11/20/20 US Pounds Panama 6-2, MLS Playoffs Start today, US Ladies Fri Nov 27, UCL returns Tues/Wed

USA Youngsters Score 6 in Win Over Panama

So maybe the young #9s are not so bad after all?  Lets see – Gregg FINALLY Plays the 2 kid # 9s and they actually score 4 goals?  Imagine that Gregg – forwards scoring goals playing the #9 spot.  Sometimes the coaching ineptitude astounds me.  That being said it was nice to see our young 20 year old #9s actually score goals up front.  Both of them stuck their noses in – played high and were in the correct spot. Now if only Greg had played one of them at least a half vs Wales?  Oh well – better late than never.  Again the US looked ok on Monday vs a very overmanned Panama team with a bad GK.  The first 45 minutes we looked really good – with 70+ percent possession and a solid 3-1 lead with 2 goals from 20 year old forward Gioacchini scoring 2 on GK drop and a beautifully hard fought header. Soto checked in around 70 minutes in and added another header two headers off good crosses to give our #9 forwards slot 4 goals on the night. Overall it was 6-2 as Reyna scored a beauty off a free kick right outside the box and Letgett headed another from his traditional mid spot. Overall another solid performance with Dest moved the the left back this time.  He was still our best outside back but I thought Cannon was better on the right than Robinson was on the left in the first game.  Again the energy in the middle with Adams at the 6 and McKinney at the 8 is electric.  I like the 18 year-old Englishman Yunus Musa in the middle – man he and Adams and Reyna and Dest had some really nice combinations.  Musah – unlike most of our mids in the past actually takes the ball and ATTACKS.  Much like Pulisic – he runs at defenders and holds the ball really well in transition as he moves it forward.  If we can convince Musah to play for the US instead of England – he could really make a difference in 2022.  I thought overall the offense was a little stronger today – with a real #9 playing at the forward spot things were much, much better.  Soto and Gioacchini looked good up front – I missed not having Sargent up front but the 2 20 year-olds looked great on Monday.  I thought the defense was a little weaker tonight – Ream is not Brooks and Miazga was good but not great.  The first goal was a miscommunication between the 2 middle backs. Again this was Panama not Wales – but still 6 goals with young 20 year old forwards up front scoring 4 of them is mighty exciting.  Controlling 60+% of the game possession again – again is not a normal US approach.  The working the ball out of the back was almost flawless Monday as well.  Overall a solid win for Gregg’s US Team and reason to be really excited with our young US team moving forward. Looking forward to seeing the MLS’ers in a December friendly at some point. 

MLS Playoffs Starts Tonight

The MLS Playoffs get underway Friday with the Play in games on FS1 at 6:30 pm as New England takes on Montreal and Henry followed by the battle of Expansion Teams Nashville vs Inter Miami on ESPN at 9 pm.  Sunday we get Sporting KC vs San Jose at 4 pm on FS1, while Colorado travels to Minn United at 7:30 pm on ESPN, followed by the Portland Timbers hosting Dallas and former Carmel High Star defender Matt Hedges at 10 pm on ESPN. Sat  if you have Unimas or TUDN you can watch Orlando City hosting NYCFC at 12 noon and the Columbus Crew vs the NY Red Bulls at 3 pm.  I don’t think they are ESPN+ but I sure hope so.  Here’s the complete bracket.  While Sporting KC has the top spot in the west I like one of my favorite squads in the West either #2 and defending Champs Seattle or #3 seed and MLS bubble champ Portland to come out of the West.  While in the East – it’s a toss-up man.  Philly has gone from whipping boy to the tops in the league and Shield Holders with young home grown players, while Toronto is of course still Toronto at #2.  I would love to see 3 seed Columbus (closest to us) or the amazing Orlando the 4 seed with Nani who has worked wonders in just one year under the guy who should have been coach of the year Oscar Pareja.  Looking for a team to root for – here’s a newcomers bandwagon guide.

What to Watch in League Play This Weekend

The EPL has some big games this weekend actually on normal TV – Saturday NBC actually has a good game with #2 Tottenham playing Man City at 12:30 (of course same time as my Gators ☹), right after former top slot  now 6th place Aston Villa host Brighton at 10 am on NBCSN.  Sunday we get Liverpool hosting Leicester City at 2:15 pm on NBCSN, right after Arsenal traveling to Leeds United at 11:30 am.  My Fulham now out of the relegation zone wakes us up at 7 am vs Everton on the Peacock, while Chelsea does the same vs New Castle on Sat.  sans Pulisic who is still injured.  La Liga has Altetico Madrid hosting Barcelona at 3 pm Sat on beIN Sports – unfortunately Suerez the biter will not be there for Leti (covid).   In Germany US 17 yo Gio Reyna and Dortmund travel to Berlin to face Hertha Berlin and American teammate John Brooks Sunday at 2:30 pm on ESPN+.   

Champions League viewership up nearly 40 percent – Returns Tues/Wed

Through three matchdays, coverage of the UEFA Champions League has averaged 432,000 viewers across UniMas and Galavision — up 39% from last year. In particular, UniMas is up 35% (to 372K) and Galavision is up 100% (to 60,000).This year’s competition has already included two of the three most-watched UCL group stage matches on record, with Juventus-Barcelona on October 28 ranking first (757K) and Tuesday’s Real Madrid-Inter Milan match third (561K).  No idea on CBS SportsNetwork or CBS all access as they don’t do Neilsen ratings.  But it appears folks in the US are at least watching in Spanish for sure.  Champions League match-day 4 is next week with the big games Tuesday being US players Gio Reyna for Dortmund hosting Club Brugge and GK Horvath on TUDN at 3 pm, while PSG hosts American Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig with the top spot in the group on the line right behind Man United.  Wed’s top game features Inter Milan hosting Real Madrid on TUDN at 3 pm in a loser might be out in group C game. Salzburg and their American coach will be looking for a lifeline vs defending champs Bayern Munich and US defender Chris Richards at 3 pm on TUDN and of course all the games on CBS All Access and the CBS Sportsnetwork (check your listings you might have it) Goalazo show –goals from each game jumparound show.   Full Standings thru 3 matches here.

USA Women Face Netherlands Fri Nov 27 12:30 on ESPN

The World Champs will travel to face the team they beat to win the last world cup in their first competitive match since the She Believe’s Cup back in March. Returning to the fold is Forward Alex Morgan back from having a baby and now playing in Tottenham.  The full roster is here – of course missing are Rapino, Pugh, and Carli Lloyd still recovering from injuries and Horan who has been diagnosed with Covid.  Will be interesting to see how coach works in the newcomers with the old guard next week.  A Good Friday after Thanksgiving Sitdown at 12:30 on ESPN – along with football!   I want to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving ! The OBC.

US Ladies Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash)

DEFENDERS (8):  Alanna Cook (PSG), Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals), Midge Purce (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Orlando Pride)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Sam Mewis (Manchester City), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Jaelin Howell (Florida State), Catarina Macario (Stanford)

FORWARDS (6): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Tottenham), Christen Press (Manchester United), Tobin Heath (Manchester United), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)

GAMES ON TV

(American’s in parenthesis)

Sat, Nov 21 

7:30 am Peacock                 New castle vs Chelsea  

9:30 am ESPN+               Bayern (Richards) vs Werder Bremen (Sergent)

10 am beIN Sport                 Villareal vs  Real Madrid   

10 am NBCSN                      Aston Villa vs Brighton

12 noon TUDN               Orlando City vs NYCFC MLS Playoffs

 12:30 pm NBC                 Spurs vs Man City 

12:30 pm  ESppn+            Frankfort vs RB Leipzig (Adams)

2:30 pm EPSN+                       Hertha Berlin (Brooks) vs Dortmund (Reyna)

3 pm beiN Sport               Atlletico Madrid vs Barcelona  

3 pm unimas/TUDN         Columbus vs RBNY MLS Playoffs

Sun, Nov 22 

7 am Peacock                      Fulham (Ream, Robinson) vs Everton  

9 am NBCSN                        Leicester City vs Wolves

9 am ESPN+                         Torino vs Inter

10:15 am beIN sport             Real Sociadad vs Granada (Sp)

11:30 am NBCSN                               Leeds United s Arsenal

2:15 pm NBCSN                      Liverpool vs Leicester  

2:45 pm                       Napoli vs AC Milan (Zlattan)

4 pm FS1                            Sporting KC vs San Jose  MLS Playoffs

7:30 pm ESPN                   Minn United vs Colorado  MLS Playoffs

10 pm ESPN                      Portland vs Dallas (Matt Hedges) MLS Playoffs

Mon, Nov 23

12:30 pm NBCSN                              Burnley s Cyrstal Palace

3 pm NBCSN                                     Wolverhampton vs Southampton

Champions League Tues/Wed Matchday 4

Friday, Nov 27

12:30 pm ESPN2         Netherlands vs USA Women

USA MEN

Gioacchini, Soto offer encouragement in USMNT’s striking stocks  Jeff Carlisle  ESPNFC

USMNT giving fans reasons to feel good Leander Schaerlaeckens »
USMNT surpasses goals with 6-2 win over Panama
WATCH: Post-match analysis of USMNT’s 6-2 defeat of Panama
Breakdown of USMNT players in Wales, Panama friendlies

USA vs. Panama, 2020 Friendly: Community player ratings
Player ratings: USMNT v Panama

Three things we learned from USMNT – Panama

US starts all Europe-based lineup vs. Panama, 1st since 2009
• Reyna scores first U.S. goal in Panama rout

What year is it? USMNT hopeful about future Leander Schaerlaeckens »   11/13/20

 USWNT

USWNT face Netherlands in WC final repeat
USWNT Reveals Squad vs. Netherlands; Morgan Returns –BY AVI CREDITOR
Andonovski names USWNT roster for Netherlands friendly

USWNT camp a culmination of Vlatko Andonovski’s year of adapting and planning

 

MLS PLAYOFFS

https://www.mlssoccer.com/mls-cup-playoffs/2020/bracket 

Armchair Analyst: Playoff teams by tiers  Doyle

Doyle: One worry for each playoff team

If your club’s season is over, there’s room on these bandwagons

Bruce Arena full of praise for Thierry Henry ahead of Revs-Impact matchup
LAFC confident heading into playoff rematch with Seattle Sounders despite rash of absences
The Union Way? Curtin on the philosophy behind Philly’s success
LAFC forward Diego Rossi named MLS young player of the year

Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin named MLS Coach of the Year

 WORLD

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney just bought a soccer team in Wales
‘Deadpool’ star Reynolds buys Wrexham

Bundesliga thoughts: Why Alaba needs a reality check, Bayern Still Kings    Derek Rae

 Sources: Prem fans back before Christmas
Liverpool’s Salah tests positive for virus again


After Germany’s 6-0 defeat to Spain, is it time for Joachim Low to go?
Gabriele Marcotti
How Germany were torn apart by Spain – and what it means for the future of a mighty nation

Spain inflict historic defeat on Germany to qualify for Nations League finals

How Belgium became No. 1 in the world: Lukaku, De Bruyne and Martinez tell their story

USMNT still has long road to the World Cup, but the foundation is worth celebrating

Leander SchaerlaeckensMon, November 16, 2020, 7:19 PM EST·4 min read

Your flying car is back from the mechanic and parked in the air garage that floats above your house. You’ve had your dinner capsule and the kids are in bed, after taking their UV baths. It’s time to relax, activate your brain streaming and enjoy some United States men’s national team action.The future is here.Was Monday’s 6-2 win over Panama — in, of course, Austria, because where else? — only a friendly played on ocean away from both nations at the tail-end of an international break wedged into an already-jammed club season? Yes. Sure.Was this Panama team every bit as dangerous as the Panamanian army? Well, since Panama doesn’t have a standing army, also yes, pretty much.

But 2020 has been a woeful year in every way. And if you’re a committed U.S. national team follower — or, worse, a devoted fan — this has been a very long cycle or two for you. You’ve been in the wilderness as the national team fell apart, missed a World Cup and lumbered along for years, mostly looking feckless and directionless. So you deserve this. We deserve this.Because there’s something to get excited about. There’s a lot to get excited about.A national team that is young, talented, competent and compelling and maybe even a tad cocky — but the good kind of cocky. The doing-tricks-on-the-ball-in-a-real-game kind of cocky.“I don’t even know — was it six or seven?” Reyna asked casually on a video conference after the game, wondering about the score. “I don’t even remember to be honest. Six, right? It was six.”There is an awfully long way to go until the Americans get back to a World Cup, let alone make a breakthrough there. Lots of obstacles remain; there is much growing and improving to be done. But there are glimmers. Glimmers and sparks. So many of them that they’re almost blinding.And in dark times, you have to celebrate the flickers of light. Besides, it was the USA’s the last game of the year anyway — a calendar year of just three games, thus undefeated! — the ideal time to draw sweeping and overly emotional conclusions about the team’s direction and future. Plenty of times, the Yanks have looked fetid in these November friendlies. Not this time. So let’s enjoy this.

Let’s enjoy that the starting lineup was, on average, only 22 years old — and aged significantly by the presence of 33-year-old captain-for-the-day Tim Ream. Let’s enjoy the already world-class status of RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna, FC Barcelona’s Sergino Dest and Juventus’ Weston McKennie, which they all confirmed once again against Panama. Let’s enjoy how good the team looked over this game and Thursday’s very credible 0-0 tie with Wales even without injured star Christian Pulisic.Let’s enjoy how the Americans came back with a seven-minute three-goal flurry in the first half on a Reyna free kick and two goals from Nicholas Gioacchini — a tap-in and an acrobatic header.Let’s not worry so much about the fact that Panama went ahead in the eighth minute when Jose Fajardo found too much room between Ream and Matt Miazga on a cross not closed down properly. Let’s not worry about McKennie deserving a red card on a rash challenge, which the presence of VAR would probably have meted out, unlike referee Harald Lechner.Let’s also not fret about the fact that the second half was much sloppier for the Americans, or that they gave away a cheap second goal to Fajardo when he sauntered through the U.S. back line to latch onto a loose ball and shank it past Zack Steffen.Instead, let’s remember how debutant Sebastian Soto scored the fourth on a strong header from the cross dispatched by fellow newcomer Richie Ledezma. Or how Sebastian Lletget bagged the fifth with a header that dinked in off the bottom of the near post. And how Soto got his second on yet another header — a sixth — in injury time. Or that it could have been seven, had Gioacchini not botched his penalty kick.“All we wanted to do from the beginning is get the fans on our side — it was an important step for us,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game of his team’s rapidly improving watchability. “That’s how it should be.”We needed something to feel good about. And what we saw from this U.S. men’s national team in the past week is something to feel good about.Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist 

Nicholas Gioacchini, Sebastian Soto offer encouragement in USMNT’s striking stocks

7:28 PM ETJeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent  ESPNFC

The worth of a forward is often in the eye of the beholder. A 30-yard-blast counts as much as a 2-yard tap-in, even though the former is often what gets the hearts of fans beating faster.There is value in both kinds of goals — not to mention link play and pressing — but the U.S. men’s national team was grateful for the two short-range tallies from Nicholas Gioacchini and another pair from substitute Sebastian Soto in a 6-2 friendly win over Panama on Monday.Forward play — and really the lack of playing with one by virtue of using a false nine — was one of the main talking points following the 0-0 draw with Wales last Friday. The U.S. dominated possession but had little in the way of attacking thrust, especially in the box. Against a rebuilding Panama side, manager Gregg Berhalter decided to go with a more standard alignment, handing Gioacchini his first start. “You could tell he was a little bit apprehensive,” said Berhalter about Gioacchini. “My job was just to give him confidence and tell him that he’s good enough, and he showed it tonight.”The Caen forward didn’t get on the ball much, just 18 touches in his 77 minutes of work. But he was in the right spots when it mattered, pouncing on a rebound in 22nd minute to put the U.S. ahead for good 2-1, and then adding another four minutes later on a diving header following a slick buildup.”I had a week that I’ll never, ever, ever forget,” Gioacchini said afterward. But he was also already critiquing his own performance, which included a penalty that was saved by Panama goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera.

“My first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he continued. “But I could have done way better for myself, been more available to the midfield even to the center-backs. In the box, I still had areas where I felt like I should have been five steps ahead of where you were, even two steps ahead. So, you know, it’s always something to review and to remember. But still, two goals is not easy for anyone.”The day was just as memorable for Soto, who came off the bench to score two headed goals. In the process, he showed off his mobility and knack for being in good spots.The play of both players hints that the depth at the forward position might be a bit deeper than originally thought, though context is needed. Mosquera looked very shaky on his international debut. It also seems unlikely that either forward will jump ahead of the likes of Josh SargentGyasi Zardes or Jozy Altidore. That said, the impression made by both players was a positive one.

“For me, it was a good performance by [Soto and Gioacchini],” Berhalter said. “But it’s important. When we talked last week about potentially the depth chart of the striker and forward position being limited, any chance you get, you need to take it, and these guys did a good job.”While the forwards delivered, the play of the team as a whole was a bit all over the place, filled with some sparkling play and also some teachable moments. That was just fine with Berhalter, who was pleased to see his young side be exposed to how a game against a CONCACAF opponent can play out.”It was a very difficult game, a very physical game — more physical than the Wales game,” said Berhalter. “We needed that. The guys needed it. We had some guys calling for fouls. These aren’t going to be fouls. You’ve got to play on.”The U.S. started the match almost asleep, lacking in defensive focus, only to be woken up by Jose Fajardo‘s eighth-minute header that gave Los Canaleros a shock 1-0 lead. The U.S. soon asserted control through its midfield, scoring three times in an eight minute span, with recent birthday boy Gio Reyna netting his first international goal courtesy of a free kick that was won by Yunus Musah.

In the second half, the U.S. then returned to sleep mode, as Panama ratcheted up its intensity and physical play. Weston McKennie, while excellent on the night, was lucky to stay on the field with a two-footed tackle on Panama’s Gaby Torres that drew only a yellow card. When Fajardo bagged his second of the night in the 79th minute with well-taken drive, there was a question of whether a team with plenty of debutantes on the field could see the game out. That they did, with Richie Ledezma assisting on both of Soto’s goal and Sebastian Lletget adding another.”That was the period I was most interested in,” said Berhalter. “I was really interested in seeing where we gonna buckle or could we hang in there. And not only did we hang in there, we pulled away at the end, scoring a number of goals, so I was pleased with the performance.”Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this international window was the play of the U.S. central midfield. Once again, Tyler Adams, McKennie, and Musah shined. The task now is to convince Musah to stick with the U.S. for the long term. The two recent performances don’t cap-tie him to the U.S., and England have made it clear they don’t intend to let Musah go without a fight. The U.S. have been able to strike first, however, and that at least gets Musah pondering his options.”I was really happy with, with Yunus’ performance, I’m really happy with him in camp. The guys really took to him well,” said Berhalter.”All I’ve ever said about players in his category is that all we want to do is create an environment for them that they want to be in, that they trust is a good environment for their development. And it seemed like that was the case for Yunus. It seems like he sees us as a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good, young group. But in the end, it’s going to be him and his family that decide.”Things are already looking up for the U.S. given how young players are beginning to establish themselves with their clubs. If Musah commits to the U.S., that feeling will only increase.

The USMNT’s Future Is Bright; Just How Bright Can it Be?

There’s clear reason for optimism surrounding a talented core that’s playing for elite clubs at a young age. To think about breaking the U.S. men’s national team’s glass ceiling, though, you must first understand how high it stands.  BRIAN STRAUSUPDATED:NOV 17, 2020  SI

There have been, by U.S. soccer’s historically modest standards, a couple close calls. In 2002, a men’s national team that probably was the best the country ever fielded outplayed Germany in a World Cup quarterfinal and was denied extra time by an unsympathetic referee. Eight years later in South Africa, the USA won its group and faced the most forgiving path to the semis it was ever going to get: Ghana and Uruguay. But the Americans fell to the Black Stars in the round of 16.That’s as close as the USA has come to contending at a modern World Cup. Now, consider how much further it has to go.Here’s a statistic to ponder. Let it provide some context for all the conversation, hype and footballing fantasies now taking root. Since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998, the eventual tournament champion has won an average of six matches. That’s six victories in one month. The U.S. men’s national team has won six World Cup games combined in the past 70 years. That’s six victories across 18 tournaments.Granted, five have come in the past eight World Cups. So that’s a relative hot streak. But still, the broad trends that somehow seem to govern World Cups suggest the USA isn’t close to contending. Its single knockout-stage win was 18 years ago against familiar foe Mexico, and since each subsequent round is logarithmically more difficult—barring a historic fluke—it’s pretty clear that at this point, the USA is a lot more likely to miss a World Cup altogether than challenge for the crown. And that fact was hammered home three years ago. In 1989, the U.S. program made its first big leap, qualifying for a World Cup for the first time in 40 years. It became a participant. To become a contender, it must make another big leap. For a couple decades now, the USA has been running in place. Group stage exits. Round-of-16 exits. Couva. A leap to the World Cup quarterfinals and beyond requires a historic disruption of that inertia. But there’s evidence that disruption is finally happening. Within the past year or so, young U.S. players are suddenly being signed by the sport’s biggest clubs. Christian Pulisic is at Chelsea. Weston McKennie is at Juventus. Tyler Adams is at RB Leipzig, a Champions League semifinalist. There are now two Americans at Barcelona, and more coming up at Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven and more. This feels different. It is different.And so this new U.S. national team, the one that may redefine what’s possible for American soccer, took its first step into that new era over the past week. After a 10-month pandemic pause (or longer for many), during which the player pool evolved significantly, coach Gregg Berhalter gathered his squad of emerging stars for friendlies against Wales (a 0-0 draw) and Panama (a 6-2 win).For the coaches and players, it was a chance to spend time with each other, establish a bit of chemistry and start drilling down on Berhalter’s principles of play. The 24-man team initially included 10 uncapped players and 19 eligible for next summer’s U-23 Olympic qualifiers and finals. There was a lot of work to do, and not a ton of time. But during Zoom calls with the media, there were just as many questions about hype, potential and promise as there were about Wales and Panama. That’s what people want to read about. It’s what fans, still sore after the Couva catastrophe, want to revel in. The weight of hope and expectation now hangs over a U.S. team like never before, and Berhalter and his players found they’d have to manage that as much as they’d have to deal not only with the training sessions and games in front of them, but in simply getting to know each other.This game-changing team is still just finding its feet.“The hype in general comes from the outside—from the media, from the fans—and I think we’re not really playing for the expectations of other people. We’re playing for the expectations within our group, within our team, within our brotherhood that we have here,” McKennie said.“We have expectations. We have desires. And I think the most important thing is just to keep [all the young players] working, including myself,” the Juve midfielder continued. “It starts with us, and we have to kind of show that and let them know, ‘Hey, you haven’t made it yet. Day in and day out you have to bust your balls to play. You gotta bust your balls and you’re representing a whole country.’”Said defender Reggie Cannon, an FC Dallas product who lauded the level of competition he’s now getting at Portugal’s Boavista, “One thing I can say to the national team fans is be patient. … We have a lot of talented individuals obviously, and what’s going to make this team great is if we play for each other. And that’s something we’re figuring out.”Berhalter also endeavored to establish a reasonable benchmark. Unlike recent USMNT predecessors, he’s committed to the painstaking work of establishing both a coherent and consistent style of play, and an inclusive, uplifting team culture. Neither is easy, especially with so much new blood. The past week was a reminder of how much goes into laying those foundations.“One thing I’ve noticed especially when you’re working with new players or a group that’s just forming is, you go through different stages of team development,” Berhalter said. “With this group in particular, it is more of individuals looking for their position within the team, and we clearly want to move to more of a team-orientated standpoint as we get into [World Cup] qualifying.“It’s completely natural what’s happening now,” he added. “A guy wants to come into camp. He wants to make a good impression on the coaching staff. He wants to play really well, and he’s focused more on himself. As he gets more comfortable now, he’s focused more on his teammates. And we certainly want to get into that stage by qualifying because that’s going to be really important.”Qualifying is the first measuring stick. Before the USA can contend globally, it has to get back to dominating regionally. Next year will provide an ideal opportunity. Following the March friendly window, the USA will enter the four-team Concacaf Nations League finals in June. It’s a minor title, but success would whet the appetite. The Gold Cup starts in July, and then Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying octagonal finally gets underway in September.Berhalter said Monday that he’s unlikely to call in his contingent of European A-listers for both the Nations League and Gold Cup, meaning it’s one or the other, plus the March window, for those players between now and next September. Again, that’s not a lot of time.But the USA doesn’t have to win a World Cup next fall. It just has to beat the likes of Costa Rica and Honduras. And while Monday’s defensively-deficient Panamanian side may not have been the best litmus test, there clearly was progress made over the past week-plus, both from a coaching perspective and among the players. Berhalter saw some things and probably learned some things, while his charges appeared to be positive about being in camp and about playing with each other. Those are foundational building blocks. We saw Adams play as the lone defensive midfielder in Berhalter’s three-man midfield for the first and second time, quickly establishing himself as the guy who probably should man that role for the next decade. And we saw McKennie and dual-national Yunus Musah connect, cover ground and drive the ball forward in occasionally dominant fashion. If that dynamic was enough to convince Musah to commit his international future to the USA, then the camp will have been a smashing success.

But there was more. The USA defended and pressed well out of that 4-3-3 against Wales. In that match, despite the offensive stagnation, the young Americans never lost their defensive focus. And against Panama, despite going down early and then losing its grip on the game early in the second half, the U.S. recovered and put Panama in its place. Berhalter got a look at his team attacking with a false nine and with a more traditional striker, and saw how debutant Gio Reyna found (or didn’t find) space to contribute behind each. Depth at striker was a concern, with the absent Josh Sargent still unproven and Jozy Altidore aging. But Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto—each 20 years old and with the senior squad for the first time—demonstrated some comfort in the penalty area and contributed two goals apiece. Further back, Berhalter had the opportunity to field Sergiño Dest at both right and left back, while testing a couple different center back pairings and getting Zack Steffen valuable minutes in net.There was plenty to digest. And that constitutes a good start on a long journey.“You can still see a lot of times we’ve only been together for a week. I think you also saw some really good things,” said Reyna, who turned 18 last Friday and scored his first U.S. goal on Monday. “Everybody’s been getting along very well off the field too. So I think on and off the field it’s just slowly bringing this group together where by the time qualifying comes, we’ll be ready to compete and [have] very good chemistry on and off the field.”That chemistry isn’t a given, considering they all come from different clubs in different leagues. Fans can swoon over the teams these men play for, but that doesn’t guarantee cohesion when they come together. Plenty of countries head to a World Cup with impressive rosters and then leave early because chemistry and humility are absent. The young Americans, however, carry a burden in common. Many are pioneers, in a sense—one of the first, if not the first, from their country to be counted on at their respective club. Rather than fuel a sense of ego or entitlement, it seems to have left them appreciating, supporting and challenging each other.“The best thing for us to do is to go to Europe and challenge yourself and get a taste of what real football is like, because I think that’s ultimately going to create so much challenge and so much unity within the team that everyone can experience this lifestyle and challenge each other for spots,” Cannon said. “I think that’s what makes teams great.”The chemistry is evident in interviews and on Instagram, and on the field as well. At times, this U.S. team was genuinely fun to watch. There was panache and confidence on the ball—the sort of flicks, quick touches and dexterity that Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey used to show on their own, but that now several of these players can perform in combination—as well as the fluid, 360-degree awareness not too frequently seen among American men. “We all know that we like to play. We like to combine. We like to make those small touches and small passes, and I think whenever you get into that type of confidence that you can play with your guys and everything, then I think it just brings out the confidence in yourself,” McKennie said. “I think a lot of the guys felt the comfortability with the other players on the field and we enjoyed it, We had fun. … It’s a good stepping stone and I think it was a good start after not being together for a whole year.”The possibilities are intriguing. But one barrier must fall at a time. A team with good young players who enjoy working together is a start, but there’s so much further to go. While this U.S. squad has a few individuals scattered across some big clubs, the national teams it’s chasing–the elite–have dozens. They have depth that would tie Berhalter in knots. Here’s another stat to consider, courtesy of Transfermarkt: While the USA currently has three players valued at more than $20 million (Pulisic, McKennie and Dest), world champion France has 25 players valued that highly who have never even been called in to the senior national team. It’s night and day. There is such a long way to go.But you can’t get there without coming this far first. This improvisational camp, featuring two closed-door games and so many new faces, went as well as can be expected. And so a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single stepover.

Armchair Analyst: What we learned from the November US men’s national team camp

The first US men’s national team outings in nine-and-a-half months are officially in the books. The first of those outings, a scoreless draw at Wales, was good in that it highlighted a bunch of the things that Gregg Berhalter has been trying to instill:

  • The US were mostly good with the ball
  • The US controlled possession and, thus, the tempo of the game
  • A bunch of new, young players made their debuts
  • Catastrophic errors were avoided

It was also bad in that, you know, it was a scoreless draw vs. the Welsh B team, and it’s not like it was scoreless because the US were fluffing chances. They just didn’t turn that possession into much penetration. That’s been an ongoing issue against pretty good-to-excellent teams during Berhalter’s two years in charge now.The second game, Monday’s 6-2 rout of an overmatched Panama side, was both better and worse. Here’s the worse part:

  • They gave up two goals to an overmatched Panama side

This was probably the weakest Panama team in 20 years. Their golden generation — players like Blas Perez, Luis Tejada and Jaime Penedo — have aged out, and the new guys aren’t anywhere near as good, nor they play with the same type of urgency. They do not score a lot of goals, and it was kind of shocking to see them score two against the US. Neither Matt Miazga nor Tim Ream covered themselves in glory on the defensive side of the ball. I do not think we will see that combo again.

But it was also good in a lot of ways:

  • Drubbing a non-minnow Concacaf side 6-2 is objectively good
  • The patterns of play Berhalter has been trying to instill were present, effective, and often executed at pace
  • Many of the younger players looked more comfortable in their second cap than their first
  • Once Panama fought back a bit, the US woke up and killed them down the stretch

It is nice to see a young team score goals, but I’d argue it is even nicer to see them refuse to get Concacaf’d.

Here’s a bit more of what we learned from this camp:

It’s a 2-3-2-3

I wrote in my preview that the US seemed destined to go for a 3-2-2-3 in possession this cycle, with Tyler Adams (or Jackson Yueill, or Johnny Cardoso — who was good vs. Wales but struggled vs. Panama) dropping back to split the center backs and pushing the fullbacks up, then spraying. There was some of that, but it certainly was not the default look.Instead, Adams largely stayed central and a bit ahead of the center backs, whether it was Miazga and Ream on Monday or Miazga and John Brooks last week. The fullbacks both got forward, which did create the “2-3” shape up top once the wingers pinched in, but more of that came from combination play via central midfield and less of it via dimed diagonals. It is a real difference, though I’m not willing to say whether or not it’s a “significant” difference. I need to see more of it against better competition and in games with real stakes.My gut is that I like it. The second line of “3” with Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah just smothered almost every counter opportunity before they could even start. Their mobility and ability to work as a trio was perhaps the biggest revelation of the camp, and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a full-court press from Berhalter & Co. to get Musah to commit to the US team.An attacking aspect of this set-up that didn’t really work is the fact that it, in theory, allows more freeom for either McKennie or Musah more freedom to make late-arriving runs into the box for pull-backs – which one one of the very best parts of McKennie’s game in particular. You can do that in a 3-2-2-3 (McKennie literally has done it from that set-up), but there’s one more moving piece if/when you take that risk, and little complications like that can become big issues if the shot is blocked or the cross cut out and a counter starts in the other direction.

Those pull-backs are going to be the lifeblood of this attack. Watch this clip and you’ll all see the goal:

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6210200317001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 Watch it again, but focus on Gio Reyna. After releasing the pass he actually slows his run and opens up for the pullback. He is using the defender’s anticipation of a hard, direct run against him, and understands where the space in the box is about to materialize because of the pattern of play.This is good soccer from him and the US. There were a lot of little moments like that against Panama, and while I will reiterate that this is a weak Panama team compared to the past two decades, this is the exact type of team you have to beat in order to make it to the World Cup and face the Belgiums and Brazils of the world.

There Will Be a Press

The US alternated between pressing out of a 4-4-2 diamond, which was more prevalent vs. Wales with Sebastian Lletget as a false 9, and a 4-3-3 with some of the same principles, as we saw against Panama.In either set-up the goal is the same: force the opposing goalkeeper to make tough choices and tougher passes in order to find pockets, or coax them into blasting it long and giving the 12-and-a-half combined feet of US center backs a bunch of aerials to dominate.The only other option is to clip a ball to the weak-side fullback along the touchline, which is something Panama’s Orlando Mosquera did time and again. That is a recipe for turnovers, as happened time and again.On the flip side, I think it’s pretty clear that the US need to get ready to be pressed more often. Wales basically let the US have possession in the first half, then caused real problems — and nearly a goal — with some fairly committed high pressing in the second half. Panama’s goals didn’t come from pressing, but they definitely rattled the young US side for good chunks of the second half with some energetic, front-foot defending. Brooks and Ream were generally outstanding playing out of it, as were Sergino Dest and Reggie Cannon. Adams and Johnny struggled a bit.So it goes with young players — even ones on Champions League/Copa Libertadores sides.

Be Excited About the Kids

Musah, who might’ve been the second-best US player vs. Wales behind only McKennie, largely overdelivered. McKennie, Adams and Dest looked like what they are — veterans of the Champions League, and $20 million (at least) players. Reggie Cannon is not going to be a $20 million player, but my guess is he’ll be close to a $10 million, mistake-free RB who occasionally makes match-winning plays thanks to his understanding of when to get forward and pin-point crossing.Tim Weah looked healthy-ish, if not necessarily sharp. Antonee Robinson struggled, and I’ll go ahead and admit I still don’t quite see it with him (the door is very open for Sam Vines, though I’ll go ahead and persist in my belief that Dest on the left with Cannon on the right will end up being our best bet even if Dest didn’t look great there vs. Panama). Konrad de la Fuente and Uly Llanez looked like what they are, which is to say teenagers who aren’t yet really ready for first-team minutes. Richie Ledezma mostly looked like that as well, though he obviously had a major say in the late onslaught vs. Panama.I think Johnny will be very good as long as he keeps getting minutes and, quite frankly, I liked his willingness to kick people. I am still high on Chris Richards, though I am not enamored of his club situation (I don’t think he’s going to regularly play CB for Bayern Munich any time soon).So much of the above can change so quickly over the course of a few short months. For Musah, McKennie, Adams, Cannon and Dest, it changed for the better and they are all on clear, upward trajectories. The hope is that most of the rest of the players from this camp can do the same, but nothing’s guaranteed.Still, just from a depth-building perspective, this camp should be considered a major win.Reyna is probably the highest-rated truly young player in the pool. He was dominant vs. Panama, if a bit sloppier than I expected him to be on the ball in midfield. He’s not easily or often taken off of it for Borussia Dortmund, but got it caught up in his feet a few times vs. Los Canaleros. The same vs. Wales. I am not particularly concerned about this long-term — international soccer is just different. He’ll figure that part out.

The real issue with Reyna is this one:

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6210211257001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 The Reyna we’ve seen at Dortmund over the past year makes that pass. The Reyna we saw for US youth teams at various age-groups often doesn’t. It is why so many teams functioned better once they got him out of the engine room.This was his first-ever cap, and he followed it up with a much better second outing. He’s getting real minutes for one of the 15 (or so) best teams in the world at age 17 (now 18). The failure to make this pass is not a five-alarm fire.But it is something to be aware of.Another potential issue that I came away from this camp thinking about: Reyna was much better on the left than on the right. Christian Pulisic is much better on the left than the right, and Jordan Morris is much better on the left than the right.I don’t think this is a five-alarm fire, either. But it’s something to be aware of.I am curious to see how Berhalter will fit his consensus most-talented players on the field and meld them into a high-functioning unit. I don’t think that’s entirely clear yet, even if the system itself, and how it’s supposed to function, is.

The Situation at Striker

Here’s what I tweeted after the Wales game, during which Lletget was miscast as a false 9.Berhalter did indeed stop with the false 9 stuff vs. Panama, and both Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto made good cases for themselves. Gioacchini’s natural inclination to link play is such a nice foundational building block, but he seems to pair it with high-level mobility and a willingness to scrap in the box. Soto, obviously, just has a nose for goal.None of these guys — either those two, or Gyasi ZardesJozy Altidore, Josh Sargent, Daryl DikeJeremy Ebobisse or Ayo Akinola — need to become Robert Lewandowski to play a significant role in what has the potential to become an excellent attack (though I would not complain if one did, in fact, become Robert Lewandowski). They just need to be capable of executing those patterns of play at pace, to stay on their toes, and to put the ball in the net when the opportunity presents itself.Regardless, I do believe that one of these guys needs to start even if it means leaving a nominally more talented winger or attacking midfielder on the bench. Balance, and getting the talent on the field to function together, is more important than just putting as much talent as is possible out there.

I don’t know if there’s much else to take from these games beyond that. They were B Team, shake-the-rust-off friendlies, and they were largely fun and good even if there were bits of disappointment scattered in. There is a clear plan of attack — and of how to attack — and more young talent than the program’s ever had scattered throughout the roster.But the truth is that with 10 months between now and the start of World Cup qualifying, these games will be largely forgotten as the games that matter finally come around. It’s not a scoreless draw vs .Wales that’ll determine who’s on the field and in what role next September; it’s club situations and injuries and opportunity, as well as a jam-packed next summer of US games at every age-group (Johnny, Uly and Konrad with the U-20s? I’d like to see it!).We’ll know more by then. In the meantime, the past 180 minutes were pretty fun and pretty purposeful. That’s good enough for me, for now.

Takeaways from USMNT’s 6-2 thumping of Panama, featuring Gio Reyna’s first senior national team goal (video)

Doug McIntyreYahoo Sports•November 16, 2020

The second-youngest lineup in U.S. men’s national team history didn’t look the part for most of Monday’s 6-2 exhibition rout of CONCACAF rival Panama in Austria. Following last week’s impressive if anticlimactic scoreless friendly with Wales, the Americans started slow, conceding the opening goal to Los Canaleros just over seven minutes into the contest. The early blow brought the USMNT to life. “It was a wakeup call.” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.Giovanni Reyna started the comeback off of a seeing-eye free kick, Nicholas Gioacchini scored twice in a four minute span in the first half and Sebastian Soto and Sebastian Lletget added goals in the second as Gregg Berhalter’s side secured a convincing victory against a team the U.S. will face during qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

Here are three quick takeaways from Monday’s match:

Reyna makes his mark in his second U.S. appearance

Reyna’s much anticipated senior team debut was solid if unspectacular. But on Monday, he produced some of the end-product that has helped him emerge as one of the world’s top young talents with German titan Borussia Dortmund.Not only did his 18th-minute strike get the Americans back on level terms, it also showed off the newly-minted 18-year-old’s soccer brain, as Reyna sent his shot under Panama’s wall:

The goal made Reyna — the son of former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna and U.S. women’s team winger Danielle Egan — the third youngest scorer in program history. That it came in a dub mattered, tool.“We were all motivated today to get the win against a CONCACAF opponent,” Reyna said afterward, noting Los Canaleros physicality. “We got a little bit of a taste of what CONCACAF teams will be like against us.”It wasn’t a perfect showing; as much as Reyna was at the heart of many of the USA’s best moves at Wiener Neustadt Stadium, the normally tidy midfielder quite uncharacteristically got caught in possession on multiple occasions in the second half, before being replaced by the more defense-minded Johnny Cardoso at the hour mark.Still, in these last two games — which U.S. headliner Christian Pulisic missed because of a hamstring injury — Reyna showed, in flashes at least, why everyone is so excited about his future.

Gioacchini, Soto take advantage of opportunities up top

Even before 20-year-old Werder Bremen striker Josh Sargent was forced off the squad because of local COVID-19 restrictions in Germany, Berhalter’s 24-deep roster was painfully thin up top.With MLS options Jozy Altidore (injury) and Gyasi Zardes (playoff commitments) — probably No. 1 and 2 on the coach’s depth chart — also unavailable, LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget was deployed as a “false 9” in last week’s stalemate in Swansea, in which the visitors registered just one on-target shot.Berhalter promised Sunday that he would start an actual front runner against the Panamanians. Gioacchini made the most of his chance. “I feel like I have a lot to improve on [but] my first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he said before being named Man of the Match. “Two goals is not easy for anyone.”The Kansas City native, 20, headed home his first off the rebound of a Uly Llanez shot following a sequence that started with Weston McKennie winning the ball in midfield and springing Reyna, who found Llanez on the right:McKennie also helped set up Gioacchini’s second by keeping the ball in play and crossing to defender Matt Miazga, who headed back across the face of goal. Gioacchini didn’t hesitate to stick his noggin into a dangerous spot to nod past keeper Orlando Mosquera:

Gioacchini, who plays for French second tier side Caen, could even have added a third and completed his hat trick, but Mosquera smothered his second-half penalty kick — a miss that made the things interesting when Jose Fajardo’s second pulled one back for Panama late on.But Soto restored the two-goal advantage six minutes into his debut. With the result beyond doubt, Lletget made it 5-2. Soto added the cherry with his second in stoppage time.For a team that needs all the finishing help it can get, Gioacchini’s and Soto’s performances had to have made an impression on Berhalter — one he’s not likely to forget in 2021.“It was really important for both of them. We’re really happy for both of them,” Berhalter said. “When we talked last week about the depth chart of the striker or the forward position being limited, any chance you get you have to take it, and these guys did a good job tonight.”

European-based Americans end difficult 2020 on a high

Monday’s win marked the final match of the year for most of the national team’s big guns, who will be busy with their European clubs if and when U.S. Soccer is able to schedule one final friendly next month outside of the international window — a game that would likely feature MLS players not involved in the domestic league’s Dec. 12 championship.Getting the two November games in at all during the coronavirus pandemic was a triumph in itself. Producing two solid displays, even if there were some defensive lapses on Monday, is an added bonus following all the challenges that this year has brought.“We were way too static against Wales,” Berhalter said. “And I think today the intention was to get behind the [back] line more. And that really helped the team, it really helped stretch Panama and gave us some space that we needed.“As we had to grind, and as the game got more difficult, that was what I was really interested in,” the coach added. “I’m really proud of that response as well. The subs who came in made a difference. Overall, it was a really good week.”

Breakdown of USMNT players in Wales, Panama friendlies

Nicholas Mendola  Mon, November 16, 2020, 7:16 PM EST·6 min read

The United States men’s national team played its first two matches in 10 months this week, showcasing youthful vigor and plenty of growth since Gregg Berhalter’s program development was stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

[ USMNT – PANAMA: Three things | Player ratings ]

There were a lot of winners and few outright ‘losers’ — relatively speaking — from the scoreless draw against Wales and the blowout defeat of Panama. Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, and Zack Steffen were the lone players to go 90 minutes in both matches, while Giovanni Reyna, Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, and Matt Miazga were the other four players to get two starts.

[ WATCH: Reyna’s gorgeous free kick, Gioacchini’s brace ]

Below is the full minute breakdown for the men of the USMNT camp. Who seized the chances provided by the absence of Christian Pulisic, Jordan Morris, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, and the rest of MLS?

More: USMNT

MLS v Europe: USMNT debate rumbles on WATCH: Post-match analysis of USMNT’s 6-2 defeat of Panama Gioacchini, Soto braces enliven USMNT center forward discussion

Goalkeepers

Zack Steffen — 180 minutes, one clean sheet
Ethan Horvath — DNP
Chitiru Odunze — DNP

Horvath not seeing the field against Panama means Berhalter sees Steffen as his no-doubt No. 1, while Odunze was just here for reps. We knew that anyway, but the 180 minutes underscores it.

Defenders

Sergino Dest — 180 minutes (two starts)
Matt Miazga — 167 minutes (two starts), assist
Reggie Cannon — 93 minutes (one start, one sub), assist
Antonee Robinson — 90 minutes (one start)
John Brooks — 90 minutes (one start)
Tim Ream — 90 minutes (one start)
Chris Richards — 10 minutes (one sub)

Dest was electric in going 90 minutes each at right and left back, one of only two players to go the distance against both Wales and Panama. Cannon had a better camp than Robinson, but was it enough to keep Dest on his non-preferred side (and can Cannon man the left)?

Brooks was the Man of the Match against Wales and is the no doubt No. 1 in the pool, talent-wise. Miazga was fine against Wales but made mistakes on both Panama goals, with Ream sharing some blame on the opener. Richards only getting 10 minutes might say more about an extended chance for Miazga than it does for the Bayern Munich man.

Midfielders

Weston McKennie — 180 minutes (two starts)
Yunus Musah — 157 minutes (two starts)
Tyler Adams — 133 minutes (two starts)
Sebastian Lletget — 100 minutes (one start, one sub), goal
Johnny Cardoso — 47 minutes (two subs)
Richy Ledezma — 22 minutes (one sub), 2 assists
Owen Otasowie — 3 minutes (one sub)

McKennie was the team’s heart and soul in both matches, going the distance and barely putting a foot awry with the exception of what could’ve been a red card tackle in the second half against Panama. Berhalter had huge praise for the Juventus man, who looks very much like a player who’s been earning minutes in the Serie A powers’ midfield. He played a big role in the first three goals versus Panama.

Musah is the real deal, and the only question is whether the ball transporter will choose playing and probably starting for the USMNT now over a chance with England down the line (He’s repped England at many youth levels). The Valencia teen’s signature would be a massive victory for the USMNT.

Adams was good in both games. The question for Berhalter is whether he’s should be the lone holding/defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 or if a double pivot may be needed more often.

Lletget’s 100 minutes are both misleading and not; Berhalter shoehorning the midfielder into a start at forward against Wales shows how much he loves the player who has been good in most of his USMNT caps, but he’s not getting that look with Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes, and maybe now both Gioacchini and Soto available.

Cardoso is green, which Berhalter noted, but he definitely had the technical skills and tenacity often seen from players who hail from Brazilian clubs.

Ledezma proved he’s ready for prime time, at least against CONCACAF defenses, by getting into space and providing two assists to Soto. He’ll continue to get looks.

Otasowie’s cameo will lead to some questions for a player who can still choose other clubs and could soon see minutes for Wolves in the Premier League.

Forwards

Giovanni Reyna — 147 minutes (two starts), goal
Nicholas Gioacchini — 87 minutes (one start, one sub), 2 goals
Ulysses Llanez — 81 minutes (one start, one sub)
Konrad de la Fuente — 71 minutes (one start)
Timothy Weah — 24 minutes (two subs)
Sebastian Soto — 13 minutes, (one sub) 2 goals

We finally got to see Reyna with the senior team. Neither performance would qualify anywhere near his best days with Borussia Dortmund but he honestly had looked a little fatigued in recent BVB outings and frankly he probably could use a rest after a thrilling but fatiguing breakthrough in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. His free kick goal was wonderful.

Gioacchini’s and Soto’s performances against Panama will have a lot of us wondering if this would’ve been a 2-0 international break had Berhalter opted for either (or Timothy Weah) over lone-MLS representative Lletget in an out-of-position start last week. Their stock has risen the highest of any non-Reyna first-timer.

Llanez played in both matches and should only get better with more and more European minutes. He’s on loan from Wolfsburg to Dutch side Heerenveen, where he’s made three sub appearances and thrice been an unused sub. A scary-looking knee injury versus Panama was fortunately not a concern.

Weah is a big question mark. A super sub for Lille who’s scored six goals in 33 senior appearances between the Ligue 1 side, Celtic, and Paris Saint-Germain, his not starting at center forward over Lletget only to not get the call against Panama either begs questions that have yet to be asked of Berhalter. It’s reasonable enough to think he could be on a minutes restriction after a massive knee injury last season, as he’s gone 10, 8, 11, 7, 12, 1, and 14 minutes in his seven matches for second-place Lille.

Nicholas Gioacchini, Sebastian Soto offer encouragement in USMNT’s striking stocks

7:28 PM ET   Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

The worth of a forward is often in the eye of the beholder. A 30-yard-blast counts as much as a 2-yard tap-in, even though the former is often what gets the hearts of fans beating faster.There is value in both kinds of goals — not to mention link play and pressing — but the U.S. men’s national team was grateful for the two short-range tallies from Nicholas Gioacchini and another pair from substitute Sebastian Soto in a 6-2 friendly win over Panama on Monday.Forward play — and really the lack of playing with one by virtue of using a false nine — was one of the main talking points following the 0-0 draw with Wales last Friday. The U.S. dominated possession but had little in the way of attacking thrust, especially in the box. Against a rebuilding Panama side, manager Gregg Berhalter decided to go with a more standard alignment, handing Gioacchini his first start. “You could tell he was a little bit apprehensive,” said Berhalter about Gioacchini. “My job was just to give him confidence and tell him that he’s good enough, and he showed it tonight.”he Caen forward didn’t get on the ball much, just 18 touches in his 77 minutes of work. But he was in the right spots when it mattered, pouncing on a rebound in 22nd minute to put the U.S. ahead for good 2-1, and then adding another four minutes later on a diving header following a slick buildup.”I had a week that I’ll never, ever, ever forget,” Gioacchini said afterward. But he was also already critiquing his own performance, which included a penalty that was saved by Panama goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera.

“My first impression I don’t think was a bad one,” he continued. “But I could have done way better for myself, been more available to the midfield even to the center-backs. In the box, I still had areas where I felt like I should have been five steps ahead of where you were, even two steps ahead. So, you know, it’s always something to review and to remember. But still, two goals is not easy for anyone.”The day was just as memorable for Soto, who came off the bench to score two headed goals. In the process, he showed off his mobility and knack for being in good spots.The play of both players hints that the depth at the forward position might be a bit deeper than originally thought, though context is needed. Mosquera looked very shaky on his international debut. It also seems unlikely that either forward will jump ahead of the likes of Josh SargentGyasi Zardes or Jozy Altidore. That said, the impression made by both players was a positive one.”For me, it was a good performance by [Soto and Gioacchini],” Berhalter said. “But it’s important. When we talked last week about potentially the depth chart of the striker and forward position being limited, any chance you get, you need to take it, and these guys did a good job.”While the forwards delivered, the play of the team as a whole was a bit all over the place, filled with some sparkling play and also some teachable moments. That was just fine with Berhalter, who was pleased to see his young side be exposed to how a game against a CONCACAF opponent can play out.”It was a very difficult game, a very physical game — more physical than the Wales game,” said Berhalter. “We needed that. The guys needed it. We had some guys calling for fouls. These aren’t going to be fouls. You’ve got to play on.”The U.S. started the match almost asleep, lacking in defensive focus, only to be woken up by Jose Fajardo‘s eighth-minute header that gave Los Canaleros a shock 1-0 lead. The U.S. soon asserted control through its midfield, scoring three times in an eight minute span, with recent birthday boy Gio Reyna netting his first international goal courtesy of a free kick that was won by Yunus Musah.

In the second half, the U.S. then returned to sleep mode, as Panama ratcheted up its intensity and physical play. Weston McKennie, while excellent on the night, was lucky to stay on the field with a two-footed tackle on Panama’s Gaby Torres that drew only a yellow card. When Fajardo bagged his second of the night in the 79th minute with well-taken drive, there was a question of whether a team with plenty of debutantes on the field could see the game out. That they did, with Richie Ledezma assisting on both of Soto’s goal and Sebastian Lletget adding another.

“That was the period I was most interested in,” said Berhalter. “I was really interested in seeing where we gonna buckle or could we hang in there. And not only did we hang in there, we pulled away at the end, scoring a number of goals, so I was pleased with the performance.”Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this international window was the play of the U.S. central midfield. Once again, Tyler Adams, McKennie, and Musah shined. The task now is to convince Musah to stick with the U.S. for the long term. The two recent performances don’t cap-tie him to the U.S., and England have made it clear they don’t intend to let Musah go without a fight. The U.S. have been able to strike first, however, and that at least gets Musah pondering his options.”I was really happy with, with Yunus’ performance, I’m really happy with him in camp. The guys really took to him well,” said Berhalter.”All I’ve ever said about players in his category is that all we want to do is create an environment for them that they want to be in, that they trust is a good environment for their development. And it seemed like that was the case for Yunus. It seems like he sees us as a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good, young group. But in the end, it’s going to be him and his family that decide.”Things are already looking up for the U.S. given how young players are beginning to establish themselves with their clubs. If Musah commits to the U.S., that feeling will only increase.

Armchair Analyst: Tactical preview of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Play-In matches

The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs are finally here! And that means a Play-In round, because for some reason 10 teams made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference! It’s a little weird and I still don’t get it, but what the hell — more soccer is more better.

So let’s take a look:


New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact

Friday, November 20 (6:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN 1/4, TVA Sports)

What New England will do: It’s a Bruce Arena team in the postseason, and Bruce Arena teams are first and foremost about defense in the postseason. Remember his 2011 LA Galaxy side that won the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double? That team had Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham and Mike Magee, and they won their four playoff games that year 1-0, 2-1, 3-1 and 1-0.

Look at that list of players and then look at those scorelines. That’s the Platonic Ideal of a Bruce Arena playoff run.

Now look at that list of players once more, then look at the list of the Revs’ best players and… oh dear. It’s not quite the same, is it?

New England have by-and-large played good soccer this year out of a 4-4-2ish 4-2-3-1. They generate useful possession out of midfield and get both fullbacks forward into good spots, and defensively they’ve been one of the best teams in the league on top of the fact that, in Matt Turner, they have the very best goalkeeper in the league.

The problem, though, is all that useful possession has too infrequently turned into high-quality chances, and it’s because they have not gotten the sort of elite play from their DPs that Arena’s Galaxy teams could always count on:

Gustavo Bou, who was on a heater when he arrived in MLS last year, regressed in the exact manner his xG totals suggested he would. He is a conscience-less gunner who eschews the extra pass for low-percentage shots from waaaaay downtown.

Adam Buksa barely moves the needle. While his individual advanced numbers are promising, he has virtually no teamwide effect as per Second Spectrum tracking data:

  • When Buksa sits, New England overall produce 13.37 shots and 1.17xG per 90 minutes (4th and 10th in the league).
  • When Buksa plays, those numbers marginally increase to 13.78 shots and 1.25 xG per 90 (4th and 9th in the league).

Lots of shots, but a middling ROI. That’s Bou’s ethos seeping in teamwide.

All of this can be forgiven, to a degree, by the absence of playmaker Carles Gil, who managed to start just four games during an injury-riddled season. No. 10s by their very nature tend to create higher-quality chances, and Gil spent a lot of 2019 doing exactly that. His presence will help, even if he is likely better off picking the ball up in midfield and releasing the likes of Teal Bunbury and Tajon Buchanan into space than he is dictating from the final third.

What Montreal will do: They’ll most likely force New England to try and dictate from the final third. Bunbury just had probably his best year as a pro, but he is light-years more dangerous in transition than in front-foot possession. Buksa and Bou are inconsistent. Bucanan is a talent, but is not yet productive.This is the exact type of team who invites forward and just beg them to bang their collective heads against the wall for 90 minutes, and then try to smash-and-grab on the counter or a set piece. Thierry Henry’s team has not been defensively resolute enough to make that work week after week during the regular season, but they’ve got some rest now, and plenty of tape of and familiarity with the Revs. There won’t be many illusions re: what they’re facing.Enter right back/right wingback Zachary Brault-Guillard, who tormented New England when these teams first met in 2020:

His ability to make those direct runs and be dangerous at pace — while reaching a top speed that almost no one else in the league can hit — isn’t just a wild card here: It’s a devastating avenue of attack that has unbalanced the exact team they happen to be facing in this game.A lot of things have changed since March, and there will certainly be new and different faces on the pitch for both teams. And I’m not even willing to wager on what formation Henry will play (though if you forced me to, I’d say 5-4-1). But one thing I don’t think has changed since then is the best path forward for Montreal against this New England side: Up the right flank, to Brault-Guillard, and hopefully (for them) into the next round of the playoffs.

X-Factor No. 1: Whether Victor Wanyama plays or not, the Impact have been soft as hell up the spine and are prone to giving up a ton of room in that gap between the central midfield and central defense. It doesn’t matter who Wanyama’s been flanked with (Henry has at times fielded three defensive midfielders), nor whether the Impact goes with four or five at the back.

If Gil sets up shop there, Montreal’s in trouble.

And also, you can probably tell from my tone above I don’t love Bou’s shoot-on-sight mentality. But the thing is, sometimes those low-percentage looks go in, and if you’re giving him time to wind up from 28 yards and nobody’s closing him down, I don’t precisely hate his chances. A Bou golazo in those circumstances would surprise no one.

X-Factor No. 2: The Revs are one of the best teams in the league defending from open play, but are among the very worst defending on set pieces — corners in particular. Montreal aren’t anything special on restarts, but you don’t have to be to find paydirt against New England.


Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami

Friday, November 20 (9 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN 1/5, TVA Sports)

What Nashville will try to do: Nashville beat pretty much everybody’s expectations, including my own. I had them pegged for an Orlando City-esque opening season — close to the playoff race throughout the year, but eventually finishing just shy of the dance. The difference would be the 2015 Orlando City side did it with their attack, while this Nashville team was obviously built to defend.

And defend they did, right from the jump. In fact they defended so well they survived having the league’s worst attack right up until mid-September. And since then they’ve kept defending well, while the attack has evolved to “pretty ok-ish, and sometimes even good.”

And that is why they’re in the playoffs. Nashville really did earn this spot.

To reiterate, though: It’s defense first, and quite often it’s defense first, last and always. Nashville are prone toward parking themselves — almost always in a 4-2-3-1 — right in goalkeeper Joe Willis’s lap and just living off of their ability to clear their own area and then counter. Per Second Spectrum tracking data, Nashville are:

  • 2nd in the league in sequences per 90 minutes that begin in their defensive third, and 2nd in the league on transition sequences that begin in their defensive third (effectively tied for first with Portland (19.554 vs 19.552).
  • 3rd in the league on live ball turnovers per game that are won in the defensive third, behind only Portland and Dallas.
  • 8th in the league (33.143 passes per game) in long-balls, which they attempt, on average, 4th furthest from the opponent’s goal.

If you let them sit and defend a million crosses, and then give them room to counter, they will hurt you.

That said, they have progressively added more to their attack over the course of the season, including a bit of pressing:

To be perfectly honest, I think they should press the hell out of a dodgy and lacking-in-any-sort-of-chemistry Miami side as soon as the whistle blows and not stop until they’ve got a two-goal cushion. But we didn’t really see a ton of that version of Nashville.

What Miami will try to do: I kind of have no idea. There were so many changes throughout the year from Miami — personnel, formation, tactics, line of confrontation — that it’s almost impossible to predict what, exactly, we could see from them in this one. Maybe it all comes together and clicks and their multi-million-dollar global stars look like multi-million-dollar global stars. Or maybe they bag a couple of set pieces like they did on Decision Day presented by AT&T (please note: It’s easier to do that vs. Cincy than against Nashville), or maybe they… just do what they’ve done all year.

“What they’ve done all year” is have a lot of the ball and struggle to turn that into high-percentage chances. Their best looks usually come when winger Lewis Morgan is released down the right side and can pick out whoever’s making the back-post run. Know who was most effective at that in 2020? Brek Shea. Brek Shea is key to this team’s playoff hopes, folks.I tend to think Morgan and Shea will start on the wings, with Rodolfo Pizarro (if he’s back in time) as the No. 10 and Gonzalo Higuain as the center forward. Higuain has been brutally bad in front of goal — he has just one goal, which was a direct free kick, in 802 minutes since his arrival — but has actually done real and effective link-up work with his back to goal. He has arguably been the best playmaker on the team.

When you have a No. 9 doing that and two wingers who like to get to the edges of the box and a No. 10 who’s more of a runner than a playmaker, it becomes obvious what the gameplan is: Have Higuain check back to the ball and try to draw one of the Nashville center backs out, then use coordinated patterns of play to exploit that space said center back just vacated. It is easier said than done.

I do think we’re likelier to see a 4-2-3-1 than a 3-4-2-1, though neither would surprise me from Diego Alonso.

X-Factor No. 1: Nashville’s line of confrontation. I said above that I’d press the hell out of Miami — just rattle that backline early and often. They will break if you do that.

X-Factor No. 2: DP quality matters. Neither of these teams can look at their top-end talent and be happy with what was delivered this year, but if you went into the playoffs with Higuain and Pizarro as your match-winners vs. Jhonder CadizRandal Leal and Hany Mukhtar, who are you taking?

I am a big “You win with 1-through-30” guy during the regular season. But in the playoffs, sometimes it’s “you don’t lose with 3-through-15 and you hope Nos. 1 & 2 get you the dub.”

Unless Walker Zimmerman goes HAM on restarts — and he might! — Miami are better suited for that kind of competition.

Bandwagon guide to the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs: Who to root for and why

Someone has to win MLS Cup. There is a very strong chance it will not be your team. If your team is eliminated or — yikes — maybe didn’t even make the playoffs, you’ll need someone to root for the rest of the way. We’re here to help. 

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union

For fans of: Good tweets, The Little Rascals successfully outsmarting adults, Saying things like “strength in numbers”, Captain America, Snake-men? 

You should hop on the wagon because: The Union are the Team of the People. They would be this simply by the virtue of having Ilsinho on the team, but they’ve proven themselves to be so much more than that this year. They’ve created one of the highest-flying attacks in the league with a mixture of homegrowns and relative unknowns that embody the Soccer Man ideal of the team being stronger than the individual. You aren’t going to go wrong with adopting this team as your own. You may even win the whole thing. But with a team as fun and likable as this one, there’s always a chance they become too popular and you seem kind of lame for picking them. It’s probably worth the risk though.

Toronto FC

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6204190980001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 For fans of: Spy vs. Spy, The Escher Staircase, Groundhog Day, Eating soup for five meals a day, Clemson-Alabama national championship games, Full House

You should hop on the wagon because: There are some of you who are looking for nothing more than a little comfort in 2020. It’s totally understandable. It’s nice to have constants. And a Toronto-Seattle MLS Cup will bring you back to the comforts of 2016 or 2017 or 2019. 

For those of you looking for something beyond that, the only answer is Ayo Akinola. He’s one of the league’s best stories. He also happens to be a combination of all your favorite strikers at once. As soon as he’s done bullying you, he can turn around and prove he’s smarter than you just for fun. He’s the high school quarterback with a 4.8 GPA. It’s terrifying to go up against, but a joy to watch from afar. If you want to root for Toronto to make MLS Cup (again) but Ayo scores all the goals, everyone would understand. 

Columbus Crew SC

For fans of: Getting an A on the first three tests so you can cruise with D-’s on the last three, The Darlington Nagbe heatmap, The Akron Zips, Taxis, Guy Fieri

You should hop on the wagon because: There’s something really commendable about starting off the year so well that you can take a few weeks off toward the end and still end up near the top of the conference. The Crew are here to appeal to those among us who have the ability to make something of themselves if they apply themselves, but aren’t really worried about applying themselves just yet. They’ll show up when it matters. And now it matters. Live vicariously through them unmotivated brilliant people. 

Orlando City SC

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6171724396001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 For fans of: Sports movie montages, Self-help books, Barbecue, Lightning McQueen, That scene in “A Christmas Story” where the kid snaps and beats up the bully 

You should hop on the wagon because: This wagon might be crowded but that’s ok. Everyone else is new here, too. Everything about Orlando’s turnaround is pretty well documented by this point, but that doesn’t mean this team isn’t absurdly fun. Chris Mueller’s whole “Money Badger” thing continues to be a blessing on all of us, Daryl Dike is The Truth, Mauricio Pereyra sees like five moves ahead of everyone else, Nani!, and Ruan is still very, very fast. If you like the part in Karate Kid where the Karate Kid kicks that other kid in the face and everyone cheers including the kid who got kicked in the face because the Karate Kid is so likable at that point, this team will work for you.

NYCFC

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6206764904001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 For fans of: Fullback appreciation, “Business Casual”, Futsal, The corner of the room at parties

You should hop on the wagon because: Uhhh … you’re really into a fullback being the best player on the team? Anton Tinnerholm is fun! Otherwise, man, this team has been pretty quiet all season. They’ve been sneaky good though. They’re far closer to being in the top-four than I think anyone realizes. Maybe the hook is you’re someone who wants the unappreciated to be appreciated a little more. Or maybe it’s that you’ll have a wagon largely to yourself. Bring your Peloton. Do some yoga. Stretch yourself out. Enjoy the space. At least for now. 

New York Red Bulls

For fans of: Classic rock, Using the appropriate ratio of shampoo to conditioner, Committing to the bit, The “new manager bounce,” Looking incredible in convertibles  

You should hop on the wagon because: You love incredible hair. We could talk about this team rebounding from their coach being let go in September to become a legitimate playoff team with a chance to play a major spoiler role, but why would we when half the team has committed to not going anywhere near a barber for the last few months and They. Are. Owning it. 

https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=J_SamJones&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-1&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1326187074358308864&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mlssoccer.com%2Fpost%2F2020%2F11%2F19%2Fbandwagon-guide-audi-2020-mls-cup-playoffs-who-root-and-why&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px Plus, ya know, Aaron Long’s “Billy from Stranger Things” mullet. 

Nashville SC

For fans of: Keeping your air hockey paddle up against the goal, Brutalist architecture, the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, Using your car to hit a puddle right as you pass a well-dressed businessman

You should hop on the wagon because: This team is going to ruin someone’s year. You can just feel it when you watch them. They’ve been hot throughout the back end of this season and it’s largely because they don’t really let anyone score on them. And when they do, they’ve been able to find their way back into games anyway. Don’t act like their 3-2 comeback over Orlando wasn’t a serious omen. This is coming. They’re going to run out of hot chicken and signed Jason Isbell live records soon, y’all better hop on this one while you can. 

New England Revolution

For fans of: Goalkeeping, Coming back from injury at the right time, uhhhh … goalkeeping? 

You should hop on the wagon because: You love goalkeeping. And you’re heavily invested in the comeback story of Carles Gil. And … you love goalkeeping? 

Look, Matt Turner could spoil a team’s entire playoff run and there’s nothing more frustrating than losing after your team puts up like 30 shots and doesn’t score because the keeper goes off. If you’re that kind of abrasive, this team is for you.

Montreal Impact

For fans of: Being handsome, Thierry Henry, Thierry Henry being handsome, Not really caring if you lose by five as long as you score five, Google translate, Carelessly handling nitroglycerin  

You should hop on the wagon because: This team just absolutely does not care about defense. And they’re still here. Why? Because they care a lot about scoring. They’re an incredible and underrated chaos team. They’re a combo of LAFC without the millionaire talent and San Jose without the man-marking. No one gave up more goals than them in the East. This wagon may crash at any time but it will probably explode when it does. Won’t that be cool? 

Inter Miami CF

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6197239037001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036774001 For fans of: Juventus?, The Anarchist Cookbook

You should hop on the wagon because: I know everyone is staring at the Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi floor models, but can I take you to the end of the lot and show you this shiny Lewis Morgan everyone seems to be ignoring? He has five goals and eight assists this season and has scored a few stunners along the way. This team has people who can play outside of the two huge names and that should really entice you to suppo — hahahaha no, no, I’m just kidding, this bandwagon is clearly about a “10th-seed’ winning MLS Cup because we’re all deeply broken and it would be hilarious. 

Western Conference

Sporting Kansas City

https://www.mlssoccer.com/iframe-video?brightcove_id=6205416620001&brightcove_player_id=default&brightcove_account_id=5530036772001 For fans of: Precise haircuts, Yelling at the referees on TV even though you know they can’t hear, Watching everyone in the Royal Rumble wear themselves out before jumping in, No one believing in us.

You should hop on the wagon because: Despite this team finishing first in the Western Conference, I have a pretty good idea of how many experts and analysts and the general population outside of Kansas City are going to pick SKC to make MLS Cup. It is a very small amount. If you’re tired of good work being underappreciated or you love a team with an “Everyone is still doubting us” chip on their shoulder, this is your team. Or maybe you just love a good military brush cut? 

Seattle Sounders

For fans of: Spy vs. Spy, The Escher Staircase, Groundhog Day, Eating soup for five meals a day, Clemson-Alabama national championship games, Full House

You should hop on the wagon because: There are some of you who are looking for nothing more than a little comfort in 2020. It’s totally understandable. It’s nice to have constants. And a Toronto-Seattle MLS Cup will bring you back to the comforts of 2016 or 2017 or 2019.

For those of you looking for something beyond that, Raul Ruidiaz is liable at any time to pull off the most incredible goal you’ve ever seen in your life, Jordan Morris is a dang fighter jet on the wing despite everyone being worried about his posture, Nico Lodeiro has yet to stop running, Stefan Frei seems chill and weird in a good way, Brian Schmetzer is everyone’s dad and … I don’t know, maybe you’re really into fighting over whether certain teams are dynasties because you’re possibly anti-social? All of these are reasons this team could work for you. 

Portland Timbers

For fans of: The name Diego, Brothers, The Logging Industry, Overcoming injuries, A second Hype-Cart, Little brothers becoming taller brothers, Green

You should hop on the wagon because: If you had to take your pick of who might keep us from another Seattle-Toronto MLS Cup, it’s probably Portland. They’ve given Seattle issues for most of the season and they match up well against them. It also helps that they’ve already proven they’re an excellent tournament team this season. The MLS is Back Tournament champions are for anyone who believes in wanting the ball with the game on the line. 

Minnesota United

For fans of: Having a Google Doc listing those who have wronged you

Colorado Rapids

For fans of: Being technically correct

You should hop on the wagon because: You find it amazing that even if this team wins MLS Cup, they will have played less games than every single team in the Eastern Conference. Seriously, in 2020, that’s an incredible outcome. And for the more nihilistic of us, it would be funny. Other than that, I dunno, maybe you’re impressed by Cole Bassett in a big way? 

FC Dallas

For fans of: Luchi Gang, Big Bad Bryan, Cheez-Its, Wearing your shirt two-sizes too large, Clemson football, Tanner the Tank, Memes

You should hop on the wagon because: Dallas’ social presence alone almost makes this worth it, but throw in the fact you have likable and youthful personalities all over the field and this is a team where the wagon won’t be crowded, but everyone on it will be interesting and enjoyable. Like a cozy hipster coffeeshop before it gets too popular. This team is also talented enough to make a run if you’re into that kind of thing too. 

LAFC

For fans of: Four Loko, Chugging Four Loko, Not the new Four Loko, the old Four Loko when it was actually cool, Importing Buckfast Tonic Wine because you hear it’s like Four Loko, but maybe better, Attaching jumper cables to your ears and a live car battery while you drink Four Buckfast Tonic Wine Loko, a combination of both of your favorite drinks 

You should hop on the wagon because: The wagon is actually a tank and it’s not on the ground, it’s actually falling through the sky and the tank is on fire and this could either be the greatest night of your life or the worst. Would you like some Four Loko? 

San Jose Earthquakes

For fans of: The “Heart” character on Captain Planet, Jimmy Chitwood, The Fast and Furious franchise, Scoring with any part of your body, Opening Pandora’s Box because it’s a Saturday and you and your friends are bored, Heartfelt speeches

You should hop on the wagon because: You believe in love. You believe in the power of a team to become more than just a collection of players, but a family. An honest to God family. One that has each other’s back at every turn. You believe in one-on-one interactions, eye contact and a firm handshake. You believe in yourself. You believe in each other. You believe if hugs were currency, well then you’re the richest person alive. You believe the sun rises each day to give you one more chance to bring joy into the world.

You also believe it’s totally ok to give up two or six goals or so and look everyone’s just going to have to be OK with that, love can only get you so far.

After Germany’s 6-0 defeat to Spain, is it time for Joachim Low to go?

You have faith in your captain. He led your conquest of the Seven Seas. You see the cracks in the hull; he shows you how to repair them. You take on water; he tells you to pump it out. You capsize in Russian waters; he gets you to right the boat, jettisoning some of your most experienced crew. And then a big Spanish wave comes, nearly splitting your boat in two. Is it time to throw the captain overboard?

The 6-0 beatdown that Germany suffered against Spain is the country’s heaviest defeat since a 6-0 trouncing, in 1931, at the hands of the Austrian “Wunderteam” and “The Paper Man,” Matthias Sindelar. But the scoreline doesn’t tell the story. If it wasn’t for that “GER” emblazoned in the top left-hand corner of your screen as you watched the game, you’d be forgiven for thinking Spain were facing Liechtenstein or Andorra, such was the disparity on the pitch.

– Germany suffer biggest competitive loss | Bierhoff backs Low
– Biggest international shocks: Germany’s 6-0 not their worst result!

Germany were outshot 23-2. They had zero shots on target. They had 30% possession. Spain also hit the woodwork and, with no VAR, had another goal chalked off for what looked like a blown offside call.

Is that enough to convey the magnitude of the slaughter in Seville? Do you need more reasons for why headline writers everywhere are wittily talking about a “new Low”?

Biggest international shocks: Germany’s loss to Spain not even their worst

International football may be changing, but its currency is still that of cliché. Brazil are the creative types, Italy the defensive types and Germany, the solid, consistent, not-necessarily-pretty-but-always-present types. The stereotypes are long passé in terms of being anchored to reality, but they persist in the back of people’s minds because they aren’t conjured out of thin air, but rather reflect how a football culture sees itself.One of Jogi Low’s strengths in his heyday was to marry that sense of discipline, confidence and solidity with the tactical acumen and technical strides the country made after its reboot from the 2006 World Cup on.Under Low, first as Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant in 2006 and then in sole charge immediately after, Germany reached at least the semifinals in every major tournament right up to 2018. Then came the debacle in Russia — when they were eliminated at the group stage for the first time since 1938 — and when belief began to waver, Low sold the notion that this was just a blip.

Low took the sort of bold, decisive steps that long-tenured coaches are often accused of not being willing to make. He owned the World Cup failure. He didn’t make excuses. He ditched his longtime stalwarts, guys who had delivered for him in the past. Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira were cast out immediately after the last World Cup; Thomas MullerMats Hummels and Jerome Boateng were told their services were no longer needed a few months later.Except then, you have to follow up, both with results and performances. And Germany did not.

Their competitive record since Russia — nine wins, five draws, four defeats — may not seem horrific (though it is subpar by German standards), but that includes Euro 2020 qualifying against the likes of Belarus, Northern Ireland and Estonia. Limit yourself to the last two Nations League cycles when they were facing quality opposition, and the only country they’ve beaten is Ukraine. (And one of those was last weekend, against a side weakened by positive COVID-19 tests.)

“Everything was bad, from every point of view,” is how Low summed things up after Tuesday’s match. “Nothing worked, both defensively and offensively. We gave up the first goal, and we gave up our entire plan. That killed us. We abandoned our concepts and just ran around aimlessly.”Short of resigning on the spot, you won’t find a more extreme mea culpa. But … so what?Low isn’t deluded. His Geany side was humiliated by a young, rebuilding Spain team that, for all its pedigree, isn’t exactly teeming with household names. This isn’t the Spain of a decade ago, built on the sacred pact between Pep Guardiola’s Barca and Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid that delivered two Euros and a World Cup in six years. This was a team with a single Barcelona player (Sergi Roberto, who isn’t even an automatic choice at club level) and a single Real Madrid player (Sergio Ramos, who came off injured before half-time) in the starting XI. Germany gave up a hat-trick to Ferran Torres, who is 20 and is really only getting playing time at Manchester City because of injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. On the opposite flank was Dani Olmo, who this time last season was playing for — no disrespect — Dinamo Zagreb. At center-forward was Alvaro Morata, the King of Retreads, a guy who was once a “can’t-miss prospect” and, at 28, has experienced more highs and lows than Bitcoin. At the back, you had a guy who is 23, plays for Villarreal and is in only in his second top-fight season (Pau Torres). Next to him, once Ramos went off, was a 19-year-old kid who has made 10 top-flight starts in his entire career (Eric Garcia). The goalkeeper, Unai Simon, is 23 and has started fewer than 50 top-flight games.

This is who beat Germany. Not a savvy, experienced, uber-confident side filled with world superstars, but rather a hungry team of (mostly) youngsters looking to make a name for themselves. Spain’s starting lineup included four players who have won a Big Five league or Champions League at some point: Morata, Ramos, Sergi Roberto and Koke. Germany included four who won the Treble with Bayern Munich less than three months ago, plus Toni KroosLeroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan, who are also former title-winners. And Matthias Ginter, who may not have won a league title, but did win a World Cup.That, most of all, has to be one of Low’s biggest concern. His team didn’t get humiliated because they were too old or too inexperienced or too lacking in quality. They were road-graded because they failed to react and showed no inkling of a plan on the pitch. That’s not what German teams do.Jurgen Klinsmann says only Manuel Neuer has been a leader for Germany since Thomas Muller was frozen out.Even in Russia, at their lowest ebb, they didn’t look like this. In fact, with considerable mental acrobatics, you can conjure up an alternative reality where one of the many chances they created against South Korea in Kazan goes in, the ball doesn’t deflect off Niklas Sule in injury time to play Kim Young-Gwon onside and they somehow advance and go on to achieve great things.And with the same, hyper-stretching of reality, you can blame the 2019 Nations League debacle on Muller, Hummels and Boateng, boils on Die Mannschaft lanced by their exclusion, but you can’t explain away Tuesday night in any way, shape or form. This is a scar that stays with you.It’s not over for Low, though; there’s a European championship to be played in six months — pandemic permitting — and if he turns it around, nobody will forget this night in Seville. He’ll presumably be able to count on Kai Havertz and Joshua Kimmich. The former is one of the greatest raw (emphasis on the word “raw”) in his age group (he’s 20); the latter is arguably the best all-around midfielder in the world.The front three of Sane, Gnabry and Werner is terrifyingly quick and hugely prolific. Before Seville, Neuer was once again hailed as one of the best in the world, plus he’s bounced back from setbacks before. (Even if he doesn’t, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is pretty darn good.) At the back, it looks a bit grim in terms of quality right now, but there are plenty of bodies to choose from and you only need a couple to hit form at the right time.Logic tells you all that. This boat is sturdier than it feels right now, but the question remains: is Low, at this stage, the right captain to lead it out there on the water? Does he really give you the best possible chance of being successful on the open seas? Or do his poor decisions, lack of support among the crew and inherent stubbornness (he said after the match that there was no reason to recall Muller, Hummels and/or Boateng) suggest that it’s time for the old sea dog to return to port, once and for all?

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