s parents have moved to another country for non-related reasons; the move takes place within the European Union if a player is aged between 16 and 18; [or] the player’s home is less than 50 kilometres from the national border being crossed.”Because his grandfather was born in Croatia, Pulisic was able to obtain dual citizenship and move to join Borussia Dortmund at age 16, and he said “there’s simply no way that I would be at anywhere close to the level that I am today” had he not made the switch at that time.But he questioned why FIFA allows European players to move countries, which he sees as an unfair advantage to some players.”Why is it that E.U. players are allowed to move country once they turn 16 … but non-Europeans can only do so at 18? Why aren’t we campaigning for a level playing field, where our best 16-year-olds — who may not have an E.U. passport like I had — are free to move when they turn 16, like the best young players in Europe can?”nd for those Americans who can’t go early to Europe, Pulisic urged Major League Soccer teams to give top players in their academies more opportunities to play at the top level, though he also said the league has made “great strides” in improving “soccer culture” in the U.S.”Are we doing everything in our power to make sure the level of play in U.S. soccer is high enough so that they can continue to develop up to their maximum potential?” he asked. “So that they can continue to develop until they are allowed to play at the top level their talent dictates — wherever that is in the world?”I also understand, of course, that — even with the option to leave — leaving the States might not be for everyone. Staying is fine, and I totally respect it.”But at the same time, I’ve gotta say: It really does frustrate me, when I watch MLS, and I see our best U-17 players — who, again, are so talented and so capable — being rostered … but then not being put on the field much to actually play. I watch that, and I just think about how I was given a chance … a real chance … and it changed my life. Why then are we seemingly hesitant to allow these other talents to blossom?”Pulisic also insisted that his emergence on the world stage at such a young age is not a fluke, and that more players would be able to follow in his footsteps if giving the same opportunities.”I’m not a prodigy — or a ‘wonderboy,’ as some have put it. I was always, you know, a decent player growing up. And yes, I was born with a certain amount of so-called ‘natural ability.’ But I also worked and sacrificed a lot to try to maximize what I was born with — which I think is important to point out. I think it’s important to make clear, you know, that the problem with American soccer … it isn’t talent.”He added: “The path to the U.S. winning a World Cup — it doesn’t start with having ‘more talent.’ It starts with developing the talent that we already have, in the right way.”

CHRISTIAN PULISIC– BORUSSIA DORTMUND / U.S.M.N.T.

In my heart, I knew it was over when we walked off the field.I think we all did. There were all of these complicated mathematical scenarios, but we knew the biggest one: We had to at least tie. Had to have that last goal. And we were grinding for it like crazy, right up until the very end. But we didn’t get it. And once we didn’t get it, and we were walking off that field — well, that’s when I pretty much knew.I knew it was over.But I still had to know.I asked one of our assistants, “What were the other scores?”You ever have a question that you really need to ask someone, but you’re almost too embarrassed to say it out loud — so you just sort of rephrase it? That was me, I think, right there in that moment, asking our assistant about the other matches.

What were the other scores?

That was my way of avoiding the question that I really needed the answer to, but couldn’t bring myself to ask.

Are we going?

And I’ll just never forget the look on his face, or the sound of his voice, or the feeling of utter devastation in my body — when he turned to me and said, “We’re not going. We didn’t make it.“We’re not going to the World Cup.”

There have been many opinions voiced over the past few weeks about our failure to reach the World Cup — and I hope people can understand why one of them hasn’t been mine. Playing for the U.S. in the World Cup has been my dream ever since I can remember. World Cup Final … minute to go … ball on Pulisic’s foot … and he scoooores! — that’s what I would dream about. For me, that’s always been the pinnacle of what I could accomplish in this sport.I remember watching the 2014 tournament in my cousin’s basement in Virginia. We threw this big party for the first U.S. match against Ghana — and before I could even sit down with my food, I’ll never forget it: Clint made that sweet cut to the right, put the ball on his left foot, and went post-and-in.29 seconds in, 1-0, USA.We went crazy.I couldn’t believe the electricity in the air after that goal. It was like the entire country was with us in that basement, running around with our hands in the air, screaming out, “Gooooooooaaaaaaaaaaal! Gooooooooaaaaaaaaal!” Just going insane. It was this amazing realization of, like, “Wow — American soccer can do that. We can do … that.”So to have come this far, in these four years since that goal was scored — to have made the team, and to have been a goal away from qualifying … and then to have fallen short? It hurt more than I can really put into words.

Which is why I decided to wait a few weeks and write something like this on my own time. I do have a lot of thoughts on American soccer — and I have definitely wanted to get them out. But I also wanted to make sure that I had enough time, first, to pause and reflect. And that when I did write something, it wouldn’t be to look backward.It would be to look forward.

The first thing I want to say here, obvously, is that I’m not an expert. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who know a lot more about national soccer programs than I do — and I hope those are the people we’ll have in charge of American soccer over the next World Cup cycle. Me, I’m just a 19 year old, in my first full year with the national team. So any insight that I can offer is only based on what I’ve experienced and observed in my career so far.The second thing I want to say here is that I’m not a prodigy — or a “wonderboy,” as some have put it. I was always, you know, a decent player growing up. And yes, I was born with a certain amount of so-called “natural ability.” But I also worked and sacrificed a lot to try to maximize what I was born with — which I think is important to point out. I think it’s important to make clear, you know, that the problem with American soccer … it isn’t talent. In fact, I’m sure there are kids who are going to be reading this article who are more talented at their age than I ever was.And then the third thing I want to say here is that I love American soccer. Which maybe sounds obvious — but I think a lot of people have this weird idea of USMNT players who have come up in Europe. They’ll talk about how we’re somehow less passionate about U.S. Soccer, or less American about it. That we’re these ringers or something — these outsiders brought in as, like, a cheat code to beat European sides. And it couldn’t be further from the truth.It really frustrates me when people say, “Oh, he’s barely American,” or, “He grew up in the Dortmund academy,” or anything like that. First of all, it’s not true: Until I was 16, I came up through the U.S. youth system. I did all of the camps, the academies, the residency programs, the travel teams, and everything else it had to offer. I’ll always be a part of that system, and I’ll always be indebted to it. Second of all, I think that’s just a dangerous attitude in general: Having a closed-minded view of what does or doesn’t constitute being an American. And I hope it’s an attitude that we can keep out of this conversation in the years to come.

When people ask me what has been the biggest game-changer of my career — when they ask me, you know, “What’s the one thing that has had the biggest impact on your game so far” — that isn’t the easiest question to answer. I’ve had a lot of good fortune over the years: from supportive parents, to amazing youth academies, to incredible teammates, and on down the line.But one thing that I’m not sure people realize, when they talk about my game, is just how lucky I’ve been to have a Croatian passport — and just how much of a difference it’s made for me.wAs a result of my dual citizenship, I’ve been able to play in Europe, training at the Dortmund academy, since I was 16. Without it? I would have had to wait until I was 18. And for a soccer player … man, ask anyone and they’ll tell you — those age 16–18 years are everything. From a developmental perspective, it’s almost like this sweet spot: It’s the age where a player’s growth and skill sort of intersect, in just the right way — and where, with the right direction, a player can make their biggest leap in development by far.

In the U.S. system, too often the best player on an under-17 team will be treated like a “star” — not having to work for the ball, being the focus of the offense at all times, etc. — at a time when they should be having to fight tooth and nail for their spot. In Europe, on the other hand, the average level of ability around you is just so much higher. It’s a pool of players where everyone has been “the best player,” and everyone is fighting for a spot — truly week in and week out. Which makes the intensity and humility that you need to bring to the field every day — both from a mental and physical perspective — just unlike anything that you can really experience in U.S. developmental soccer.

Without those experiences, there’s simply no way that I would be at anywhere close to the level that I am today.

And so I really just wonder, you know: Why is it that E.U. players are allowed to move country once they turn 16 … but non-Europeans can only do so at 18? Why aren’t we campaigning for a level playing field, where our best 16 year olds — who may not have an E.U. passport like I had — are free to move when they turn 16, like the best young players in Europe can? And in the meanwhile, as long as some of our best young players aren’t getting the opportunity like I had to go to Europe when they’re 16 … are we doing everything in our power to make sure the level of play in U.S. soccer is high enough so that they can continue to develop up to their maximum potential? So that they can continue to develop until they are allowed to play at the top level their talent dictates — wherever that is in the world?

I also understand, of course, that — even with the option to leave — leaving the States might not be for everyone. Staying is fine, and I totally respect it. But at the same time, I’ve gotta say: It really does frustrate me, when I watch MLS, and I see our best U-17 players — who, again, are so talented and so capable — being rostered … but then not being put on the field much to actually play. I watch that, and I just think about how I was given a chance … a real chance … and it changed my life. Why then are we seemingly hesitant to allow these other talents to blossom?

Anyway, I’m not sure what the answers to all of these questions are … but I still think they’re worth asking. And I am sure of this: The path to the U.S. winning a World Cup — it doesn’t start with having “more talent.” It starts with developing the talent that we already have, in the right way.

Another thing that I’ve really found myself thinking over is the idea of American soccer as culture.

Soccer … it’s just this way of life in other countries. It’s part of the fabric of who they are, and of what they do. There’s this sense of identity that I think is baked into global soccer — that touches everyone, and connects everyone together. If your city’s club team is having success, or if your national team is having success, there’s just this amazing sense of personal pride that comes with it. I saw a spark of that with Clint’s goal in 2014 — it almost felt like that one moment changed the mood of the entire country. And it’s hard to put into words how powerful that is.

Which is why I feel so crushed that we won’t be giving people that feeling this summer.

Something that I think is important to point out, though, is that — even with us coming off of this terrible loss, and even with everyone wanting to talk about what’s wrong with American soccer — our soccer culture in the U.S. is getting better all the time. MLS has made great strides as a league, over the last few years, and there are so many incredible American soccer markets that have emerged. You look at what they’ve built in cities like Portland and Seattle, and what they’re building in places like Atlanta and Cincinnati, and what’s happening with the movement to try to save soccer in Columbus — and it’s inspiring. And I mean, the atmosphere that we had going on that field in Orlando, in that stadium, for our qualifier against Panama … it was unlike anything that I’d ever experienced in the U.S. before. Those fans were unreal — and I was so proud to be a part of that match. It really felt like we were all working together that night to make something special happen.

And it’s not just American fans of American soccer now — what’s just as inspiring, to me, is how many people I’ll see from the U.S. who are invested in soccer in other places. Like, catching a kid at the airport in a PULISIC USA jersey is one thing. And that’s obviously such a thrill. But to catch an American kid in a PULISIC Dortmund jersey? This … club team in Europe? That’s, like, another thing entirely. Once I started seeing those around — man, that’s when it really hit me: that this is a country where people are starting to take their soccer seriously, at a global level.

And to me, the global level — that’s the next big step for our country. Because that’s when soccer stops being this “cool new thing,” this novelty item that is part of our lives once every four years … and becomes something so much better than that.

It becomes part of our culture.

Growing up, my dad and I, we used to play H-O-R-S-E in our driveway pretty much every night. I’d come home from training, and we’d take out that basketball, and we’d just play game … after game … after game. And it’s funny, because — the idea was, it was supposed to be very low-key, you know? After a day of taking soccer so seriously, we’d get to come home, and just shoot a ball around for the fun of it. But man, for the life of me … I could never do it. I could never do it just for fun.

had to win.

I’m telling you, it was like, this thing — no matter how many times in a row my dad beat me at H-O-R-S-E on a given night. I’d have to keep playing, and keep playing, until I finally won one. Some nights, honestly, it’s like I would even take it more seriously than soccer training. I don’t know how else to describe it, other than as an obsession. I would be obsessed with winning at H-O-R-S-E.

And the more I think about it, you know, I’ve really been like that my whole life. Obsessed with winning. No matter what I’d be doing — whether it was a game of H-O-R-S-E with my dad, or capture the flag as a little kid, or FIFA with my friends, or a match with Dortmund … the idea of needing to win … it would just eat at me. Which isn’t to say that I’d even win all the time. Like — I’m not even that good at FIFA. But I’ll just get so angry about it, so consumed by it. If I’m doing a thing, then I want to be the best at it. I’m not sure what that means … but it’s just who I am.

It’s who I’ve always been.

And I won’t lie — I’ve been feeling pretty depressed this past month. The thought of having to wait four more years, just to get the taste of losing our last qualifier out of my mouth … just to find out if we’re going to the next World Cup? Man, that’s tough. Four years, yu know? It feels like a lifetime. I mean, in soccer, four weekscan feel like a lifetime! Look at my last four: failed to qualify for the World Cup … first defeat in the league … lost to Bayern at home … and now facing a very hard task to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. For a guy obsessed with winning, lately I’ve been doing a lot of losing.

But I just want you to know — I’m still obsessed, all the same.

I just want every USA soccer fan reading this to understand, that no matter what decisions are made over these next couple of years … no matter what changes are implemented … no matter who the coach is, or what the roster looks like: I’m going to be obsessed with winning. And I’m going to be obsessed with doing my part to help U.S. Soccer get over the hump.

Because yeah, O.K. … we’re not going to the World Cup.

But there’s going to be a World Cup after that. And a World Cup after that. And a World Cup after that. And I think — I hope — that we’re going to be able to build something, here, with U.S. Soccer, where it’s not just going to be about one lost match, or one lost cycle, or one lost team. It’s going to be about an entire country, rallying around an entire sport, in a way that lasts.  So let’s plan on it, then — 2022.  Get your basements ready, and mark it down.  We’ll be there.CHRISTIAN PULISIC / CONTRIBUTOR

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