USA Ties #13 Uruguay
The US had good moments against the top team they have played in the Greg Berhalter Era – but they settled for a 0-0 tie with the South American power Uruguay. US Game Hightlights I thought the US played well especially from about 15 minutes in until after halftime. The US had numerous chances including two that US #9 Jesus Ferriera just has to finish if he wants to start for us in the World Cup. In the end – Uruguay probably should have ended the US 23 game home unbeaten streak in as US GK Sean Johnson stood on his head to make these 2 spectacular saves. Another miss by Man United’s Cavani, who subbed in with 30 min to play, in the final minute probably could have scored as well. But it didn’t and the US finished with a solid even game against the top ranked team (#13) the US has played in years. Overall I thought Johnson was great in net, the middle of the defense was fine with Long and Zimmerman but the outside backs – Yedlin and the 19 year-old MGladbach man Joe Scally really, really struggled on the night. Not sure Scally is ready for big time competition just yet. Musah was fantastic in the midfield #8 slot as his combos with Pulisic were mighty dangerous again. (See tons of stories on the OBC/below).
USA vs Grenada Fri 10 pm ESPN+
The team flips to Nations League play in CONCACAF now with a home gimme vs Grenada on Friday night on ESPN+ from Austin, Texas. I look for the US to play a lot of guys who have not played yet in this match – as they will probably return to a normal starting side for their Tues Night game in El Salvador at 10 pm on FS1. US Men Use platform to Question Gun Violence. Also Funny Berhalter bouncepass issue. Sign up Weston McKinney up for the Celtics Quick!
Shane’s Starters for Fri Game vs Grenada 10 pm ESPN+
Roldan/De la Torre
The 26-man roster for June Games
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest),
Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution), Sean Johnson (DC United)
DEFENDERS (9): George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld), Reggie Cannon (Boavista), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic FC), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes), Antonee Robinson (Fulham FC), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Luca de la Torre (Heracles), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Malik Tillman (Bayern Munich)
FORWARDS (7): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea FC), Tim Weah (Lille), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor)
Indy 11 Women Play Friday night at Grand Park Events Center
Our Indy 11 women are off to a great start with 4 wins and 1 tie on the season for tops in the league. They play Midwest United Friday night 7 pm at the Event Center at Grand Park Friday night vs Flint City AFC so make plans to go out and see the ladies !! Tickets for that contest are available at indyeleven.com/wleague-tickets for only $8. To learn more about the newest edition of Indiana’s Team representing the women’s game, visit indyeleven.com/wleague. On the men’s side they got the 1-1 tie at Miami on Wednesday and will next play in Colorado next Sat, June 18 on MyIndyTV 23/ESPN+. The boys in blue return home July 2 at 7:30 pm with fire-works display after so make your plans to be there tix are just $15 @ indyeleven.com/tickets.
Former Carmel Dad’s Club and Carmel High School Standout Forward Katie Soderstrom and Noblesville’s GK Nona Reason are local players helping to lead to our Indy 11 Women’s Team who plays Friday night, June 10 7 pm at the Grand Park Events Center.
Participants in the Carmel Dads’ Club big sisters/little sisters soccer program with Carmel FC (Carmel’s Travel Program). Back, from left, Lyla Barnhart, Rylie Heath, Ava Donofrio, Lily Bose, Amit Gat, Molly Broach, Liz Putts, Olivia Ritchey, and Kate Huitsing. Front, from left, Gabriella Roesner, Natalie Guibault, Adeline King, Molly Keen, Ruby Crosby, Alexis Westphal, Zipporah Brown, Madeline Nies, and Carly Orr. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Donofrio) Read full Story from the Carmel Current
All evaluations and tryouts will be held at Shelborne Fields. 3451 W 126th St, Carmel, IN 46032.
Monday June 13, 2022- Players 11u and older (Birth Years 2004 to 2012)
Check-in starts 1/2 hour before tryouts.
Tryouts for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012: 5:45pm to 7:15pm
Tryouts for 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008: 7:30pm to 9pm.
Use this link to register for tryouts before hand. Visit : carmelfc.teamapp.com Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. with any questions.
Interested in Group Goalkeeper Training this summer – call me at 317-748-7174 and I’ll look to add some more early evening or weekend sessions.
BIG GAMES ON TV
Thurs, June 9
2:45 pm FS1 Portugal vvs Czechs NL
10:30 pm Para+ Canada vs Curacao
Fri, June 10
2:45 pm FS1 Austria vs France NL
10 pm ESPN+ USA vs Grenada
Sat, June 11
2:45 pm FS1 Ireland vs Scotland NL
3 pm ABC Charlotte vs NY Red Bulls
10 pm Para+ Mexico vs Suriname
Sun, June 12
9 am FS1 Northern Ireland vs Cyprus NL
12 pm FS1 Norway vs Sweden NL
2:45 pm FS2 Spain vs Czech Republic
2:45 pm Fubo Switzerland vs Portugal
3 pm ABC Sporting KC vs New England MLS
Mon, June 13
2 pm FS1 Australia vs Peru WCQ
2:45 pm FS1 Croatia vs France NL
2:45 pm FS2 Denmark vs Austria NL
10 pm Para+ Canada vs Honduras
Tues, June 14
2:45 pm FS1 Germany vs Italy NL
2:45 pm Fubo England vs Hungary NL
10 pm FS1 USA @ El Salvador
Weds, June 15
7:30 pm ESPN+ New England vs Orlando
Make your own teams or we can add you to a team. Cost is just $105 includes Jersey.
Carmel Dads’ Club Soccer Camp Powered by Indy Eleven – Next Week -June 13-16
9am-12pm (Rain day reschedule June 17) Ages 6-13 Shelborne Soccer Fields – 3451 W. 126th St. Carmel, IN 46033 – REGISTRATION IS LIVE!
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Could Rodman eclipse Pulisic as the face of U.S. soccer?
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Mexico’s good, bad and ugly from recent friendlies: Ochoa in form, but who’s scoring the goals? Cesar Hernandez
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Australia coach wants more from team after World Cup playoff win
Canada-Panama match canceled amid spiraling World Cup bonus dispute
Inexperienced Italy side hold Germany in Nations League
Indy Eleven Women Remain Undefeated with Victory at Grand Park
WESTFIELD, Ind. (Friday, June 3, 2022) – After nearly a month on the road, vocal chants from the Brickyard Battalion got the Indy Eleven USL W League squad and the sellout crowd of 1,023 crowd back into the homecoming spirit, as the Girls in Blue captured a 1-0 victory over Midwest United FC at the Grand Park Events Center. Forward Kristina Lynch’s left footed shot from 20 yards near the end of the first half was enough to keep Indy atop the Great Lakes Division and remain the division’s only undefeated side, pushing its record to 4W-0L-1D (13 pts.) on the campaign.The first half was an intense 45 minutes filled with chances for both sides and energetic pressure and aggression across the pitch. Many scoring opportunities came on the counterattack, and they started early as in the fourth minute of the game Indy midfielder Jenna Chatterton had the first big chance of the match, but her shot from 12 yards straight out from goal was just wide of the left post. Midwest United FC responded seven minutes later on a 3-v-2 break, but Avery Lockwood’s shot was blocked and the rebound effort was just missed. In the 33rd minute, Chatterton’s up-tempo speed found Maddy Williams down on the left side, who cut back to get inside the area and unleash a near post blast that stuck in the gloves of Midwest United goalkeeper Lauren Kozal at her near post.Just when it looked as if the first half would go scoreless, Lynch had other plans. In the 41st minute, the Indy attacked space in the middle of the field before splitting two Midwest United defenders and finding an opening at the arc, where she powered a shot that left Kozal diving at air, putting Indy up 1-nil heading into halftime.“Everybody was just pressing really well, we pushed up the field and everyone was marked up and the ball just kind of bounced to where I happened to be and took a few touches,” Lynch said. “The gap opened up, tried to hit it with the left foot, and it went in.”The second half saw both sides using their full allotment of five subs, indicative of the fresh legs needed to get through the more physical final 45 minutes that saw the flow of the game become a bit choppier. One of those subs, Indy attacker Milica Bulatovic, nearly got on the board in the 55th minute when she lashed Katie Soderstrom’s laid off ball into the heart of the area, only to see Kozal leap across her line to make the save.Another bench performer, Heather MacNab, nearly scored with her first touch in the 63th minute, only to see Kozal go low to make another fine save. Deep into four minutes of stoppage time, Rachel McCarthy had an opportunity to add Indy’s long-awaited insurance goal off a 2-v-2 break, but her miss just wide right of frame mattered not, as the chance marked the final action of the hard-fought victory for the Girls in Blue.“The game is supposed to be a battle and you should know what you’re up against,” Eleven W League Head Coach Paul Dolinsky said. “We still tried to play and there were some very good spells where the ball was moving pretty well. And in a day where we have one and the other team has zero, then we don’t try to find too many issues.”Indy Eleven will continue its June homestand in Westfield next Friday, June 10, when it hosts Flint City AFC at 7:00 p.m. Tickets for that contest are available at indyeleven.com/wleague-tickets for only $8. To learn more about the newest edition of Indiana’s Team representing the women’s game, visit indyeleven.com/wleague.
IND – Kristina Lynch (unassisted) 41’
Indy Eleven lineup: 1-Mackenzie Wood (GK), 4-Kristina Lynch (8-Heather MacNab 62’), 5-Grace Bahr, 6-Julia Leonard, 7-Becky Dean (10-Milica Bulatovic 45’), 9-Katie Soderstrom (24-Rachel McCarthy 62’), 12-Maddy Williams (19-Selena Barnett 80’), 13-Jenna Chatterton, 22-Greta Kraszula, 23-Robyn McCarthy (17-Emily McCalligett 70’), 26-Ella Rogers
Former Carmel Dad’s Club and Carmel High School Standout Forward Katie Soderstrom and Noblesville’s GK Nona Reason are local players helping to lead to our Indy 11 Women’s Team who plays Friday night, June 10 7 pm at the Grand Park Events Center.
Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle
Halfway through the USMNT’s June camp, what have we learned?
By Matthew Doyle @MattDoyle76Tuesday, Jun 7, 2022, 11:00 AM
The US men’s national team’s June camp, with a pair of friendlies (in the books!) and a pair of Nations League contests (coming this week!), is half done. While it has been a somewhat experimental camp – we’ll discuss how in a minute – its main purpose has been to fine-tune the team, both in terms of its personnel and baseline tactical shapes and concepts, ahead of November’s World Cup.With 180 minutes logged we’ve learned some stuff about what Gregg Berhalter’s thinking, and we’ve learned some stuff about what he’s trying to do.
Let’s dive in:
Changing the midfield shape
The biggest thing that’s jumped out to me over the course of these first two games, a delightful 3-0 win over Morocco and a scoreless draw against Uruguay that was alternately rugged and wide open, is that Berhalter has inverted the US’s base midfield triangle. Throughout most of World Cup qualifying it was a single pivot with a pair of No. 8s pushed forward; through these two games it’s been inverted, with Yunush Musah (or Luca de la Torre) dropping deeper to play alongside Tyler Adams, making a double pivot.
There is a “coming full circle” aspect to Berhalter’s decision here, as when he initially took over he was working with various rotations to create a double pivot. Back then it was Adams, deployed as a fullback, who would push up and inside next to the nominal d-mid – Michael Bradley or Wil Trapp, and yes, 2019 seems a million years ago – to sit in front of two central defenders and a stay-at-home left back who basically never overlapped. The idea was to get a solid enough defensive foundation to let the five more advanced players just go to work in attack.
Over time Berhalter, as mentioned, went to a single pivot. Adams (it was almost always Adams) had a very clear remit: Protect the backline, snuff out any opposing transition moments, win the ball and play it quickly to those who are able to do more with it.
What we never saw was something like this:
That’s Adams pressing way, way up, which is something I can’t recall him doing any of since the US moved to a single pivot. In this instance he gets cut out of the play and it becomes the responsibility of Musah to slide over and protect the backline from the exact sort of cutback that almost led to a goal here, but Musah never sees it. It’s just not something he’s used to with club or country.
The flip side is he’s now, in possession, doing more of the types of things he actually is used to (and is excellent at): ball progression. Pushing Musah deeper gets him on the ball earlier in sequences, which draws opposing defenders upfield and, once he cuts them out of the play, puts the US into positions of numerical advantage.
Here ya go:
That is the value of getting him on the ball deeper, and earlier in the play (and the same goes for de la Torre, who is a like-for-like sub for Musah). He doesn’t produce goals and assists, but he does produce the stuff that needs to happen first in order to make goals and assists possible.
The other advantage of putting Musah deeper is, by the end of qualifying, Adams had kind of been figured out by the rest of Concacaf. He is iffy receiving the ball in traffic and is limited in his distribution, and so as the windows went on the US veered more and more toward becoming a team that played against the ball rather than a team that plays with it. Adams is not, by any means, the only cause of that tactical drift, but he’s definitely at the heart of it.
And I think it’s pretty telling that, in the first two games after qualifying, Berhalter changed the midfield shape and responsibilities so drastically.
A true(ish) attacking midfielder
The upshot of all of the above is that Brenden Aaronson and Weston McKennie have both been put into spots where they can play as something closer to what I think most would consider being a true attacking midfielder. It wasn’t 100% across the board – there are still moments where each drops deep into a line with Adams and Musah in the US’s base 4-3-3 – but more and more often the US, on the front foot, looked like a team playing out of a 4-2-3-1.
Whether you consider the player in this spot to be a true No. 10 or not doesn’t really matter; what does is understanding their job is much less about ball progression through the middle, which falls to Musah and (to a lesser extent) Adams, and more about operating in the half-space as part of the attack. If, for example, they’re operating in the right half-space it’ll usually be the right winger out wide, the center forward occupying the middle channel, the left winger (Christian Pulisic basically all the time) in the left half-space and the left fullback trying to get around the edge out wide.
The goal is to get to the baseline 3-2-2-3 formation in possession and to create both positional and dynamic superiority. Throughout 2021 and most of 2022, the US had aimed for a 2-3-2-3 instead.
It sounds minor, but it’s really not a trivial distinction. Getting efficiently into final third kill patterns, and getting your most talented attackers into spots in that final third where they can execute said kill patterns, is how you can make a solid team good or even great.
I’m not sure scrapping the single pivot is the way to do it, but I understand the ideas behind what Berhalter’s done here.
Attacking balance from the fullbacks
Against Morocco, Berhalter tinkered with a rotation that turned what was nominally a back four into a back three, as Antonee Robinson was given license to overlap all day long in his usual manner from left back, while Reggie Cannon – who has played mostly as a right center back for Boavista in Portugal this year – didn’t overlap at all. Instead, he’d slide inside to create that 3-2-2-3 look.
Against Uruguay the fullbacks, Joe Scally on the left and DeAndre Yedlin on the right, were operating on the basic “you stay I go” system. In other words, if one was overlapping then the other stayed home. Nobody was cutting inside to create midfield overloads and nobody was sliding inside, Cannon-style, to create a permanent back three.
Scally, who was targeted all night by La Celeste, couldn’t manage it. He barely got forward and the few times he did, he created nothing. The knock-on effect was a significant attacking imbalance for the US:
(Note you can see McKennie’s positioning there in the right half-space. He’s No. 8).
An attacking imbalance is not, in and of itself, a calamity. Just look at the Musah clips above and you’ll see the two best US chances of the game came down the right-hand side.
But Jedi’s played 85% of available USMNT minutes this year and his absence against Uruguay (he came on midway through the second half, but the game was truly gone by then) was visible. Not having him – or someone like him – at left back drastically changes the way the US can play.
Ideally, that’s not something the US will have to worry about in Qatar. Ideally, Robinson will play every single minute.
But what if he can’t? Putting Sergino Dest at left back and slotting Cannon or Yedlin in at right back is just a massive shift for the US since Dest doesn’t create width or penetration on the overlap when he’s inverted. George Bello came up short both in qualifying and at Arminia Bielefeld, while Scally’s a right-footed wingback who evolved from a starter into a sub over the course of last season.
I wouldn’t be against bringing Sam Vines in for another look. Vines struggled at first in Belgium, but wound up winning a starting job down the stretch and into the playoffs. The other high-upside option is young Kevin Paredes (my favorite player of the bunch), who was outstanding last year for D.C. United, but didn’t really break through at all for Wolfsburg when he moved in January (nobody breaks through for Wolfsburg right away, unfortunately).
Both of those guys are left-footed, overlapping, attacking fullbacks. Both are plausible like-for-like back-ups for Jedi, and I think we’ve got to have that on the roster.
The No. 9 situation
So here’s the question: Do you credit the player who finds high-upside chances for understanding attacking patterns well enough to actually find those chances in the first place? Or do you ding him for not finishing?
That’s what the situation with Jesus Ferreira is at the moment.
Now, understand on a long enough timeline, a given player’s actual goals will tend to match their expected goals, and in that instance Ferreira is massively underperforming for the US. But he massively underperformed for Dallas in 2020, then found his level last year, then upped his level this season. That feels like a pretty natural progression for a young attacker, and since Berhalter keeps showing faith in Ferreira, and since the overall attack keeps operating better with Ferreira out there, I tend to think the No. 9 is Ferreira’s job to lose.
I am sympathetic to those who would rather Berhalter go in a different direction (and for what it’s worth, I expect Haji Wright to get a start in at least one of the next two games). Guys like Wright, Daryl Dike, Jeremy Ebobisse and Brandon Vazquez don’t just move well; they have dominant physical characteristics that make them a different type of center forward than Ferreira, who’s more of a false 9 than a classic striker.
The question is, though, will they even find the types of chances Ferreira is currently failing to finish? Dike has struggled mightily in his non-friendly appearances for the US, while Wright missed his one good open-play chance against Morocco, then touched the ball just four times in 29 minutes against Uruguay (which is in line with his underlying numbers from Turkey, which say he finds good chances, but doesn’t find many of them and doesn’t do anything else at an above-average level). Vazquez and Ebobisse might not even be a glint in Berhalter’s eye as far as we know.
I do think Ricardo Pepi has a chance to work his way back into the picture, provided he actually puts the ball into the net a little bit for Augsburg. For Jordan Pefok and Gyasi Zardes, however, I think the ship has most likely sailed.
Regardless, what we’ve learned about the No. 9 job for the US is we’ve got a lot more to learn about the No. 9 job for the US.
Center back hierarchy
I think it’s telling Aaron Long started both games alongside Walker Zimmerman. Long wasn’t perfect – there were a couple of times he scrambled slowly in the 18, which led to a spectacular block vs. Morocco and a massive let-off vs. Uruguay – but he was better than the other two options, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown.
Carter-Vickers does a lot of good stuff when the ball’s on the ground, but he’s not Long’s equal in the air, and that matters. Here are two clips from CCV’s 45 minutes against Morocco. The first is a header Long wins, and the second is a header Carter-Vickers completely whiffs on:
Misjudging the cross to allow Tarik Tissoudali a free look speaks for itself, but that first clip is important as well. Carter-Vickers has never really shown the ability to muscle a center forward and win a long clearance like that for the US, and has struggled to do it for his club at higher levels. His weakness in the air is the reason he plays in Scotland rather than England, full stop.
So right now I think Zimmerman’s first in the center back pecking order, with Chris Richards second, Long third and either Carter-Vickers or Mark McKenzie (who did not have the best year with Genk, but played more down the stretch and into the playoffs) fourth.
One thing I will say is if there needs to be a fifth center back – and there should be if rosters are expanded to 26 – it should be James Sands because of his versatility. He’d slot into the depth chart as a fifth center back as well as a third d-mid and a third right back.
I’m not sure Berhalter sees it that way, and the fact neither Sands nor McKenzie are in this camp doesn’t bode well for them. But going five-deep at center back and three-deep with d-mid ball-winners should be non-negotiables.
A few other thoughts…
• Taylor Twellman said during the Morocco game he thinks the No. 1 goalkeeper job is Matt Turner’s to lose, and I tend to agree. He’s the superior shot-stopper, which is what matters most, and is going to be training with an Arsenal side that demands improvement in his footwork playing out of the back.
Add in Zack Steffen’s repeated struggles for both club and country, and I will be surprised if Turner’s not the starter this autumn.
• Sean Johnson, who’s having a wonderful year with NYCFC, got a chance to make his case for inclusion and did so with a Man of the Match performance on Sunday. Here he is bailing out Aaronson and Scally:
I don’t think Johnson truly has a shot to win the No. 1, but I would honestly choose him, Ethan Horvath or, obviously, Turner over Steffen at this point.
• For me the Musah/McKennie/Adams midfield is written in pen. I understand there is a sentiment in certain corners of the internet to bench one of Musah or McKennie in favor of Aaronson, but… no. Inverting the midfield triangle, as Berhalter did this week, did a nice job of showing how Aaronson* could play in the midfield effectively (he’s been disastrous when played as one of the dual 8s). But to me, that was more of a “let’s see what he can do in case Wes is hurt” type of thing.
(*) Also, this role was made for Djordje Mihailovic. I can see now why Berhalter kept insisting he was brought to camp as a midfielder.
• If Aaronson’s competing for a starting spot anywhere, it’s on the wing. And the truth is nobody – not even Pulisic – should have their name in pen in that front three. If all four of Aaronson, Pulisic, Tim Weah and Gio Reyna are healthy and good to go in November, then most likely two of them will be coming off the bench (though there is at least a chance Weah could be used as a No. 9 instead).
Still, if I were a betting man I’d wager Pulisic and Weah are the starters. But just think about how much has changed in the past five months, and imagine about how much can change in the next five.
We’ve learned a lot about what Berhalter is thinking, and about the state of the player pool. There are only two games left in this window – just four games left until the freaking World Cup itself is finally here! – but we’ve still got a lot of learning left to do.
Benefit or burden? USMNT begin Nations League defense
By Charles Boehm @cboehm
Wednesday, Jun 8, 2022, 06:51 PM
Concacaf Nations League got a mixed reception among the region’s largest and most established programs when the concept was unveiled in November 2017. The new tournament was meant to give a helping hand to smaller nations by replacing often-meaningless friendlies with official competitive matches, thus raising the region’s overall level of play. But for the likes of Mexico and the United States, there was some frustration at the prospect of losing already-scarce opportunities to test themselves against elite opponents from Europe, South America and points further afield.Thanks to COVID-19, the inaugural edition of the CNL didn’t conclude until a year ago this week, and the joy of the US men’s national team was palpable and authentic as they hoisted the hardware following a dramatic extra-time victory over their rivals El Tri that night in Denver. The Yanks extended that high in a dogged march to the 2021 Gold Cup title a few weeks later, building momentum heading into their ultimately successful 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.In retrospect, the event many fans feared as a hindrance turned out to be a platform for collective growth.“This tournament helped us a lot to gain confidence in the team as a whole,” USMNT winger Paul Arriola told reporters in Spanish in a Wednesday afternoon media availability ahead of Friday’s 2022-23 CNL opener vs. Grenada in Austin (10 pm ET | ESPN+, UniMas, TUDN). “Winning this tournament for the first time was very important for us, it gave us the confidence that we can win cups and tournaments. So for us right now the most important thing is to focus on defending our title, and also trying to improve.”In recent days multiple other players have also pointed to the value of that CNL final triumph over Mexico as milestone and proof of concept in Gregg Berhalter’s team-building process.“Each tournament was a stepping stone in the right direction for us,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said on Tuesday. “Nations League was a stepping stone for us to go into Gold Cup and have a great result, then to go into the World Cup qualifiers and obviously prevail and qualify for the World Cup. I think we’re using each and every opportunity to grow as a group.”Added fullback Reggie Cannon: “That group set the standard and it’s been carried out ever since, all the way through World Cup qualifying.”CNL also served up instructive moments like the dispiriting 2-0 group-stage loss to Canada in Toronto in October 2019, one of the low-water marks of Berhalter’s tenure and a result that seemed to prompt some tactical and personnel rethinks.So now the Nations League is a conquest that the USMNT fully intend to defend, even if it requires matches against what are likely to be less-demanding opponents like Friday’s – which is also their final game on US soil before the World Cup proper, a de facto sendoff in which the team wishes to “joy and confidence,” in Arriola’s words, to their fans.“I think anytime that you’re playing for a trophy, it’s a great experience. It obviously doesn’t mimic a World Cup but it’s a similar sense, that you’re trying to accomplish a goal and win a trophy,” said Jordan Morris. “The mentality throughout the last one was great … it brought the group closer together, instilled confidence and pushed us forward, and I think that we’re going to use this as a similar platform these couple of games.”After Friday’s match the USMNT will jet to Central America for another CNL fixture, a visit to El Salvador at Estadio Cuscatlan, typically one of the loudest and most spirited environments in Concacaf and another evaluation point in the countdown to Qatar. Their group stage will conclude with two more ties next spring.It might not get pulses racing on the level of a meeting with Uruguay or a comparably world-class opponent, but it’s another step towards the desired destination just the same.“Nothing changes based on the opponent,” said Morris. “We go out and execute our game plan and work on the things that we want to work on in the game. Everyone’s going to go out and compete and show themselves to the best of their ability.
“It comes back to the collective and getting better as a team, because there’s not that many games left before the World Cup and we want to continue to take steps before that tournament.”
Jun 8, 2022, 10:32 AM
Motivation in short supply? Nations League tests players’ pride and exhaustion
By DaMarcus Beasley @DamarcusBeasley
The number of matches and multiple tournaments players partake in each year is always a big topic of discussion, not only for executives at FIFA or the presidents of each footballing region, but for coaches and players alike.
In a recent press conference with Belgium, Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne offered a very honest take on the UEFA Nations League: “For me, the Nations League is not important. We have to play these games, but it feels like a campaign of friendly games. Just glorified friendlies after a long and tough season. I’m not looking forward to it.”
That perspective was echoed by his club teammate and Portugal star Bernando Silva, who offered this about a stretch where they’ll play four Nations League games in 10 days: “After a season in which we’ve had 60 games, to come here and then have to play four more… many people have spoken about it. There are too many games, in the end, too many injuries. We start the new season in a month’s time and I’m certain we are not going to be 100% ready.”
I will tell you now, they’re not the only ones thinking this.
If it is not a World Cup Qualifier or a major tournament, most players will have the same sentiment as Mr. De Bruyne. Now, not every player will come out and say that but, speaking from my experience of playing in Europe with a lot of other internationals, that is the reality.
After a long season, half of the time most players want to go on holiday for a few days, get away from the game and enjoy their time off. And you better believe they couldn’t be bothered with playing in a friendly match against countries ranked low or participating in newer tournaments like the Nations League.
Fatigue, motivation & an increasing number of games
I know everyone is different and the age where a player is in his respective career can be a factor in how one feels about playing international friendlies or the Nations League. We can sit here and throw different variables of why players don’t see the importance of these games, but the simple fact is this: There are too many games and fatigue becomes an issue.
It is not that players don’t want to represent their country or are not proud to do so. Not every player will play 50-60 games a year for their club and country and being able to do so is a privilege. However, the ones who have this opportunity would prefer not to play in matches where the competition isn’t as high as what they are used to.
Nowadays players have an increased number of games throughout a season, mostly due to the added international matches and bevy of competitions. It makes it basically impossible to keep the same intensity and mentality at a high level for all of them.
I remember playing in USMNT matches after a long season where we knew we were going to win. The competition was not very high, and neither was my motivation. In those situations, you do enough to get through the match because in your head you know it doesn’t mean much in the bigger scheme of things.
That said, I loved playing for my country every chance I got. The feeling of putting on your nation’s colors is almost indescribable. I always felt a sense of pride as I was honored to be representing my country and to be viewed as one of the best soccer players in this country. Still, when you have been playing in so many matches in the year and then need to rustle up any energy or motivation to play these games, it is difficult.
Finding meaning in Nations League
The USMNT will start the defense of their Concacaf Nations League title on Friday against Grenada after winning the first version of the tournament against Mexico last year. I know this tournament was brought on to be a substitute for meaningless friendlies throughout the year and the hope was that adding a trophy would stop players from backing out of friendly matches. Also, the tournament serves to help the smaller nations play in more high-level matches, something I think is important for the growth of Concacaf as a whole.
However, with this being a World Cup year, does the Nations League serve a purpose? I do not think so.
Now, more than ever, we have top players in Concacaf playing at big clubs around the world. Keylor Navas (PSG), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jesus “Tecatito” Corona (Sevilla), Hirving Lozano (Napoli)… I mean, the list goes on and on.
Do I think this type of top-level player will take the tournament seriously? Maybe to a certain extent, but not for long. We have seen it before with the Concacaf Gold Cup when the USMNT, Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica, arguably the top four teams in Concacaf, do not always bring their “A” team.
I have never played in the Concacaf Nations League, so I can only compare it to the Gold Cup. And in these matches, the motivation wasn’t always high. Obviously when you get to the final you want to win it, but it is true the vibe and atmosphere in camp are very different when playing in a Gold Cup than when preparing for a World Cup Qualifier.
During a World Cup Qualifying window, everyone has the same mentality, the same mindset. It was easy to be self-motivated in matches of this magnitude. When you came into camp, the atmosphere is relaxed and a bit tense at the same time. And that is a good thing. The level of concentration and focus needed to play those types of matches were through the roof. You didn’t need to worry about players being checked out or less motivated to be in camp. Everyone wanted to go to the World Cup, and more importantly, everyone wanted to be a contributing asset on the field.
I don’t think the same can be said about the Gold Cup or the Nations League.
A lot of times, not every time, players who came into camp had different agendas and mixed emotions. Some wanted to be there, and some didn’t. There were players who took it seriously because this was their chance to prove themselves on the international stage and others, more “seasoned,” who were there just after a long season and were too relaxed. When you add 40-50 international games under your belt, mixed with playing against low-ranked teams, your mindset is already thinking about vacation.
And I will be honest: I did both. There was a time that I took matches like the Gold Cup seriously and other times when my motivation didn’t really come until we reached the final of the tournament. But I will say the professionalism of our group was always there. Did we have that driving force needed in every single match? No, but we always tried to win our matches and bring home a trophy.
In 2003, our motivation level needed to play in a Gold Cup wasn’t there. A lot of players were held over from the Confederations Cup in France to play in the Gold Cup that summer. Others were allowed to head back to their respective clubs. Not everyone had the same goal in mind that camp, including myself. Some were on vacation; some didn’t even want to be there, and yes, others wanted to show their worth. You can say it is easy to pick out that year because we didn’t reach the final, but ask anyone who was a part of that group that summer. These matches were viewed as “glorified friendlies”.
Playing for your country is a privilege. It is earned, not given. I loved playing for my country, and I know players who get the opportunity love playing for their country. So, when players voice their concerns about why they see these games as non-important or “glorified friendlies,” it is not because of a lack of passion or love for their flag. It is simply because they are exhausted.
USMNT draws Uruguay, disagreement in second half on number of subs allowed
By Jeff Rueter
June 6, 2022Updated 12:54 AM EDT
The United States men’s national team played Uruguay for 90 minutes and drew their friendly 0-0. The most noteworthy thing to happen may have been a disagreement over the nmber of subs.Just days after Uruguay beat Mexico by a comfortable 3-0 margin, the USMNT held them scoreless in Kansas City. The USMNT looked more dangerous in the first half, benefitting from Weston McKennie’s return after a three-month layoff due to a metatarsal injury. His interplay with Christian Pulisic helped keep the hosts on the front foot, while benefitting from strong service via Walker Zimmerman. Unfortunately, Jésus Ferreira’s performance was the latest in a long line of U.S. strikers failing to make their mark. The FC Dallas designated player sent a wide-open header over the bar despite standing two yards short of the goalmouth, just minutes after sending a one-on-one chance into goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.The second half highlight came off the pitch, as Uruguay coach Diego Alonso made a seventh sub despite the U.S. claiming the sides had agreed on six. If Alonso used an illegal sub, it may run the risk of negating the 90 minutes altogether. Still, Sean Johnson put in a fine shift between the posts which helps make his case to join Zack Steffen and Matt Turner on the projected World Cup roster.The USMNT also wore orange armbands during the match in support of a letter the team penned to Congress calling for stronger gun legislation. “We want to affect the United States on and off the field,” Zimmerman said. “[I’m] proud of this group, proud of the message that we sent, and hopefully there’s enough action that we can get some progress.”
|U.S. defense hold firm against Núñez and Cavani in a 0-0 tie against the best team the U.S. has faced all year||Grant Wahl Jun 5|
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The USMNT tied Uruguay 0-0 in a friendly between the two World Cup-bound teams on Sunday. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• The U.S. central defense held its own against the world’s most coveted young striker and 30 minutes of Edinson Cavani. Even without Cavani starting and missing Luis Suárez entirely, this Uruguay team was by a wide margin the toughest foe the U.S. has faced this year. Darwin Núñez, the 22-year-old Benfica striker, tore up the Champions League this season and is the top transfer target of Manchester United and other wealthy clubs. But the U.S. central defense of Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long (and Erik Palmer-Brown, his second-half replacement) did mostly well against Núñez and Cavani, keeping them from having a major influence on the game. Núñez did get free in on goal in the first half when a poor U.S. throw-in allowed him to get to the ball before Zimmerman, but Núñez made the wrong decision to pass the ball instead of shooting it. And Núñez 63rd-minute close-range shot was saved beautifully by Sean Johnson. Uruguay had another golden chance in stoppage time, but Núñez decided to drop off a pass to Cavani, who missed the chance. Long is still very much in audition mode for a starting centerback spot in the wake of Miles Robinson’s Achilles injury, but he did pretty well during the Morocco and Uruguay games. The main question here is whether Chris Richards (not in camp due to injury recovery) can make a good enough case for that spot at club level and in the U.S.’s two September friendlies. Personally, I think Richards should have a slight edge over Long to play alongside Zimmerman, but it’s clear that U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter really likes Long.
• The U.S. center-forward position continues to be an open battle. Jesús Ferreira played 61 minutes and remains Berhalter’s top choice for the spot, not least because of his mobility and ability to combine with other front-line players. Berhalter loves his expected goals stat, which reflects a player’s ability to put himself in positions to score, and Ferreira’s individual xG is higher than the other U.S. strikers. But at some point Ferreira is going to have to finish more of his chances, and once again he was unable to do that, failing to convert scoring opportunities in the 20th and 21st minutes. What’s more, Ferreira wasn’t great at holding the ball—an important skill facing high-pressure teams like Uruguay—and on several occasions managed only to get one touch before losing possession. The chance is there for Haji Wright to stake a claim to be the starter, but Wright was unable to do much in his half-hour on the field Sunday. Wright’s play is more in the mold of Jordan Pefok, which is to say his mobility isn’t quite what Ferreira’s is. That means Wright will have to bang in some goals to win over Berhalter. I’d like to see Wright get a starting opportunity against Grenada or El Salvador, even though those opponents won’t bring as much to the table as Uruguay and Morocco have done.
• I liked Christian Pulisic’s edginess and ability to release the ball quickly. Early on in World Cup qualifying, there were a number of occasions when it was clear that Pulisic didn’t totally trust his teammates. You could tell because he often tried to play “hero ball” and dribble through opposing teams when it would have been much better to pass the ball and continue an attacking threat. We didn’t see any of that from Pulisic on Sunday—or, for that matter, for a while now—and instead he has played more like he does with Chelsea, taking on defenders when he can and passing the ball when he should. I also like the harder edge Pulisic has showed with referees and opponents in games like Sunday’s. There’s nothing dirty about it, and I have often felt that this U.S. team has missed having some of that quality since the days of Jermaine Jones. Weston McKennie can provide that as well, and it was good to see him start and get 45 minutes on the field as he continues his full return from his broken foot.
|With Aaron Long appearing a likely World Cup starter, an imperfect but resolute USMNT back line gets its second straight clean sheet against a Qatar 2022 team in a 0-0 tie against Uruguay||Grant Wahl Jun 6|
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Uruguay’s Darwin Núñez, with Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland off the market, is at 22 the most coveted transfer target among young strikers in the world these days. Teammate Edinson Cavani, now 35, is a lion who can still summon the old furies—he scored twice against Mexico last week—as he prepares for one last World Cup.
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They were exactly what the U.S. central defenders needed on Sunday: a significant test beyond any they’d faced during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. And while the Uruguayans certainly had chances to score—U.S. keeper Sean Johnson saved Núñez’s point-blank second-half shot, while Cavani misfired on a stoppage-time sitter—the combination of Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long (and second-half sub Erik Palmer-Brown) helped give the U.S. its second clean sheet in as many games against World Cup-bound foes in a 0-0 tie at Children’s Mercy Park.“They’re very good forwards,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said afterward. “Núñez is a younger guy with a huge potential and is going to be a huge transfer. He’s had a great season at Benfica. Cavani from Man United is a workhorse, a battler, a guy who competes for everything. He gets chances like you saw against Mexico, and he’s able to finish it. We talked to the centerbacks about embracing that challenge, enjoying that challenge. It’s not often that you get to play against guys of that quality, and I think they did a really good job.”Zimmerman said: “It’s very important to have back-to-back opponents [Uruguay and Morocco] in the top 25 in the world. Uruguay, I think 13th, with quality players all over the pitch and guys that have experience, World Cup experience, big-time game experience. So it was an opportunity for us, and we didn’t take it lightly. It was a dress rehearsal for a World Cup. We wanted to compete as if this was Game 3 in our group and we had to get points to move on. So that was the mentality.”Zimmerman has become the rock of the back line, and that was the case again on Sunday over 90 minutes. He rarely put a foot wrong, delivered some nice passes to start the buildup and covered for his teammates on occasion. But one of the big questions coming into this four-game window was whether Long would stake his claim to be Zimmerman’s sidekick after starter Miles Robinson suffered a ruptured left Achilles last month. And while Long wasn’t perfect handling Uruguay’s pressure, he acquitted himself well enough in his 45 minutes after going 90 in the U.S.’s 3-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday. “It’s great to get a shutout, right?” he said afterward. “At the end of the day, that is what matters. I think we gave up a couple chances that were a little bit self-inflicted a couple times. Overall, a shutout is great, but there’s room to improve.”Enough room, in fact, to make you wonder what might have happened had Chris Richards been fully recovered from injury to participate in this month’s games. Richards, 22, who played for Hoffenheim last season on loan from Bayern Munich, has a higher upside and a bit more speed and ball-playing ability. Long, 29, has more experience and a slightly more imposing presence against physical forwards. It remains to be seen if Richards’ club performance starting in August can help make his case, but it’s going to be hard with only two U.S. friendlies in September coming before the World Cup. Centerback is a position of trust, and Berhalter appears to believe in Long at this point—much as he did when Long was a regular USMNT starter before his own right Achilles rupture in May 2021. Goalkeeper is another intriguing situation. Zack Steffen is out this month for family reasons, and Matt Turner was solid putting up a clean sheet against Morocco. Johnson got the nod on Sunday over Turner and Ethan Horvath (a late camp arrival after Nottingham Forest, where he’s the backup, won the promotion playoff to the Premier League). “As a professional player who has been around the national team scene for a while, and been around this group for a while, the opportunity meant everything,” Johnson said.Since none of Steffen (Man City), Turner (Arsenal) or Horvath appears likely to be the starter at his club come August, I asked Johnson on Sunday if he thought being a starter for your club—in his case, New York City—should influence playing time for the national team and which keepers are named to the World Cup team.“Ultimately, I think for me it’s just playing every single game and maintaining a high level,” he responded. “I’m not really worried about too much else besides what I have to do. And when I’m with my club team, it’s putting in performances week in and week out and holding myself to a high standard, maintaining a good level and good form. Good rhythm coming to these camps helps. So it was a smooth transition into the game today, having gotten a ton of games.”Christian Pulisic, for his part, kept it simple: “SeanJohn was incredible today.”
Two other pieces of news dominated the day for the USMNT in addition to the Uruguay game. The 1-0 victory by Wales over Ukraine ended the latter’s inspiring World Cup qualifying run in the wake of the Russian invasion and meant the U.S. will face Wales on the opening night of the World Cup, November 21. “It’s a great feeling [to know the U.S.’s opponent],” said Berhalter when asked about it. “It’s kind of strange when you get drawn into a group and it’s one of three teams that you can play. So in terms of prep you get stalled a little bit, but now it’s full steam ahead and concentrating on Wales. My heart goes out to Ukraine. The whole world was probably behind Ukraine wanting them to go to the World Cup. So: England, Wales, Iran and the U.S., an interesting group.”The other big announcement was the letter from the USMNT players and staff to every member of Congress imploring them to pass legislation to counter gun violence. “We implore you to stand with the majority of Americans who support stronger gun laws,” they wrote in an eloquent and direct letter. “As athletes who have the privilege of traveling the globe representing the greatest country in the world, we are often asked how in a place like the United States there can be such horrific gun violence. We are also asked why the representatives of the people do nothing even though most Americans want them to take action. Those of us who play professionally abroad experience none of these things in our daily lives, yet we return home to a place where mass shootings are frighteningly common and the victims are often defenseless children.”
Zimmerman, who has become one of the team’s leaders, explained it this way: “We look at our motto Be The Change, and we didn’t just want to sign something. We wanted to take action and really send it to Congress, to those who can make a difference with these laws, and we’re really proud of the group and the way that we stepped up. Gregg kind of helped us draft that letter. And we kind of looked over it as a leadership council first and then with the bigger group, talked through it and said, ‘Is everyone good? Is this something that we want to do?’ And it was unanimous, a hundred percent yes. We want to take action and speak up on that.”Pulisic added: “I hope you guys can all realize why we did it. I think it’s getting to a point where [it’s about] anything that we can do and trying to take action. People can say it’s not the guns, it’s the people, but we have to start somewhere, and that’s where we wanted to start.”This may be a young U.S. team—the youngest squad, in fact, at the World Cup—but it’s finding its voice. And that matters.
USMNT draw with Uruguay key takeaways: Midfield questions and more striker struggles
By Sam StejskalJun 6, 2022 Athletic
The U.S. men’s national team passed their final big test of the June international window, but only just.
Five days after putting together one of their more cohesive recent attacking performances in a 3-0 win against Morocco in Cincinnati, the USMNT was mostly stymied against a strong Uruguay side on Sunday, struggling to string much together going forward and nearly conceding on a few occasions in a relatively ugly 0-0 draw in Kansas City, Kan.
The U.S. battled well against a difficult, albeit rotated, opponent, but most of the pressing questions that were facing the team at the start of this camp remain unanswered. That’s unlikely to change in the upcoming CONCACAF Nations League contests against comparatively weak Grenada and El Salvador, meaning U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter will likely enter the September window with plenty to suss out.
In the meantime, here are a few main takeaways from Sunday’s scoreless affair:
Midfield still a work in progress
More than four months since their last match together, the U.S.’s “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams got the start on Sunday, teaming up for 45 minutes before McKennie, who is still working his way back from a lengthy injury absence, was taken off at halftime in a planned substitution.
They had some good moments, with McKennie shaking off some rust and growing into the game as the half progressed, but they mostly had a tricky time trying to play through the well-organized Uruguayans. Things became even more congested for the U.S. in the second half, with the Americans struggling to maintain what little rhythm they built in the opening 45 after McKennie departed for Brenden Aaronson and Uruguay brought in some of their midfield stars.
The performance stood in stark contrast to the more flowing soccer the U.S. exhibited against Morocco, when the tucked-in Christian Pulisic and Aaronson found a good amount of space between the lines and combined well in buildup play. There was a lot less of that against Uruguay, who didn’t press as high or as hard as Morocco did on Wednesday, a tactic that made things a bit difficult for the U.S.
“They didn’t press as much, they kind of sat back, so it was asking us to kind of get on the ball a little bit deeper and kind of make the game from there. It was tough for us,” Aaronson told The Athletic. “In the first half, I thought it was better, I think we had some good moments where we could get out the other side and maybe get an overlap from the outside back. I think especially Yunus did very well in the midfield dribbling out of pressure, Tyler did, I think Weston did, too. But it was a tough game, really. They were very good, they crowded the middle and they made it tough for us.”
There were some positives: As Aaronson mentioned, Musah dribbled out of pressure impressively on a few different occasions, showing the technical skill and graceful athleticism that have so many so excited about his potential. This play, where he carried the ball forward out of the back, found a teammate, received a return pass and found winger Tim Weah with a good switch to set up a chance in the 29th minute, was perhaps his best moment.
Of course, there were also a few instances when he broke pressure with his dribble but ended up holding the ball too long, carrying it into trouble instead of finding an available teammate. It’s a consistent, though not overly concerning, issue for Musah, who was indeed good on Sunday.
“Yunus is a guy that just blows me away,” Berhalter said. “At his age, what he can do, he’s got a crazy level of talent. We need to work with Yunus on the final product, the final pass, the finishing, because he has a huge ceiling.”
The midfielders also played roles in creating the U.S.’s two best chances of the afternoon in the 19th and 20th minutes. On the first, center back Walker Zimmerman found Adams with a quality, line-breaking pass to the middle of the attacking third. Adams quickly played a ball forward to Pulisic, who hit striker Jesus Ferreira in for an opportunity on goal. Musah was involved in the second, receiving a layoff from Ferreira and playing a well-weighted through ball into the area for right back DeAndre Yedlin, whose cross Ferriera failed to convert.
Those kinds of plays weren’t all that common, however. Uruguay made it difficult on them, to be sure, but the midfield struggled to help build out of the back and, as a unit, looked a little bit off in possession. That’s not the biggest strength for the trio of Adams, McKennie and Musah, which creates some real questions for Berhalter ahead of the World Cup. Two of the U.S.’s three opponents in Group B — Iran and Wales — will likely look to sit deep and remain compact against the Americans. The U.S. typically struggles against those types of opponents. Playing Aaronson in a more attacking role gives them a little bit of a different look, though he wasn’t at his best on Sunday, either. Gio Reyna could also be an option, but his continuing injury issues and the fact that he’s never before played as a No. 8 for the U.S. could make integrating him at the position somewhat trickier.
Berhalter was complimentary of McKennie after the game on Sunday, but there are reasonable questions about how he fits in this setup, too. He’s a big talent — athletic, active, disruptive to opponents, great in duels, dangerous on set pieces, adept at arriving late into the box and finishing — but he’s not as smooth on the ball as Musah, not quite as quick or efficient in tight spaces in the attacking end as Aaronson and sometimes seems to freelance a bit with his positioning. When he’s firing, he makes a huge impact for the U.S. But against countries that are organized and savvy in defense, it might make sense to either drop him a little bit deeper or perhaps start him on the bench and play a more natural attacker in midfield.
No matter who’s playing, it’d be nice for the U.S. midfield to be a little bit smoother with their buildup play than they were on Sunday. They’ll need better in that area to unbalance the well-organized, disciplined opponents they’ll see in Qatar.
Struggles continue at striker
The U.S.’s long-standing issues at the striker position continued on Sunday, with Ferreira missing the mark on a couple of opportunities and substitute Haji Wright not seeing much involvement after he entered at the hour mark.
As described above, Ferreira’s two best looks came in the 19th and 20th minutes. He made a good run off the shoulder of Uruguay center back Jose Gimenez to free himself up for the first opportunity, but couldn’t get his 15-yard attempt far enough away from goalkeeper Fernando Muslera to open the scoring.
The second miss was more glaring. Ferreira helped start the play, checking back to the ball, receiving and laying it off to Musah before turning and sprinting into the area. He got onto the end of a fizzed-in cross from Yedlin at the left post, but couldn’t quite redirect his header on frame.
Ferreira caught plenty of stick on social media for not converting the chances, and he looked a bit downcast after the game for not scoring either opportunity. Both plays were a bit tricky, however. He didn’t really have much of an angle on the first attempt; Gimenez did a good job of blocking off his path to the back post and Muslera was positioned well. He had an open net on the second look, but Yedlin’s cross was hit hard and a bit behind him. It was a great chance, but not the completely unexplainable miss it may have appeared.
Still, you’d expect an international-caliber striker to finish at least one of those two opportunities. Ferreira does a good job of getting himself in positions for chances on goal and has been on a tear for FC Dallas, but his finishing for the U.S. has been mostly lackluster. That needs to change.
Wright, after scoring a penalty and making a solid impact in his debut on Wednesday, was pretty anonymous against Uruguay. He didn’t really find the ball and mostly struggled to connect with teammates when he did.
“Overall, the strikers — it’s a difficult game,” Berhalter said. “Difficult game against big, strong center backs, aggressive center backs. I think there were moments, Jesus had another really good chance, there were moments, and we came up a little bit short, but we’ll keep working with these guys.”
“We want to get them chances, we want to see how they’re finishing chances, we want to see how they’re competing against elite international players,” he later added. “That’s important. I still don’t think there’s enough of a sample size for Haji, and we’ll continue to work with him. We have two Nations League games and we’ll see if Jesus and Haji can hit the back of the net in those.”
In the 17 games dating back to the start of the Octagonal, the U.S. now has just four goals from open play from their strikers: one from Ferreira and three from Ricardo Pepi, who wasn’t called to this camp after ending the German Bundesliga season on a 25-game goalless streak for club and country. The U.S. can succeed without much production from the position, but the margins will be thinner in Qatar than they were in qualifying. Clear chances like Ferreira’s second opportunity need to be converted if this team wants to achieve its objectives at the World Cup.
At a certain point, Berhalter might begin to wonder about making a change at the position, as well. He’s tried Ferreira, Wright, Pepi, Jordan Pefok, Josh Sargent and Gyasi Zardes up top since last September, all with middling to poor effect. If the U.S. continues to get such little production from their out-and-out striker options, maybe Berhalter would eventually consider shifting Weah, who has been excellent on the wing this window but has experience as a No. 9, or Reyna into the role.
Scally’s tough outing another example of depth issues at left back
Regular starting left back Antonee Robinson came down with a non-COVID-19 illness following the Morocco game, keeping him out of training on Saturday and relegating him to a reserve role on Sunday.
His absence was keenly felt. Joe Scally had a hard time filling in for the Fulham defender, struggling with his positioning on three different occasions in the first 10 minutes, each resulting in chances for Uruguay. All three times, Scally was positioned too far inside and was too slow to release to Uruguay players who had made their way down his flank and received the ball via a switch from the left side.
“Joe was getting too tight to the center backs,” Berhalter said. “They were playing with two forwards and the forwards are inside of our center backs, so he doesn’t need to be that tight. He can start opening up and read those diagonal switches and get much tighter pressure on their wing back. Once we made that adjustment, it helped.”
Scally adjusted his positioning in a way that helped stem the tide down the U.S.’s left, but he had another bad moment in the second half, when he fell asleep at the back post on the Mathias Olivera shot that goalkeeper Sean Johnson denied with a tremendous save. He also struggled to get into the attack, not providing much of a vertical threat on either flank (he switched to the right when Robinson entered for Yedlin at the hour-mark) throughout the match.
Berhalter, who appeared to be visibly frustrated with Scally early in the match, commended the 19-year-old afterwards for “the way that he managed the game and hung in there, battling even though he was cramping and going from left to right back. Really proud of that effort.”
Scally, who was making his first-ever start for the USMNT, certainly did put in an honest effort, but that comment from Berhalter was likely a preemptive strike to soften any criticism against him and help preserve his confidence. That’s well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was an afternoon to forget for the Long Island native.
His poor performance — and the strong play of Robinson after he entered — is just another reminder of the U.S.’s depth issues at left back. If Robinson is healthy and available, the U.S. should be just fine. If he picks up an injury or suspension that keeps him out of a match at the World Cup, though, the options behind him seem bleak. Scally got the chance today, but failed to take it. George Bello, who didn’t dress for the match on Sunday, didn’t really impress in qualifying. Sam Vines seems far from claiming the role. Kevin Paredes is an intriguing prospect, but he needs to play at Wolfsburg, where he only got 13 minutes after transferring to the Bundesliga club in January, before he can break in with the USMNT.
If none of those options emerge over the next five months, Berhalter’s best cover for Robinson might be starting right back Sergiño Dest. That’s uncomfortable.
Johnson steps up in rare opportunity
After 11 years and just nine caps, veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson got one of the biggest opportunities of his USMNT career on Sunday. Knowing what he has in potential No. 1 Matt Turner, who started on Wednesday, Berhalter chose to give the Uruguay game to Johnson, who, despite being a regular call-up, hadn’t played a game for the U.S. since 2020.
The NYCFC backstop rewarded his coach’s decision with a fine performance, making three saves, including his game-changing stop against Olivera in the 63rd.
“Sean Johnson in goal, who’s been really asking for a difficult opportunity or a challenging game, he got his game and he responded,” Berhalter said. “I thought he played an excellent game.”
“I wanted the opportunity for quite some time, and just stayed ready for the opportunity whenever it might come,” Johnson said. “Then to get it against an opponent of this caliber in a window where we have two friendlies against two high-level opponents headed into Nations League, then the last two tuneups (in September) before the World Cup, I think, for me, meant everything.”
The performance could potentially have some serious ramifications for the U.S. As things currently stand, Johnson, who was only added to this roster after Zack Steffen had to withdraw late due to family reasons, looks like he’ll be the only one of the USMNT’s top-four goalkeepers who will be getting regular playing time with his club in the months leading up to the World Cup. Turner is headed to Arsenal, where he’ll likely back up Aaron Ramsdale; Steffen is ensconced as the No. 2 behind Ederson at Manchester City; Ethan Horvath, who backed up Johnson on Sunday, spent this season as the second-choice for Premier League promotion winners Nottingham Forest.
It’s a longshot, but in the event that those three options falter as they mostly sit on benches across England, Johnson could theoretically work his way into the starting goalkeeper discussion ahead of the World Cup. He diplomatically deflected a question on the subject on Sunday, but ESPN’s Taylor Twellman said on the broadcast of the Morocco match on Wednesday that Berhalter brought up Johnson in that exact context during his sitdown with the commentary team before that game. Even if those conversations never materialize, Johnson at the very least showed on Sunday that he’s a viable option in net if needed. There weren’t a ton of overwhelming positives for the U.S. on Sunday, but that was a clear one.
USMNT Player Ratings: Zimmerman, Johnson stand out in tough test vs. Uruguay
By Ben Wright @benwright mls.com
Sunday, Jun 5, 2022, 07:39 PM
Goalkeeper · USA
The New York City FC netminder was excellent with the ball at his feet and gave the USMNT another dimension in possession. Johnson capped off his strong showing with a ridiculous point-blank save in the second half to deny Uruguay from close range.
Defender · USA
Scally struggled mightily in his first international start. He was consistently caught out of position and left acres of space in behind. He lost possession far too frequently, either due to poor decisions or under-hit passes. A night to forget for the 19-year-old.
Defender · USA
It was a fairly neutral night for the New York Red Bulls defender. Long had a couple of nervy moments in possession, including a poor back pass to Johnson, but defended well enough when needed. He was called on to cover for Scally’s poor positioning on multiple occasions, making his job harder.
Defender · USA
Zimmerman put in one of his best showings in a national team shirt against Uruguay. His aerial ability has been well-documented, but he showed another level to his forward passing and defended on the break better than he’s done before on the international stage. The Nashville SC defender got caught out of possession once in second-half stoppage time, but Edinson Cavani missed the ensuing chance.
Defender · USA
Yedlin made plenty of trademark overlapping runs and was a consistent outlet on the right flank, but he lost his marker on the back post and picked the wrong pass too many times.
Midfielder · USA
The Juventus midfielder was eased back into action with a 45-minute run-out. McKennie went for a spectacular overhead kick attempt early in the match, but overall looked a bit timid around the box and struggled to make a major impact.
Midfielder · USA
The RB Leipzig midfielder started the match strong and faded the longer it went on, especially defensively. Despite some good moments in possession, Adams uncharacteristically missed a handful of tackles in the second half.
Midfielder · USA
It was another mixed bag from Musah. The Valencia midfielder made several excellent runs with the ball out of midfield, but too often the final ball let him down.
Forward · USA
Pulisic looked consistently dangerous around the box, creating the most chances for either side and linking up well with the frontline. As usual for the Chelsea man, he took a beating and drew fouls throughout the night.
Forward · USA
The FC Dallas striker and MLS joint-leading scorer got into good positions all night and linked up well in and around the box. Ferreira couldn’t find the finishing touch, hitting one shot right at the goalkeeper and putting a header over an open goal. The cross made his header tricky, but it was the type of chance a starting striker at the international level should finish. At some point, he needs to start finding the back of the net.
Forward · USA
Weah is consistently the most dangerous attacker in a US shirt, but wasn’t able to find the ball enough. The Lille attacker flashed a couple of attempts across goal and looks sure of his place on the right.
Berhalter’s side weathered the early storm and grew into the match. After being caught on the back foot, they controlled possession more and more as the night went on and created several chances with the ball. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a good measuring stick.
Defender · USA
The Troyes defender struggled significantly in his 45-minute showing. He was slow to read the game and got caught out of position on more than one occasion, forcing Zimmerman and Johnson to bail him out.
Midfielder · USA
The Leeds-bound man once again played in a central midfield (No. 8) role, and once again brought a spark and an edge to the match that had been previously lacking. Aaronson had the right ideas in possession and showed a grit that will serve him well in the Premier League.
Forward · USA
Arriola brought his typical industry and work rate to the match. He stretched the field with intelligent off-ball movement, but he couldn’t pick out the right final ball into the box.
Defender · USA
Jedi made an impact off the bench on both sides of the ball, illustrating just how important the Fulham defender has become for this USMNT side.
Forward · USA
Wright couldn’t make a real impact off the bench, touching the ball just four times in his 29 minutes on the pitch.
Midfielder · USA
The Heracles midfielder was brought on in the 85th minute for a cameo appearance.
NYCFC’s Sean Johnson stakes claim for USMNT GK job with clean sheet vs. Uruguay
By Charles Boehm @cboehmSunday, Jun 5, 2022, 10:01 PM
Amid all the analysis and debate of the US men’s national team’s goalkeeping situation – all the fretting over Matt Turner’s impending move to Arsenal, Zack Steffen’s errors at Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals, Ethan Horvath’s ups and downs with Nottingham Forest, and the very real possibility of the program’s top three ‘keepers riding the bench in the English Premier League as the months count down towards the 2022 World Cup – one noteworthy name has rarely been uttered:
Sean Johnson‘s.Despite being the oldest and most experienced member of the USMNT’s GK corps, despite backstopping New York City FC’s 2021 MLS Cup title run, despite playing for a club with a similar game model to Gregg Berhalter’s, despite getting regular call-ups during their Concacaf Octagonal qualifying campaign, it appears the Georgia native just hasn’t been treated as a serious contender for the starting job by fans, pundits or the coaching staff.
That may have changed on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.Handed his first USMNT start in more than two years, “SeanJohn” was the man of the match in the Yanks’ 0-0 friendly draw with an impressive Uruguay side at Children’s Mercy Park, making three saves – the best a jaw-dropping denial of Mathias Olivera at point-blank range – and completing 85% of his passes.“It’s great to get the opportunity and to take advantage of it. A clean sheet’s always nice,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “But ultimately, against a good opponent that’s going to be competing in a World Cup in Uruguay, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to step out and perform.”
With Turner minding the nets vs. Morocco on Wednesday and Steffen not in the current squad due to family issues, the NYCFC mainstay nosed ahead of Horvath, who arrived in camp late due to Forest’s promotion playoff triumph last Sunday, to earn the nod vs. La Celeste. He can feel secure in the knowledge that he seized the chance.
“I’ve been waiting some time for this opportunity,” said Johnson. “But I did the best job I could to prepare every single week at my club and then coming in, the transition was easy. The guys in front of me made the job a lot easier today, so I was happy to contribute to the performance and yeah, we’ll always take a clean sheet.”
While both teams can claim to be disappointed not to win, Uruguay’s attack posed real problems for their hosts, especially in the early going, when the USMNT backline found itself under waves of pressure.
“Sean Johnson in goal, who has been really asking for a difficult opportunity or a challenging game, and he got his game and he responded,” said Berhalter. “I thought he played an excellent game.”
The South Americans probed the US left in particular, testing inexperienced left back Joe Scally and sending several dangerous deliveries into Johnson’s penalty box.
“Yeah, it’s a quality opponent. I think they were dynamic in the way they possessed the ball and built up, so we had to adjust on the fly and really look at how we were getting pressure on the ball, also how we were shifting as a team,” explained Johnson.
“We had a few chances, a few good chances, half-chances. So that’s how games are against quality opponents; there’s not much in them. There’s quality on both sides of the pitch. So obviously just doing anything I could to help my team on the day, being there when I was called upon.”
His resourceful shin save on Olivera, one of two Uruguayans left startlingly wide open deep inside the US six-yard box by Walker Zimmerman and Erik Palmer-Brown on a 63rd-minute cross to the far post, will probably linger longest in everyone’s memory.
“I think it was a long action, quality play by them to switch the field a couple of times and to offset us a little bit with a cutback and get the ball behind the backline,” said Johnson of the sequence. “Just getting ahead of it, positioning myself to make a save was what was necessary in that moment. Those are the moments that you train for and prepare for.”He said his teammates and the coaching staff were otherwise largely satisfied with their work in KC, with this match and Wednesday’s providing an eye-opening glimpse of the caliber of opposition that awaits them in Qatar this fall after two years of a Concacaf-dominant schedule.
“Ultimately, we’ve got a really good taste of what the level is going to be moving forward, playing Morocco and now Uruguay,” said Johnson. “To manage, on a day where maybe things offensively didn’t work out for us, to keep it together with with a clean sheet defensively, I think we can look to build on these two games moving forward into Nations League.”Asked during a Tuesday media rond table why he hasn’t been a more central part of the USMNT goalkeeping discourse in 2022, Johnson let slip a brief flicker of a smile before responding, “I think it’s up to you guys. You guys are the ones that do all the talking, put up all the articles and all that stuff.”
The 13-year veteran is the quiet sort, loathe to do any sort of self-promotion, preferring to fly below the radar in the collective-oriented culture of Berhalter’s national team. He was happy to stick to the same outlook on Sunday, after his 90-plus minutes on the pitch rang out quite loudly on their own.
“That’s not my job to talk about those things,” said Johnson. “Getting opportunities, taking advantage of them and playing consistently and keeping my level where it is with club and country, I think is important. That speaks volumes.”
USMNT, Uruguay Play to Scoreless Draw in Pre-World Cup Friendly
- AVI CREDITOR JUN 5, 2022 SI
Fresh off learning who will be its first opponent at the World Cup in November, the U.S. men’s national team took aim at what was likely its toughest test ahead of the competition, and it walked away with a scoreless draw.The U.S. played 13th-ranked Uruguay to a 0–0 tie at Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday, following its 3–0 win over Morocco on Wednesday night with a less fruitful result. Jesús Ferreira had the U.S.’s best opportunities in rapid succession in the first half, while Sean Johnson, getting a rare start in goal, made a point-blank save in the second half to preserve the draw. It also helped the U.S. that Edinson Cavani missed a wide-open net in second-half stoppage time.It probably won’t get more difficult for the U.S. than Uruguay, a two-time World Cup champion that was drawn into a difficult group with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea, before it begins group play against Wales, a 1–0 playoff winner against Ukraine earlier Sunday. That’s because after this match, the U.S. has two Concacaf Nations League group games during the ongoing window (vs. Grenada, at El Salvador), followed by a pair of friendlies in late September abroad, where the options for opponents are limited due to the scheduling conflict with the UEFA Nations League.Prior to the draw, Uruguay had won all five matches since Diego Alonso replaced longtime manager Óscar Tabárez, including four straight South American qualifiers to surge into the top four in CONMEBOL and automatically qualify for Qatar. It has still only conceded one goal in that time.Uruguay heavily rotated its squad, with just one starter carried over from the team that beat Mexico 3–0 on Thursday night in Arizona—veteran defender Jose Maria Giménez—though it still fielded a squad with plenty of firepower and experience. While Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde and Cavani were left out (Luis Suárez isn’t with the team altogether), the likes of Darwin Núñez and Diego Godín suited up from the start.The U.S., meanwhile, made multiple changes as well, with Johnson in goal and Joe Scally getting an important chance at left back, with Antonee Robinson dealing with a non-COVID-19 illness (Robinson entered later in the match). In the midfield, Weston McKennie returned to the U.S. starting lineup for the first time since breaking his foot in the winter, though was limited from the start to 45 minutes.Núñez had Uruguay’s first chance five minutes in, when Martín Cáceres delivered in a ball from the right to the far post, only for the in-demand Benfica star unable to do much with it despite his acrobatic efforts.Another dangerous ball came in from the right a couple of minutes later, with Guillermo Varela’s cross turning into more of a shot and whizzing right by Johnson’s far post.It was another long switch to Varela that resulted a dangerous header for Maxi Gómez that was deflected over, and following the ensuing corner kick, DeAndre Yedlin was forced into a goal-line clearance that kept the U.S. from conceding.The U.S. had its first glimpse at goal in the 14th minute, and it was McKennie who had it in spectacular fashion, attempting a bicycle kick after Tim Weah had won a corner kick with a run down the right. The chance sailed just over the bar, though, keeping the match scoreless.Ferreira, getting another start at center forward as the U.S. searches for a long-term option at the position, called veteran Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera into action in the 20th minute, firing on target only to have his chance parried to safety. The shot capped a sequence started by a line-splitting pass out of the back by Walker Zimmerman. He found Tyler Adams, who laid it off for Christian Pulisic to deliver the set-up to the FC Dallas star.
The USMNT held off Uruguay, but hinted at major flaws
Henry BushnellMon, June 6, 2022, 3:35 AM In this article:
On the surface, 180 minutes of friendly soccer yielded plenty of positivity around the U.S. men’s national team this week. Two tests against World Cup participants yielded three goals scored and none conceded. An ultra-young USMNT kept two clean sheets using two different goalkeepers behind two different pressing schemes. It created chances in two different attacking shapes against Morocco and Uruguay, two of the sturdiest defensive platoons on their respective continents.It claimed two results that would likely be sufficient to see it through a World Cup group, and that alone will fuel optimism for months to come.Those results, though, were a bit deceiving.Beneath the surface, there were flaws.Gregg Berhalter, the team’s head coach, knows this, and hinted at it after a 3-0 win over Morocco and a 0-0 draw with Uruguay. He spoke about vulnerability on Wednesday, and danced around some questions without doling out his customary praise on Sunday. He likely knows that his team’s Expected Goal differential across those 180 minutes was, according to most models, negative. He knows that, amid all the promise that his players wield, they are an incomplete unit that hasn’t yet learned to paper over its cracks, which were evident as World Cup prep kicked into gear.There are, of course, also reasons for optimism. The bubbliest of the many is a 19-year-old who’s been stuck in a suboptimal position at his club, but whose potential the USMNT is beginning to unlock.The worry, however, is that deficiencies at both ends of the field could mask promise in Qatar come November.Sunday’s tussle with Uruguay offered no solutions to the USMNT’s two most nagging dilemmas. Neither of its strikers, Jesus Ferreira nor Haji Wright, looked capable of leading a line under Uruguayan pressure. Both of its left-sided center backs, Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown, looked shaky.They weren’t punished by Uruguay’s B-plus team, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in five-and-a-half months.
The search for a second center back goes on
When Miles Robinson crumpled to Atlanta United’s turf last month, and when subsequent scans revealed a torn Achilles, a seemingly settled partnership at the heart of the U.S. defense ruptured. Walker Zimmerman, as he embraced an off-field leadership role, had established himself as one starting center back. Robinson was “so valuable” next to him, Berhalter said last month, because pressing teams “need guys that can win duels convincingly” and that possess elite speed to clean up messes behind a high back line.Robinson could do both of those things.Long tried to on Wednesday, but got rolled and spun by Moroccan striker Ayoub El Kaabi. And the same unawareness that triggered problems on Wednesday emerged again on Sunday. In the fifth minute, a split-second of indecisiveness dragged Zimmerman with him toward the ball, and left Darwin Nuñez free at the far post.In the 23rd minute, Long dawdled in no-man’s land in the penalty area, and failed to spot Manuel Ugarte lurking free at the top of the box.Long, though, seems to be the primary candidate to partner Zimmerman in Qatar, especially after Palmer-Brown’s shoddy second half. The 25-year-old was primarily, and sometimes singlehandedly responsible for a few of Uruguay’s best chances. A simple, straight ball over the top caught him flat-footed in the 94th minute, and nearly won the game for the visitors.Cameron Carter-Vickers looked solid in 45 minutes on Wednesday, but he’s never started a game under Berhalter. Chris Richards has the most raw talent of the lot, but he’s 22 years old and currently injured. They’re the two most intriguing options, but the U.S. will enter September, its last window for World Cup tuneups, with those two having never faced a World Cup-caliber opponent alongside Zimmerman.Whoever does emerge will inevitably shoulder responsibility. This U.S. team is at its best when pressing ravenously. As Berhalter said, pressing puts stress on center backs — stress that Long didn’t handle all that well on Wednesday.Scoreboards didn’t reflect any of that, but more predictive metrics did. The USMNT’s 3.7 Expected Goals Against over the two friendlies, per Tru Media’s Paul Carr, suggest the defensive cleanliness was misleading. Backup fullbacks exacerbated issues, but Sergiño Dest won’t solve them, and they could limit Berhalter’s aggressiveness in Qatar.
A no good, very bad day for USMNT strikers
The USMNT’s single biggest positional weakness, though, is at the top of the field, where encouraging Wednesday performances gave way to Sunday flops.Ferreira’s lowlight was a wayward header on the Uruguayan doorstep. The real problem, though, was nearly everything else. Ferreira can influence games without scoring, but on Sunday, most of his impact was negative. He seemed to struggle in tight spaces with European title winners breathing down his neck. His first touch was uncharacteristically sloppy.And that, precisely, was always the concern with Ferreira — that characteristics developed in MLS, against weaker competition, would crumble against unfamiliar resistance.Sixty minutes, of course, is far too small a sample size to draw grand conclusions. And conclusions could have been wildly different if a well-struck 19th-minute shot had found a corner, or if DeAndre Yedlin’s cross had been a half-foot lower or a half-ounce more controlled. Berhalter knows not to overreact to one game. He has said that club form will be his primary evaluation tool — and at FC Dallas, Ferreira has sizzled.But he didn’t offer the USMNT a target or outlet on Sunday. He didn’t score or create.Wright,who was crisp on Wednesday, then entered at the hour mark, and completed one pass in 30 minutes.He could’ve counted his touches on one hand.He was all but invisible.The U.S. doesn’t necessarily need goals from its striker, but it needs something, much more than it got on Sunday.
The brilliance and intrigue of Yunus Musah
The optimistic spin on Sunday’s performance, on the other hand, is that ball progression and chance creation are far more sustainable than finishing; and that the USMNT has found a ball-progression wizard.His name is Yunus Musah, and he is an absolute delight to watch. He skates by opposing midfielders and zooms from defensive third to attacking third with the ball on a string. He has qualities without precedent in American soccer, and again, he is only 19.To empower him, Berhalter has tweaked the USMNT’s shape in possession this month. Musah has dropped deeper, next to Tyler Adams in a 3-2-5/3-2-2-3 (against Morocco) or a 4-2-4 (against Uruguay), when the U.S. builds from the back. He now regularly picks up the ball from center backs, and can foil an opponent’s press with one simple drop of his shoulder and burst of acceleration.”When you play the 3-2-2-3 type of shape, you have a guy deep that can take people on the dribble and break lines dribbling, it’s really valuable,” Berhalter explained Wednesday.On Sunday, he raved: “Yunus is a guy that just blows me away, at his age, what he can do. Craaazy level of talent.”The next step, Berhalter said, is the end product, the final or penultimate pass. It’s the ability to carry the ball the length of midfield and then release it to teammates who can do damage with it.That “finishing attacks phase,” in general, is where the team struggled on Sunday, Berhalter said.But it largely withstood Uruguay’s pressure. It will never perfect any phase of play, but it’s moving toward mastery of the middle third of the field. That’s where the raw ability of players like Musah, Adams, Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic takes over. Their ability is why this USMNT is so tactically flexible, and potentially dangerous in Qatar.It’s those flaws, though, that can unjustly dump a talented team out of a World Cup. And they’ll loom over this youthful, innocent American team until they’re solved.
USMNT questions and observations from Uruguay & Morocco friendlies plus US U-19 & U-20 notes
The U.S. team’s two toughest games from the four-game June run are now over and ASN’s Brian Sciaretta looks at the big takeaways and questions remaining after these two games. Plus, Sciaretta also looks at the U.S. youth teams including the U-19 team’s win over England on Monday and the U-20 team getting ready for qualifying.
BY BRIAN SCIARETTA JUNE 07, 2022 :25 PM
THE UNITED STATES national team is two games through its four-game June run but the first two games offered the best opportunity to learn given the World Cup-quality opponents. There still will be an opportunity to build up chemistry and work on tactics, but there are some important questions raised and lessons learned from the fist two games of the summer.The U.S. team has shown some positives from the first two games, but the team remains a work in progress. Here are some observations from the first two games.
STRIKER REMAINS OPEN
After first two games, the question over the striker position isn’t any clearer. The current situation is that the player pool consists of many players who have produced at the club level but who haven’t yet made a big impact for the national team. Haji Wright and Jesus Ferreira are in this camp while the extended pool has Jordan Pefok and Daryl Dike – who was great at the club level for 18 months prior to his latest injury. There are also players like Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi who are in a funk at the club level.
It made sense that Berhalter took Ferreira and Wright to this camp. They are the two most in-form forwards who are healthy at the moment. While Wright buried a penalty in the win over Morocco (given to him by Pulisic, who earned the penalty), neither had scored from the run of play or from a set piece either has earned.The question for Berhalter then becomes will he continue to ride the hot hand and call-up whoever is hot? Or will he settle on his options now and work with them to build-up chemistry.
Ferreira and Wright still both are able to help the team even if they’re not scoring. Typically that wouldn’t be good enough, but it’s better than simply disappearing. Ferreira has a good soccer sense and gets into dangerous positions. He also combines well with his wingers. Wright is strong and physical. He also can make runs into the attacking half that open the game up.When you compare that with Pefok, it is different. Pefok can finish, but if he’s not finishing well or the service isn’t there, he disappears.Anything can happen but at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Berhalter sticks with Ferreira and Wright.
CENTRAL DEFENSE PARTNER
Berhalter brought in four central defenders to this camp: Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Erik Palmer-Brown. With the two toughest games in June already completed, it’s safe to say that Walker Zimmerman will leave this camp in strong contention. He’s not simply a lock to make the World Cup team, he’s likely a starter and an important part of the team. His distribution out of the back in addition to his defense has been very good.The other three are still in a battle. Long has played fairly well with some good moments and some tough moments. Carter-Vickers also was pretty good in his one half against Morocco. Palmer-Brown struggled against Uruguay in the second half but is still in the mix.
Most likely, Berhalter will take four central defenders, even with a roster increased to 26 players because it is rare that the fourth central defender plays. The only way he might take a fifth central defender is if the three-man backline becomes more of a preferred formation.If you consider that Chris Richards is likely to make the World Cup team if healthy, that makes one from the current camp likely to be cut. If John Brooks is still really in contention, then two from the current camp could get cut. Other options like Mark McKenzie, James Sands, and Tim Ream are all probably on the “outside looking in” right now.For the remaining two games, Berhalter will probably give opportunities to Carter-Vickers and Palmer-Brown – along with Long. The quality of opponents probably makes it tough to draw conclusions but it will be interesting to see how they play tactically.My guess is that that leaving this camp, the front runners to be the four central defenders at the World Cup are Zimmerman, Richards, Carter-Vickers, and Long. Heading into September, I can see Berhalter wanting to use that camp to test the chemistry of a Zimmerman-Richards pairing.
Few would argue that if everyone is healthy, the starting U.S. national team fullbacks are Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest. Whether it be in a three-man backline or a four-man backline, those two have been first-choice players for well over a year now and both are still going strong.But there is a question of backups. This is an important question two given that Dest and Robinson have both had injuries in their past and few would assume that the U.S. team will be 100% healthy come the World Cup since the U.S. team has only very rarely ever been 100% healthy.On the right side, there is Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin backing up Dest.On the left side, there has been George Bello and Sam Vines having stints as Robinson’s backup.Meanwhile, Berhalter has used Sergino Dest also as a backup left back (while then opting to play his backup right back). There is also Joe Scally who can play both the left and the right.The backup right and left back situations are both unsettled but are both different. Berhalter seems as if he is comfortable with either Yedlin or Cannon. On the flip side, Berhalter is likely uncomfortable with any of the backup left back options right now.Scally battled hard against Uruguay but ultimately didn’t make a solid case he is ready right now – albeit is certainly one for the future. George Bello has had a bunch of chances but really struggled positionally with Arminia Bielefeld the second half of the season and has never looked compelling with the full team.As of now, the position hasn’t really addressed itself well during this camp. If that doesn’t change in the final two games, perhaps Berhalter will callup different faces in September.There are always players who emerge late in the cycle to earn a spot and the fact that the U.S. team is concerned over a back-up left back, as opposed to a starting one, is a big sign of progress. Club form could be key but two names to follow would be DeJuan Jones and John Tolkin. Neither of these players are capped but Berhalter indicated Tolkin was in consideration for this camp while he also had Jones in camp with the team in January.As for Vines and Bello, they are both in the picture. Bello might get minutes in the final two games albeit now against teams who struggle in CONCACAF. For these players, it will come down to the start of the Belgian season for Vines and the 2.Bundesliga for Bello.
Right now, the midfield positions look solid for the U.S. team. If the U.S. team rolls with the typical 4-3-3 formation with a healthy roster, Adams and McKennie are starters. Musah has typically been a starter but it’s not as much of a lock to start as the other two. That’s because Brenden Aaronson has been given a chance to start centrally in the midfield – where he is most comfortable. Thus far, Aaronson has played well and Aaronson might have more of a lethal final ball than Musah right now.Berhalter should be comfortable the midfield right now. He has options he is comfortable starting and the backups are in good position too. Kellyn Acosta might not be a great No. 8 with the U.S. team right now, but he has shown to be a good backup for Tyler Adams at the No. 6. The more advanced “dual No. 8” roles can go to two of McKennie, Musah, or Aaronson.
Assuming there will be a 26 player roster, Berhalter will probably take 6-8 midfielders. Adams, Acosta, McKennie, Musah, and Aaronson are five.The remaining backup options for the No. 8 or No. 10 positions could see a little bit of competition. At this camp there are Luca de la Torre and Christian Roldan, who are dependable. In terms of other here are also players like Gianluca Busio, Djordje Mihailovic, Richard Ledezma, and potentially others knocking at the door who are more distant options – such as Cole Bassett, Paxton Pomykal, or Alan Sonora.
One big question to consider is Gio Reyna and how he might fit in once he returns. Since the Nations League last year, Reyna’s appearances with the national team have been few and far between. He’s coming off what was essentially a lost season with Borussia Dortmund.Reyna, 19, is a great talent but the U.S. team has been progressing without him. If he gets healthy in time for Qatar, he’ll go to the World Cup – but what is his role? It’s impossible to say as you can never really tell with a player who had a lost season. Sometimes they rebound strong but other time it can take awhile to get back in that rhythmFor Reyna, is he going to start in the midfield over either Aaronson or Musah? If he’s a winger, does he unseat Pulisic or Weah? He’s not in a position now where he looks like a lock starter. Potentially he could get that back if he hits the ground running at Dortmund in preseason and the early parts of the season while then looking sharp in September with the U.S. team.But that’s a lot of “ifs” and it’s too early to project when he wasn’t even healthy enough to make this camp. Right now, he’s looking like a spot starter or a super-sub.
GOALKEEPER LOOKS SAFE
With this current camp, one position that has given itself a little more clarity is goalkeeper. The first two games have seen Matt Turner and Sean Johnson put in really solid shifts to boost their resumes.Turner is a lock to make the World Cup team but is he the starter? If the World Cup was right now, he would probably start. It all comes down to the playing time in August in September. Zack Steffen might push for a loan and that could help his case if he starts and performs well.As for Johnson, he made a strong case to be the team’s third goalkeeper. He’s been around the team the entire cycle and has been, and will be playing regular minutes this entire year.Ethan Horvath is very tough to read right now. There are reports that Nottingham Forest starting goalkeeper Brice Samba wants a transfer. Normally, that would be good news for Horvath except for the fact that Forest is reportedly after English international Nick Pope. If Forest is willing to spend that money on Pope, then it is the same situation Horvath dealt with Brugge when the club brought in Simon Mignolet. Only this time, he can’t wait for years.It seems most likely that right now, the three goalkeepers heading to Qatar are Turner, Steffen, and Johnson with Turner right now having the strongest case to start.
Turning away from the senior U.S. national team and shifting down to the youth national teams, which are going to have an extremely busy month.On Monday, the United States U-19 team defeated England 2-1 in Marbella, Spain. The U.S. team had a slight advantage in age as England opted to field a roster entirely of its 2005 birth year. The United States had a 20-player roster with six players born in 2004 and 14 born in 2005.In the win over England, the U.S. goals were scored by Atletico Madrid B’s Rodrigo Neri and Orange County’s Korede Osudina. Neri’s goal (seen below) came just minutes after he was subbed on. England played with a man down after the 60th minute.The U.S. U-19 team (like the U.S. U-18 team) exists almost as a second team to the United States U-20 team. Many of the players are eligible for the following cycle but are too young for the U.S. U-17 team. This is a way of keeping these players involved with the program between youth cycles.It also gives players a platform to potentially compete for the United States U-20 team this cycle. The current U.S. U-20 team will attempt to qualify for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics but if the team qualifies for the U-20 World Cup, the cycle will continue for almost another year to prepare for the that tournament.If you look at the U-20 cycles, there was always heavy turnover between qualifying and the World Cup. With such a long gap between the two, this cycle there could be more over a turnover. It could very well start with this U-19 group.Two players to pay close attention to are Joshua Wynder and Brooklyn Raines. Wynder was the U-19 captain against England and he plays central defense – which is a huge position of need for the current U-20 cycle. Wynder was actually a surprising omission for the U-20 team for qualifying given the way he has been playing Louisville City and the fact he (along with players like Obed Vargas) is among the top 2005-born players in the United States. If the U.S. U-20 team qualifies for the World Cup, Wynder has an excellent chance of making a quick rise through the team.Now there is the U.S. U-20 team which is set to travel to Honduras later in the week ahead of its opening group stage game against St. Kitts and Nevis on June 18.That roster is still not announced but there are a few nuggets. Sounder At Heart reported that U.S. Soccer reached a deal with the Sounders for the release of Obed Vargas and they reported that Vargas will join the team after the group stages.Releases are a massive issue with this team and ASN understands that Kevin Paredes, Justin Che, Caleb Wiley, Gaga Slonina, and Bryan Gutierrez. Once considered a top prospect, Malick Sonogo is not on the team although it is unclear if he was either cut or this was a coach’s choice. The same for Dante Sealey who is also not included.On the flip side, head coach Mikey Varas will have the three Philadelphia Union core of Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson, and Quinn Sullivan – the latter of whom scored four goals in the two March games in Argentina. Cade Cowell is likely going to participate along with the New York Red Bull duo of Caden Clark and Daniel Edelman. From USMNT analysis
abroad, Varas could have midfielders Rokas Pukstas from Hadjuk Split and Alejandro Alvarado from FC Vizela.
Analysis & player ratings: USMNT play Uruguay to a 0-0 draw in Kansas City
The United States played Uruguay to a 0-0 draw on Sunday in Kansas City. The effort reflected a team that is still a work in progress but also one that can hang compete well against difficult opponents. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta breaks down the game and the performance of the players after a second viewing.
BY BRIAN SCIARETTA JUNE 06, 2022 6:30 AM
THE UNITED STATES national team played Uruguay to a 0-0 draw at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City on Sunday in its final test against a World Cup-caliber opponent before the September window. The result was certainly not bad, but it once again revealed that the U.S. team is still very much a work in progress.The most important perspective to have when judging this game is that Uruguay entered the game having won its last five games by a combined score of 11-1. In other words, Uruguay is playing extremely well right now on both sides of the ball. They boast a powerful attack as well as a defense that can keep opponents off the board.“Give this team credit, Uruguay is a team that doesn’t give up many goals,” U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “They have top of the line defenders and they compete like crazy.”That streak was snapped by a U.S. team that got a little lucky at the end, but still played well for stretches. Overall, the first two games have indeed been productive as it shows the U.S. team does have talent and quality, but still needs to be more ruthless and aggressive.Berhalter announced his starting lineup the day before to the media. The changes from the 3-0 win over Morocco saw Sean Johnson get the nod in goal over Matt Turner. Joe Scally and DeAndre Yedlin replaced Reggie Cannon and Antonee Robinson. Weston McKennie replaced Brenden Aaronson although Berhalter noted that McKennie was capped at 45 minutes as he is still rehabbing his foot injury. The front line of Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, and Jesus Ferreira remained unchanged.Uruguay did well the first 10-15 minutes and it’s best chance of the half came in the 10th minute when DeAndre Yedlin was able to clear a shot from Diego Godín off the line. U.S. team mostly controlled the final 30 minutes of the half, despite not scoring. The U.S. had its chances. Weston McKennie seemed to bring some life into the attack in the 14th minute when he sent a bicycle kick over the goal. From then, the U.S. had more chances. Jesus Ferreira had his shot late in the 19th minute saved by Fernando Muslera. Minutes later, Ferreira was not able to drive a header on goal in the 21st.Sean Johnson had strong performance in this game and two of his three saves were difficult. The first of which was in the 23rd minute when Johnson denied Manuel Ugarte from close range.In the second half, as is typical with friendlies, the game became disjointed due to both teams making a wave of substitutions. Pulisic hit a shot wide in the 53rd. Minutes later, Uruguay squandered a chance when they hit the U.S. team on a counterattack after a turnover in the midfield. Fernando Gorriarán’s shot ended up going over the bar from close range.In the 63rd minute, Mathías Olivera had his shot saved by Johnson for the NYCFC goalkeeper’s second impressive save of the afternoon.In the 81st, the U.S. team thought it had earned a penalty and if VAR existed, perhaps it would have been called. On the play, Pulisic played Robinson into the box. The speedy Fulham left back sent in a cross but it appeared to hit a sliding Sebastián Coates in the had but a penalty was not awarded.In a game that was filled with misses, the game ended in stoppage time just after the biggest miss from this game’s biggest player. Edinson Cavani had an open net off a transition play but shanked it wide right.
Here are some thoughts on the game
FORWARDS STILL EMPTY
Through two games, the U.S. team has looked solid in goal with good efforts from Sean Johnson and Matt Turner. Central defense has certainly conceded some chances it shouldn’t have (Erik Palmer-Brown struggled against Uruguay) but for the most part, it’s been more positive than negative.Central midfield and the wings have also been more positive than negative for the first two games.The U.S. team should be concerned right now with both fullback positions and the center forward position. Both of these positions have been overall weak in the first two games.
Up top, Jesus Ferreira had chances but hasn’t been able to burry them. Instead, his shots have been saved. The 19th minute shot was such an example as Muslera was able to make a big stop.Aside from being handed the ball to take a penalty, Haji Wright hasn’t been able prove he’s the answer. Against Uruguay, Wright had just four touches over 29 minutes. Ferreira, for his limitations, has at least been able to get involved and work with the wingers. But the forwards need to score goals.“It was more the finishing attacks phase that we struggled in,” Berhalter said. “We got the ball into really good positions and then just didn’t take advantage of it…. Overall for the strikers, it’s a difficult game against big, aggressive centerbacks. Jesus had another really good chance. There were moments. We came up a little bit short, but we’ll keep working with these guys.”“We want to get them chances,” he added. “We want to see how they’re finishing chances. we want to see how they’re competing against international players. That’s important. I still don’t think there’s enough of a sample size for Haji but we’ll continue to work with him. We have two Nations League games, and we’ll see if Jesus and Haji can hit the back of the net in those.”
Fullbacks are a concern. Yes, Sergino Dest is out with an injury but the problems with the fullbacks shouldn’t be happening even with the current players. Yedlin made a big defensive play clearing a ball off the line and he also created a good chance but overall, among each of the four fullbacks over both games, the defense hasn’t been there. It has put a lot of stress on the centerbacks.In this game, Joe Scally went 90 minutes (the first 62 minutes at left back and the final 28 minutes at right back) and had a tough stretch early. To start the game, Uruguay had a field day attacking down Scally’s side – where there were acres of space.Berhalter, however, painted a positive picture on the young fullback from Long Island.“For Joe Scally, the way he managed the game and hung in there, was battling, was cramping, going from left to right back – I was really proud of that effort,” Berhalter said.“Uruguay didn’t touch the ball in the first three minutes,” Berhalter added. “Then in minutes three through seven, it was just an adjustment. Joe [Scally] was getting too tight to the centerbacks. They were playing with two forwards and the forwards are inside of our centerbacks – he doesn’t need to be that tight. He can start opening up and reading those diagonal switches and get much tighter pressure on their wingback. Once we made that adjustment, it helped.”On a more positive note, Antonee Robinson was improved after a tough first half against Morocco on Thursday night. DeAndre Yedlin created a chance and had a goal-line clearance as he remains in a very tight battle with Reggie Cannon as the backup rightback.But overall, the fullbacks haven’t been a position of strength in these games.
MIDFIELD WAS STRONG
The U.S. team lost its spark in the second half – which was expected with the wave of substitutions. But overall, there was plenty to like about the return of the Adams, Musah, and McKennie trio that was unable to go in March due to McKennie’s injury.In this game, the trio really helped the U.S. enjoy stretches where they controlled the game.
“Tyler Adams, for me, had an extra gear, an extra spark, was all over the place, and really helped us on both sides of the ball,” Berhalter said. “Weston was able to compete for 45 minutes after not having started a game for five months. Yunus is a guy that just blows me away with what he can do at his age. He’s got a crazy amount of talent. We need to work with Yunus on the final product – the final pass, the finishing. Because he has a huge ceiling.”It is going to be interesting to see the dynamics of how the midfield evolves over the remainder of this camp and into the fall. Brenden Aaronson came into the game in the second half an looks as if he could be more lethal in producing goals and assists right now. If that happens, how would an Adams, Aaronson, McKennie midfield look?There is also the return of Gio Reyna and whether Berhalter might want to try him in a midfield role?But right now, the midfield looks sharp and that is actually surprising when you consider that Adams and Musah didn’t really have strong club seasons. For both, playing time was irregular but especially for Musah, his club career is in its early stages. He doesn’t yet have a set position although he has been playing his preferred central role more often. Adams, meanwhile, doesn’t have the rhythm he could have if he still had a starting job at Leipzig. Meanwhile, McKennie made his first start in five months due to injury.If this group can play well despite not having rhythm of consistent club minutes, imagine what it would be like if they are all in rhythm and form.
LOOKING AHEAD TO NATIONS LEAGUE
The Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador are still useful opportunities to give the team repetitions and develop chemistry. Drawing conclusions from the results and specific performances could be misleading. It’s not the level of competition that is comparable to the World Cup.Berhalter indicated after the game that the September window will feature two games against World Cup opponents, but what are the positive opportunities that the Nations League represents?It’s a good chance to look at depth and how the team could hypothetically deal with injuries to key players. How would Kellyn Acosta fit in should he have to play the No. 6 in place of Adams? Or what could other central defense combinations look like even if they might not get tested?Grenada might be more experimental, but El Salvador is good enough where it might be useful to test a combined lineup that mixes first-team players and backups. That could at least give the players more familiarity to a situation that could arise if there is a wave of injuries in Qatar.
JOHNSON ANSWERS THE CALL
After the game, Berhalter revealed that Sean Johnson had been asking for an opportunity against a quality opponent. Johnson has been the loyal third string keeper behind Matt Turner and Zack Steffen. Sometimes he’s also been behind Ethan Horvath. He didn’t play in World Cup qualifying despite being a regular on the roster. Typically, his only performances have come in low-profile friendlies or Gold Cup games against lower CONCACAF teams.Berhalter, perhaps wanting to award his loyalty and give him an honest opportunity, gave him the start in team’s most high-profile friendly in years. Johnson delivered with a clean sheet performance that featured three solid saves.“Sean Johnson has been asking for a challenging game and he got it, and he responded with a very strong performance,” Berhalter said.What does this mean?
to the detriment of Ethan Horvath.
Sean Johnson: He asked for a quality game to showcase himself and he got one. He answered the call and put out a great outing with big saves in the 23rd and 63rd minutes. He was very important in keeping the clean sheet. Rating: 7.5
Joe Scally: The Gladbach defender played both left and right back. He struggled with spacing early but then settled into the game and battled. He didn’t make a big impact getting forward. Rating: 5.0
Walker Zimmerman: The Nashville SC defender played a big role in keeping a clean sheet and was the best American defender on the day. He was credited with four clearances. He won 5/6 ground duels. He also had three blocks, including a big one against Diego Rossi from close range late in the game. He was 5/7 with his long balls, which also resulted in a pair of decent scoring chances for the U.S. team. His only blemish was getting beaten in the 41st minute, but other than that, it was a good day at the office Rating: 7.5
Aaron Long: The Red Bulls captain played the first half and was forced to scramble in emergency defending early as Uruguay was often awarded too much space. He only played the first half and was decent, except for a poor 42nd minute backpass to Sean Johnson which the U.S. team only narrowly escaped without conceding a goal. Rating: 6.0
DeAndre Yedlin: The Inter Miami right back was useful early as he cleared a shot off the line in the 10th minute. Offensively, he was bright early connecting with Ferreira for a chance. But he faded after his bright start and struggled to get forward effectively. Rating: 5.5
Tyler Adams: The U.S. team’s captain battled hard, won duels, and helped in possession. He even made some nice runs that were unrecognized. Defensively, he won duels and tracked back late when Uruguay was pressing forward for a goal. Rating: 7.0
Yunus Musah: Overall, a good performance from the Valencia midfielder who showcased athleticism and ball control that is tough to stop. Once the final product is there, he’ll be a handful. But overall, he was useful against a tough opponent. Rating: 7.0
Weston McKennie: The Juventus midfielder made his first start in nearly four months. His attempted bicycle that went over the bar seemed to be the starting point for the U.S. team’s attack. Overall, he wasn’t as involved as the other midfielders but it was important to the U.S. team having him back. Rating: 6.0
Christian Pulisic: Had a nice interception that sprung him free on the wing in the 12th minute – his cross to Weah wasn’t dangerous. Unlike Wednesday’s win over Morocco, Pulisic was not able to get in isolated 1v1s with defenders or use his dribble effectively. His one shot went well wide Rating: 6.0
Jesus Ferreira: The Colombian-born forward did a lot of small things right and was helpful in the buildup to chances but he had a chance early that he needs to bury to be a lethal finisher. That still is his main job even if he’s active otherwise Rating: 5.5
Tim Weah: The Lille winger struggled to make an impact against Uruguay only managing one weak header for a shot. He tried to hit a low, hard cross to Ferreira that was just a bit too far out of reach. Rating: 5.5
Paul Arriola: Was a bit more active in this game despite Uruguay picking it up in the second half. He drew two fouls for free kicks, fought hard in his duels. Rating: 6.0
Erik Palmer-Brown: tough moment at the end when he lost Cavani, who inexplicably missed. Earlier he was beaten for a chance that Gorriaran missed high. His passing was okay at 24/28. Rating: 4.5
Brenden Aaronson: Was lively off the bench in replacing McKennie. He won duel after duel to make Uruguay’s life difficult. Rating: 6.5
Haji Wright: Wright did not make an impact in this game and only had four touches with one completed pass over 29 minutes. Part of that is on his teammates not getting him service but it’s also partly on him. Rating: 4.5
Antonee Robinson: The Fulham left back was an upgrade after coming into the game in the 62nd minute. He got forward effectively and also defended well. It was an improved performance than his game against Morocco. He arguably should have earned a penalty in the 82nd minute after he effectively got into the box and hit a cross that appeared to be a handball. Rating: 6.5
Luca de la Torre: Came into the game in the 85th but didn’t do enough to earn a rating. Rating: NR
USA v. Uruguay, 2022 Friendly; What We Learned
The USMNT took on Uruguay to a 0-0 draw. Here’s what we learned.
The United States Mens National Team took on Uruguay and came away with a 0-0 draw. It was something of a tense match, with chances for both teams. However, neither could put one away and the match came up scoreless. Let’s break down what we learned.
Uruguay are, of course, a distinctly historic side in international soccer. Despite being a small country, they twice won the World Cup in the pre-modern era, including the inaugural edition in 1930. In more recent times, they’ve emerged as a consistently strong team. They’ve made it to the knockout rounds in three straight tournaments, reaching the quarterfinals in 2018 where they were knocked out by eventual champions, France. For sure, this was a stronger test than the (admittedly pretty decent) Morocco side the US battered aside a few days earlier.In particular, Uruguay is renowned for their defensive prowess. For this match, they put out a defensively solid 3-5-2, anchored by the renowned Diego Godín, formerly the star center back of Atletico Madrid. The side looked to keep an organized and solid defensive shape, conceding possession to attack swiftly on the counter. While the USMNT was, at times, a little exposed, the sides mostly played evenly, with a final squandered attempt from Uruguay pushing them a bit ahead of the US on the expected goals metric.While it’s not the result the USMNT were hoping for going in, it is still a good sign building up to the World Cup. This is a serious side (Uruguay did just swat aside Mexico 3-0), yet the USMNT played them even. With a little bit of luck — and better finishing — the US could have won this one. And that should be a good sign for November.
Let the Hammer Drop
With two straight clean sheets against World Cup calibre (ie, will be at the World Cup) opposition, I think we have to stop and give some credit to the defensive lines.Walker Zimmerman in particular has been the standout.Over the last year, Zimmerman has solidified his place as the go-to Center Back choice for the USMNT. In particular, he’s strengthened his passing game. We’d seen moments of good passing from the Nashville SC lynchpin in the past, but it’s clear that he’s really worked on the skill. In particular, we saw a few reallygreat long balls from Zimmerman to Pulisic. Verses Morocco, that led to the starting goal, and while it didn’t lead to a goal v. Uruguay, it demonstrated a level of consistency there.Let’s break down how those passes work.The move starts with Walker Zimmerman in space with the ball in his own half. The USMNT now has multiple avenues to progress the ball, whether that is directly through the midfield, particularly Tyler Adams, or up the flanks through the fullbacks, especially the right back. But if that progress is a bit stymied, there’s the option of going over the top. In general, Pulisic takes a position that’s tucked in from the left wing rather than out wide. From there, he can drop in and assist in possession, or, more crucially/usefully, he can make runs towards the opposition’s backline. If the run goes unanswered, the run still potentially drags a defender out of space, making room for Musah or McKennie to receive the ball. But if a defender doesn’t track him, Pulisic can get in behind, or at least stretch the backline. What he does is burst forward towards the backline, and peels himself centrally so that he splits the backline. In turn, Zimmerman sprays the ball into the exact space where Pulisic arrives. It immediately advances the ball up to the final third.
Long Time Gone
Aaron Long probably also deserves more praise than not for these games. He played a total of 135 minutes (3 halves) without conceding a goal against solid opposition, and that deserves recognition. However, he definitely wasn’t as consistent on defending one-v-one as Zimmerman was, nor was his passing as effective or ambitious as his partner. That said, this is still a good sign for where Long’s abilities will be by the time of the World Cup.Remember, Long has barely played with the national team over the last two years. While 2020 was cut short for basically everyone due to the outbreak of the (still-ongoing) Covid-19 Pandemic, Long’s achilles tear at the start of 2021 ruled him out for essentially a second consecutive year. In that time, national team has changed considerably, even as Long naturally grew less and less connected with the program. And then there’s the injury recovery itself. It’s not enough to merely recover from an injury; it also takes time to return to that same level of match sharpness as before the injury. And the longer the injury, the longer it takes to get back to that match fitness, even after after the recovery. So with a year-long injury, recovering that match fitness could take upwards of 8 months. This is to say, between regaining that sharpness and chemistry, there’s every reason to think that Long will improve in the coming months.For now, it looks like Berhalter’s center backs of choice are Zimmerman, Richards (out for this camp due to injury), and Long. The notable missing name is, of course, John Brooks. Brooks has been excluded due to what looks like some sort of feud with Berhalter. I’d personally prefer for Brooks to be in the mix, but I think the urgency of the calls for his return come with rose-tinted glasses. Brooks obviously has quality, as demonstrated by his fairly consistent play for years in the German Bundesliga. However, his last few international matches did in fact feature significant mistakes. And, with his most distinguishing skill (his distribution) replicated by Zimmerman, the need for Brooks to make a return just doesn’t seem to be there, even with the injury to Miles Robinson.
As has long been the norm, Gregg Berhalter put out his team into a 4-3-3 against Uruguay. In general, that first half formation looked a lot like what was expected, particularly when the McKennie–Musah–Adams (MMA) midfield has been available. Adams forms a decisive defensive shield ahead of the backline, with Musah and McKennie offering a high powered a press. In addition, Musah offers a great, press resistant outlet, while McKennie provides an offensive thrust (and a set piece target). As a trio, the three create a suffocating midfield, and we saw that on display in the first half.With Jesús Ferreira dropping back into midfield, space opened up for Christian Pulisic to tuck inside. Combined with Tim Weah’s strong play on the right wing, the US was able to generate a number of chances.However, with McKennie coming off a foot injury, he was limited to just a half of soccer. So on came Brendan Aaronson to take his spot. Against Morocco, we saw Musah tuck a bit alongside Adams, while Aaronson took on more of an attack-centric role. Aaronson’s play was a bit more well-rounded here, but the change, in conjunction with a few other ones made at half time, failed to create a breakthrough for the USMNT. Still, the half, (alongside the one v. Morocco) offers evidence that Aaronson can do a job in midfield. Aaronson already was the first reserve at wing. The ability to play in midfield merely adds to his usefulness to the squad. And it also offers something as an option for the USMNT if McKennie isn’t available.
The big wrinkle with this USMNT squad, however, remains the goals. At this point, the MNT is now much stronger at generating chances than they were at the start of World Cup qualifying. However, those chances are all too often going unfinished. For these two matches, it’s been Jesús Ferreira who’s been up top but not finishing. To his credit, he’s been creating chances and taking shots. That’s generally been more than what we’ve seen from the other options as of late. But Ferreira’s finishing has been lacking. This might be a case where, as long as the chances keep coming, they finishing will follow, at least eventually. That’s been the case to a certain extent in MLS, where Ferreira went from creating loads of shots without scoring at the start of the season, to the top of the Golden boot race in just a few months. But those goals need to come at some point. Finish just one of those opportunities in the first half and the pressure would have severely dropped off the US and changed the match.
Sean Johnson deserves a moment of praise. While he only made the trip after Zack Steffen dropped out due to family reasons, he got the start for this friendly and did well to hold the clean sheet. This second half save in particular stood out as a good moment.
Too many American players switched off on the follow-up play, allowing Uruguay a strong opportunity at goal. However, the NYCFC shot stopper had the exact right positioning to make the save. He’s unlikely to get time in Qatar at the end of the year, but this game was evidence that Johnson’s long been a good and loyal servant for the USMNT.
Erik Palmer-Brown didn’t really look the part in this game, with a bad mistake at the end of the game that gave Edinson Cavani a nearly open look at goal (which he mercifully botched). It was nice, however, to see the Kansas City native get some time out in his hometown.
Joe Scally really didn’t look up to this level. On the defensive side, he looked to be a clear target for Uruguay and frequently either came up short on the tackle or took up the wrong position, letting the ball bounce or whiz past him and to an onrushing Uruguayan attacker. And, on the attacking side, Scally simply wasn’t very involved. At just 19, there’s still more than ample time for Scally to grow into his game a bit, but, for now, I think it’s clearly little premature to be penciling his name into the squad for Qatar.
Big congratulations goes to Christian Pulisic for getting his 50th cap. He’s not quite done it faster than anyone else, but he’s not far off. With some better luck (and one fewer pandemic), he likely would have gotten it much earlier.
There was an odd level of jank with this match v. Uruguay. First, Brendan Aaronson got his shoelaces tied up with Uruguay’s Manuel Ugarte, then Uruguay’s head coach went and made an extra substitution. So it goes with friendlies sometimes, I guess.
There was some big news elsewhere in CONCACAF, with the Canadian Men’s National Team players refusing to appear for a friendly vs. Panama. The players released a letter criticizing their federation over contract negotiations. The letter includes demands for pay equality between the mens and women’s teams and marked reforms at the federation level.
Elsewhere in international play, we saw Wales come up just ahead of Ukraine in the final UEFA World Cup Qualifying playoff. This means Wales will head to the World Cup, specifically, the USMNT’s group. Wales was the final team to qualify from Europe for the World Cup, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine forcing the delay of Ukraine’s two play off matches (first v. Scotland, then this one v. Wales). Wales won 1-0 thanks to a Ukrainian own goal and mostly looked like the weaker of the two teams. Which is, of course, a good thing as far as USMNT prospects go. The USMNT will play v. Wales to open their World Cup on November 21st.
How US Soccer Federation Should Respond To Christian Pulisic’s Comment About USMNT Fans BY ROBERT SUMMERSCALES
Ferreira then sent a difficult close-range header over the bar, after Yunus Musah split the Uruguay defense with a ball for Yedlin, who crossed to the forward.The U.S. looked to strike just before halftime, and it nearly came through an unlikely source, with McKennie holding up the ball well in and around the Uruguay box and laying it off for Pulisic, who dummied it for Adams. The RB Leipzig midfielder doesn’t score much, and he curled his 20-yard chance on frame but right at Muslera.In addition to swapping out McKennie as was preplanned, Berhalter took off Weah and Aaron Long, bringing on Brenden Aaronson, Paul Arriola and Erik Palmer-Brown for the second half.After running the show vs. Morocco, Pulisic hadn’t had much going toward goal until the 53rd minute, when he got the opportunity to run at Cáceres before lacing a low chance toward goal, only to hook his chance wide of the post.On the other end, Núñez tried to score in highlight-reel fashion, with a header into his path on the left-hand side bouncing up nicely for him to attempt an audacious volley from a tight angle. He couldn’t quite steer it inside the far post, though, sending it flying wide right.Uruguay sent another chance wayward moments later, with Núñez getting free down the right and going at Palmer-Brown before cutting back a cross into open space in the center of the U.S. box. Fernando Gorriarán ran right onto it and tried to volley home, but his first-time chance went sailing high and didn’t threaten Johnson in goal.Johnson was tested from point-blank range just after the hour mark, but he came through with flying colors, as a pair of Uruguayan attackers were there to stab in a chance from the doorstep, only for the NYCFC backstop to deny them.An oddity took place in the 67th minute, when Uruguay made changes for the fourth time during the match, bringing on a seventh bench player. Teams are allotted six changes in friendlies, and personnel from both benches were drawn into conversation with the fourth official about the mishap. After all that, the U.S. was granted a seventh sub, and both teams carried on.As for the action on the field, the U.S. looked to sneak in a go-ahead goal with about 10 minutes to go, with Pulisic picking out Zimmerman on a corner kick, only for the Nashville SC anchor to head right at Muslera.Uruguay had a golden chance to win it, with Núñez getting in behind the defense and opting to square for Cavani instead of having a go at goal. The longtime Uruguay star missed his chance facing a vacant net, though, allowing the U.S. to escape with the draw.
Perception Is Everything When It Comes to the USMNT’s World Cup Group
Wales, England and Iran are the three opponents, and while it seems manageable on paper, it also arguably makes for the most difficult quartet in the competition.
- AVI CREDITOR SI JUN 7, 2022
Suffice to say, the group stage that the U.S. men’s national team is about to open up is hardly a tune-up for what’s to come in November. The Concacaf Nations League, where the U.S. will play the world’s 170th-ranked team (Grenada) and 74th (El Salvador), begins for the Americans on Friday night in Texas, and it’ll seem a world away from the World Cup—even if Austin’s Q2 Stadium is where the U.S. edged Qatar in the Gold Cup semifinals last summer.But it’s part of the prep the U.S. must take on due to the function of the international calendar, and after a win vs. Morocco and draw vs. Uruguay, time continues to tick down toward the group stage in November. Ever since the draw for the 2022 World Cup, there have been a couple of schools of thought when it comes to the U.S.’s chances in Qatar. On one hand, it seems incredibly manageable, especially when compared to the Ghana-Portugal-Germany task of ’14. On the other, perhaps there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the perception of the quartet.Wales’s qualification Sunday completed the puzzle, and it’s now known that the U.S. will open against Gareth Bale & Co. on Nov. 21 before the already scheduled dates with England (Nov. 25, for a Black Friday matinee in the U.S.) and Iran (Nov. 29). Three games in just over a week and three of the top 21 teams in the world—at least according to the March FIFA ranking—are what stand in the way between the U.S. and the knockout stage.Could it have been worse for the U.S? Absolutely. England may be England, fresh off a 2018 World Cup semifinal run and Euro 2020 final appearance, but it’s at the very least a known commodity. Facing a second UEFA nation in Wales is very much a product of the luck of the draw, but it’s one that hasn’t played in a World Cup since 1958. While so few in the young U.S. player pool have World Cup experience, there’s still an advantage on that front as it relates to the Dragons. And then there’s Iran, which may not be among the world’s elite powers, but it performed better than any other side in Asia’s qualification tournament and gave Spain and Portugal all it could handle in Russia in 2018, narrowly missing out on the knockout stage. Team Melli is the strongest “weakest link” in any of the eight groups at the World Cup. This may not be a true group of death, but in a lot of ways it’s also the most difficult and balanced group the U.S. could have drawn.Wales, 18th in the FIFA ranking used to determine the pots for April’s draw, would have been the highest-ranked team in Pot 3 had its qualification been secured on schedule, meaning the U.S. has ostensibly drawn two of the top three Pot 3 teams in addition to the Three Lions. The only reason Wales wound up as a Pot 4 team is due to the postponement of its UEFA qualifying playoff bracket on account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which forced that playoff winner to be a last-pot side regardless (for what it’s worth, Ukraine also would have been a Pot 3 team, albeit the second-to-lowest-ranked side, while Scotland would have been in Pot 4 either way).To Gregg Berhalter’s credit, the U.S. manager recognized the threat on the day of the draw, especially as it relates to the team most are undoubtedly going to overlook.“Iran, in general, I think is going to be a great challenge for us. I’m a little bit nervous that the public or the media may take Iran lightly. But it’s not a team to take lightly. It’s going to be a good opponent,” he said, well before Wales’s qualification was sealed.“So overall, it’ll be a strong group. When you add that European team to it, it’s going to be a well-rounded group and it’s going be difficult to advance. But that’s a positive, becauseI think everyone’s going to be battling and … I think it will come down to the last game.”
It may indeed come down to that last game, but it’s the first game that has the ability to really dictate the U.S.’s fortunes. In the seven World Cups in which the U.S. has competed in the modern era, a failure to get at least a point out of the first game has resulted in elimination in the group stage. Not being able to truly prepare for that first opponent for a couple of months—Spain and France are the other teams still waiting for their first marching orders; the remaining playoffs will be sorted next week—has put the U.S. at a bit of a competitive disadvantage.“It’s kind of strange when you get drawn into a group, and it’s one of three teams that you can play,” Berhalter said Sunday. “So in terms of prep, it gets stalled a little bit, but now it’s full steam ahead into concentrating on Wales.”The same way that it’s easy to look at Wales and shrug—Sunday’s performance, albeit in victory, shouldn’t have put a fright into anyone—that’s the perception from outside of the U.S. as well. English tabloids already had their fun in early April, and Robert Page, whose first game as interim Wales coach while Ryan Giggs faces domestic abuse charges was a 0–0 draw against the U.S. in Nov. 2020, was reverential, but he thinks three points are there for the taking.“We have played against the USA. We know they are a really strong outfit,” Page told BBC Wales, when discussing his team’s group prospects. “We played against their European-based players, in my first game. They [and Iran] are winnable games and when you play against a home nations team, anything can happen.”The task has cleared up for all four teams now, and with so much likely riding on the U.S.’s opener and what it’ll mean for those subsequent matches, there’s finally the chance to start crafting the game plan to navigate through it.“Now we finally know our opponent, and we can finally set our sights on that group and how we’re going to get out of it,” U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman said Sunday. “They each have their different challenges and to g to play a guy like Gareth Bale, I think it’s something we can all be excited about.”It sure beats a June Nations League night in Austin against Grenada.
USMNT-Morocco tactical notes: Why a changed shape might not be repeatable
By Sam StejskalJun 3, 202242 The Athletic
Apart from Christian Pulisic’s controversial comment about the crowd, no topic was discussed more in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. men’s national team’s 3-0 win in a friendly against Morocco than the Americans’ changed on-field shape.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter tweaked the system he used for most of qualifying, playing Brenden Aaronson in an advanced central midfield role, dropping No. 8 Yunus Musah closer to defensive midfielder Tyler Adams, giving Christian Pulisic free reign to find interior space, pushing his left back very high and shifting to a three-man backline when the U.S. had the ball. The changes led to a more cohesive, freer-flowing attack than we saw from the U.S. for the bulk of the CONCACAF Octagonal, though they also left the Americans looking vulnerable in defense. Morocco, which registered 2.07 expected goals to the U.S.’s 2.10, really should have made it a lot closer than 3-0.
While the changes were instructive, it seems highly unlikely that this exact shape will become the U.S.’s primary set. The eventual return of fullback Sergiño Dest from injury almost rules it out on its own. Dest is the U.S.’s best right back, but, unlike Wednesday’s starter Reggie Cannon, he doesn’t have the defensive attributes needed to slide into a three-man backline. Even if he did, moving him into that spot would neutralize his excellent ability to get into the attack. He could theoretically reprise the role Antonee Robinson played on the left on Wednesday, but his tendency to come inside would make him a less than perfect fit in that spot. It’d also be a bit shocking if Robinson was dropped after he’s been so steady since the start of qualifying.
That doesn’t mean Berhalter can’t implement elements of what we saw on Wednesday between now and Qatar, however. Clearly, he can use Aaronson in a central role. Pulisic showed that he can have a massive impact from interior positions, too — especially when the spacing is such that he has room to operate and the players around him are strong at combining, things that weren’t always the case in qualifying. Musah’s more reserved position helped maintain that breathing room for him on Wednesday, while Aaronson gave him someone to quickly connect with. Dropping one No. 8 deeper and having another play higher would be interesting for the U.S. to continue over the next six months.
McKennie’s looming return to the starting lineup could throw a wrench into that, however. He’s capable of playing in both of the spots that Musah and Aaronson occupied on Wednesday, but he has a different skill set than his younger counterparts. He wouldn’t be as good at combining with Pulisic in the attack as Aaronson, but he’d perhaps be more dangerous in front of goal and could be just as, or even more effective with his counterpressing. His defensive skills would serve him well in the role Musah played on Wednesday, too, though a pairing of him and Adams wouldn’t be the strongest in building out of the back. Such a role could also minimize the frequency he streaks into the box on one of his excellent, late-arriving runs.
As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Berhalter returns to the usual, balanced No. 8 setup we saw for almost all of qualifying once McKennie, who the U.S. is hoping can start one game this window as he continues to work his way back from his foot injury, gets into the XI.
A possible return of the mega-talented Gio Reyna from injury would also create lineup questions for Berhalter. Unless he uses Reyna or Weah as a striker, it’d mean he’d have just four spots in the lineup for those two, Pulisic, Aaronson, McKennie and Musah. That’d be a champagne problem, though, and an unlikely one for him to have, considering the USMNT’s injury history.
So while the exact shape we saw on Wednesday probably won’t carry over to Qatar, a couple of elements on display — tweaking the shape of the midfield and adjusting Pulisic’s positioning, specifically — could remain important aspects of the USMNT’s play up to and in the World Cup.We’ll see if Berhalter has any new adjustments in store for Sunday’s friendly against a strong Uruguay team in Kansas City, Kan. Until then, some additional thoughts from the win against Morocco:
No goals from the run of play, but encouraging signs at striker
Neither of them scored in open play, but strikers Jesus Ferreira and Haji Wright both displayed some solid work in their respective 45-minute shifts on Wednesday.
Ferreira got the start, linking well with the other attackers and looking confident on a couple of decent opportunities. As is typical for him, he wasn’t afraid to drop into midfield, and he actually dragged a couple of center backs with him into the center circle to open up space for Pulisic to run in behind the Morocco defense for the first goal.
He seemed decisive on his chances, but… he didn’t finish. He made a smart run off the back shoulder of a defender to free himself up for a through ball from Aaronson for a good look in first-half stoppage time, but Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou came out quickly to close the angle and Ferreira couldn’t quite direct his shot wide enough to sneak it past him.
Wright’s performance was probably more promising. Not only did he convert a penalty to put the U.S. up 3-0 in the 64th (after, it must be said, a gracious handoff from his old friend Pulisic), but he exhibited some solid hold-up play. He’s bigger than the U.S.’s other options at the position, and he showed it with his ability to maintain possession in some difficult spots with his back to goal. One of the better examples of that kind of play came in the 49th minute, part of an excellent team move (patient build up in the back, a decisive pass forward when a window for one opened, then a quick, vertical breakout) that ended with Wright nearly scoring.
He had another solid moment in the play that led to the penalty, making a darting run behind the defense, then holding up play before finding Weah at the top of the box. He wasn’t involved all that much after the goal, but the game was put to bed by the 75th. After Wednesday, Wright merits another look with the U.S., perhaps from the start on Sunday.
The lack of goals from strikers in the run of play remains an annoyance, but it was good to see both Ferreira and Wright involved in broader positive attacking movements and get into position for chances. If that continues, the goals should, in theory, follow.
Vulnerabilities in defense, questions at center back
For all the fun that was had in the attacking end, there were some real issues in defense on Wednesday. Morocco should’ve found the net on a couple of occasions, including, of course, on the penalty they were ridiculously awarded in the late stages.
Their best looks came after they broke U.S. pressure and switched the ball to left wing back Adam Masina. Weah would be caught high, Aaronson would be tucked inside and Cannon would be sitting deep, leaving Masina wide open and with tons of space to drive into. The U.S. didn’t confront him quickly enough in most of those situations, with Cannon often delaying his release until it was far too late to prevent danger. Morocco nearly took the lead on two such plays in the 12th- and 19th-minutes.
sah, who was shaded to the left, and Adams, who spent a good portion of the match man-marking Morocco defensive midfielder Sofyan Amrabat whenever he got the ball, were usually taken out of these plays when Morocco broke the American press.
Of course, the U.S. shape wasn’t familiar to most of the players on the field; there were always going to be some hiccups. If the U.S. does return to this kind of setup at any point in the future, they’ll have some work to do to clean up this part of their game.
Center back also remains a bit of a question mark following the achilles injury that will almost certainly keep Miles Robinson out of the World Cup. Walker Zimmerman was his usual solid self, but Berhalter indicated after the match that he thought fellow starter Aaron Long struggled a bit. Long definitely had his hands full with the physical nature of Morocco forwards Ayoub El Kaabi and Tarik Tissoudali and got turned pretty badly on one occasion, but, watching the match back on Thursday morning, he mostly acquitted himself OK. He wasn’t perfect, but he managed.
It was a similar story for Cameron Carter-Vickers, who came on for Zimmerman in a planned halftime substitution. He had some decent interventions, but also lost Tissoudali just before Masina found him at the top of the six for a free header that Turner did well to keep out. Look for Erik Palmer-Brown to start in his hometown of Kansas City on Sunday.
Big picture, the position bears watching before Qatar. It wasn’t the U.S.’s strongest group even before the Robinson injury; the Americans will need someone to step up to increase their odds of getting out of their group. A lot might end up riding on the progression of injured 21-year-old Chris Richards, who could be headed to the Premier League this summer, per reports.
Turner adds to case for No. 1 job
Speaking of players on their way to the EPL this summer, Turner enjoyed a solid night in net on Wednesday. He made eight saves, commanded his box well and, apart from a couple of elementary and ultimately inconsequential mistakes, looked decent with the ball at his feet. He wants to improve that facet of his game to give himself a better chance of starting in Qatar ahead of Zack Steffen, who had to withdraw from this camp due to family reasons.
Turner’s teammates certainly seemed more comfortable playing to him in possession than they did at times in qualifying, and he helped the team play out of some substantial pressure a few times, including on that 49th-minute move that led to Wright’s chance.
Taylor Twellman said during ESPN’s broadcast of the match that he thinks Turner is in the driver’s seat to start at the World Cup. I tend to agree. Turner is an excellent shot-stopper and performed better in qualifying than Steffen, who had a tough end to the season with Manchester City. Berhalter isn’t all that interested in handicapping the race, however. He talked in his pre-match news conference on Tuesday about not needing to rush into any decisions at the position. The door will undoubtedly remain open for Steffen, as well as for others, too.
The U.S. is entering strange territory with their goalkeepers. Turner, Steffen and Ethan Horvath will likely be backups in the Premier League this fall and not getting regular games in the buildup to the World Cup. NYCFC’s Sean Johnson, who was added to this roster after Steffen pulled out, seems like he’ll be the only one of the U.S.’s top-four options at the position getting regular minutes in the weeks ahead of Qatar.
That creates a potential quandary for the U.S., and, according to what Twellman said during the broadcast on Wednesday, a possible opportunity for Johnson. Don’t be surprised if he gets a start in this window.
USMNT Vs. Uruguay: 3 Players Who Stood Out And 3 With Nights To Forget
IT WAS A FAIRLY ENTERTAINING SCORELESS DRAW WITH PLENTY OF FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
The USMNT vs. Uruguay friendly never got going in the way we imagined on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. At the end of the day, the main talking point is that Uruguay manager Diego Alonso made seven substitutions — Diego Rossi and Facundo Pellistri somehow entered the match together in the 68th minute when that obviously shouldn’t have been allowed.Surprisingly the fourth official isn’t on FIFA’s list for the World Cup. I’d like to see him and Janny Sikazwe form a crew. Uruguay made 10 changes to the side that beat Mexico 3-0 last week, and big names like Edinson Cavani, Federico Valverde and Matías Vecino started on the bench. Uruguay’s play, particularly in the final third, suffered as a result. There wasn’t much cohesion to La Celeste’s build-up play, and when the U.S. midfield or defense did them a favor with a cheap turnover or miscue, the South Americans still found it difficult to create opportunities of note. Cavani had a glorious chance in second-half stoppage time but spooned his effort wide with the goal at his mercy. The U.S. had its moments going forward in the first half, but the second half was erratic and disrupted by all the changes.
USA Vs Uruguay: 3 Stars
A clean sheet against Uruguay with four saves, including this one in the 63rd to preserve the draw. The 33-year-old took a massive step towards being on the plane to Qatar.
There’s something evocatively LaLiga about Musah. He holds the ball that split second longer to give the runner that extra bit of space; he spots and hits cross-field rakers like a PlayStation footballer; he’s confident enough to dribble his marker, even if it’s on the edge of his own area.
Musah completed a team-leading 92.5% of his passes and was untroubled by Uruguay’s physicality in midfield. How is he just 19 years of age?
Aaronson ran out there for the second half and threw himself into some tackles and challenges. He brought a bit of energy to the second 45 when the U.S. was clearly lacking it. Apart from Uruguay’s fast and loose approach to subs, Aaronson provided one of the game’s best moments.
3 Players With Nights To Forget
Ferreira had two shots — one that stung the palms of Fernando Muslera and a close range header that he couldn’t direct on frame. The other attributes he brings to the table — link-up play and leading the press — weren’t clearly on display either. Overall, an ineffective 61 minutes on the pitch.
This was a baptism by fire in Scally’s first-ever USMNT start. Maxi Gómez, Manuel Ugarte and Guillermo Varela clearly targeted the 19-year-old, and there were a couple moments in the first half when Uruguay looked poised to score after dicing the left-hand side of the U.S. defense.
He only won 30% of his duels, but this will ultimately be another great learning experience for the teenager on the road to winning us the 2026 World Cup.
45 minutes of very little on the attacking end, although he put in the defensive work. Given his form with FC Dallas, we wanted to see more of a threat from Arriola, but Christian Pulisic went at it alone in the second half.
How US Soccer Federation Should Respond To Christian Pulisic’s Comment About USMNT Fans
- ROBERT SUMMERSCALES JUN 2, 2022 SI
The USMNT produced an impressive performance to beat Morocco 3-0 at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium on Wednesday night.But Christian Pulisic was not impressed with the size of the crowd that came to watch the international friendly.The stadium’s capacity for soccer games is 26,000 but there were only 19,512 fans in attendance to see Brenden Aaronson, Timothy Weah and Haji Wright score in a one-sided win.Furthermore, a significant percentage of the fans that did turn up came to support Morocco – as this was their first game in the States in 16 years.After the game, Pulisic was asked by an ESPN reporter how it felt to be back playing in front of US fans again. His response was a little spiky.He said: “Yeah, it was nice. To be honest, for whatever reason, I’m not super happy with the amount of Americans here, however that works out.”But thanks to the ones that did come and the support is always great from them.”But yeah, it’s nice to be back in America and playing again.”But why was the turnout so low? After all, US men’s soccer is seemingly in a good place right now, with the USMNT heading to the World Cup in just six months.The answer is simple. Fans were priced out by the US Soccer Federation.Most of the tickets for the match had been priced between $60 and $160 plus fees. That is a lot for a friendly against a team ranked outside of FIFA’s top 20.Fortunately, the solution is equally simple for the US Soccer Federation. They just need to make international soccer more affordable and audiences will swell.Those in charge of developing soccer in the States are meant to be appealing to new audiences – many of whom may be in need of convincing.Staging the game in Middle America was a solid start, but organizers got the price point very wrong. More empty seats are expected at Sunday’s friendly against Uruguay at Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park.Tickets for that match are still widely available, but the cheapest seats are currently being listed from around $90 including fees.
As the USMNT called and Arsenal awaited, Matt Turner met profound heartbreakBy Sam StejskalMay 31, 202292
In a world where everyone is a statistical anomaly, where even the most average players have to outlast thousands upon thousands of competitors to carve out a career as a professional, Matt Turner is an outlier.The U.S. men’s national team and soon-to-be Arsenal goalkeeper didn’t begin playing soccer until he was 14, going out for his high school squad simply so he could stay in shape for his main athletic pursuits of basketball and baseball. He only hopped in goal because the team’s one other ‘keeper got hurt on the first day of freshman tryouts. He was barely recruited to play in college, where his most notable moment was a colossal, viral mistake. He wasn’t drafted out of Fairfield University in 2016, but he made the New England Revolution roster after impressing as a preseason trialist, walking away from a more lucrative job he’d lined up in the business world to sign with the club. When he finally got a chance to play in MLS after three years spent mostly as a No. 3, he thrived, turning heads in 2018 and starring in 2019 and 2020 before being named the league’s goalkeeper of the year in 2021.His excellent performances in New England led to his first U.S. cap in January 2021. Five months later, he helped the Americans to the Gold Cup title, raising his profile with some top-tier play that culminated with him winning the Golden Glove award given to the best goalkeeper in the tournament. Turner entered World Cup qualification locked into the USMNT backup job behind presumed starter Zack Steffen, but simply being in the squad was a real achievement.Then, two days before the U.S. played its first qualifier at El Salvador, that story took a heartbreaking turn.Early in the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 31, Turner, who was in Nashville with the USMNT, got a call from his then-fiancee Ashley Herron. She had made the short trip from Boston to see Turner and the Revs play at New York City FC the previous weekend, but arrived back in Massachusetts on Monday feeling a little bit off. A trip to the doctor on Tuesday brought some awful news: She had suffered a miscarriage. Herron was about 10 weeks into her pregnancy.“I thought to myself that I needed to go home to be with her,” Turner told The Athletic. “I couldn’t imagine the fact that she was going through this alone. She was in the doctor’s office alone, she had the miscarriage alone and I wanted to be there for her. I just love her so much, and I wanted to help her, to just help ease the pain any way I could.”First thing on Wednesday morning, hours before the U.S. was scheduled to fly from Tennessee to El Salvador for the match the following night, Turner made his way downstairs at the team hotel to tell Berhalter he needed to leave camp. He ended up bumping into him immediately after he stepped off the elevator. Before Turner could get a word out, the head coach hit him with some news of his own.“He looks at me and says, ‘Hey Matty, Zack has back spasms, he can’t go. You’re playing tomorrow,’” Turner said.Turner barely remembers how he responded to Berhalter — some platitude about being ready. Internally, he was a mess, standing in the elevator bank “like a deer in headlights, trying to choke back tears.”“I just pretty much sank away,” he said. “Imagine Homer Simpson sinking back into the bushes. I just sink back into the elevator to go right back upstairs to call Ashley. I tell her what happened and she just, thank God for her, really, because she just said, ‘You have to stay. I’ll never let you miss that.’”Turner is making this story public in part because he and Herron, who got married a few weeks ago, want to do what they can to make people understand that miscarriages are not uncommon. According to March of Dimes, about 10 to 15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. For someone like Turner, a 27-year-old who had never before been expecting a child with a partner, that fact can come as a bit of a surprise.“I never realized how many people had actually gone through it in their lives,” he said. “Even just talking around the team, some of the staff with the national team, there were loads of guys that could talk to each other about that experience. We just want to normalize it a little bit. Just hopefully make people feel like they’re not alone when they go through it.”Turner didn’t tell anyone outside of his family about the miscarriage during that initial window, however. And after his conversation with Herron that Wednesday morning, he chose to go with the USMNT to Central America instead of returning to Boston. He started in El Salvador the following night, keeping a shutout in a scoreless draw in front of a heaving crowd at Estadio Cuscatlan, and remained in net for the U.S.’s 1-1 draw against Canada in Nashville and 4-1 road win at Honduras.Turner spent most of that week holding his emotions off to the side as he and the team worked through a dramatic, controversial and draining first foray into qualifying. The strategy worked in terms of his on-field performance, with Turner playing well in all three matches, but it didn’t exactly allow him the space to process his feelings about the miscarriage.In the hours after the victory in Honduras, a rollercoaster of a match that became a turning point in the USMNT’s entire qualification campaign, he headed up to his room, had a drink, put on a disco-heavy playlist that he listens to to unwind (“That playlist is riddled with Donna Summer. It’s music that my Mom and I always bonded over.”) and gave himself some time to actually feel.“I was alone in the hotel, knocking back a beer, and I finally felt like I could breathe again,” he said. “With the pressure of the games, with the buildup, the fact that we were losing at halftime and came back and won, it was just all so much emotion, so much going on that I needed some time to myself to process everything. For me, that was the hardest part of it all. You have to compartmentalize, but then when do you have time to reflect? You have to make time to deal with the things that you need to deal with, because you can’t just forget and hope it fades into the past. You gotta be a human at some point.“So I had my music, I had my beer and I just… exhaled. Just sat there and thought about how I’m going home and facing something much scarier than those crazy crowds in Honduras or El Salvador. I’m going to have to go home and help put our lives back together.”He and Herron were able to do just that — not that his schedule got any more forgiving. Turner immediately returned to action with the Revs then was back with the U.S. a few weeks later, starting the home win against Jamaica on Oct. 7 and loss at Panama on Oct. 10. He played just fine in those two matches, but Berhalter replaced him with Steffen in the starting lineup in the third match of the window at home against Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 13.
Turner was, naturally, disappointed by the decision, but the trip to Ohio wasn’t all bad. Not only did the U.S. beat Costa Rica to move into a solid position in the CONCACAF Octagonal, but Herron was able to travel to the game. A few weeks later, the couple found out they had conceived in Columbus. She’s due to give birth to a baby boy on July 16.
Becoming a father isn’t the only major life change Turner is preparing for, of course. In January, New England agreed to transfer him to Arsenal for a fee that sources said is just shy of $7 million. He’ll play his last game for the Revs on June 19 and join Arsenal in time for the start of their preseason on June 24.For Turner, the move is a legitimate dream come true. He didn’t really get into watching soccer until the 2010 World Cup, when he was 16. After the tournament, he, like so many others on this side of the Atlantic, began to follow the Premier League, and became a fan of Arsenal. As he got a little bit older, during his final years in college and first season or two with the Revs, Turner spent many of his weekend mornings watching games at Arsenal supporters’ preferred bars.“A lot of those Gooners probably saw me at the bar and obviously had no idea who I was, which is pretty funny to think about now,” he said.Even after he began starring in MLS, it looked relatively unlikely that Turner would ever get the opportunity to move to Europe, nevermind to one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League. His value to the Revolution meant the club was always going to have a high asking price for him. The list of clubs that would be able to meet New England’s desired number for a soon-to-be 28-year-old goalkeeper who has never played outside of North America was always going to be pretty short, something Turner was very much attuned to. Before Arsenal came calling, he said no European club had ever made an offer for him.
“Towards the end of last year, probably in November, my agent mentioned something about Arsenal getting in contact and having a bit of interest,” he said. “He was like, ‘There’s this, this and this out there, a couple of teams in the Championship, nothing that’s going to hit the price that the Revs are going to want for you, but there’s a ridiculously long shot that Arsenal is interested. You’re on a list of probably five to eight goalkeepers that they could see themselves going for.’ That was his quote: ‘A ridiculously long shot.’”Over the next couple of months, the ridiculous long shot turned into Arsenal’s primary target to provide cover behind Aaron Ramsdale. The England international was signed last summer for a transfer fee that could rise as high as $38 million and soon won the starting job from Bernd Leno, who is reportedly set to leave the club this summer. Before Arsenal opened talks with New England, however, Turner went back to the Revs to negotiate a new contract. He had outperformed the deal that paid him $375,000 in guaranteed compensation in 2021, and, not knowing if a European move would materialize, he was hoping he might be able to cash in on his big year. The club rebuffed him, a position Turner said he understood considering the fact they had given him new contracts in August 2019 and January 2021.“And literally two days later, Arsenal comes in and throws in their first bid,” he said. “Now the wheels start turning. At that point, I already made my mind up that I wanted to go. It just felt right. … I thought it was going to be simple: They offer, great, Revs accept, done. But it was one of the biggest emotional rides I’ve ever been on, and that’s saying something considering what happened in the fall. It was off, it was on, it was off, it was on. I’m sending text messages, calling people, stuff tht I probably didn’t have to do, but at the end of the day, everyone got where they needed to get and the deal got done.”The parties agreed to the deal on Jan. 27, just hours before Turner would return to the USMNT starting lineup in place of the injured Steffen for a 1-0 win against El Salvador in Columbus. After the match, a young fan handed Turner a jersey to sign as he walked off the field. It wasn’t a New England or U.S. shirt, but a red Arsenal top.The storybook scene can’t mask the many legitimate questions about how the move will play out. Turner said that he has every intention of competing for the starting job in preseason, but acknowledged that the general expectation is that Ramsdale will be the No. 1. His job, he said, will most likely be to “come in and push him and help him get better.”Serving as Ramsdale’s backup would be a significant change from starting every single match for the Revs, for whom he recently returned to the field after injuries — which did not include frostbite, he said — sidelined him from mid-February until late-April. But irrespective of the potential for decreased playing time, Turner thinks the move will actually help his odds of starting at the World Cup for the USMNT, which will play friendlies against Morocco on Wednesday and Uruguay on Sunday and CONCACAF Nations League matches against Grenada on June 10 and at El Salvador on June 14.Turner correctly noted that starting for the Revs while Steffen was backing up Ederson for Manchester City didn’t guarantee him anything with the USMNT. He entered qualifying as the backup and, apart from the first two games of the October window, served as the No. 2 in every match for which he and Steffen, who withdrew from this camp late last week due to family reasons, were both available.“I needed to shake it up heading into Qatar. I really needed to, in my opinion,” Turner said. “Is it risky? Yeah, probably a little bit. But at the end of the day, it’s a step forward for my career. I’ve always said that I want to see how far I can take soccer, I want to really push it. This is the logical next step if that’s my mentality.”Over the course of qualifying, Berhalter consistently cited Steffen’s ability to play with his feet as a reason for starting him over Turner despite the disparity in club appearances between the two. Steffen had a very high-profile, very costly recent error with the ball at his feet, but he has improved that part of his game since he moved to Man City from Columbus, where he played under Berhalter, in the summer of 2019. Turner likely needs to up that part of his game to have a shot at winning the USMNT job outright.“I have to train at a higher level,” he said. “The style of play with the Revolution is mighty old school. If there’s pressure, we don’t really try to play out of it too much. At Arsenal, the goalkeepers are required to play a little bit more with the ball, playing in the system rather than just sort of going out there. They have to follow tactics and game plans a little more closely. Those are things that I know are valued with the national team that I’ll be challenged more with Arsenal.
“In December and January, I got to spend weeks at a time with the national team in buildup to games. And in all those games, I feel like I was pretty solid with the ball at my feet. Apart from the one blip in Canada, pretty solid connecting passes, making the right decisions. And then I don’t train exactly like that when I’m with the Revs, so I lose it. I get it for a couple of weeks, then I lose it. Now I’ll be training that way all the time.”Berhalter has been a big booster of the move, telling Turner in January that he thought it was a good step for his career and that it would challenge him in the ways he needed to be challenged. He’s already generally considered a superior shot stopper to Steffen, a stance that was borne out by the numbers in qualifying. If he can maintain that element of his game and improve with his feet, he’ll have a real argument to start in Qatar in November.
“I wouldn’t say I’m not concerned (about potentially not playing regularly), but I’m also not entirely concerned,” he said. “I’m just going to take it as it comes, you know? I’m gonna work my hardest and then put my best foot forward every time I’m out on the field with Arsenal, every time I’m out on the field with the national team. Regardless, I’m proud of the decision I made. I’m proud of where I’m headed. And I’m gonna have a lot of confidence going into November, that’s for sure.”There’s not much time between now and then, but Turner and his family have plenty on the docket. Herron flew to London with her mother on Monday to get settled in their new home ahead of the birth. Turner, who arrived in Cincinnati for U.S. camp on Sunday, will join them there on June 20. Their son, who they’re planning on naming Easton, should follow not long after. Then comes the start of the EPL season with Arsenal and the USMNT’s final preparations for the World Cup.
“You can imagine this stuff, but only in a fantasy,” he said. “You know that it’s never actually going to happen. Thinking about all the little things along the way that had to break for this to be possible, all the signs and all the omens, it’s all crazy. It’s really crazy. I never thought that this would actually happen for me. I’m just so excited and blessed.”
‘A day like this gives us hope’: Ukraine’s game in Wales, written by a fan
By Inna SelivanJun 6, 20228
Ukraine played a football match on Sunday. They didn’t win it. Yes, football doesn’t matter when compared to horrors of war, but Ukraine’s matches against Scotland and Wales have given hope, joy and pride to its people. A sense of normality at a time when life is anything but.There are no words The Athletic can write to sum up what it meant for those thousands of Ukrainians in the Cardiff City Stadium, or millions more watching around the world as refugees, or back home in their country, to play a World Cup play-off.So we have handed over this article to Inna Selivan, who attended the game with her godchildren Alex and Kira, aged 13, and her partner Michelle. This is Inna’s story.Alex and Kira, who are twins, left Kyiv at the end of March with their mother Irina. They travelled to Moldova, then to Romania, which took 30 hours in total. That’s where I met them and my mother Olga, who is disabled and needs a wheelchair. From the borders we drove to Bucharest, then waited there for four weeks to get visas, then we all flew back to the UK and to my home in Berkshire.Their mum came over to the UK at first – their dad couldn’t come for various reasons – and now Irina is back in Kyiv as she has to look after her own elderly parents. She was devastated to leave her children, but they’re safe here. They’re missing Ukraine badly, they want to go back home to normality, but the most important thing is they are safe.I’m supporting everyone I can who comes to the country, doing what needs to be done; often their English isn’t great and it’s very difficult for people. Everyone needs help.I have friends who are still in Ukraine and they don’t want to leave. I speak to them almost every day.Alex and Kira have never been to a Ukraine match before. We had to be here. We were camping in Bristol and were frantically trying to get tickets. Yes, it’s only football but it means a lot – the team is still playing and that’s absolutely huge. It’s something people cheer for and, yes, if we win it’s another victory step after winning Eurovision and beating Scotland.I have lived in the UK for 30 years and to be with my people is special. Alex is excited to be here. He’s been to a couple of matches since March — he went to an Arsenal game — but to watch his country is very different.Inside the ground, the atmosphere is incredible. People are mixing with each other, chatting, they are all from different parts of Ukraine and many of them have probably been misplaced and are far away from their home country. It is great to unite together.People have come from over the UK. I know some from London, others from the Midlands, we came from Berkshire.There are more important things going on than football but it means something to be out together, waving flags, wearing yellow and blue.There is a huge amount of respect between the Wales fans and the Ukraine fans; it’s very friendly outside and inside the ground, and I have to say the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic.
In the away end, the singing doesn’t stop. People chant “Ukraine, Ukraine” over and over again but they also shout for different regions back home which are under attack now. They chant for Azovstal, the place in Mariupol held by Russians under siege for many days.It’s political but, at the same time, they want to say that parts of Ukraine are still very much suffering in the war.People are disappointed with the result and there is a lot of frustration because of course we wanted to win, but it’s OK, it’s sport. We have more matches to look forward to soon as well, unfortunately not in the World Cup, but the team is going to play.There is a huge amount of pride in the players. Some of them hadn’t played for months and went and beat Scotland, and only lost narrowly to Wales.
The emotion of Sunday was too much for some Ukraine fans (Photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)
At the end of the game, there is a nice touch when the Wales team come over to clap us, that was a touching moment. Their supporters also join in with the clap we do with the Ukraine players. It’s such a respectful atmosphere and that means a lot.Alex said at the end of the game how disappointed he was, but when the team came to our corner and applauded he said, “That made my day”.The team also gave shirts away to fans, which was really nice. Kira isn’t a huge sport fan but she sang the songs, she was supportive, she was on her feet. In fact we all were – everybody stood up all game.Ultimately, it’s just a game of football, there are more important things to think about and the fact that everyone is there and safe in the stadium is all that matters.But a game and a day like this brings people together. It gives them hope.