12/24/21 Happy Holidays to All, US Men beat Bosnia Move to #11 in World, Holiday Game schedule from EPL

So we finally got a Free month Account for Apple TV and watched the first 2 seasons of Ted Lasso.  OMG – now our favorite show !!  All I can saw is Be a Gold Fish !!   

US Men Win

So the US Men finished out the year with most wins in 1 year as they notched their 17th win with a last minute 1-0 win over a 10 man Bosnia last week.  The win helped launch the US into the Top 11 in the World in FIFA’s World Rankings -1 above defending World Cup winner Germany.  The US men needed a tap in at the 87th minute mark as MF Cole Bassett tapped in a deflection shot from Louisville left back Jonathan Gomez just 5 minutes after checking in to claim the winner for the US.  The US dominated possession 78-22 especially in the 2nd half after a Bosnia player was sent off for a dirty tackle late in the first half.  The US welcomed winger Jordan Morris back for the first time in 2 years as he seems to have mostly recovered from his MCL tear last winter in England.  Overall the youngsters looked pretty good except for US Young Player of the Year Ricardo Pepi who missed a tap in and continued his scoreless run of US games to 4 overall.  Again the US dominated play – but just couldn’t break down the camped in Bosnian’s in the 2nd until the end.  Cardoso started at the 6 and was horrific giving way EVERY single pass he made until finally giving was to a better Jackson Yuell.  Roldan had some decent combos but continued to show why Musah is 10 times than he ever dreamed of being.  (Yes an 8 can take the ball forward like Musah and unlike Roldan).  Not sure why Acosta plays every game as he once proved he can’t play the 8  – his service on free balls was like a 14 year old and his passing in the middle – lets just say he’s a fine emergency sub dmid for Adams – but it was another full waste to see him in the attacking #8 slot where he should never see the field for the US.  Oh well  – we did get a chance to see Henry Kessler in the back with Walker Zimmerman in the middle and the 2 were fantastic.  In fact Kessler’s pinpoint passing out of the back was reminencent of what John Brooks used to do before he lost his touch and his speed earlier this year.  Bello was ok at best on the left back while Brooks Lennon the 18 year old from Atlanta United had some good moments but nothing spectacular on the right side back in his debut.  Turner did turn in his record setting 9th shutout for the US in one year.  All in all the game really sucked and I am sorry I watched it – but I am a sucker and this was just a nice little warm up game so who cares..  The MLS boys will be back for another 2 week camp in January as Berhalter prepares to ready the team for the critical 3 game qualifying window in late Jan and early Feb vs El Salvador (in Columbus), Jan 27, Canada on the road Jan 30 and Honduruas in Minnesota Feb 2.

USMNT ROSTER For DEC (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (3): John Pulskamp (Sporting Kansas City; 0/0), Gabriel Slonina (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Matt Turner (New England Revolution; 12/0) 

DEFENDERS (11): George Bello (Atlanta United; 5/0), Justin Che (FC Dallas; 0/0), Jonathan Gomez (Louisville City; 0/0), Kobi Henry (Orange County SC; 0/0), Henry Kessler (New England Revolution; 1/0), Brooks Lennon (Atlanta United; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 21/3), Kevin Paredes (D.C. United; 0/0), Bryan Reynolds (Roma/ITA; 1/0), Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 22/2)  

MIDFIELDERS (5): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 44/2), Cole Bassett (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA; 2/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 29/0), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes; 15/0)

FORWARDS (7): Taylor Booth (Bayern Munich II/GER; 0/0), Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls; 0/0), Cade Cowell (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 4/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 39/10), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas; 6/3), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew; 65/14)

EPL Leads the Holiday Schedule and moves to USA Network Jan 1  

Boxing day leads the EPL into extremely congested Holiday schedule with games every day of the week and of course cancelations for Covid all around.  Check the full schedule below as games run on NBCSN and USA Network and of course the pay Peacock until games officially flip to USA Network on New Year’s Day as NBCSN will be no more.  Of course USA Network has about 3 times the cable subscribers which should lead to more fans watching in the US as we move into 2020. With all the Covid issues – American Christian Pulisic has been thrust into a starting role as the #9 for Chelsea – with some success and of course some frustrations.  He’s not a #9 – but at least he’s getting game time.  Sunday 12:30 Boxing Day has Chelsea traveling to Aston Villa vs Steven Gerard’s team.  Tues gives us a battle of top 6 battler Arsenal vs Southampton at 10 am on NBCSN , followed by Leicester vs Liverpool @ 3 pm on NBCSN. New Year’s day/weekend gives us a USA Network set of powerhouse games with Arsenal hosting league leaders Man City at 7:30 am Sat, followed by Chelsea hosting Liverpool at 11:30 am on Sunday. 

Interesting Perspective on the power of Soccer here — Soccer punctuated a WWI Christmas truce between British and German soldiers. 

Congrats to former Indy 11 GK Jordan Farr for his run in the playoffs and being in the running for the Save of the Week for the year Honors in USL.

Indy 11 launches its first WSL team with 3 former Carmel High school  players on the roster.  Katie Soderstrom, Krisina Lynch and Molly McGlaghlin all played their club ball for Indiana Fire in Indy will suit up for the Indy 11s inaugural womens season.   

Indy Eleven has penned the first three players to its inaugural women’s senior team roster. Forwards Katie Soderstrom and Kristina Lynch, and midfielder Molly McLaughlin are among the first players signed in USL W League history. Get to know the club’s first signings here!

BIG GAMES TO WATCH

(American’s in parenthesis)

Sun,  Dec 26

10 am NBCSN                      West Ham vs Southampton

10 am USA                            Tottenham vs Crystal Palace

12:30 pm NBC                     Aston Villa vs Chelsea (Pulisic)

3 pm NBCSN                        Brighton vs Brentford 

Mon,  Dec 27

3 pm NBCSN                        New Castle United vs Man United

Tues,  Dec 28

7:30 am NBCSN                  Arsenal vs Wolverhampon

10 am  NBCSN                     Southampton vs Tottenham

12:30 pm NBCSN                Leeds United vs Aston Villa

3 pm NBCSN                        Leicester City vs Liverpool 

Wed,  Dec 29

2:30 pm Peacock                Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Brighton 

3:15 pm NBCSN                  Brentford vs Man City

Thur,  Dec 30

3 pm NBCSN                         Man United vs Burnley

Sat, Jan 1

7:30 am USA                        Arsenal vs Man City 

10 am  USA                          Watford vs Tottenham 

12:30 pm USA                     Crystal Palace vs West Ham United 

Sun, Jan 2

8 am ESPN+                          Getafe vs Real Madrid

9 am  USA                             Everton vs Brighton   

11:30 am USA                     Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Liverpool 

3 pm ESPN+                          Mallorca vs Barcelona 

Mon,  Jan 3

?? ESPN+                               Man United vs Wolverhampton (league cup semis)

?? ESPN+                               Chelsea (Pulisic) vs Tottenham (league cup semis)

Thur,  Jan 6

12:30 pm Paramount+      Milan vs Roma

2:45 Para+                            Juventus (McKennie) vs Napoli

Fri,  Jan 7

2:30 pm ESPN+                    Bayern Munich vs MGladbach (Joe Scally) 

Fri,  Jan 27

7:30 pm ESPN2                   USMNT vs El Salvador

Sun,  Jan 30

3:30 pm Paramount+        USMNT @ Canada

Tues,  Jan 27

7:30 pm FS1                         USMNT vs Honduras

USMNT

U.S. can take away plenty of positives from low-key Bosnia friendly Kyle Bonagura

Bassett nets late goal in U.S. win over Bosnia

US Men End Positive Year with 17th Win – SI Brian Straus
Experimental, young USMNT beats Bosnia in friendly

Cole Bassett’s late goal gives U.S. men’s soccer team a record-setting victory

USA v Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2021 Friendly: What we Learned  By Adnan Ilyas

2021 USMNT December Friendly: USA 1-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina – Camp Candycane delivers a white elephant

https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/three-takeaways-as-usmnt-close-2021-with-win-over-bosnia-herzegovina?fbclid=IwAR1eGuz-7GUjbCRfaiyXpNHEpuUwlfAkhuSarfY-Z2l3yGFRbavgrwjVLdQ

https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/usmnt-player-ratings-bassett-roldan-and-zimmerman-impress-in-win-over-bosnia

USMNT’s Pepi: Olympic snub a ‘turning point’
USMNT striker Pefok scores 4 for Young Boys in Swiss league

USMNT Yunas Musah Scores in Copa Del Rey – SI  

Previewing the U.S. U-20 cycle: decent starting point but a lot of work ahead with little time

Mexico loses appeal of two-match stadium ban  

EPL 

Alisson relives goal that saved Liverpool’s season
Premier League to play on during Covid chaos

Christian Pulisic Watch: How did USMNT star perform for Chelsea at Wolves?

Can Thomas Tuchel stop the slide at Chelsea?
Ian Darke
Thomas Tuchel fumes at COVID rules as Chelsea drop more points

Tottenham vs Liverpool final score: Thrill-a-minute 4-goal draw

Why NBC Sports Network’s Shutdown This Month Could Be a Sign of Cable TV’s Bleak Future

WORLD

World Soccer’s Top 10 Stories of 2021
Bundesliga hits the halfway point and everything that’s new is old

Lewandowski bags record as Bayern go nine points clear in Germany

Barca’s young guns deliver late win over Elche, Atletico undone by Sevilla

Juve battle through fog to win at Bologna, Roma down Atalanta

Buffon: Juventus lost ‘DNA’ after Ronaldo arrival

Will Europe-South America plan to curb FIFA’s World Cup revamp do more harm than good?

USMNT Caps Memorable, Productive 2021 With One Last Late Winner

The USMNT has its sights on securing a return ticket to the World Cup, but first, a more experimental set of players with varying individual outlooks put an appropriate cap on the year.BRIAN STRAUS  SI 

For six hectic and challenging months, the U.S. men’s national team played games of consequence—finals and qualifiers contested in packed stadiums or hostile environments that offered a shot at a regional title, or priceless progress on the road to the World Cup. Then came Saturday night. In a rare and relatively quiet December friendly that served as an anticlimactic conclusion to a memorable year and a bridge to what’s expected to be another one, the Americans barely but deservedly defeated 10-man Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1–0, at the LA Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s squad was stocked almost entirely with MLS players looking to stay fit during the domestic offseason, while 61st-ranked Bosnia brought a collection of Premijer Liga hopefuls and started eight international debutants.Cole Bassett, the 20-year-old Colorado Rapids midfielder, made his own international debut as a second-half substitute and scored the only goal on an 89th-minute rebound.Played outside a FIFA international break, this was not a game of consequence. And it showed. Atmosphere and precision were lacking and the pace frequently flagged. But there was a chance the match would resonate in the record book and, more importantly, when World Cup qualifying restarts at the end of January. That was reason enough to play it. And if you’re going to play, you may as well try to win. So Berhalter fielded about as strong a lineup as he could, deploying qualifying regulars like Matt Turner, Walker Zimmerman, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan and Ricardo Pepi against the modest Bosnian XI. He also sent Seattle Sounders star Jordan Morris back onto the field in a U.S. jersey for the first time in two years. Getting Morris closer to World Cup fitness as he returns from ACL surgery was, by itself, another good reason to play this month. He went 77 minutes and was threatening on several occasions in the first half.“He’s trying to work off that rust and he’s doing a great job,” Berhalter said of Morris. “I’m excited to see what he can do in January. Hopefully it ends up being with the qualifying team.”Saturday’s victory was the national team’s 17th this year (17-2-3). That set a new program record, breaking the mark established in 2013. For just about everyone but Bassett, the satisfaction that accompanies that achievement will last a lot longer than memories of the night it was achieved. “In the end, we have something to be proud of,” Berhalter said. “We know there’s a lot of work still to be done, but happy with the effort of this group—particularly to show the resiliency to keep fighting and keep competing.”The Americans can be proud, but new challenges are coming quickly and this match was more about setting the stage. The U.S. is in second place (4-1-3) in Concacaf’s qualifying Octagonal, only one point out of first but also just one above fourth, which would mean a winner-take-all, one-game playoff next June in Qatar against a team from Oceania. By the time the Americans face El Salvador, Canada and Honduras Jan. 27-Feb. 2, Berhalter’s MLS contingent would have been dormant for months. He had to build that bridge. So there was a two-week camp in Southern California punctuated by Saturday’s game, and there will be two more weeks of training before the FIFA window officially opens next month. “The whole idea is to keep the guys moving, especially guys in Major League Soccer,” Berhalter said Friday when explaining his goals for this winter. “Then we have another three weeks off where they have a program to do, and then we get back into camp. … So we’re hitting the ground running [in January] and it’ll be a very similar focus. Because if we want to compete like we do in this [qualifying] window, it’s going to be essential to have these guys fit.”But while focused on fitness against Bosnia, the U.S. appeared to forget about finishing. The match nearly hinged on the Americans’ inability to convert their chances, especially in the first half. Pepi missed a sitter in the 14th minute, misjudging and then whiffing on a beautiful low cross from U.S. debutant Brooks Lennon, the Atlanta United right back. Pepi, who was named U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year earlier Saturday, made a massive splash this fall when he tallied three goals across two qualifiers. But he hasn’t scored since—that’s a stretch of five internationals and four MLS matches.Morris nearly struck in the 31st minute, but his diving, point-blank header was well saved by Bosnia’s Nikola Ćetković. The visitors were reduced to 10 eight minutes later, when Amar Begić, a 20-year-old playing in his first senior international, was ejected after tackling Acosta late and high. The U.S. failed to capitalize, however, and created little during a second half marked by lots of possession (the U.S. finished the game with 73.5%), little final product and subs by both sides. The Americans relied primarily on crosses and were rarely threatening. Berhalter called the red card “the worst thing that happened” during the match because it prompted Bosnia to play more compactly.The subs, or “solutions,” as Berhalter likes to call them, finally came to the rescue late. Gyasi Zardes won a loose ball and touched it back to Jonathan Gomez, the Louisville City fullback who’s on his way to Real Sociedad. The 18-year-old whipped in a dangerous shot—its pace and accuracy were noticeable on a night of shanks and slices. Bosnia’s goalkeeper could only knock it down, and Bassett was there to finish it off. He also scored five MLS goals in 2021. “Cole’s a guy that shows up and scores goals. We were seeing that during the week with his finishing ability and he showed that again tonight,” Berhalter said, adding that assistant coach Anthony Hudson, who used to manage the Rapids, advocated for Bassett’s 78th-minute entry.It was a fitting end to a year in which so many games with far greater stakes were won late, from the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup finals clinched in extra time to three qualifying victories sealed in the final 25 minutes. It’s become part of this program’s identity, and Berhalter will hope the newest addition to that list offers some momentum going forward as well.“All this group is, is a point on the timeline of the USMNT. It’s a very special heritage. To be part of this is very special, and to really embrace that,” Berhalter said Saturday. “And when the guys had the opportunity to be able to get the win today, to have the record for wins in a year, they embraced it. It wasn’t pretty, but you saw the grit and determination that they needed and we pulled through.”

USA vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2021 friendly: Man of the Match

 veteran’s big return earned the honors.  By Donald Wine II@blazindw  Dec 20, 2021, 7:00am PST

ended their 2021 with a 1-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina on Saturday night. The 89th minute goal by Cole Bassett was the difference for the USMNT in a match where Bosnia’s Amar Begić received a straight red card in the 40th minute. Despite the man advantage, the USMNT left it very late with the Bassett goal to set the record for wins in a calendar year.

There were a few notable performances, but overall the SSFC community rated the players with mostly 5s and 6s. It was the performance of a veteran that earned the top honors, as Jordan Morris had the highest rating and won SSFC Man of the Match with his play.

Here’s how you in the SSFC community rated everyone’s performance:

Jordan Morris – 6.88

Walker Zimmerman – 6.65

Matt Turner – 6.59

Cole Bassett – 6.43

Jonathan Gomez – 6.30

Henry Kessler – 5.57

Bryan Reynolds – 5.52

Brooks Lennon – 5.41

Johnny Cardoso – 5.23

Jesús Ferreira – 5.06

USMNT goals for 2022 World Cup year: Qualify, play the best players, figure out style, escape the group

https://a.espncdn.com/photo/2021/1217/r952263_1000x667_3-2.jpg

Dec 17, 2021Ryan O’HanlonWhat a weird year, huh? You can apply that to anything, of course, and the United States Men’s National Team was no exception.

First, they scraped by Honduras at home in the semifinals of the Nations League, saved by a last-minute header from Jordan Pefok. Then they played Mexico toe-to-toe, came back multiple times, won 3-2 in extra time and got pelted by beers. Then their European stars all went home, but they won the Gold Cup anyway, beating Mexico in the final, again. And a full-strength Mexico, to boot: Napoli‘s Hirving Lozano, Ajax’s Edson Alvarez, Atletico Madrid‘s Hector Herrera were all there!

It didn’t seem to matter who was on the field. Gregg Berhalter’s team were the kings of CONCACAF once again.And then… World Cup qualifying started. A scoreless draw at El SalvadorSure, any road point is a good point. A tie at home with CanadaHey man, Alphonso Davies is the best player in North America. A 1-0 halftime deficit in Honduras? Anyone have Bruce Arena’s phone number? And then, as we all remember, they rolled off four goals in the final 45 for a three-goal victory. That was followed by a dominant win against Jamaica, and all was well again.

Psych! Then they got dominated in Panama, losing, 1-0 and… OK, you probably get the pattern now. Next was an easy win over Costa Rica, then was a truly dominant dos-a-cero against Mexico, and then was a wet fart in Jamaica that ended 1-1, but probably should’ve been a loss.

When it comes to the U.S. men, the sky is always falling, the team is always rising — all at the same time. With one friendly left against Bosnia to go in 2021, it’s been a successful, if chaotic, year for the USMNT. So, it’s time to look ahead: What do we want to see from the team in 2022?

1. Just qualify, OK?

It doesn’t matter how, JUST DO IT.

Right now, CONCACAF has four teams fighting for three automatic spots. With six games remaining, Canada’s on 16 points, the U.S. on 15, and Mexico and Panama tied at 14. No-one else has more than nine points, and no-one outside of those four teams has a positive goal differential. But if the US somehow slips outside of the top three, they just need to avoid total collapse in order to finish fourth, which would mean a one-game playoff against the winner of the Oceania region: likely New Zealand.

2. Get your best players on the field together, just one time!

The main reason to be hopeful of a better tomorrow for a team that hasn’t reached the quarterfinals of a World Cup in two decades — and, you know, missed the last one completely — is the quality of the player pool. More specifically, it’s because of five guys.

There’s Christian PulisicChelsea‘s $70 million man. There’s Giovanni Reyna, who doesn’t turn 20 for nearly another full year and has already started 32 Bundesliga and Champions League games for Borussia Dortmund. There’s Sergino Dest, a starter at Ajax and then Barcelona. There’s Weston McKennie, a starter with Juventus. And there’s Tyler Adams, who scored a winning goal in the Champions League quarterfinals and has been one of Europe’s best swiss-Army knives for RB Leipzig.

They’re all 23 or younger. They’re all consistently playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world. And they’ve never appeared on the field together for the USMNT.

3. Figure out the center-forward spot

Uh, what? We’ve got Ricardo Pepi, dude.

Pepi is a great… prospect. He’s only 18, and he’s already scored 15 goals and played more than 2,500 minutes for FC Dallas. Players who play that much and produce that often at a young age tend to turn out pretty well. But that’s the future — not now, when the U.S. still needs to qualify for, and then play in, a World Cup.

Over the past calendar year, per the site FBref, Pepi ranks in the 90th percentile of MLS strikers in non-penalty goals… and no other attacking-related categories. At the site American Soccer Analysis, they’re created a stat called “goals added” (G+) that quantifies all of a player’s on-ball actions to determine how much value he adds to the team. Over the past season, Pepi added minus-1.95 goals to FC Dallas. How? Because he scores some goals and just doesn’t really contribute anywhere else on the field. Even his goal-scoring is a little inflated, too, as he’s on a bit of a finishing hot streak: 13 goals on 10.1 xG.

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In World Cup qualifying, it’s been a similar story. He’s scored three goals on 2.45 xG and he’s averaging 28 touches per 90 minutes — the fewest of all 34 players (including keepers) who have appeared in the Octagonal for the U.S. so far.

The wider tactical trend, too, is away from these kinds of “goals-only” center-forwards and toward more well-rounded players who contribute in all phases of play. Or: the kind of players the U.S. currently has lots of.

In addition to those five stars, Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah are both playing significant minutes at Champions League clubs this season, and they’ve both spent time at center-forward for Red Bull Salzburg and Lille respectively. Pulisic has also moon-lit as a false 9 at Chelsea. None of them are pure goal scorers, but for the U.S., they’re all getting on the ball as often, or more often, in the box than Pepi does.

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With Pulisic and Reyna back in the picture, there might only be three attacking spots available between the two of them, Aaronson and Weah. That’s four players, performing at a high level at the highest level. Should three goals in six games be enough to prevent Pepi from falling behind any of them in the pecking order?

4. Play one (1) normal game

Broadly speaking, the USMNT looks like a modern soccer team: they push the ball into the final-third and then keep it there by pressuring their opponents into turnovers. Through eight games, they’ve completed the largest proportion of final-third passes in their matches (known as “field tilt”) and only El Salvador has held its opponents to a lower pass-completion percentage.

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This is who they were against Mexico. They pushed the field tilt to 62 percent, and they’re the only team to hold El Tri below an 80-percent completion percentage. While the two trophy wins over Mexico were helter-skelter chaos, this was just controlled dominance: 18 shots to 8.

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But despite that game’s characteristics hewing closer to the team’s average qualities, it’s really the only match that’s looked like that. The opener against El Salvador was a wild track meet, where the U.S.’s average uninterrupted possession lasted for 5.4 seconds and 44 percent of their passes were played forward — the shortest time and most passes across the eight matches.

In the next match against Canada, the possessions lasted for 12.5 seconds and they played 25 percent of their passes forward — longest and least across the eight matches. And against Honduras, the field was tilted toward their opponents (45 percent for the US). Against Jamaica, the match featured just 87 possessions, compared to an average of 95 across all the games. Against Panama, that dipped down to 84 as the U.S. played a bunch of long balls and allowed their opponents to complete over 80 percent of their passes.

Things looked pretty good against an ancient Costa Rica team and Mexico, before the re-match with Jamaica, where the US allowed a PPDA (essentially, opponent passes allowed per defensive action in your attacking third) of 26.63. Their average across the eight games is 9.92.

Do you want to press and possess? Do you want matches where the ball is turning over constantly? Do you want to force passes forward? Do you want to move up the field slowly? Do you want to absorb pressure and counter?

All of the best national teams have some kind of identity; you know, roughly, how they’re going to play. Three years into Berhalter’s tenure, we still have no idea what the U.S. is going to look like in any given game.

5. Pick a keeper and stick with him

Matt Turner is just a much better shot-stopper than Zack Steffen. It’s an inarguable fact.

Per Stats Perform, the average keeper would be expected to concede 10.74 goals from the shots Turner faced in his 11 starts for the U.S. in 2021; he allowed four. Steffen, meanwhile, has faced shots worth 4.52 goals in his six starts, and he’s allowed five. Put more simply, Turner has started 11 matches and conceded four goals. Steffen has started six and conceded five. Their performances for their club teams, dating back to Steffen’s time in Columbus, backs this all up, too. Turner is one of the best keepers in league history; Steffen was a below-average shot-stopper.

After starting Turner for the first five matches of qualifying, Berhalter switched to Steffen ahead of the home match against Jamaica because of his ability on the ball. “We were looking at the games and how they were unfolding and were saying there’s more possession that we can be keeping in these games that we’re not,” Berhalter said at the time. “We think Zack is stronger with his feet, and we made that decision based on that.”

While I might not agree with this value judgment — stop over-complicating things, Turner will save more goals than Steffen — I think Berhalter needs to be aware of the argument he’s making here and stick to it.

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There was already a seemingly needless keeper controversy when Turner got benched for Steffen the first time around; the U.S. doesn’t need another one. The reality behind this decision is that the U.S. is going to concede goals that Turner would have saved. We saw it against Costa Rica and Jamaica already.

That’s going to keep happening, too — and it’s going to raise questions over the position again — but Berhalter is arguing that the hidden value in Steffen’s feet will more than make up for the goals he concedes. And if he’s not arguing that, well, Turner never should have lost the job in the first place.

6. Go for a run in Hamilton…

One of my personal favorite subplots of this qualifying cycle is Berhalter’s pre-game routine. Before the match against Canada, he was spotted running through downtown Nashville in his full USMNT get-up, holding his phone in his hand, while a couple fans cheered him on. Other USMNT supporters have told me they’ve spotted him doing similar cardio work through various other downtown metropoli that have hosted qualifying games this cycle.

I have a lot of questions: Can we get the guy some wireless headphones? How ’bout some shorts with pockets? Perhaps some attire that doesn’t scream “I AM USMNT MANAGER?” Or maybe he wants to be spotted? I don’t know. It’s all very strange, but if it’s truly a necessary pre-game ritual that Berhalter has adopted, then I want to see him do it, conditions be damned, before the upcoming Canada match in late January, in Hamilton, Ontario.

7. … and win a game there while you’re at it

The idea that “any road point is a good point in CONCACAF” was maybe true when the USMNT didn’t have Champions League starters up and down the roster, plus a number of backups also playing overseas. But it shouldn’t be now. Despite playing a much harder home schedule so far — i.e. they played Canada and Mexico at home — Berhalter’s side have been way stronger Stateside.

– Home: 68.5 percent field tilt, 1.90 xG/game, 0.67 xG against/game
– Away: 52.5 percent field tilt, 1.10 xG/game, 0.97 xGA/game

That’s somewhat sobering reading given the road matches against Canada and Mexico still to come, but quite simply, the U.S. now has easily the best and deepest player pool in CONCACAF. They should be able to go anywhere in North America — Hamilton, Costa Rica, and yes, the Azteca in Mexico City — play on their own teams, and win a game.

8. Get out of your group

There’s a long way to go, but the next World Cup is already less than a year away. A lot can change over that span. Injuries will happen — bad form will, too — while stars and starters can also appear out of nowhere. But the U.S. has reached a point where even if one of its top prospects doesn’t pan out or one of its main stars misses a major tournament, there’s still enough talent to make up for it.

Given how young the roster is and where the next tournament will be, 2026 seems like the World Cup to target for the U.S. to really do some damage. But according to just about any rating system out there, the U.S. is currently one of the 16 best teams in the world. They’ve got 12 months to prove it.

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi: Olympic squad snub a ‘turning point in my career’

Dec 17, 2021Kyle BonaguraESPN Staff Writer

Roughly nine months since being left off the United States‘ Olympic qualifying roster, USMNT and FC Dallas striker Ricardo Pepi called the snub a turning point to his season.”It just made me hungry,” Pepi said Friday. “It made me hungry to go on for the year. To do good for my club, do good for the national team and it was a turning point, for sure, in my career.”Pepi was included in the initial 31-player training camp ahead of the CONCACAF men’s Olympic qualifying championship in Guadalajara, Mexico, in early March, but didn’t make the cut when the roster was trimmed to 20 players. The team failed to qualify for the delayed Tokyo games and three of the four forwards on that roster — Jonathan Lewis, Benji Michel and Sebastian Soto — have not been involved in the mix for the senior side.Since being left off the squad, though, Pepi has experienced a meteoric rise that has seen him establish himself as the starting No. 9 for the United States during World Cup qualifying. Pepi is one of a handful of players expected to start in Saturday’s international friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Carson, California, that is being used to keep the players sharp ahead of next month’s three-match qualifying window.After scoring 13 goals for FC Dallas in 2021, Pepi has been the subject of speculation about a European transfer, but he stayed coy about his club plans, steering the focus toward the USMNT.”That moment is not yet to be decided,” Pepi said. “I feel like I have a game here ahead of me and that’s my main focus at the moment. I feel like we got to focus on the game and whatever happens is gonna happen, but we just got to be patient.”Pepi, 18, chose to play for the United States over Mexico in August and since appeared in six qualifying matches and scored three goals.The United States roster also includes Jonathan Gomez, a former teammate of Pepi in the FC Dallas academy and with North Texas SC in USL League One. Like Pepi, Gomez has the option to play for Mexico or the United States, and trained with El Tri during the summer. He is headed to Real Sociedad in Spain when the transfer window open in January after spending the last two seasons with Louisville City in the USL Championship.Pepi called Gomez’s decision about his international future a person one and that he is willing to be a sounding board for him or anyone faced with similar decision.”I’m always open to talk to them,” he said. “I always try to just tell him, ‘Do whatever you think is best. Go with your heart.”

CBS to Air Six Champions League Round-of-16 Matches on Broadcast TV

ANDREW GASTELUM Six Champions League round of 16 matches, including both home and away PSG-Real Madrid and Liverpool-Inter fixtures, will air on CBS’s main TV channel this winter. The round-of-16 fixtures were announced—twice—earlier this month after UEFA’s first draw was nullified after Manchester United was erroneously drawn with a team from the same group and left out of Atlético Madrid’s pot.  While a redo of the draw might have deprived fans of a Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi showdown in the original PSG-Manchester United fixture, CBS will still show Messi on its main channel for the first knockout game when PSG faces off against Real Madrid on Feb. 15. CBS will also broadcast the return fixture on March 9. Along with both Liverpool-Inter fixtures on Feb. 16 and March 8, CBS will also show the Chelsea-Lille first leg on Feb. 22 and the Atlético Madrid-Manchester United first leg on Feb. 23 on broadcast television. Meanwhile, the Sporting Lisbon-Manchester City, RB Salzburg-Bayern Munich, Villarreal-Juventus and Benfica-Ajax fixtures will be shown on streaming service Paramount+.

Here is the full English-language schedule for the Champions League round of 16 (all times ET): 

Tuesday, Feb. 15:
PSG vs. Real Madrid, CBS/Paramount+, 3 p.m.
Sporting Lisbon vs. Manchester City, Paramount+, 3 p.m.

Previewing the January transfer window: which Americans could be on the move?

We are a little more than a week away from the January transfer window opening and ASN’s Brian Sciaretta gives his thoughts on many American players who could receive transfer intereest in the weeks ahead. 

THE JANUARY TRANSFER WINDOW will soon be upon us and a bunch of Americans could be on the move – both within Europe, also moving from domestic leagues to abroad. Here are a look at some players we thing could be on the market.Of course, it’s important to note that not all players will move. This isn’t a comprehensive list either as some names will pop up unexpectedly. We’ve also already seen some announced moves like Chris Mueller to Hibernian and Kyle Duncan to Oostende. But here is a look at some players we thing could the subject of transfer interest for the January window.

 RICARDO PEPI

This is the big fish in the pond regarding a potential move. The FC Dallas forward was named U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year for 2021 and that was a no-brainer. The El Paso teenager scored 13 goals for FC Dallas along with three big World Cup qualifying goals for the U.S. national team. While he struggled a bit towards the end of the season for Dallas and also with the U.S. team in November and the December friendly, he still has huge potential to make a big move.Dallas is surely not going to sell him for cheap and will be looking for something north of $13 million. With COVID adversely affecting the budget for a lot of teams in Europe, the market his smaller for unproven players like Pepi. Only a few teams can afford him and there are several good forwards to be had.It’s a tricky situation. Dallas wants to get paid. Pepi wants to move, but needs to move to a place where he can play. The U.S. national team needs Pepi to play. In a World Cup year, the need to get this decision right for all parties is magnified. There is also the potential that perhaps Pepi remains in Dallas through the summer when more teams could have a better understanding of their budget and Pepi would at least be playing heading into the March qualifying window.There is genuine interest in Pepi and a lot of the many reports with clubs like Ajax are accurate. But, there is also a lot of moving parts to consider.

 JOHN BROOKS

It’s been a tough season for John Brooks who is in the last year of his contract with Wolfsburg. He’s been benched for long stretches, including most of December, and BILD recently ran a negative article about him with information that sounded like it came from within Wolfsburg, directly or indirectly.Brooks, 28, has a huge salary north of $3 million per year and the BILD could be public negotiation from Wolfsburg, or it could be a way to usher him out the door in January. In the last year of his contract, his transfer price isn’t that high right now.He’s a bit inconsistent, but when he’s on his game he is a very good central defender. Someone will take a chance on him, and Wolfsburg is playing so poorly (with or without Brooks in the lineup) the time might be right for all parties to go their separate ways.

JAMES SANDS

By any standard, James Sands had a great year. In 2021, the 21-year-old from Rye, New York won the Gold Cup with the U.S. national team and won MLS Cup with NYCFC. In both finals, against Mexico and Portland respectively, Sands was sharp over separate 120-minute outings.Sands has the versatility to play both defensive midfield and central defense but in 2021, he did well in both. He has also played his way onto the edge of the U.S. national team but is just outside of the main group.With NYCFC having won MLS Cup, his value has never been higher, and he has accomplished everything he can domestically. It seems like the time for him to try something else and NYCFC should be open to selling him. It would look good for the club’s academy players to be willing to sell a player who has severed the club well.Where is a realistic landing place for Sands? He might be able to do well in the lower portion of the Bundesliga. The Eredivisie is difficult for its high minimum salary requirements for non-EU citizens. Belgian teams make a lot of sense given the fewer non-EU restrictions, but do those clubs have money to spend? The Championship might also be a good option and he could probably obtain a work-permit.

 BRYAN REYNOLDS

 To state the obvious, it hasn’t been a good situation for Reynolds at Roma under Jose Mourinho. The club was even willing to let him join the U.S. national team for a rare December camp. Reynolds probably won’t transfer less than a year into his move to Roma but a loan, perhaps a long 18-month loan, seems like it would make sense. With a long loan, an option to buy could be justified since teams will know what they are getting.Reynolds could stay in Italy for a loan, but a loan to Germany or, more likely, Belgium makes the most sense. Reynolds was only a starter for FC Dallas for three months before is transfer to Roma at the tail of 2020. He didn’t play much in 2021. He still needs a lot of coaching for his development and there is also a lot of rust having not played much in over a year. He has a high upside but is very much a longer-term project. The first step is to get out of Roma, even for a loan (the longer, the better).

 REGGIE CANNON

 Reggie Cannon was close to leaving Boavista last summer but a move to Fulham was not completed in time. It only makes sense that another attempt at a move could be in the works and his situation isn’t much different from last season. He’s had a few good games (including his most recent game) for Boavista but has been in and out of the lineup for most of the past few months. He’s also dealt with an injury.With the uncertainty of COVID continuing, more teams in Portugal would love to sell non-essential players for cash. Cannon would probably like to move on as well and put himself into a more secure and better spotlight as he’s losing ground in the national team player pool.Like most non-EU dual citizen American players, Germany, the Championship, Belgium seem like the safest bets.

 AUSTON TRUSTY

 Earlier this week, Will Forbes reported a pending transfer that Auston Trusty was going to transfer from Colorado to Arsenal (two teams with common ownership). Whether such a move happens, it makes sense that he would have interest as an athletic, left-footed central defender.  Trusty, 23, is coming off a very good season for Colorado which he helped to a first-place regular season finish in the Western Conference. After a few mixed seasons which saw him depart Philadelphia for Colorado, Trusty got his career back on track in 2021. As a teenager, he was rated to the point where he was one of the rare youth players who made both a U-17 and U-20 World Cup team.

DARYL DIKE

 Daryl Dike, 21, has been first-team professional for only 18 months. In that time, he has scored 28 goals in 4277 minutes at the club level (he’s also scored three goals for the U.S. national team). That is an outstanding start to a professional career.He had a great loan to Barnsley but faded a bit towards the end of the Championship season. After some rest, and then a subsequent recovery after a shoulder injury he suffered at the Gold Cup, Dike continued to impress at the end of the 2021 season with Orlando.ike will eventually be in Europe full time, but him moving this window seems like it could go either way. Among all the options, another loan to England would make the most sense. He’s done wll there, and a bunch of Championship teams could see him as part of the solution to a promotional campaign. Then it will come down to Orlando including an option to buy and it would probably be more realistic than last year.

SERGINO DEST

It’s been a wild month for Sergino Dest. He got a new manager in Xavi and then there were reports that Barcelona was going to work with Dest intensely on tactics. Then there was another report that the club would look to sell him along with three other players in January. Then he was dropped from a lineup in La Liga. After Barcelona was bounced from the Champions League, Dest picked up an injury and Xavi said that he was missing games due to the injury and not because of transfers.The news is all over the place. So, what makes sense?Barcelona needs cash and, in normal times, Dest would be seen as an asset that could generate some much-needed money.  But there are fewer teams that can spend money right now. Barcelona wants to start a rebuild and Xavi wants to build the team in the way he sees fit – as opposed to getting the team he inherited to work. Barcelona isn’t going to win La Liga this year and finishing in the Champions League spots is also an uphill climb. What would hurt the rebuilding effort is making rushed and poor decisions – and unloading Dest in a buyers’ market could be costly.I think Dest could be sold, but Barcelona isn’t going to be quick to unload him either. If they don’t get a high price, they’ll wait until the summer. If Dest moves, it’s going to be to a big club that can match or exceed what Barcelona paid for him (€26 million). It’s a numbers game right now.

 WESTON MCKENNIE

 There have been rumors for most of the season linking Weston McKennie with moves – most commonly to a wide variety of Premier League teams. After his disappointing dismissal from the U.S. national team camp in September, the rumors became more prevalent. That made sense.But McKennie has responded very well since then. He’s played well, there have been no negative reports about him off-the field, and he serves a purpose under Max Allegri’s system. Juventus won’t win the scudetto, but the club is in the knockouts of the Champions League and McKennie could serve a purpose in those games adding physicality and energy.This isn’t to say Juventus won’t entertain offers, but I still think he stays. He serves a role on the team under Allegri and he’s not easy to replace. McKennie might be a perfect fit for a number of Premier League teams, but it is just as likely (or more likely) that Juventus doesn’t see the need to sell him.

TYLER ADAMS

One of the most important players on the national team, Tyler Adams has seen his minutes decline at RB Leipzig in what has been a disappointing season for both Adams and the club. On top of that, Jesse Marsch was fired, and Adams lost a manager who was familiar with him dating back to his days with Red Bulls II in USL.Leipzig is probably going to want to make a lot of changes to the current squad. There have been rumors linking Adams to teams – Arsenal being one, but there have been other teams mostly in the Premier League. It’s possible but the likely bet is that he remains through the season.As for if he does move, he is likely to have a wide variety of suitors in each of the top five leagues.

DJORDJE MIHAILOVIC

Djordje Mihailovic, 23, recently had a career revival in his first season in Montreal and he looked like the promising player many expected prior to his ACL tear at the tail end of the 2017 season.In 2021, Mihailovic scored four goals and added 16 assists – the second highest total in the league behind Carles Gil. He has an EU passport and recently trailed with Bologna in Serie A – which might drum up some interest. But even if he doesn’t go to Bologna, it seems like by letting him train in Italy, Montreal is open to explore a sale. 

COLE BASSETT

Bassett, 20, missed out on the U-20 World Cup due to COVID cancelling the tournament but he went on to have a nice season anywhere. The young Colorado Rapid homegrown was a key contributor to the team which finished first in the Western Conference in the regular season. He recently earned his first cap with the full national team and scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina.He’s wanted to make the move abroad for awhile but has been patient in making sure it’s the right opportunity. In the summer, he turned down a move to Benfica because it was mostly a move that would have started him off at the reserve level.Colorado is a club that will sell if the price is right and the club did well to sell Sam Vines to Royal Antwerp in August. Bassett won’t be held back but will a club step to the plate and make a real offer that both pays Colorado a fair sum and offers Bassett a real shot at first team minutes?   

CADEN CLARK

Caden Clark’s story is well known. He has been with the New York Red Bulls but earlier this year was signed by RB Leipzig (and promptly loaned back to New York for the remainder of the season). A lot has changed in the meantime. Clark’s minutes with New York haven’t been consistent since his appendectomy over the summer and Leipzig has had a disappointing season that has already resulted in head coach Jesse Marsch’s dismissal.Clark is set to train with Leipzig in January before returning to the states for a camp with the U.S. U-20 team – which will likely be a key player this cycle.If Clark is deemed to not be in the plans for Leipzig right now, what is the next step? It would either be a return to the New York Red Bulls, a lower-tier in Germany, or Red Bull Salzburg. Salzburg frequently gets mentioned and there is a reasonable case as the club is flying on all cylinders in the Austrian Bundesliga and can afford to give other players minutes. The lower tiers in Germany make sense as long as it is geared towards giving him minutes – which isn’t a guarantee on a loan.A return to the New York Red Bulls is a distinct possibility and it would be interesting to see if Gerhard Struber has plans to increase his minutes. Such a return would probably only run through the first half of the season followed by a midseason evaluation.ne benefit would be that it would allow him to attend U.S. U-20 camps and take a lead role in that team’s huge qualifying tournament in June.

MILES ROBINSON

This is a curious one in American soccer as Robinson is a legitimate U.S. national team player. He’s developed well in Atlanta but earning a move is tricky. Atlanta United is not FC Dallas in terms of transferring player because Atlanta considers its top players valuable (i.e. spending $11 million for Luis Araujo after he helped Lille win Ligue 1 last season). Atlanta is serious about winning and its fanbase is one of the largest in the league. Robinson is a key part of what the team wants to do.Robinson will soon be 25. So essentially, he will have to be sold as the final product as he has one more deal left in his prime years. He has a lot of things going for him – elite athleticism and a decent reading of the game. A move to a “Big Five” league is certainly within reach – although maybe not the Premier League. But if it’s predominantly midtable teams that are interested, can they meet Atlanta United’s asking price.While offers may not be in, it’s a safe bet a number of teams are taking a good, hard look at Robinson.

GEORGE BELLO

Bello, 19, now has multiple years as a starter for Atlanta United and is a skillful left back. He needs some work with his tactics, but he checks a lot of boxes, and he plays a position of need for many teams.  At his age, teams will be betting on his upside – which he has shown to be potentially high.Atlanta would certainly sell Bello for a less than Miles Robinson and that could open the door for a lot more different clubs – probably outside of the “Big Five” but still at a good club. 

TYLER BOYD

Tyler Boyd arrived in Turkey in 2019 with Ankaragucu and was terrific. He made a big transfer to Besiktas but that didn’t really work out. It was followed by loans to mid/lower half teams in the Super Lig where, aside for a few brief moments of solid form, has seen him fail to stand out.There are rumors that the LA Galaxy could be interested, and that would make sense for Boyd to perhaps continue to be paid well and play with a team that has hopes of winning. It’s hard to see of what his other options would be, and he could do far worse than join the Galaxy.

OTHER NAMES

There are going to be a bunch of names that will be in the rumor mill, but at this point don’t seem like having much of a chance- but again, that could always change.Brenden Aaronson has seen his same linked with a bunch of really big clubs – one was AC Milan. But Red Bull Salzburg is in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Shipping Aaronson off when the club is at its highest ever moment seems like selling the team, its fans, and Aaronson himself short. These opportunities are valuable and the club would be making a rather big statement that it isn’t serious about competing if it sells off its starting No. 10.  There has been a lot of talk also about Christian Pulisic but the American hasn’t really been able to get going this season at Chelsea due to injuries and COVID. Plus, a team like Chelsea needs depth with COVID ripping through many teams in Europe. Chelsea might eventually sell Pulisic, but a midseason sale during a time of schedule congested and COVID uncertainty seems unlikely – unless a huge offer comes in.Would BSC Young Boys sell Jordan Pefok? Perhaps. He recently scored four goals in one game and, while he is limited in his skillset, a dominant aerial threat and a powerful target in the box will always attract suitors. It’s hard to see Young Boys asking for a king’s ransom since they’re out of Europe.In Scotland, Ian Harkes is a player to watch as he is having his best professional season at Dundee United and probably wouldn’t be that expensive. His UK passport would allow him to move to England without the need for a work permit. 
In Germany, Taylor Booth is almost certainly going to be looking for a loan to get first team minutes. It seems unlikely he is going to make Bayern Munich’s first team anytime soon but he is good enough to start elsewhere – as he did earlier in 2021 with St. Poelten (which was relegated out of the Austrian Bundesliga). Booth headinig out on loan to a mid-tier league like Austria (again), Portugal, or the 2.Bundesliga, etc. seems like a good bet. In Philadelphia, Anthony Fontana is out of contract after he declined to sign a new deal with the Union. Unsurprisingly, his minutes declined as the season went along but his career minutes show that he is a productive player. Leaving on a free transfer has its risks since free players are cheap and clubs could simply be taking a flyer on them. But Fontana has an Italian passport and has wanted to try Europe. He could get that chance although it would probably be a low level.

In South America, one player to keep an eye on is Alan Sonora. The New Jersey-born central midfielder has spent his entire career in Argentina and is coming off his best season in 2021 with Independiente.At 23, he is a late bloomer but Independiente is one of the better teams in Argentina. It wouldn’t be surprising to see an ambitious MLS team make a move for him. MLS teams have been actively involved in Argentina for the last five years and Sonora has the benefit of not taking a foreign spot. He also is the same profile of a lot of players from Argentina who have come into the league with TAM money and perhaps that will be floated in Sonora’s direction.

Previewing the U.S. U-20 cycle: decent starting point but a lot of work ahead with little time

The U.S. U-20 cycle is underway and the current national team camp is part of that with eight players on Gregg Berhalter’s roster. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta looks at the U.S. U-20 team in detail at the start of the cycle with just a few camps planned ahead of a big summer tournament that will serve as qualifying for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. 

BY BRIAN SCIARETTAPOSTEDDECEMBER 17, 20217:30 PM U-20 analysis

THE 2023 CYCLE for the United States U-20 national team got underway last month with the hiring of new head coach Mikey Varas and the team’s first camp, the Revelation’s Cup in Mexico. The progress of team continued in December with eight age-eligible players invited to take part in the current full national team camp. Next month the U-20 team is expected to have its second camp.After the team was essentially dormant from all on-field activities for 22 months from January 2020 through November 2021, it is embarking on a critical eight month stretch which will conclude in the summer of 2022 when the team participates in a single tournament that will serve as qualification for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics (with the Olympics being a tournament the team hasn’t qualified for since 2008).While the full national team prepares for its final two windows of World Cup qualifying and continues to be the top story for the federation, the U-20 cycle will also be important for the program’s future. In 12 months, the 2022 World Cup will be over, and the United States will be looking for meaningful competitions ahead of being a co-host in 2026.
The 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics are going to be important tournaments ensure that the pipeline of young players continues to stay involved in program. The Olympics, in particular, would be a good way to build up public enthusiasm over the program ahead of the World Cup on home soil.So, it’s important. But how does the U-20 team look six months away from this important double qualification tournament.The answer? Pretty good.There are already a lot of players who aren’t just first-team professionals, but impact players. In older cycles having impact players at the start of the cycle was rare.Also, there aren’t many players who are clearly beyond the U-20 level this cycle. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna were never going to play in the U-20 World Cup. Tyler Adams was never going to play in the U-20 World Cup of his age group (he only played while playing up an age group in 2017). This cycle, the only debatable player right now is Ricardo Pepi.On the flip side, there are holes in the player pool. At the youth levels with only two birth years in a cycle, it is often hard to build a complete team with solid depth at every position. Some positions lag with coaches filling the voids with weaker players or players playing out of position.Here is a look at the various positions and where they stand. It’s not an complete list of the player pool but it is a look at the top players and some of the players who could emerge. As with the U-20 level, the player pool can shift quickly and new players can emerge almost out of nowhere.

 GOALKEEPING

 The 2015 cycle was the best the U.S. team has ever been in this position with Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath both in the player pool. Since then, it hasn’t been great and the 2019 cycle featured David Ochoa playing up a cycle. Ochoa would have been on the 2021 cycle too but since he defected to Mexico, the U-20 team hasn’t produced many goalkeepers who have been first-team players at the club level.
his year’s U-20 team is at the strongest starting point for goalkeeping since 2015.

Gaga Slonina has enjoyed more attention than perhaps any other U-20 goalkeeper at the start of a cycle. In August, he became the starting goalkeeper for the Chicago Fire at just 17 and earned three clean sheets (including two against eventual MLS Cup winners NYCFC). He’s shown a nice upside and it is very rare to see a 17 year old earn a starting goalkeeping position on any first team.

This cycle has surprising depth Jeff Dewsnup, 17, has done well with the Real Monachs (and is a Real Salt Lake (homegrown) and could challenge Slonina. Chris Brady, also of the Chicago Fire, and Fulham’s Alex Borto are also strong contenders.

CENTRAL DEFENSE

This should be pretty big concern for the U.S. U-20 team at the moment. The U-20 team has been successful in 2015, 2017, and 2019 with three straight runs to the quarterfinals of U-20 World Cups. That success has been built on top central defenders.

In 2015 it was Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Erik Palmer-Brown. In 2017 it was Palmer-Brown, Carter-Vickers, and Justen Glad. In 2019 it was Chris Richards, Mark McKenzie, and Abubakar Keita. If the 2021 cycle happened, the starters probably would have been Atlanta United’s George Campbell (who has shown solid promise), and Jonathan Tomkinson (who has been making the bench recently for Norwich in the Premier League). Some of those players earned caps with the full national team but all are, at worst, good professionals. That’s a high level.

The 2023 cycle has some promising central defenders but doesn’t have the strong degree of certainty the last three four cycles have had.

Justin Che has been probably the most highly rated central defender of this age group and he’s currently in camp with the full national team. The problem, however, is that he is not getting many reps at the central defense position. FC Dallas played him at right back and he played both right and central defense while on loan with Bayern Munich’s youth teams earlier in the year.

Kobi Henry has also done well to boost his stock. He played nearly 1500 minutes this year for an Orange County team that won the USL Championship. He had a pretty good Revelations Cup in November and, by virtue of that, was called up to the full national team for the current December camp. At this early stage, he should be considered a front runner for a spot on the team.

Building up depth, or hoping depth emerges, is critical in the next six months for the team. Right now, the options seem to be at the USL level. LA Galaxy II defender Jalen Neal and San Jose Casey Walls struggled at the Revelations Cup but the performances from that camp need to be taken with a grain of salt given the makeshift nature of the team and coaching staff. But this position needs more work heading into January. Union defender Brandan Craig, Tacoma Defiance’s Cody Baker, Atlanta United’s Efrain Morales, and Fort Lauderdale CF (Inter Miami academy) defender Ethan Hardin, and Wake Forest Prince Amponsah are a few players who could be within the pool in the months ahead.The central defense pool has also been altered by the decision of two players to represent other countries. Red Bull Salzburg’s Bryan Okoh has always been tied to Switzerland and remains a part of the Swiss U-21 team. LAFC’s Antonio Leone, meanwhile, has played for the U.S. at the youth levels but has recently opted for Mexico’s U-20 team.

LEFT BACK

The U.S. U-20 team is in great shape at left back and this is the second straight cycle where it is a strength (in 2021, the U-20 team would have featured John Tolkin and George Bello whereas in 2019, Sam Vines was cut but he has progressed nicely).For the current 2023 cycle, the starting job will likely fall to Jonathan Gomez who was recently with Louisville City but will be heading to Real Sociedad in Spain in January. There is one caveat, however, as Gomez could still opt to play for Mexico (he played in Mexican camps in 2021). While he would be in Europe, it is hard to see his club denying his release for youth camps as it would allow him to play in meaningful games throughout the year.

Kevin Paredes is one of the top players in the U-20 pool and has played as a left back for DC United when using a wingback formation. He’s also played as a winger at times and with the U.S. national team in December camp (prior to leaving injured) he played as a winger. If Gomez is on the U-20 team, sliding Paredes into the winger position will get both Gomez and Paredes on the field into comfortable roles.Aside from those players, DC United homegrown Jacob Greene is an option and was on the roster at the Revelations Cup. Philadelphia Union II’s Anthony Sorenson, Atlanta United’s Caleb Wiley, and Inter Miami’s Noah Allen are all potential options as well.

RIGHT BACK

Normally a very deep position for the United States, right back is thin for the U.S. U-20 team.The first question will be whether Justin Che plays as a central defender or as a right back. He is likely a starter for the U-20 team at either position at the start of the cycle.Michael Halliday made first team appearances with Orlando City this year where he played well at times and struggled at other times. Still, that is not a bad starting point for a player of his age group and he should be in the mix.Sporting Kanas City homegrown Kayden Pierre was on the Revelation’s Cup roster and he is in the mix at the start of the cycle although he could be overtaken in 2022 if he still is with the club’s reserve team. The same could be said for FC Dallas homegrown Collin Smith who had a nice season with North Texas in USL. Smith is at a youth-friendly team in Dallas and could get looks if he continues to perform well.Mauricio Cuevas was most recently with the LA Galaxy II but is now unattached presumably to look for a move to Europe. He remains a potentially solid option after previously playing with the U.S. U-17 team before the shutdown but he hasn’t had many games recently.Born at the end of 2004, Erik Dueñas is one of the younger players in the current pool but has signed a homegrown deal with LAFC – where he made two appearances. Within the organization, he was coached by one of the best ever American right backs in Steve Cherundolo. He is in the middle of a long-term injury recovery but could emerge later in the cycle. 

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD

Defensive midfield is going to be important for this team but right now there isn’t a lot of depth.

This week, the New York Red Bulls signed Daniel Edelman to a homegrown contract, and it was a big move for both the player and the club. He is a highly rated U-20 player and should get first team minutes with New York next season. As a very good defensive No. 6 player, he is the best player at that position for the U-20 team and he probably will be an important part of the team.

Jeremy Garay signed a homegrown deal with DC United this past year and was part of the U.S. team at the Revelations Cup and played pretty well in the 2-1 loss to Mexico. He has also represented El Salvador but he will likely stick with the U.S. team if that road is open for him and he’s in the mix for the U-20 team.

The Seattle Sounder duo of Daniel Leyva and Reed Baker-Whiting are also under consideration. Leyva might struggle with his mobility and physicality while Baker-Whiting is very young and eligible for the following cycle.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD

The strength of this U-20 team lies central midfield, both the No. 8 and the No. 10, as well as the wingers.

Philadelphia’s Jack McGlynn and DC United’s Moses Nyeman are the top options at the start of the cycle. McGlynn being part of a trio of Philadelphia Union players on this team, he earned a lot of first team minutes in 2021 and should be playing even more in 2022. Nyeman will need to play more for DC and his game is still rounding out. But his passing is very good and if he can add more defense, he’ll be in good shape.

 There are still positions up for grabs in central midfield. Zach Booth (brother of Tyler Booth) at Leicester City and Rokas Pukstas at the U-19 team for Hadjuk Split are in the pool but others will emerge in 2022. Kenan Hot wil have some interesting decisions ahead after leaving the Red Bulls set-up and going on overseas trials. He has spent time with U.S. youth national teams in the past before COVID and played the last half of 2021 wiith Hartford Athletic. 

ATTACKING MIDFIELD

The heart of this U.S. U-20 team is in the attacking midfield positions. This is where the team is deepest and strongest.

Caden Clark of the New York Red Bulls (and possibly RB Leipzig) and the Philadelphia Union’s Paxten Aaronson are at the top of the list and both have shown their class this year. Clark might also drift back into a No. 8 role because he has that versatility. He’s also effective in the press – which Mikey Varas will probably look to use. But both are locks to be on the team and see a lot of minutes in big games.

Quinn Sullivan, also of the Philadelphia Union, is one of the stronger 2004-born players in the pool and he gives Varas an option at the No. 10 as well as out on the wings.

Diego Luna of the El Paso Locomotive put up solid numbers in the USL Championship and had a decent Revelations Cup where he scored a classy equalizer against Mexico. For now, he is in a good spot to start the U-20 cycle.

The Chicago Fire’s Brian Gutierrez is also probably in a good position with the U-20 team and he earned decent reviews for his performance at the Revelations Cup and should be in line for call-ups early in 2022.

Head coach Mikey Varas will probably take January and possibly the second camp of 2022 to explore deeper options. That could open the door for Schalke’s Evan Rotundo, the LA Galaxy’s Victor Valdez, or Tacoma Defiance’s Juan Alvarez – who are all on the younger side from the 2004 birth year.

WINGERS

This is another position of strength for the U-20 team with several players already performing well at a high level.

Kevin Paredes will likely play as winger as opposed to a left back and he would easily be a starter at left wing. The DC United homegrown was a regular starter, when healthy, at the first team level and was strong on both sides of the ball.

Cade Cowell is another player who should feature regularly with the U-20 team and could be a starter. The San Jose homegrown is very physically strong and that could be tough to stop at the U-20 level. One caveat is that he could see time at the No. 9 under Varas given the lack of options at that position.

Dante Sealy is currently on loan at PSV from FC Dallas and is a regular with Jong PSV where he has five goals in 16 appearances and 876 minutes. On top of this, he has worwked with head coach Mikey Varas at Dallas and understands his system – which should give him an edge.

There are other wingers who could play their way onto the team Christian Torres would be a strong candidate, but the LAFC winger most recently opted to play for Mexico at the Revelations Cup.  

Colorado Rapids homegrown Dantouma Toure spent 2021 on loan at the Colorado Switchbacks and had a pretty good season. He recently went on training stints at Rangers and Arsenal in December and should be a player that gets a look early in 2022 with a chance of playing his way onto the team.

CENTER FORWARD

The center forward position for this U-20 team is very much up in the air. While it is thin, the best overall American for this age group plays the No. 9 in Ricardo Pepi.

Pepi’s involvement in this team is complicated. Right now, the full U.S. national team is his priority and he has started the team’s most important World Cup qualifiers to date. That will continue through the end of qualifying in March (assuming the U.S. team doesn’t have to play in the intercontinental playoff).

But the U-20 qualification tournament is in the summer. Is it conceivable that U.S. Soccer would decide to send Pepi to the qualification tournament to give the U-20 team every chance for success? While unlikely, you can’t completely rule it out. He wouldn’t miss any decisive games for the full national team this summer and looking ahead into next cycle, U.S Soccer is going to want its teams playing in important tournaments building up to the 2026 World Cup on home soil.

The fact that this tournament will serve as qualification for the Olympics could be a deciding factor to send Pepi with the U-20 team and end the federation’s Olympic drought. He most likely won’t play at the U-20 World Cup but the Olympics in 2024 would be a different story.  This country loves the Olympics and that would be a great way to build up enthusiasm for the World Cup team.

The gap between Pepi and the next best options is wide right now.

Malick Sanogo of Union Berlin made his U.S. debut at the Revelations Cup and is an option. Once a goal scoring machine at the U-17 Bundesliga level, his numbers have declined at the U-19 Bundesliga level (two goals in nine games, 732 minutes, both goals coming in one game against Werder Bremen’s U-19 team).

Minnesota United’s Patrick Weah was once considered a back-up option but he will be sidelined until late 2022 with a torn ACL.

Missael Rodriguez was on the Revelations Cup roster as a surprising inclusion. The Chicago Fire homegrown is yet to make his first team debut but earned the Golden Boot for the U-19 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs with a tournament-high six goals in five matches. He should remain in the mix with the U-20 team given the shallow player pool.

Tyler Wolff could also get a look and the Atlanta United homegrown (and son of Austin FC head coach and former U.S. international Josh Wolff) and his numbers were solid with Atlanta United 2 (six goals in 10 games) and he even made a few limited appearance with the first team.

Darren Yapi is a Colorado Rapids homegrown who has spent time on loan with the Switchbacks and previously played for the U.S. U-17 team. He’s now with Arsenal on a training stint and could be an option for Mikey Varas.

It’s clearly not a deep position for the U.S. team as there aren’t many options who are getting first team minutes either at the MLS level or at a similar or higher level in Europe. It might be a situation where Varas has to explore using a player out of position at the No. 9 – such as Cade Cowell.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

This is very interesting team that has some players starting off the U-20 cycle in great shape. Paredes, Clark, Che, Cowell, Slonina, Aaronson, and McGlynn have all impressed at the MLS level. There are a number of positions where it looks like the U.S. team should be able to match up well with a lot of good teams.But there are also weak areas and having a shaky central defense is probably the worst area for a youth team to be unsettled. Mikey Varas will have to manage that situation well for the team to have success. He also needs Daniel Edelman to pan out in the defensive midfield because he can help protect the backline.The striker position is also not in great shape, but it is manageable. The possible (albeit unlikely) addition of Pepi would change that completely.Right now, the U-20 team has to be viewed in two segments. From now through qualifying, and (if successful) from qualifying through the U-20 World Cup.

CONCACAF did the U.S. team a huge favor by having the qualifying take place in the summer and also by having it serve as qualifying for the Olympics. Few players should be denied a release to participate. MLS teams have typically been cooperative and Euro teams typical grant players a release in the summer as youth national teams give young players a chance to play meaningful games.

For this qualifying tournament, Mikey Varas should be able to have his top choice of players except for Pepi. If the U.S team is successful, the cycle can continue and Varas can build his team as new players emerge and others fade.

As with any U-20 team, the player pool changes very, very quickly. Players emerge in the matter of weeks and months, while others fade just as quickly. If you look at any previous cycle, the projected Best XI rarely resembles the Best XI come the U-20 World Cup.

Everything now, however, is about qualifying for the U-20 World Cup and the Olympics. Mikey Varas doesn’t have a lot of time and he will only have a few camps to put his team together. He has a decent starting point but a lot of work needs to be done to figure out the players who should be on the roster and to build a tactical plan and team chemistry. There should be enough talent to get it done but it’s far from a sure thing.

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