So new US coach Gregg Berhalter got off to a fine start as the US Men throttled an overmatched Panama squad 3-0 last weekend. I thought the possession game of the US was solid with close to 70% possession and I thought the boys did a nice job of breaking down the settled in Panama defense with good movement and the 2 #10’s behind Zardes up front. 20 year old Chicago Fire player Djordje Mihailovic and Seattle’s Cristian Roldan played solid in the middle with Djordje Mihailovic scoring in his first ever US game and Roldan offering an assist and solid link-up play in the middle all game. Old steady Michael Bradley playing as a true #6 was solid protecting the back 4 – who had few issues on the day. Now this was a 3rd string Panama group but honestly this is 2nd or 3rd string US as well. I thought both center backs Aaron Long and LAFCs Walker Zimmerman (goal scorer) played well. Aaron Long, the surprise captain on this day, was especially strong in the back and played some solid balls forward. While right back Nick Lima was just fantastic and deserved the man of the match award with an assist and stellar play. This Sat 3 pm on FOX should give us a little better look as the Ticos of Costa Rica are bringing a little better team to the match. The good news is the US under Berhalter seem’s to to have a plan and players who are trying to play out that plan. Not something the US has done a lot of lately. Got my finger’s crossed that continues. Either way – we may have found some new young players in MLS to keep an eye on.
Sure was great to see Tyler Adams play so well for RB Leipzig last week and now we have another good young American to watch in Germany on Fox – especially since Pulisic is on the outs with Dortmund now. Of course Pulisic will hopefully get some time against fellow American John Brooks of Frankfurt on Saturday at 9:30 am on Fox Sports 2, followed by Weston McKinney of Schalke facing Mgladback and Johnson at 12:30 on FS2. The EPL gives us Tottenham hosting New Castle United and Yedlin at 7:30 am on Sat. While Sunday gives us Man United at Leicester City on NBCSN at 9 am and Man City vs Arsenal at 11:30 am on the same. Liverpool travels to West Ham on Mon at 3 pm on NBCSN. Of course the Madrid Derby featuring Atletico and Real Madrid is next Sat, Feb 3 at 10:15 am on beIN Sport and Champions League is back Feb 12/13.
GAMES ON TV
Fri, Feb 1
2:30 pm Fox Sport2 Hertha vs RB Leipzig (Tyler Adams)
Sat, Feb 2
9:30 am FS1 Frankfurt (Brooks) vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
12:30 pm FS2? Schalke (Mckinney) vs Borrusia MGladbach (Johnson)
12:30 beIn Sport Barcelona vs Valencia
2:30 pm ESPN+ Juventus vs Parma
3:30 pm Fox USA Men vs Costa Rica
Sun, Feb 3
9 am NBCSN Leicester City vs Man United
11:30 am NBCSN Man City vs Arsenal
2 pm ESPN+ Roma vs Milan
3 pm beIN Sport Lyonnais vs PSG
Mon, Feb 4
3 pm NBCSN West Ham vs Liverpool
Sat, Feb 9
7:30 am NBCSN Fulham (Ream) vs Man United
9;30 am FS2 Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Hoffenheim
10 am NBCSN Liverpool vs Bournemouth
10:15 am beIN Sport Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid (Madrid Derby)
Sun, Feb 10
9 am NBCSN Tottenhan vs Leicester City
11 am NBCSN Man City vs Chelsea
2:45 pm beIn Sport Athletic Club vs Barcelona
Mon, Feb 11
3 pm NBCSN Wolverhampton vs New Castle United (Yedlin)
Tues, Feb 12
3 pm TNT Man United vs PSG CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Wed, Feb 13
3 pm TNT Ajax vs Real Madrid CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
3 pm ??? Tottenham vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
Gregg Berhalter may not make drastic squad changes for USMNT on Saturday
January 29, 20197:07PM ESTGeoff LepperContributor
SAN JOSE, Calif. – If you tune into Gregg Berhalter’s second game as the US men’s national teamcoach expecting a drastically changed squad from the side that posted a 3-0 victory over Panama on Sunday, you may be in for a shock.As Berhalter finishes a near month-long stint with a group of young players lacking international experience, the former Columbus Crew SC boss does not feel a pressing need to get everyone some playing time against Costa Rica on Saturday afternoon at Avaya Stadium (3:30 pm ET | FS1).“We’ll mix guys in where appropriate,” Berhalter said Tuesday after his squad finished its first training session at the San Jose Earthquakes’ home. “I think our job is to continue to fine tune and continue to work on and develop our style of play. We may make some changes; we’ll see where everyone is physically.”To some extent, given that only four players came into camp with more than a half-dozen caps, anybody Berhalter puts on the field will be gaining invaluable experience. He gave action to seven debutants against Panama, starting five to match a modern era US record in previously set in 1992. That leaves D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse, Colorado Rapids right back Keegan Rosenberry and Philadelphia Union defenders Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty still in search of their first caps.The aim is greater, however, than simply working in new blood in the wake of a disastrously failed 2018 World Cup qualification campaign. Berhalter is trying to lay the tactical groundwork the USMNT for years to come – which involves plenty of change for players coming into the system cold.“He’s definitely asking a lot, and there’s a lot of new things, new components [to] the way he wants us playing,” said US midfielder Corey Baird, one of the newcomers versus Panama. “I think everyone’s starting to understand the system more and more as we go.”That style included a new role given to right back Nick Lima, who pushed into central midfield when the US was on the attack, along with high-and-wide posts for wingers, to name two examples cited by Baird.“Those little tweaks that [Berhalter] has to try to open up space and open up gaps for different players in different areas of the field,” Baird said. “I think when everyone’s on the same page there, it can come off and work really well. It’s just about understanding your role and movements off the other guys behind you.”For Berhalter, growing that knowledge base is possibly the best thing he’s getting out of his first camp.“What we needed to see was progress,” Berhalter said. “We talked before the game. We said, ‘You’re not going to see a finished product from this game. But you should be able to see ideas. You should be able to see the beginning.’ That’s all we’ve asked from the players, the whole time. . . . And guys have been so open, the guys have progressed virtually every day. We’ve gotten better, and that’s been good to see.”
Warshaw: Why Michael Bradley remains a top option for Gregg Berhalter
January 29, 20191:47PM ESTBobby Warshaw
In case you missed it, Michael Bradley started an played 84 minutes for the US men’s national team in the first game of the Gregg Berhalter era on Sunday night. I thought he played well.As per usual with Bradley, though, his performance led to polarized opinions.
“Djordje Mihailovic looked amazing!” – “I know, he could be the 10 we need!”
“And how about Nick Lima? He could push Yedlin for the right back spot.” – “Absolutely!”
“And Michael Bradley was class!” – “SETTLE DOWN, it was Panama’s C team!”
’m not here to discuss whether Michael Bradley is good at soccer. I’m not here to discuss whether Michael Bradley should be held accountable for any sins. Those conversations make me want to send tweets that would get me fired. I’m here to say that Michael Bradley’s skill set fits with how Berhalter wants to play, and it/he will – and should – be an important part of Berhalter’s plan going forward.Bradley offers something that nobody else in the player pool can provide. Bradley has the most chill on the ball. The game moves slower for him. When he has a defender on his back or the midfield is crowded, he doesn’t panic.A refreshing and frustrating thing about soccer is that there’s almost always an option out of trouble. When players review film to (hopefully) improve upon their mistakes, they can generally find the pass they should have made. They didn’t notice the option in the moment, usually because they got frazzled. A defender nipping at your heels will do that to you.It’s not about having the first touch ability to make the move or pass, it’s about having the awareness; staying calm enough to evaluate the situation.
Michael Bradley in #USAvPAN:
73/76 (96%) passes
1 key pass
st touch. But it all molds into one general concept: Staying chill under pressure. At which Bradley is still king in our player pool.And if you want to play a possession style and build from the back, you have to have that player.Possession allows a team to pull the defense to a certain area of the field, then hit them in the spaces they vacated. To do that, you have to make the opposition think they can win the ball. You have to put your own players in tough situations. Otherwise, the defenders won’t pressure the ball and leave their zones. You have to be willing to play passes that you might lose.Michael Bradley is still the best at not losing those balls.He’s better at it than Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Russell Canouse or any other top defensive midfielder in the pool. Bradley is the most calm with the ball under pressure.You could argue about other parts of Bradley’s game. He doesn’t transition to his defensive duties particularly well anymore (though Sunday’s game against Panama was a renaissance for him at it) and he doesn’t win duels as effectively as he used to. He might have lost a step, as well.But he still offers the superior characteristic at one of the most vital components of Berhalter’s playing style. If you want Berhalter to play a possession style, involving courage and moxie and keeping the ball on the ground through pressure, you should want Michael Bradley in the team.
Young trio’s performances ensure Gregg Berhalter era starts off right
Jan 28, 2019 Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the past two-and-a-half weeks, manager Gregg Berhalter has been building a foundation with the U.S. men’s national team. It’s a process that is 100 percent necessary, though it doesn’t always make for compelling viewing. It’s a process that at times consists of missed passes and blown assignments.Yet on Sunday, the U.S. managed to not only begin the Berhalter era on a winning note, defeating Panama, 3-0, but it also had some bright moments. There were strong performances over much of the field, but of note were a trio of players making their international debuts. Djordje Mihailovic looked bright in a free attacking role, and scoring the first of the evening. Corey Bairddelivered the assist on Mihailovic’s goal, and was a consistent threat on the right wing. Defender Nick Lima was sharp throughout on both sides of the ball.The role of Lima was the most interesting. His defensive duties were that of a standard right back. But when the U.S. transitioned into attack he played as an auxiliary midfielder, moving up and tucking inside to provide support to Michael Bradley. Lima’s position allowed him to pounce on loose balls, and keep plenty of plays alive. It also allowed him to play-make a bit. It was Lima’s pass that found Zardes in the 40th minute, and while the forward appeared to be bowled over by a Panama defender, the ball fell to Baird whose perfectly timed pass allowed Mihailovic to fire home with the help of a deflection. Lima then topped off his night with a stellar sequence, winning the ball to stifle a possible Panamanian counter, and then delivering a stellar cross for Walker Zimmerman to head home for the home side’s second goal.
When asked to describe his role, Lima laughed and said, “Different,” given how his responsibilities were much broader than those of a typical right back.”There were times when I felt really comfortable with it,” he said. “But there were also times where I’m sliding across, getting into the middle, getting deep. We’re looking to switch point of attack and get out the other way, find our [No.] 10s, find our wingers. It’s different, it takes a lot of learning, getting used to. Clearly I’m not used to it. It’s still new, but it’s a learning process. I think for going out in our first test in a real game, we found some things we definitely need to work on, and things that can work and we can build on going forward.”Lima was one of five players making their international debuts, and he admitted that there was the usual amount of nerves beforehand. But a phone call with San Jose Earthquakes teammate Chris Wondolowski helped him focus.”[Wondolowski] said, ‘When you hear that national anthem for the first time, think of all the hard work, the trainings, everything that got you here, then soak it in, and just do you,'” Lima said. “Hearing that from a guy whose done it at the highest level, multiple times, it gave me a sense of calm. And I think that’s what I’ve been trying to here, just be myself. I’m not going to make it being someone I’m not. If I want to be here, I’ll play the best as being Nick Lima.”Lima was by no means alone in acquitting himself well on his debut. Mihailovic, who is just 15 months removed from a torn ACL in his right knee, has dazzled the coaching staff in training camp, and excelled in a formation in which both he and Cristian Roldan — who also sharp on the night — acted as dual attacking midfielders.”I think it was a [testament] to all my hard work,” said Mihailovic about this goal. “And I think Gregg and [GM Earnie Stewart’s] belief in me helped get to where I am now.”
It’s worth noting that the U.S. was up against a Panama side that was even more inexperienced than the home side. The combined number of caps on the Canaleros‘ roster amounted to just 81. Only two players from the roster that competed in last summer’s World Cup played on Sunday, that being defender Fidel Escobar and forward Abdiel Arroyo.But the U.S. had to start somewhere, and it delivered the kind of performance one might have expected from a Berhalter-coached group. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the U.S. dominated possession to the tune of 64.8 percent to 35.2 percent. The midfield, with Bradley looking composed in a holding role, was in control for the vast majority of the match. The home side created most of the chances, though it needed a superb save from Zack Steffen in the 56th minute to preserve the U.S. lead. Along the way, the U.S. threw out some tactical wrinkles — Lima’s role in particular that reveal Berhalter is putting his stamp on things in a way that is different from his time in Columbus.In the big picture, what does the result mean? The reality is not much. Lima isn’t going to supplant, say, a DeAndre Yedlin when the full squad gets together. Nor is Mihailovic going to take Christian Pulisic’s place anytime soon. But building a foundation isn’t just about tactics, or the culture around the team. It’s about establishing some depth, and creating a level of understanding in Berhalter’s methods. When those players might emerge — or be needed — to take on bigger roles is difficult to predict. Some will never get there. All the more reason to provide opportunities now. And for some of those on the field, Sunday’s match was the first of what will could be many more steps forward.
Berhalter’s Just One of USMNT’s Successful Debuts in Manager’s Opening Act
By AVI CREDITOR January 27, 2019 SI
Gregg Berhalter enjoyed a successful debut as manager, with the U.S. men’s national team handling Panama 3-0 with relative ease in their friendly Sunday night, officially kicking off a new era that has been over a year in the making.Djordje Mihailovic scored in the 40th minute, while Walker Zimmerman (80th) and Christian Ramirez (89th) put it away late in a match that just over 9,000 saw live at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Some of that atrocious attendance figure in a cavernous NFL stadium likely has to do with it being a January friendly, which isn’t typically played with any true stakes. There’s still surely a large segment of the U.S. soccer-watching population turned off by the events of the last couple of years, and that group is not going to be eager to shell out money to watch a friendly that doesn’t feature all of the program’s top options. The match also happened to fall on the same night in the Phoenix area as the WWE’s Royal Rumble, for whatever that’s worth.But winning is the greatest elixir for a fan base desperate for direction, success and a team it’s proud to watch, and so far it’s one win in one match for Berhalter as new leader of the USMNT. Here are three thoughts on the game:
A DAY OF SOLID DEBUTS
Berhalter’s debut as manager was the most notable introduction of the night, of course, but he gave five U.S. players their international debuts from the start and two more off the bench. Of the newbies, Nick Lima was fantastic as a versatile right back and assisted on the USA’s second goal, while Mihailovic opened the scoring five minutes before halftime–on an assist from another debuting player, Real Salt Lake’s Corey Baird. Jonathan Lewis and Ramirez combined for the USA’s third, with the NYCFC winger torching his defender before crossing for the LAFC striker, who tapped home from six yards out five minutes after making his long-awaited international debut.”It’s just nice,” Berhalter said after the game of all the successful player debuts. “It’s nice to put in the work over an extended period of time and get a reward like that.”The two that were most eye-opening were Mihailovic and Lima. Mihailovic, a 20-year-old Chicago Fire midfielder who tore his ACL in October 2017, was seen as a bit of a surprise call-up, but Berhalter was effusive in his praise of Mihailovic’s performance in camp, and he rewarded him with a start as one of two attacking, central midfielders (Cristian Roldan, who was also excellent on the night, being the other). “He’s been one of the players that his line has just been going upwards,” Berhalter said. “If you look at some of the small things he does, you can tell how intelligent of a soccer player he is.”Lima was dynamite in a role that required a lot of energy, focus and attention to detail, and you get the sense that he’ll get another chance to play it under Berhalter’s watch. His tackle, recovery and assist to Zimmerman was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Rooney’s highlight reel tackle-to-assist play in MLS last season (albeit without the lengthy tracking back element), and he also had a vital role in setting up the opener. He completed 32 of 39 passes (82%), was positionally sound in defense and transitioned well into the attack when called upon. The 24-year-old San Jose Earthquakes star was a clear winner on the night and takes that momentum into his home stadium for next weekend’s friendly vs. Costa Rica.
PLAYING WITH A PURPOSE
Berhalter has spoken since he took over about establishing a culture and a style of play that permeates throughout the program. The seeds of that were very clearly planted over the last few weeks in California and started to sprout vs. Panama.The U.S. enjoyed two-thirds of the possession, passed at an 87% clip and nearly doubled Panama in total passes (601-314). There was a very clear intent to press high and to press after losing possession, and it translated into a largely dominant match. There were two, maybe three pockets of time in which Panama seemed comfortable, one being in the opening minutes before any semblance of control was able to be taken, and the U.S. otherwise enjoyed a rare night on the front foot. This all comes with the massive caveat of it being a January friendly against a highly experimental Panama squad. Nobody is going to extrapolate the result from this match and conclude with the USA lifting a trophy in Qatar. But the early signs are promising.In terms of tactics, Berhalter’s squad transitioned back and forth between a 4-3-3 and a 3-2-2-3, with Lima pushing into central midfield next to Bradley when the U.S. was on the attack. Not all of the decisions were perfect, and not all of the execution was pinpoint, but that’s unrealistic considering it’s a squad of players in the midst of their club preseasons and trying to adapt to a new manager and style. The overall takeaway, though, was a match that presented some very legitimate building blocks. “What we’re trying to do is put players in positions that play to their strengths,” Berhalter said in his post-match remarks.It’s amazing how how often that statement went unheeded during the previous regime, and it’s not all that surprising that it can be an uplifting element for the players.
THERE’S NO CAPTAIN CONTROVERSY
The meaning and matchday influence of the captain’s armband is debatable. Sometimes, it’s a nominal honor. Other times it’s symbolic or used as a tribute. Other times it’s a true reflection of the leader of the unit. Being officially dubbed captain by the manager for the long haul is ultimately the biggest statement that can be made, but in terms of it being a game-to-game call while the new national team comes together, there’s not a ton that should be read into it.So in a vacuum, Aaron Long wearing the captain’s armband for a January camp friendly vs. a Panama B team isn’t that huge of a deal when it comes to the national team power structure (from a personal standpoint for Long, however, it’s another notch on his belt on his rise from afterthought to quality defender). But him doing so on a night when Michael Bradley, the former captain, was also in the starting lineup was cause to raise more than one eyebrow.If anything, it’s a sign from Berhalter that past status means little. He left his former captain in Columbus, Wil Trapp, on the bench until the 84th minute, for instance. As it relates to the big picture, Long donning the armband instead of Bradley is not going to be a takeaway that resonates throughout the national team for months to come, nor was it anything more than a footnote on the night, but it is another reminder that Berhalter is out to truly start from scratch by doing things his way. Berhalter, in his comments after the match, said that he discussed the decision with Bradley and didn’t “look at it as a knock against anyone else” who did not wear the armband. Instead, he saw it as a reward for the competitiveness he witnessed from Long throughout camp.Oh, and as for Bradley, he was pretty strong in his 83 minutes on the night, even without an extra piece of cloth around his bicep. He was 72 for 75 passing (96%), played in a pair of incisive balls to Roldan that put the U.S. in scoring positions and looked quite comfortable doing what Berhalter asked of him.
Envisioning USMNT’s European-Based Players in Gregg Berhalter’s System
By AVI CREDITOR January 28, 2019 SI
Gregg Berhalter lifted the lid on his plans for the U.S. men’s national team Sunday night during his debut as manager. He displayed a true tactical plan and a foundation for what to expect from the USMNT going forward. Naturally, the plan will shift based on opponent and circumstance, but the basic tenets figure to remain the same.Berhalter hasn’t been coy about his approach. He’s spoken repeatedly about trying to disorganize the opponent and press to win the ball back when it’s lost while also playing through and behind the opposition’s lines, none of which makes for particularly revolutionary steps that a team should take. But just how he planned for his team to do that came to light in a 3-0 win vs. Panama, an overmatched, experimental opponent that won’t go down as one of the tougher foes the U.S. faces during this World Cup cycle.The U.S. carried out Berhalter’s plan, operating in a 4-3-3 when trying to win possession and shifting shape into more of a 3-2-2-3 when on the attack to push numbers forward and overload the attacking zones. The result was a match in which the U.S. dominated possession and carved out a good number of quality chances. Not everything was carried out with precision, but the bright spots were clear.”It was a good baseline,” Berhalter said following the match. “It gave us enough content to work with. Some of the movements we’re working with on the wings are very complicated movements. It involves three players interchanging and still with the intention to disorganize the defense and get behind their lines. At some times we were a bit tentative with that and then there were other times where it came off and it was really nice. … The wing combinations I liked. We’re playing with two 10s to purposely find them between lines. I think that’s very important, and we did that very effectively at times.” Watching the likes of Djordje Mihailovic, Nick Lima, Corey Baird, Jeremy Ebobisse and other lesser-experienced and heralded players carry out Berhalter’s vision was one thing, but while viewing the match you couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like with the players expected to feature more regularly in competitive matches going forward.”We had that in mind also when we’re envisioning the structure of the team,” Berhalter said. “We’re projecting some guys in what positions they can play and how we’re going to teach them, how we’re going to train them, what the sessions need to be. Right now the focus is working on this group of players.”Berhalter will have just one brief camp and two matches before the pre-Gold Cup friendlies hit to integrate the European-based players into his system and feel good enough about things to trot them out into a tournament environment. So just how might the likes of Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, DeAndre Yedlin, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams fit into how the U.S. played Sunday? Let’s take a look:
Sargent in the Zardes role
Josh Sargent continues to get minutes for Werder Bremen, and it’s not hard to envision him in the striker’s place atop the formation. Zardes did well in holding up the ball and linking up with others in the attack, and he likely should have had assists in consecutive sequences after his lay-off passes for Baird and Lima resulted in quality chances that went wide. Even though Zardes was wasteful with his own chances on goal, Berhalter praised the forward’s process and seemed happy with the end result.”For forwards, you’re not always going to hit the back of the net, but his work rate was excellent,” Berhalter said. “He got in enough spots to score a goal. That’s what we’re looking at, because I know with Gyasi it’s eventually going to go in.”Given Sargent’s savvy, finishing proficiency, ability to hold up the ball and pick out the right pass, you’d expect him to have a direct line to that starting role, and it’s one he can seize with a strong March camp–presuming he’s healthy and called in, of course.
Weah in the Ebobisse role
While Ebobisse works hard and did deliver a nice ball for the USA’s first chance of the night, he’s not naturally a winger. Enter Weah, who, despite playing in more of a No. 9 role on his loan with Celtic thus far, has the speed and dribbling ability to take defenders on and act as more of a threat from that spot on either side of the field. Berhalter will demand a strong pressing and defensive work ethic and an understanding of the intricate combinations he wants to see, and that will all have to be learned. But from a pure fit on the wing, Weah has the goods to deliver there.
Pulisic and McKennie in the Mihailovic-Roldan roles
Mihailovic was largely fantastic on his debut and earned extreme praise from Berhalter for his work in camp. It looks like he’ll be given more opportunities beyond this camp, but if the U.S. is going to put its best potential No. 10 on the field, then Pulisic will be the one stepping into that role. Mihailovic had a wonderful game and excelled alongside Cristian Roldan. Both enjoyed freedom going forward and testing the defense, and plugging the likes of Pulisic and McKennie–who have a strong friendship and a baseline for midfield chemistry–into those spots should give U.S. fans cause for excitement. McKennie can play a more forward-pushing role and has for Schalke, and hearing Berhalter describe what he saw from Roldan, it’s not crazy to think the same of McKennie. “Cristian Roldan we think is technical but also really good in transition, so he’s in a spot now where when we lose the ball he can press right away. … What we’re trying to do is put players in position that plays to their strengths.”
Adams in the Bradley or Lima role
Adams started and went the distance for RB Leipzig in a right-sided midfield role over the weekend, and he’s one of the more versatile midfielders in the U.S. pool. Picturing him directing traffic in the midfield, looking for the occasional incisive pass and remaining a shield for the back line isn’t unreasonable at all, and if Bradley were to make way from the starting lineup, it would figure to be Adams or fellow Germany-based midfielder McKennie stepping into that spot. That’s no given, as Berhalter held high praise for Bradley’s performance.”He’s a very smart soccer player. You don’t get 143 caps unless you have real quality, and I think that’s what’s undervalued in him,” Berhalter said, “Getting to work with him up close and see training and see his game intelligence and technical ability, it’s impressive.”So if Bradley remains in a defensive, facilitating midfield role, then where would that leave Adams, who surely has a big role to play going forward? On ESPN2’s broadcast, Taylor Twellman speculated about Adams in the right back role, especially considering it’s one that gives freedom for the player to push forward and help out in the center of the field. Adams certainly has the engine, intelligence and field-awareness to carry out such an important role, and the more looks he’s exposed to in Germany, the further along his education will be in case he’s called upon to feature for the national team in a way he really hasn’t before.”It’s not easy to ask your right back to get the ball with his back to goal at times, it’s not easy to ask him to pivot in midfield and create space for other people,” Berhalter said, upon delivering his praise for Lima’s play and describing the duties of a right back in his system.As for Yedlin, is he capable of fulfilling the duties required of a Berhalter right back? You’d expect him to be given the opportunity to at least prove he can be, even after his subpar play in his most recent caps under Dave Sarachan. Given how well Yedlin gets forward and with the attacking qualities he possesses, though, it wouldn’t be too out of the realm of possibility to see him in more of an attack-minded role along the lines of the one Baird played vs. Panama.
Veteran Michael Bradley, youngster Nick Lima earn top marks as U.S. start 2019 with a victory
Jan 27, 2019 Jason DavisU.S. soccer writer
With an young, experimental team at his disposal, new United States head coach Gregg Berhalter started off his tenure with an encouraging 3-0 victory over Panama at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
It was nearly all positive for Berhalter and his charges. Five Americans made their national team debuts, the most in a USMNT game since 1992. Despite inexperience throughout the squad, the team executed Berhalter’s plan and leveraged their possession advantage to a 3-0 win. Improvement over the course of the game is encouraging for a future that will feature some of the players on the field in Arizona.
Only the lack of quality from Panama could be tapped as a negative in the U.S. win. The Canaleros showed little attacking teeth and were complicit in turning the ball over to the Americans all evening. The visitor’s lack of aggression just makes properly analyzing the win more difficult.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — The night was a near perfect debut for Berhalter, considering the circumstances. His team won going away after being dominant for 90 minutes. His players executed his system and grew into the game. With the low stakes and young squad, he was able to get seven players their first caps and the full complement of 17 players possible on the field.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Zack Steffen, 7 — Not asked to do much, but was required to make one excellent save in the second half with the United States holding onto a 1-0 lead.
DF Daniel Lovitz, 5 — Looked nervous at the outset but settled into the game. Misplaced a handful of passes out of the back but provided a strong tackle with the Americans seeing out the game in the final 10 minutes.
DF Walker Zimmerman, 7 — Rarely tested on the defensive end, Zimmerman distributed the ball well, stepping up to help exploit passing lanes. Scored a towering header to put the match away.
DF Aaron Long, 7 — Exceedingly quiet night for the side’s captain. Misplaced a few long passes but was otherwise competent playing out of the back. Chalked up five recoveries.
DF Nick Lima, 8 — Thrived in the unique right-back/midfield dual role and provided the cross for Zimmerman’s goal. Popped up near the box on occasion, flexing from his defensive role. Played an excellent pass to aid in the buildup for the opener.
MF Djordje Mihailovic, 7 — Smooth on the ball and understood the role in Berhalter’s system. Provided the finish that put the Americans out in front. Excellent debut for the 20-year-old.
MF Michael Bradley, 8 — Played a vintage game, misplacing just three passes all night from a deep-lying role in midfield. Showed a tactical understanding and work rate that centered the U.S. across 84 minutes.
MF Cristian Roldan, 7 — Played smart soccer in a 90-minute shift. Used the space available to good effect and played creator in Berhalter’s setup. Missed a few passes that might have led to chances.
FW Corey Baird, 6 — Direct and dangerous on the right side in a system that demands a lot from wing players. Provided the pass that set up Mihailovic for the American’s opening goal.
FW Jeremy Ebobisse, 5 — Most effective on the defensive side of the ball, tracking back to help recover possession. His impact waned after a clash of heads midway through the first half.
FW Gyasi Zardes, 6 — Good with his hold-up play, but missed three good chances to score. Active and willing to track back defensively.
MF Jonathan Lewis, N/R — Nearly created a goal on his debut, then set up Ramirez for the final tally of the night for the Americans. Dynamic, athletic, dangerous.
GK Sean Johnson, N/R — Made a save immediately upon entry. Struggled in terms of playing the ball out of the back under pressure after coming in cold.
MF Paul Arriola, N/R — Found space effectively after coming on a substitute. Needed to be more aggressive in one-on-one situations.
FW Christian Ramirez, N/R — Scored on his USMNT debut, unmarked 5 yards from goal.
MF Wil Trapp, N/R — Connected on a handful of passes, missing just one in a late cameo.
USMNT Player Ratings: Lima, Zimmerman, Bradley lead the way in 2019 opener
January 27, 201911:56PM ESTGreg Seltzer MLS.com Contributor
The US national team‘s Gregg Berhalter era got off to a promising start as his green first selection calmly ruled play on its way to a 3-0 friendly victory over Panama on Sunday night.As a periodic reminder, all marks are handed out on a scale with “6” as the average grade. The ratings are also relative to time spent on the field, meaning that a “7” earned over the full shift is more impressive than one earned for a 15-minute appearance.
Zack Steffen (7) – The US netminder could have kicked back with his feet up for most of the game, but came up with a dandy save when pressed into urgent duty 10 minutes after halftime. Steffen also played out of the back well on the few occasions when Panama pressed high.
Nick Lima (8) – It was a standout showing for the San Jose right back, who essentially worked two positions in this one. Lima helped the Nats crowd central park and quickly pushed the ball into attack any time Panama turned it over in midfield. He also found his way back into defense when necessary, but his best takeaway of the night occurred in the away end. Not satisfied with a terrific tackle to stop a potentially dangerous counter in its tracks, he quickly followed that swipe by delivering a pinpoint cross for the first insurance tally.
Walker Zimmerman (7.5) – Though his passing out of the back occasionally left something to be desired, the LAFC man was the busier and more forbidding of the two US center backs. Of course, Zimmerman capped the performance by burying a late header to double the US lead.
Aaron Long (5.5) – Despite having little to do, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year was a tad sloppy on the night, both in passing the ball and defending against it.
Daniel Lovitz (7) – The debutant left back also had a couple of shaky moments at the back, but still did much more to help his team than he did to trouble it. Lovitz contributed a few timely stops in his own end and some positive ball movement (including a nice early cross that deserved a better finish) across midfield.
Michael Bradley (7.5) – A considerable portion of the USMNT fandom probably could be heard shrieking over the bald eagle’s inclusion from the moon, but they were in for a pleasantly rude awakening as the veteran barely put a foot wrong. When Bradley wasn’t controlling tempo or passing through lines, he was rushing into the face of Panama dribblers to stem counter advances.
Cristian Roldan (7.5) – He didn’t end up on the score sheet, but make no mistake, Roldan’s late runs into attack constantly unnerved the Panama defense. All night long, he was reliably available to force turnovers and help the US set up in the final third.
Djordje Mihailovic (7.5) – Forget for a moment that the kid’s deflected drive found the net to open the scoring, and while you’re at it, forget that he serves mighty tempting corner kicks. The real beauty of Mihailovic’s debut outing was that he repeatedly found the right soft spot to show for the ball before sending the team forward. Not everything he tried in attack came off, but the Chicago Fire playmaker put on a composed display bereft of shyness.
Corey Baird (7) – Direct to a fault, the Real Salt Lake attacker put Panama under duress even when his final-third forays didn’t pan out. After narrowly missing the net with his own shot from the top of the box, Baird just kept coming until he was able to tee one up for Mihailovic’s opener.
Jeremy Ebobisse (6.5) – One fine cross notwithstanding, Ebobisse was the least clinical US starter in Panama’s half. Still, the Portland youngster did help soften up the Panama defense by routinely getting loose down the left.
Gyasi Zardes (7) – The Columbus striker pitched in with plenty of blue-collar No. 9 work. Zardes had probably his best hold-up game in a US shirt and fed the flank well. About the only thing he failed to do was put away a couple of excellent header chances.
Coach Gregg Berhalter (7.5) – The best thing one can say about the boss’ first match was that a group still making introductions all over the field truly looked like a team out there. Berhalter’s boys were always on the same page, even with a rather unique wrinkle that left the right back spot empty for much of the contest.
Sebastian Lletget (6.5) – The LA Galaxy midfielder was able to keep the home side pushing forward during his 28 minutes of work.
Jonathan Lewis (7) – The NYCFC winger capped his 24-minute debut with an explosive move past a defender to cross for the US third.
Sean Johnson (6) – The substitute ‘keeper made a comfy lone save in his 16 minutes of action. Johnson also had one nervy distribution episode and one splendid long boot, so we’ll call it even.
Paul Arriola (6.5) – Entering with the USMNT only up one, Arriola did his sturdy best to keep the ball down in Panama’s corner.
Christian Ramirez (7) – It would have been a mere cameo had Ramirez not bagged the US capper to go with a few positive link touches.
Wil Trapp (6.5) – The Crew SC skipper only worked six minutes, yet managed to cram in a few nice lead passes.
Boehm: A man, a plan, a process – Berhalter gives us all a USMNT “baseline”
January 28, 201912:57AM ES Charles BoehmContributor
It’s been a strange few years for the US men’s national team, to put it mildly, and that’s left Gregg Berhalter with almost nowhere to go but up as he opens his tenure as head coach.With all that in mind, Sunday’s win over Panama was undoubtedly a good first step, however modest, and in a forward direction. And if that sounds like damning the USMNT with faint praise, hark the new boss himself: “When I addressed the group after the game, I said it was a good baseline,” said Berhalter postgame. “It gave us enough content to work with.”This was a January-camp friendly, and all the usual disclaimers apply. But the 3-0 win in suburban Phoenix served up enough promise and intrigue to give even the most skeptical and hard-boiled among the fanbase some things to think about. And that little tidbit from the coach – consciously or not, he tossed the press pack a few tasty breadcrumbs to chew on in his press conference – should not be overlooked too quickly: “It gave us enough content to work with.”Berhalter is a system guy, and a process guy, and a friend to quants and performance analysts and similar types of data-crunchers, and he’s already carved out some striking signposts for this latest project.I’ll leave it to the illustrious Matthew Doyle to Armchair Analyze Berhalter’s tactical outlook in full – check for that on this site tomorrow. But safe to say that the USMNT tried out some unconventional looks in this one, considering that this group is well short of what would generally be considered a “full-strength” squad and has only had a couple of weeks together.This was, on paper, a straight 4-3-3 XI. On grass it was that and several other things entirely, usually defending in the traditional two banks of four but morphing into a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 look in possession. Berhalter said he envisioned “two 10s,” with Chicago Fire young’un Djordje Mihailovicsharing the creative duties alongside Seattle linchpin Cristian Roldan (who’s usually a No. 8 for the Sounders and duly brought a workmanlike edge to Sunday’s assignment).Nick Lima – a fullback and nothing else during his professional career to date – often pinching into the middle to do some pretty unexpected stuff in addition to flashing his usual skillset, all of which led up to his shining moment in the leadup to Walker Zimmerman’s goal to make it 2-0:“Some of the movements we’re working with is on the wings, and very complicated movements, it involves three players interchanging and still with the intention to disorganize the defense and get behind their lines,” explained Berhalter, who was refreshingly open and expressive in his remarks to the media. “You could see that sometimes we were a bit tentative with that, and then there were other times where it came off and it was really nice. So I think there were elements.”Look, this is just not the sort of USMNT conversation we’re usually having at this time of year. We’ve witnessed some truly dreary matches during January camps past, many with little flair, inspiration or execution in attack even with top front-line talent available to the coaches. These dour outings are invariably written off as par for the course, with players in the midst of their offseason thrown together with limited time to gel.Sunday was different. When players like Lima and Mihailovic and Jonathan Lewis (and even Michael Bradley, the scapegoat of 2017 who suddenly looks like a first-class deep-lying midfielder again just 90 minutes into this new era) catch the eye in new ways like this, something is up. Berhalter’s clearly got plans, and his players performed as if they’ve been pretty well inculcated in them already. If they show signs of another week’s worth of understanding and repetition in Saturday’s duel with Costa Rica out in Northern California, then US supporters will finally have reason to smile a bit as 2019 begins to unfold in earnest.
Armchair Analyst: An initial look at Berhalter’s unusual tactical system
January 28, 201911:06AM ESTMatthew DoyleSenior Writer see the everything with the videos included click thru here: https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2019/01/28/armchair-analyst-initial-look-berhalters-unusual-tactical-system To
The US men’s national team played their first game under new head coach Gregg Berhalter on Sunday night, and they won convincingly. They didn’t exactly blow a young Panama team off the field, but they got on the ball early, stayed on it often, and used it throughout to both set the tempo of the game and dictate where it would be played.In Berhalter’s words, the game provided “a good baseline,” and “enough content to work with” going forward. My colleague Charlie Boehm wrote a bunch about that after the game. It was Step 1 in taking a collection of mostly young, mostly unproven talent and weaving their collective skillsets together into a coherent whole. Nothing about what we saw was or is a finished product.But still, let’s tease apart what we did see:
1. A Visit to the Church of Pep
EPL junkies caught onto this wrinkle almost immediately. There are many, many many professional coaches who don’t like to talk about formations because they feel like it’s too simplistic and too ripe for misinterpretation. There are many, many many fans who mistake “formations” for “tactics.” The two work in tandem, but are not the same thing.What coaches – especially those with a tactical bent, like Berhalter – really like to talk about are shape and function. And the shape of the US on Sunday was a 4-4-2 defensively that morphed into kind of a 3-3-4, or maybe a 3-2-4-1 when they had the ball.This is unusual in the world of soccer, but is not unique. Here is the US on Sunday night:
Credit to @finalthird for these screenshots and the observation. Go give him a follow.As he pointed out and as I’ll emphasize here: There is a difference between doing this against Panama’s B team and doing it against Liverpool, and taking one part of Man City’s structure does not mean that the US played like Man City in terms of either quality or every aspect of their tactical approach. But a big foundational piece is very, very similar, and that’s useful if we’re going to really understand what Berhalter’s trying to build.Anyway, it’s fair to assume that Berhalter’s pulling his influences from more than just what he saw in MLS, and more than what he learned while playing in the Netherlands and Germany back in the day. By all accounts he has a voracious appetite for film and was never shy about experimenting with top-end stuff when coaching the Columbus Crew. Yes, those teams primarily played a specific way out of a specific formation (4-2-3-1), but there were some 3-6-1s and some 3-4-3s and some 5-4-1s thrown in at times. And they were thrown in with purpose. As was Sunday’s tactical wrinkle.
2. Balance, but not Symmetry
Functionally speaking, the idea is to get on the ball a lot, and to do so in dangerous positions without compromising defensive shape. That largely worked – the US had 66 percent possession and generated 17 shots. After a tentative start (they had only two shots in the first 20 minutes), the US found their feet and started to dominate.How they did that is what was interesting, and it goes back to the above observations re: Man City. We all know what a “modern, attacking fullback” is supposed to be, functionally speaking. It’s basically “get down the line, provide width and penetration, maybe a little bit of service and combo play, and try to draw defenders away from the actual attackers.”That was not right back Nick Lima‘s function. Instead of overlapping, Lima would tuck inside next to defensive midfielder Michael Bradley, providing numbers and a little bit of forward thrust in central midfield. To wit:That’s Lima busting up the gut, looking off the defenders and making the play that led to the game’s opening goal.Notice that neither Bradley nor the three other defenders (Daniel Lovitz, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman) are going anywhere. Notice that Cristian Roldan – who won the ball at the start of the play – has a free midfield central midfield role that functioned more defensively, while Djordje Mihailovic nominally had the same midfield role, but functioned more as a pure attacker. Notice that Corey Baird, the right winger, is getting chalk on his boots, while Jeremy Ebobisse, the left winger, spent much of his time on the field tucked in much tighter.This is a shape the US have never used before, and it creates interesting potential for combination play. It specifically asked a lot of Lima, who certainly never had anything close to that function while playing for the San Jose Earthquakes.”It was because of the complication of what we asked him to do and how he dealt with it,” Berhalter said of calling Lima the Coach’s Man of the Match. “It’s not easy to ask your right back to get the ball with his back to goal or to ask him to create space in the midfield, but he did a good job of it.”The only other team I can think of that does something similar is Man City, who often uses Delph as a LB in the 442 when defending and then a center mid when they are in possession.He really did. Panama didn’t really generate much going down the US right-hand side, and that’s at least one useful data point to suggest something worked. The US also always had numbers around the ball in central midfield, which is a pleasant change – remember how badly Trinidad & Tobago overran the US midfield when Bradley was left to play 1-v-4 in that spot? Yeah. Not gonna see the numbers game get lost there too often anymore.
3. Break Lines via the Pass
If there was one area in which the US struggled – particularly for the first 25 minutes – it was with the timing and daring of their passing. Basically only Bradley and Zimmerman were hitting third-line passes that split defenders and advanced the ball into meaningful spots.This isn’t necessarily because the US don’t have good passers of the ball, but because it takes more than just one person to complete a pass. Not only do you need the guy receiving the ball to check into space between the lines at the right time, you need a teammate to run into space behind the backline at the right time. This game at the highest level is, to a good degree, choreographed.“Some of the movements we’re working with is on the wings, and very complicated movements, it involves three players interchanging and still with the intention to disorganize the defense and get behind their lines,” Berhalter explained. “You could see that sometimes we were a bit tentative with that, and then there were other times where it came off and it was really nice. So I think there were elements.”More than anything else, I’m really excited to see how this aspect of Berhalter’s USMNT grows from game-to-game, camp-to-camp.
4. Get Players into their Comfort Zones
Seventeen players got on the field for the US, and only one – Ebobisse, who’s a center forward that was miscast as a left winger – was played out of position. Something as simple as that can make a world of difference in terms of both individual performance (remember when Wil Trapp got his USMNT debut as a left wingback in a 3-5-2?) and overall team performance. It also makes data points more meaningful when trying to spin forward and figure out what the team can or should look like when the games count.Two subs took particular advantage of this: Sebastian Lletget, who came on at attacking midfield for Mihailovic, and Jonathan Lewis, who came on at left wing for Ebobisse. Both guys added an element of on-the-ball verve that had been missing from the starters, and none of the original attacking quartet are effective dribblers.Lletget and Lewis are. Moments after coming on, Lletget dribbled two Panamanian defenders and set up a good chance for Gyasi Zardes. Lewis, meanwhile, did this:
That’s not exactly Lionel Messi-type stuff, but it’s also not exactly what US fans have seen from US wingers – aside from Christian Pulisic – much at all.Part of being in a comfort zone is understanding “hey, when I have a defender out in isolation, I can go at him.” Lewis was put in a position to leave his mark on the game, and he did so.Almost everyone else can say the same, to one degree or another.
A few more things to ponder…
- There were fewer big switches from the defensive midfielder to the flanks than we were used to seeing of Berhalter’s Crew teams. This is probably because of the shape change – with Lovitz not pushing high early in the play, and with Lima tucking in, the US were more about using width in the attacking third rather than in the midfield.
- Mihailovic is reallysmart off the ball, but still struggles to complete the game-breaking passes I’d expect of a No. 10.
- Zimmerman got over-aggressive once with his distribution and put the US in a bad spot. But man, his growth in that aspect of the game has been massive over the past three years. He was a legitimate weapon.
- Just for the record: This is the biggest US win in a January camp game since a 5-0 win over Norway back in 2006. It’s only the third time they’ve won by multiple goals this decade, out of 14 games.
- Here’s a question: If the US keep this system, where do Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah and Josh Sargent all play? I have some theories on that myself – as does Taylor Twellman, who talked about Adams specifically on the broadcast – but am interested in seeing what you all come up with.Have a shout in the comments below. I’ll peek in from time to time.
U.S. beats Panama as Gregg Berhalter wins debut match as manager
Jan 27, 2019
The U.S. men’s national team’s Gregg Berhalte era began with a 3-0 defeat of Panama in a friendly on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.Berhalter, the former coach of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, was named to the U.S. position on Dec. 4. He replaced interim coach Dave Sarachan, who took over in November 2017 after Jurgen Klinsmann ad Bruce Arena failed to qualify the U.S. for the 2018 World Cup.Midfielder Djordje Mihailovic (40th minute) and forward Christian Ramirez(89th) became the 52nd and 53rd U.S. players to score in their debuts.Also, defender Walker Zimmerman scored his second goal in five matches in the 80th minute, with a header from 8 yards off a cross by defender Nick Lima, another debutant.Berhalter, a former U.S. defender, is tasked with revitalizing the program. Others to play their first U.S. matches were defender Daniel Lovitz and midfielders Corey Baird and Jeremy Ebobisse.Before the breakthrough goal by Mihailovic, the Americans had a flurry of near-goals.Gyasi Zardes, who had his career resurrected in Columbus last season by Berhalter, had layoffs that Corey Baird in the 25th minute and Lima in the 27th sent wide of the right post.A minute later, Baird had a flick from Aaron Long, in his first match as captain, go over the goal.Zardes was involved in the first goal, putting a pass to Baird on the right flank. Baird’s service to Mihailovic was slotted from 15 yards.Zack Steffen, the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for the Crew, made a left-handed stop of Edson Samms in the 56th minute.
Steffen made three saves before being relieved by Sean Johnson (one save) in the 74th minute.
The U.S. next plays Costa Rica on Saturday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
Aaron Long’s rapid ascension continues with USMNT captaincy Sunday
January 28, 201912:14PM ESTTom BogertContributor
By now, most are aware of Aaron Long‘s incredible journey. But that doesn’t make it any less remarkable. Selected in the second round of the 2014 SuperDraft by the Portland Timbers, Long didn’t make his MLS debut until 2017 with the New York Red Bulls, his third MLS club after making appearances for four USL teams. In that year, he immediately became an integral member of the Red Bulls back line before taking another jump last season by being named 2018 MLS Defender of the Year.The calendar has flipped once more, but Long’s ascension has yet to lose steam. The 26-year-old was given the captain’s armband for the US men’s national team in a 3-0 win over Panama Sunday, in what was just his third cap. “I tried not to think about it too much, but it’s really an honor,” Long admitted after the match.Interestingly, in his debut as UsMNT coach Gregg Berhalter opted to entrust Long with the honor rather than stalwart Michael Bradley, who joined Long in the starting XI and had accrued more caps than the rest of the January camp members combined.“I was in a similar situation one time, and no one spoke to me,” Berhalter said of his decision. “I said to Michael, I was very clear to him. I said ‘listen, you look at the roster and you’d be the logical choice for captain, but we’re not going with you, we’re going with Aaron and here’s why we’re going with Aaron.’”Long partnered with Walker Zimmerman at the heart of the defense with Nick Lima to their right and Daniel Lovitz to the left. The fullbacks were making their international debuts, while Long and Zimmerman previously had a combined six caps, though the quartet earned a shutout against a young Panamanian squad. “If you look at it (in terms of appearances) … it’s almost scary in a way,” Long said. “It’s a new back line and I don’t have many caps, but we’ve been together for three weeks. The team is getting closer and really confident with each other. … I felt really confident with the group.”Long and the USMNT close out the January camp on Saturday against Costa Rica (3:30 pm ET | FS1, UniMás, UDN) from Avaya Stadium.
Michael Bradley: ‘No disappointment whatsoever’ with Berhalter’s U.S. captaincy snub
28, 2019Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Michael Bradley insisted there was “no disappointment whatsoever” at not being named captain for United States’ 3-0 win over Panama on Sunday.Bradley earned his 143rd cap in the match, giving him more international appearances than the rest of the gameday roster combined. But Gregg Berhalter, making his debut as U.S. manager, opted to give the captain’s armband to defender Aaron Long instead, a player who earned just his third cap.”Whether am the captain, I’m not the captain, I wear the armband, I don’t wear the armband, these things aren’t important,” he said after the match. “It’s about the team, it’s about having a group of guys who understand what it’s like to all be in something together. It’s about having as many guys as possible who are able to look around and pay attention to their teammates, to think outside themselves, to make sure that they’re able to play well and take care of their own performance and find the right ways to challenge others. I’ll always do that.”Berhalter said that he made sure to talk to Bradley about the decision.”I was in a similar situation one time [as a player] and no one spoke to me,” Berhalter said. “I said to Michael — I was very clear with him — ‘You would look at this roster and you’d be the logical choice for captain. But we’re not going with you, we’re going with Aaron, and here’s why we’re going with Aaron. I just wanted to communicate that to you.’ I told him that he’ll still be a leader when he’s on the field by his performance. The armband is maybe just authority, but you can lead through your actions, and Michael has certainly done that.”The result represented something of a payoff for the players, who have been in camp since Jan. 7. They were the aggressors for much of the match against an inexperienced Panama side containing just two World Cup players.The U.S. jumped on top in the 40th minute when Djordje Mihailovic — one of five U.S. debutants — fired home from Corey Baird’s cross. Nick Lima’s tackle and pinpoint delivery enabled Walker Zimmerman to head home in the 80th minute. Substitute Christian Ramirez scored on a tap-in eight minutes later after good work on the left wing from another to come off the bench, Jonathan Lewis.Berhalter was quick to point out that Sunday’s match was just a beginning, and that there was plenty of room for improvement.”When I addressed the group after the game, I said it was a good baseline,” he said. “It gave us enough content to work with. Some of the movements we were working with on the wings are very complicated movements, it involves three players interchanging, and still with the intention of disorganizing their defense and getting behind the lines. You could see it. Sometimes we were a bit tentative with that, and there were other times when it came off and it was really nice.”
Why has the USMNT struggled? Start with how it selects players
Breaking down the demographics of the USMNT can help explain how it failed, and how it might piece itself back together for a new era.
By Alicia Rodriguez Jan 29, 2019, 1:00pm EST Stars and Stripes
With a bright new coach and a promising generation of young players — like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and Josh Sargent — the USMNT may be on the brink of a renaissance. SB Nation takes a look at the players and ideas refueling American soccer.
One of the biggest debates after the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup concerned how the players were selected.The team clearly had a problem with talent identification based on the results, and many felt that certain populations were being neglected or overemphasized by U.S. Soccer scouts and coaches beginning at the youth level. Now that Gregg Berhalter has taken over as the new, foreseeable head coach of the men’s national team, it’s worth looking at the profile of players called up over the years in the program.Why? Because the challenges posed by a large country, with a large population, where soccer remains an emerging sport for the mainstream, makes the United States a unique case in international soccer. The U.S. is estimated to have the third largest population in the world, but soccer isn’t the top sport here. While the infrastructure continues to develop, many of the country’s elite athletes default to sports like football and basketball.As a result, the U.S. can’t simply imitate what countries like England, Germany, Mexico, and Brazil do to produce pros. Other countries can offer lessons, but their effects might be limited.American exceptionalism should also be examined. Does the senior USMNT avoid immigrants? Does the player pool seem skewed one way or another? These questions came to a head in 2018 when American-born teenager Jonathan Gonzalez opted to represent Mexico after reportedly not being contacted at length by the USMNT. While U.S. Soccer may not have definite answers, they can be informed by data.I focused specifically on the period of 2008-18 for the senior men’s national team, a period that featured four head coaches, three World Cup cycles (two “successful” in which the U.S. qualified, one not), and 175 players who appeared in at least one USMNT game. Where do players who reach the pinnacle of the USMNT come from? What are their backgrounds? Where are they produced? My intention is to fill in some of the gaps between what is often said about the player pool, and what is the truth.
A paradigm shift … slowly
In 2008, Major League Soccer (MLS) introduced the homegrown player rule, which incentivized teams to take their academy programs seriously and produce professionals themselves. In 2008, no MLS homegrown players played on the USMNT. By 2018, there had been eight players who had come through MLS academies to sign pro contracts before playing for the USMNT — 4.6 percent of the players on the USMNT in that period, not including an additional handful of homegrown signings who also attended college.In 2008, 68.8 percent of USMNT players had played college soccer. By 2018, the number was down to 39.6 percent.That trend may seem minor, but it illustrates a larger developmental trend. In virtually every other country in the world, the best players turn pro either before or during their college-age years. Many American pros, however, don’t turn pro until they are 22 years old, having spent the previous four or five years pouring a large portion of their time and attention into things other than their future profession. And college soccer, with its short competitive seasons and unlimited substitutions, can’t provide the sheer amount of in-game experience to top players that pro clubs can.
During the 2008-18 period, a full 59 percent of players on the national team played college soccer. But a shift is taking place, stoked in part by MLS academies building out their programs and signing more homegrown players. In 2008, 68.8 percent of USMNT players had played college soccer. By 2018, the number was down to 39.6 percent. In other words, by 2018 the USMNT selected about 20 percent more players who came from youth programs, in the U.S. or abroad, than colleges compared to a decade prior.Perhaps related: More Americans are playing abroad before signing pro contracts. In 2008, only four of the 48 players who played at least one game for the USMNT had come through a youth academy abroad — two in England and two in Mexico. In 2018, 20 of the 53 players who played at least one game for the USMNT had done apprenticeships outside the United States. They had played in 10 different countries, with England (six players) and Germany (five players) leading the way.
The sport of immigrants?
Immigration has played a significant role in American soccer, from immigrants who established ethnic leagues around the country, to ex-pats who coach at all levels, to fans who bring soccer traditions from their homelands.Just as in the current national political moment, immigration has been a flashpoint at various times throughout USMNT history. The national team has fielded naturalized citizens, dual citizens, and refugees. Those who have never left the United States and those who have seldom stepped into the country alike have represented the Stars and Stripes.When Jurgen Klinsmann coached the USMNT, from 2011-2016, he made an effort to recruit German-Americans. That trend did not begin with him, but increased in his tenure. Many of those players were born and raised in Germany and were eligible for the squad through a parent who was an American citizen. German-American recruitment was a reasonable way to expand the American player pool — other countries do it all the time — and players who had been primarily raised through the German soccer system, considered vastly superior to the American process, were expected to strengthen the team.
Klinsmann called up eight players in 2015 (16 percent of call-ups that year) who were either born in Germany, or had at least one German parent. His successor, Bruce Arena, fielded just four (7.2 percent of the cohort) in 2017, his one full year in charge. In 2014, he criticized the selection of dual nationals while talking to USA Today.The sample size isn’t huge, but while Arena didn’t shut out German-American players, he certainly didn’t use them to the same extent as Klinsmann.Players holding immigrant ties of any nationality, Germany and beyond, have been significant to the player pool for the past decade. Defining “immigrant ties” in this context means players who were either born or raised abroad, had at least one immigrant parent, or had access to a foreign passport through family ties (more on that in a moment). Forty-eight percent of players who made appearances for the USMNT between 2008-18 fall under this umbrella.To put that number in perspective, the total number of foreign-born people in the U.S. was roughly 40 million, or 12.9 percent of the total population, according the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010. There were just more than 75 million people under the age of 18 in the United States then, and the census bureau estimated that approximately 25 percent of children in the United States — and 6.1 percent of the total population — had at least one foreign-born parent.The overwhelming proportion of players with immigrant ties are either immigrants themselves, or have at least one parent who is foreign-born. Only five players (5.9 percent of those with immigrant ties) on the USMNT between 2008-18 held a foreign passport through a grandparent. Four of those players — Paul Arriola, Jay DeMerit, Christian Pulisic, and Emerson Hyndman — used those passports to play abroad. Wil Trapp holds a foreign passport through a grandparent, but has yet to play professionally anywhere other than MLS. There does not appear to be a correlation between USMNT players with immigrant ties having played abroad more often before signing their first pro deals. In fact, about 56 percent of USMNT players with immigrant ties played in the U.S. before turning pro. Those numbers help dispel one myth about American players: those with immigrant ties are more likely to play in professional leagues abroad due to more flexible immigration statuses, whether in a particular country or in a multi-state system like the European Union.
Why aren’t there more Asian and Latinx players on the USMNT?
There is one trend in the USMNT player pool that does not line up with population trends.Since immigration regulations were overhauled by the United States government in 1965, immigrants largely come from two regions: Asia and Latin America. Yet of the 84 players with immigrant ties who played for the U.S. between 2008-18, just two (2.3 percent of players with immigrant ties) were from Asian countries, while one (1.2 percent) had Pacific Islander roots. Asians made up roughly 32 percent of the foreign-born population of the United States in 2010, and all people of Asian descent, regardless of place of birth, were 4.8 percent of the total U.S. population.
Latinx players made up just 12.6 percent of the player pool from 2008-18, regardless if they had immigrant ties. For comparison, Latinx people made up 16.3 percent of the U.S. population in 2010.Latin Americans, the largest group of U.S. immigrants since 1965, perhaps should have been expected to make up a significant proportion of USMNT players. Soccer is extremely popular in Latin America. There are players from the region in every league in the world, and rooting interest in club and national teams “back home” remains strong among Latinx people in the United States today. Over the last decade, 27.3 percent of USMNT players with immigrant ties were connected to Latin America.However, as a whole, Latinx players made up just 12.6 percent of the player pool from 2008-18, regardless if they had immigrant ties. For comparison, Latinx people made up 16.3 percent of the U.S. population in 2010 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (Note: the U.S. Census Bureau uses the term “Hispanic or Latino” the same way I’m using “Latinx,” meaning “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”) For a demographic that is growing in the United States and has a healthy culture of soccer throughout its countries of origin, the proportion of Latinx players in the USMNT player pool arguably should have been larger than the national population, not smaller.These figures point to longstanding critiques of the U.S. development system regarding American Latinx players. After Gonzalez switched from a U.S. youth international to join the Mexican senior team, SB Nation’s Kim McCauley spoke to U.S. soccer development expertsabout the nation’s systemic breakdowns when it comes to recruiting Latinx talent:
“I always say that I’m a lucky guy,” said former USMNT player and former U.S. Under-14 and Under-15 head coach Hugo Perez. “I wasn’t born here, but I came here when I was young, played in the national team. I’ve had the opportunity to learn different cultures. And for me personally, you have to understand that each culture is different. You have to deal with their cultures, their parents, their families differently. You can’t just say we’re going to do it one way, it doesn’t work like that.”If USMNT players with immigrant ties over the last decade are no proportionally coming from Asia or Latin America, where are they coming from? Though European immigrants make up a relatively small portion of the overall U.S. population — just 11 percent of immigrants living in the United States in 2010 — 42.8 percent of USMNT players with immigrant ties were connected to Europe.Multiple factors account for this discrepancy, but one could be the European Union and the fact that most of the best club teams in the world are based in Europe. If a player can use a passport that is accepted in the European Union, he can bypass stringent regulations, including work permit rules in England, which often inhibit professionals who come from outside Europe. Those with Latinx ties, on the other hand, are relatively closed off to Europe, and have fewer good developmental opportunities in Latin America. The same can be said of American players without immigrant ties and access to a second passport.
While the sample size isn’t huge, we can also conclude that the proportion of Latinx, Asian, and white players on the USMNT from 2008-18 is smaller than the general population totals during a similar period, while the proportion of African-American and multiracial players (any combination of racial backgrounds) is larger than the general population over that 10-year period.
USMNT roster by race/ethnicity percentage (2008-2018)
|Race/Ethnicity||USMNT, 2008-18||U.S. Census data, 2010|
We have to be careful to not read too far into what is still relatively small-sample data, but criticism that some populations — particularly Latinx players, based on the sheer number of Latinx pros in the sport, including in the United States — seem to be underrepresented in the overall player pool are backed up by the numbers.Among the reasons? Elite soccer remains a sport for the wealthy in the United States. While players can earn scholarships to pay-to-play clubs and MLS academy teams are mostly free these days, youth club soccer is still tied to a system that often costs thousands of dollars per year just to be part of the team, in addition to thousands more each year to travel around the country to play in tournaments.As a result, players from high-income backgrounds have a much better opportunity to get into the youth club system in the United States, which can in turn lead to a college scholarship or pro contract down the road. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the national poverty rate was 12.3 percent in 2017, compared to 18.3 percent for just Hispanics (note again: the bureau’s definition of “Hispanic” may include people from non-Spanish speaking countries). Programs like Alianza
, which specifically targets Latinx players and offers showcases for pro scouts to find overlooked players, have stepped up where U.S. Soccer and the elite youth clubs have fallen short, but overall, the USMNT seems to be struggling to get everything it can out of its population.
Whether players have immigrant ties doesn’t tell the complete story.
Breaking down U.S. geographic data, the runaway leader is California, with 22.3 percent of all USMNT players from 2008-18 — the vast majority of them (18.3 percent of all players) hailing from Southern California. California is the most populous state in the country (it has a larger population than Canada and Australia, for example), and much of it has mild weather, allowing for year-round play. In addition, soccer is a popular sport there, perhaps because of a multicultural population, including those with Latin American backgrounds, fueling interest in the sport.After California are several well known soccer hotbeds: Texas (9.1 percent of players), New York/New Jersey (8 percent), the area around Washington, D.C. (6.3 percent), Florida (4.6 percent), and Missouri/Kansas (4.6 percent). All told, 29 states were represented on the USMNT, as well as six countries. Germany (6.3 percent) is far and away the most common non-U.S. country where players grew up, with only England (1.7 percent) being the home region of more than one player abroad.
Percentage of USMNT players by state/country of origin (2008-2018)
This brings up a chicken or egg question: Do players hail from the same areas generally because that’s where the best players tend to be, or because those are the places scouts and coaches look?Take the case of Christian Pulisic, the “kid from Hershey, Pennsylvania,” as announcers like to call him. Pennsylvania currently has multiple men’s professional teams, including the first-tier Philadelphia Union, and there have been several players from Pennsylvania in the USMNT player pool over the past decade. But Hershey, which had a population of just more than 14,000 people in 2010 and isn’t particularly close to a major city, wouldn’t be a projected hometown for a superstar.All told, 29 states were represented on the USMNT, as well as six countries. Germany is far and away the most common non-U.S. country where players grew up.Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story with Pulisic. His hometown is Hershey, yes, but he also lived in England, Michigan, and eventually Germany before he turned 18. His parents played college soccer, and his father was a pro in indoor soccer before becoming a coach.Without parents as familiar with the game as his were, would Pulisic have fallen through the cracks? That’s impossible to say for certain, but his route to the pros may have been more circuitous. Instead of getting a Croatian passport through his grandfather, which allowed him to join Borussia Dortmund’s academy before he turned 18 without running afoul of FIFA regulations intended to protect minors, he might have played NCAA soccer before turning pro. He might not have been called up to the USMNT until he was in his 20s. In turn, he might not have ever transferred to Chelsea for $73 million at any point in his career, even if he turned out to be a talented and successful professional.While U.S. Soccer has a healthy budget, its resources are finite, and it may not make sense for scouts to scour every city, town, and hamlet for an undiscovered Pulisic. Players who live in little towns and who do not have robust support systems around them like Pulisic are more likely to be overlooked.Still, other oddities exist. To take one recent example, the roster for the U-17 World Cup in 2017 featured just one player whose hometown was west of Texas. No players from the Southwest or West Coast were called up to the final roster, despite those regions being regarded as fonts of American soccer talent.Was this because those players from traditional soccer hotbeds out west weren’t good enough that year? Possibly, and time will tell who of that particular age cohort pans out and eventually reaches the senior national team. But the example shows how difficult it is to keep tabs on an enormous country, and make sure the most suitable players get their chances on the big stages.It’s one thing to turn over every stone to identify potential USMNT pros early from a large national pool, and find that your resources aren’t quite sufficient. It’s another thing to establish a pattern of under-representing a particular group.Despite that challenge, U.S. Soccer still has its vocal critics. Brad Rothenberg, son of a former U.S. Soccer president who co-founded Alianza de Futbol, did not mince words in a 2017 interview with Soccer America, in which he said that U.S. Soccer actively avoided Alianza events, seemingly for political or commercial reasons.“The Federation has told us not to promote their brand to the 250,000 Latinos who attend our events and [U.S. Soccer director of talent identification] Tony Lepore actually notified us in 2016 that they weren’t interested in participating in Alianza since they haven’t found any elite players. On more than one occasion, U.S. Soccer scouts and coaches have secretly watched games hiding behind bleachers or our event inflatables but, when I asked, were unwilling to address our Alianza players directly for fear of endorsing an ‘unsanctioned’ event.”It’s one thing to turn over every stone to identify potential USMNT pros early from a arge national pool, and find that your resources aren’t quite sufficient. It’s another thing to establish a pattern of under-representing a particular group, like Latinx players, and then effectively turn your back on a program that has found inroads to exactly that same group.We’ve seen in the last decade that the establishment of MLS acdemies and homegrown signings have helped players turn pro earlier, ad opened new paths for USMNT players in the United States. The increase in players coming through academies abroad has likewise given the USMNT a diversified profile that is no longer primarily dependent on college players.The next step has to be consciously looking at the profiles of players in the system and finding ways to be more equitable at talent identification. No one would advocate for a quota system based on race or hometown, but more can be done, beginning with changes at U.S. Soccer, grassroots work on the local level, and enabling entities outside the official power structure modeled after programs like Alianza de Futbol.Missing the 2018 World Cup was a wake-up call for the USMNT, but it can fix the mistakes of the past, starting by fixing its blind spots in the player pool.
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