Author: torsten120

USMNT Player Ratings – USA vs. Iran

The USA overcame a nervy close and brutal mismanagement from Gregg Berhalter after a dominant start to advance out of the group stages in the World Cup. Their reward, a round of 16 battle with a talented, but also beatable Netherlands team. You know, had someone told me before the games began – hell, before the GROUPS were picked – that the US would advance to the knockout stages, I’d have signed on the dotted line. Wouldn’t care how they got there, who they beat, who they lost to, etc. Or after the groups were announced, I wouldn’t care that they drew against Wales, easily the weakest team of the group. Or that they looked like the better team for much of their draw against England, easily the group’s powerhouse. Or that it took a nervy finish against a tough and resilient Iran squad. It’s weird that I care now.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s take a look at our individual performers and (barf) the coach from today’s game. As always, a half point scoring system will be used because I feel like it.

GK Matt Turner – 5.0

I wouldn’t say that Turner made any huge errors, but after two games in which he was solid, authoritative, decisive, a little nuts, and mostly confidence inspiring, he just seemed unsure of himself today. Especially late on, it seemed he could have come for a couple crosses, marshalled his back line more effectively and be more assured of his positioning. Hey, a clean sheet is a clean sheet and he deserves some credit for that, but he will hope for a more commanding performance against the Netherlands.

LB Antonee Robinson – 8.0

This might be his coming out party as one of the world’s best left backs. Fulham, I suspect, will be getting some calls in January. Once again he was a terror all along the left wing, and once again he was virtually unbeatable as a defender. And before you say anything regarding the quality of opponent, Iran is much better than you think they are, and even if they weren’t, then he did what he was supposed to do anyway. As always the caveat with him is that his final ball is poor, and there was nothing today to indicate it wasn’t, hence the 8.0 instead of even better.

CB Tim Ream – 7.0

I’ve seen enough. He’ll be 39 when the 2026 World Cup is hosted in North America and I’m ready to name him to the squad there already. You didn’t hear his name much today, but that was game script rather than anonymity. No mistakes. The right play every time. Held firm in the dying moments. He isn’t the captain here like he is at Fulham, but he’s a veteran leader and he’s acting and playing like it. Another good one from him.

CB Cameron Carter-Vickers – 6.5

A (maybe?) surprise starter ahead of Ream’s normal partner in crime, Walker Zimmerman, CCV didn’t look out of place. I suspect he got the nod over Zimmerman because he’s more of a threat on offense, not any kind of punishment for a shaky cup so far from Zim. Sure enough, he looked threatening on offense, and was good enough on defense. Maybe got lucky not to concede a penalty in stoppage time – not because he committed a foul. He absolutely didn’t. But because the referees were abysmal today and virtually every call of consequence went in favor of Iran. Nothing to be ashamed of from him today.

RB Sergino Dest – 8.5

Another marauding performance on the right wing from the dynamic Dest. Much like his countepart on the opposite wing, Dest was a constant menace against a durable Iranian defense. Also defended better than he generally gets credit for, and crucially assisted on the game’s only goal with an inch perfect headed pass. Also like Robinson, you’d probably sacrifice your firstborn to see his cross delivery improve, but now you’re wanting your cake and to eat it too.

LM Weston McKennie – 6.5

Solid, if unspectacular from him. Not that he was bad by any stretch, but after dominating in the game against England, he was merely… good-ish today. You wonder if fatigue is becoming a factor with him. Match fitness was going to be a question before the games started, and he’s given a tremendous effort. Visibly flagging after an hour, Berhalter correctly subbed him off.

CM Tyler Adams – 8.5

He’s irreplaceable, for his calmness and leadership as much as his play. Asked to be more involved in the offense with today’s formation, he was, and sacrificed zero of his defensive excellence to do so. I’m running out of superlatives for him. He’s simply special.

RM Yunus Musah – 9.0

Ok, son. I see you. Everyone and their mom was gushing about Musah’s play the first two games, to the point of annoyance and tedium. He was indisputably one of the team’s weaker players on the field. Which brings us to today’s man of the match performance. Borderline flawless. Excellent defensively, creative and aggressive offensively, all that was missing was a goal. If he can put in performances like today at age 19, the sky is the limit in 2026. He can be that good, and better.

LF Christian Pulisic – 8.0

He keeps playing like this, I might have to start liking him. Another guy who wasn’t wearing the armband, but led by example. Even had his dick and balls not been smashed on his game-winning goal, it was still a courageous finish with a heavy collision all but certain. After receiving treatment, he gutted out the last few minutes of the first half in hopes of recovering enough to play the second. It wasn’t to be. The dick trauma was understandably too acute for him to continue and he was subbed off to start the second half. Hell of a 45 minutes though from the US’ most recognizable player.

CF Josh Sargent – 6.0

I wish I had better things to say about Sargent. He’s certainly trying hard, and he’s been fine defending from the front on set pieces. He’s just not the sort of greedy, goals by the bushelful center forward this team needs. Nobody on the roster is, to be fair, but still. Never seemed likely to score today, and you just can’t have that from your center forward if you have designs on getting very far. Other than that, he was decent enough.

RF Tim Weah – 7.5

Let’s just get this out of the way. He was onside. This isn’t sour grapes. This isn’t an accusation of cheating, favortism, or gambling by the officials, though let’s be honest, they probably do. At least some of them. But the review technology for offside is fatally flawed. FIFA has fucked with the rule over the years to the point where it’s absurd now. But back to the automated screen, the graphic we were shown was not representative of reality. It was a good goal. If it was even debatable, I would tell you that. It wasn’t. In the live replay we were shown Weah as level at worst with the Iranian defender. Last I will say on it is this. I am in favor of technology helping officials get calls right. Ok? I am. But the technology has to be accurate. And this isn’t. It’s a shitty rule in its current form, and it has shitty technology to help enforce it. Ok, I’m done.

Back to Weah, he was a constant threat. Apart from his goal that should have counted, he could have at least two more with better finishing – the only wart on an otherwise sterling performance.

SUBS

Brenden Aaronson – 6.0

Came on for the injured Pulisic and made himself a constant nuisance to the Iranians. As Berhalter abandoned any endeavor to get a second goal, Aaronson was in the unfamiliar role of having to almost exclusively defend. It’s not his ideal application but he didn’t look out of place and gave it his usual 100% effort.

Kellyn Acosta – 5.0

Replaced an exhausted McKennie in about the 65th minute. Didn’t do a whole lot wrong, but was in the wrong role for the formation. He’s essentially a not as good Tyler Adams, so you either play two defensive mids when they’re both on – an option – or you’re fucking doing it wrong. Not his fault. Just saying. Not many opportunities for his signature set piece delivery either. Also not his fault.

Walker Zimmerman – 6.5

Replaced Weah late on with Iran attacking for their tournament lives. Another sub that made sense with the game script, but could have turned disastrous due to formational application. Not his fault. In fact, had a crucial block and clearance late on with Iran posing a real threat. Didn’t seem out of place as a sub after starting the first two games.

Haji Wright – 4.5

Came on for Sargent and was almost entirely anonymous. Not all his fault, but he’s just not the caliber of player that plays center forward for a team that’s going to win anything big. I hope I end up being wrong.

Shaq Moore – 1.5

Shaq Moore is a perfectly fine right back in MLS. Especially if the game is low pressure. In a World Cup scenario, he’s simply awful. Came on for Sergino Dest. Made poorly timed runs. Didn’t close down attackers. Needlessly conceded corners. There is absolutely no reason for him, apart from injuries to the first dozen guys who would play a better right back than him, for him to ever see the field again this World Cup.

Coach Gregg Berhalter – 3.5

Wow. Just, wow. How this team has managed to succeed at all inspite of their coach is actually inspiring. If we’re being fair, the decision to start CCV in place of Zimmerman was a good one, and tactically logical and sound. GGG also deserves credit for sticking with the guys that have worked well so far. And that’s where the plaudits end. Yes, it sucked to have Pulisic have to leave injured. But it’s unconscionable for him to abandon all pretense of attacking and just park the bus the entire second half. You want to talk about chicken shit?

Now, while it does make sense late LATE on to bring on guys like Zimmerman and Acosta in place of more attack-minded players like McKennie and Weah, you have to adjust your formations accordingly. Because otherwise you’ll end up with three center backs, two defensive center mids, and two outside fullbacks, and only two of these players (two of the three center backs) will know where they need to be. Simply throwing on another defender in place of an attacker without a plan beyond that isn’t enough.

Lastly, we come to the Shaq Moore debacle. When he was included on the final roster, the incredulous looks were likely accompanied by “well, does it REALLY matter who the 26th guy is? Not like he’ll see the field.” Well, he has now. And no sane man or woman will have seen his appearance against England and thought, “that guy needs to be on the field again.” Yet here we were. Berhalter really looked at Joe Scally, the Borrussia Moenchen Gladbach right back whose sterling performances against Alphonso Davies of all people elevated him to national awareness. And he really looked at the rugged and dependable veteran DeAndre Yedlin, a guy with actual world cup experience. And he thought, “nope, I’m going with Moore!” It’s indefensible.

This team is too talented to be saddled with the brutal ineptness of Berhalter’s in-game management. Once again, yes, the team qualified with him as coach, and ADVANCED with him as coach. But it’s becoming more and more clear that any success this team attains will be in spite of him, not led by him.

Not for the first time today, I hope I’m wrong.

USMNT Player Ratings – USA vs. England

It will be interesting writing this piece while still digesting the US’ 0-0 draw with global soccer powerhouse, England. On one hand, you’d likely have signed in blood on the dotted line if someone told you beforehand the Americans would play England to a draw. On the other, despite England having a possession edge, the US had the better of the scoring opportunities, and generally bossed the midfield. So let’s take a look at how our individual performers did on the pitch, using our standard 1-10 scale with a half-point system to be used arbitrarily at my whim. What???

GK Matt Turner – 7.5

Possibly Turner’s best game in the shirt. Had to be alert to palm Mason Mount’s goalbound effort late in the first half around the post. Was strong and aggressive coming off his line on crosses. And his distribution, still clearly the weakest part of his game, was notably better than it was against Wales. As has seemingly become expected for him, he still had one WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING moment late in the game when he inexplicably began to dribble the ball up the field with English strikers ready to pounce like sharks with blood in the water, but overall he’s become a quite a good goalie.

LB Antonee Robinson – 8.0

England’s dynamic duo of Buyako Saka and Jude Bellingham did virtually nothing on the right side for England. This is largely because Jedi shut them down, no small feat. And he did this while also marauding relentlessly forward on the left wing. Impressively, his pace never slowed, even after 90 minutes. His final ball remains shit, but at least we already knew this, and also know it won’t improve. It doesn’t matter. He went toe to toe with some of the best attackers in the world and came out on top every time. He played like a world-class left back in this one.

CB Tim Ream – 7.0

It still flummoxes me that Ream wasn’t a lock to make the roster. The steady veteran has provided solid defense and on-field leadership for a young US side, and held his own against Harry Kane – much like he holds his own against the Premier League’s best forwards for Fulham every weekend. Allowed Kane to get inside his front shoulder on a late England free kick, but still managed to put off the prolific scorer enough to make him steer his header wide. Another solid performance from the team’s elder statesman.

CB Walker Zimmerman – 4.0

It’s fair to ask at this point if the stage is too big for Zimmerman. After conceding a brutal penalty to cost the team a win against Wales, he turned the ball over in bad spots at least half a dozen times against an English team you probably shouldn’t turn the ball over against in ANY spot. Did well marking on set pieces and was his usual dependable self in the air, but Berhalter has to be considering a change to Cam Carter-Vickers for the Iran match on Tuesday. There’s too much at stake to let Zimmerman just figure it out.

RB Sergino Dest – 7.0

Overall, a good performance from Dest. You can see glimpses of what could make him one of the world’s elite right backs – blinding runs forward into space, 100 yard mad dashes to track back on defense, razor’s edge cuts to turn into the opposition 18 yard box… and then the final product, not unlike his partner on the left Robinson, is lacking. Either he inexplicably doesn’t run at his off-balance defender or sends his cross wayward and harmlessly into oblivion. On defense, he needs to close down more closely. But what he really needs is not to ride the pine for his club team. He’s too good, and needs the experience.

CDM Tyler Adams – 9.0

Man of the match, and it wasn’t particularly close. Didn’t put a single foot wrong, ran endlessly, and looks 100% the part of team captain on the pitch. He’s the very definition of irreplacable. I’m not sure the announcers called Declan Rice’s name a single time today. You could wish he was more of an impact guy on offense, but now you’re just getting greedy.

CM Yunus Musah – 5.5

Musah works about as hard and covers as much ground as anyone on the field – mostly because his first touch is so bad that he’s constantly having to chase the ball down. Am I being harsh on him? He put in a tough-tackling, responsible shift after all. The ceiling for Musah is immense, but in the short term, he has to make quicker decisions. He doesn’t look at all out of place on the field in terms of skill, but he too often hesitates when a window to shoot presents itself, and waits too long to release his outside runners. Should correct itself with experience, but he should see the bench against Iran in favor of Gio Reyna.

LM Christian Pulisic – 7.5

One of his better performances in recent memory. I’m usually hard on him, mainly because he generally leaves me severely wanting with his shifts, but he was good today. Rattled the crossbar on a superb shot that beat Cal Pickford cleanly, uncharacteristically delivered at least half a dozen well struck corner kicks into the England box, and most impressively of all, defended expertly. When you think Pulisic, you never think “where would we be without his defense,” but he constantly blew up English passing lanes today and was a big reason they rarely threatened the US goal. Now if he could just stop waiting so damn long to release his runners. Pass the damn ball already, son…

RM Weston McKennie – 7.5

Rare is the player who blends physicality, athleticism, and skill like McKennie. One of the few players on the US side who can single-handly take over a game. And he had moments of doing just that. He gets dinged today for larruping a golden chance from 12 yards well over the goal in the first half, and failing to get on the end of any crosses/set pieces – an area in which he usually excels.

FW Haji Wright – 5.5

Can’t fault the work rate and the willingness to defend from the front, but apart from a couple of nice hold up plays, he was too often a non-factor, something that can be said about the USMNT center forwards as a whole fairly consistently. Could have done better than ten feet off frame with a first half headed borderline opportunity. Should probably start the Iran game on the pine in favor of the more creative Diego Ferreira.

FW Tim Weah – 6.0

Look, he wasn’t bad by any stretch. Had the one good cross that McKennie wasted, and spent a lot of time in possession on the right side, but rarely did that turn into anything. Some of this wouldn’t be his fault necessarily, but still. He also, like most attacking players on the USMNT, needs to run at defenders more. He has plenty of skill to beat guys one on one, and potentially win penalties, but he tends to wait too long for things to develop.

SUBS

Brenden Aaronson – 5.0

Ran hard, as usual, to destinations unknown. Made a nice interception to thwart an English attack late on. It’s fun to think about what he could do if he refined his offensive skillset a little bit but at this stage of his career, he’s probably a defensive sub. Since he won’t use his speed to run at defenders, you can take advantage of the fact that he treats his defense as required rather than optional.

Shaq Moore – 2.0

Came on for Dest and was appalling. Turnovers, reckless fouls, hesitation in a moment of opportunity. He’s just not an international quality player on any level. If he sees the field again this tournament when better options like Joe Scally are available, it will be dereliction of duty by Berhalter.

Josh Sargent – N/A

Came on late for Wright and I’m not sure he touched the ball. It won’t have been for lack of trying but there’s just nothing to base a rating on.

Gio Reyna – 5.0

Only got maybe 7 minutes, but looked tidy in possession. Combined with Pulisic to inexplicably let the clock run out at the end of the game instead of launching a hail mary cross into the box to try and find a last gasp winner.

COACH Gregg Berhalter – 5.0

Deserves credit for tweaking his formation after the Wales game, and giving Wright a start in a matchup that suited his strengths, even if it didn’t pan out in a goal. There remain two huge areas of concern with Beharlter. He hasn’t demonstrated the tactical awareness to counter any adjustments his opposing number makes, and he remains just brutally inept with his subs bench. Apart from Moore, who shouldn’t be in the 26 to begin with, you can’t quibble too much with the guys he sent on. But he simply waits way too long. And giving Reyna only 7 minutes at the very end of a winnable game after giving 0 minutes at the end of anothery very winnable game is borderline felonious. He must be better.

USMNT Player Ratings – USA vs. Wales

The U.S. will likely feel like they let an opportunity slip through their collective grasps today, letting Wales convert a late equalizer in a game the United States mostly controlled. As with all things, there are good and bad. Let’s take a look at how our individual performers rated on a scale of 1-10, with half points used when I can’t make up my damn mind.

GK Matt Turner – 5.5

Turner certainly isn’t to blame for the draw instead of the win. You got what you’d pretty much expect from him. Solid with his hands, unsure with his feet. Was alert to tip a goal-bound header over the bar as Wales pushed for an equalizer. He also guessed rigth on Gareth Bale’s equalizing spot kick, and while a lot has to go right for a goalie to save a penalty, Turner will correctly feel like he could have blocked it. Also forced Kellyn Acosta into taking a yellow to prevent Bale from attempting a second from just inside midfield after he charged wildly out of his goal to attempt a headed clearance which… didn’t clear very far.

LB Antonee Robinson – 6.0

As he usually does, Jedi marauded relentlessly up the left wing, and as he usually does, provided piss poor delivery on the final ball into the box. He tracked back well on defense and was rarely if at all beaten by his man. Were he a better passer, he could easily have had a massive impact. As it is, he’s not, and you get what you get. A committed and solid effort with wonders of what could have been.

CB Walker Zimmerman – 3.5

One play does not in itself often define a game. Unless, of course, that one play is a reckless and unnecessary challenge from behind on a player with little to no chance of scoring that turns what should be a win into a nervy draw. Apart from this one play, in which he was lucky to avoid a yellow card as insult to injury, Zimmerman was his usual solid self. You just can’t recklessly give up penalties like that.

CB Tim Ream – 8.5

Hardly put a foot wrong all game. Astute in positioning, decisive but smart on the tackle, and accurate with his distribution, you really got to see why fans of the USMNT were clamoring for him to be selected by Gregg Berhalter. Now that he has been, and put in a sterling performance in the first game, you can expect him to be ever-present barring injury.

RB Sergino Dest – 6.0

Wasn’t as much of his usual threatening self on the right wing, and took a stupid early yellow card that could have proven disastrous to the US, he was nonetheless solid, and worked hard. Had a decent look at goal from about 22 yards early on in the game, but larruped it about 15 feet over the goal into Row Z. You know what they say about defenders and finishing…

CDM Tyler Adams – 7.5

Made a number of well-timed and important tackles, especially in the second half as Wales pressed for an equalizer. Adams is quietly skillful and a good passer, but if one can take issue with an otherwise excellent performance, he invariably elects to play the safe pass rather than attempt a through-ball onto the feet of a streaking attacker.

CM Weston McKennie – 5.0

Maybe this is harsh, but the usually dynamic McKennie had little impact on the game. Granted, the set piece service from the US was abysmal as usual, so we didn’t get to see him contend for much in the air, where he’s usually outstanding. Like his teammate Dest, took a brutally unnecessary yellow card on a cynical tackle from behind early in the game that may have impacted his aggression throughout.

CM Yunus Musah – 6.0

The youngster started slowly with some brick-footed first touches, but ultimately grew into the game well enough. Ended up being in some good spots on the attack, but because nobody on this team wants to try the aggressive pass, wasn’t utilized enough. Also tracked back well on defense, and there’s always something to be said for that level of commitment, especially from a teenager.

LAM Christian Pulisic – 5.5

His brilliantly weighted through-ball to Weah led directly the US goal. It was an outstanding pass. Other than that, he spent lots of time in possession, even more time than that complaining to the referee, and delivered shitty corner kicks that are unfit for the World stage. If one play summed up why he remains one of the most frustrating figures in US soccer, it’s this one: The US was on the counter after a pressing Wales side turned it over, still up 1-0. Josh Sargent made a 100 yard run at full bore into acres of space where any pass in his vicinity gives him a great chance to salt the game away. Inexplicably, Pulisic slammed on the brakes, veered back toward his own side of the field, and played a pass back to one of the US defenders. Chance gone.

RAM Tim Weah – 8.0

His outside of the boot finish off Pulisic’s through-ball required so much more skill than any casual observer would note. It was a brilliant finish. Weah consistently caused problems for the Welsh defense, and was one of the few US players who would deliver anything resembling a useful cross. Also defended responsibly and intelligently. If you could quibble about one thing, a man with his skill needs to run at defenders in the box. He’s always a threat to draw a penalty kick, but that only works if you… well, try.

F Josh Sargent – 6.0

His early well-taken header bashed against the post, otherwise his score could be quite higher. It was also his well-played hold up that led to Pulisic’s through-ball on Weah’s goal. Unfortunately, the rest of his game came down to making runs that either his teammates didn’t feel like trying to pick him out on, or watching as a dozen set piece attempts got nowhere near him in the box. Hard to mark a guy off when he did little wrong, but you either get the ball or you don’t. He didn’t.

SUBS

Brenden Aaronson – 5.0

Came on for an exhausted McKennie and did his usual bit of running hard with no real destination in mind. Also whiffed on a wide open header – and I mean, there wasn’t anyone on the Wales defense closer to him than I am to you right now – and he missed it all together. Could have been the match winner. To give him credit, he hustled back on defense, and did his part to make sure Wales didn’t have any good looks at a potential winner.

DeAndre Yedlin – 5.0

Came on for Dest, and while I have no qualms with the rugged veteran’s inclusion in the squad, he’s not the guy you bring on when you’re still chasing a win. He did get forward and attempt a few crosses, but with an open look at goal from about 20 yards, he elected to float one far post that eluded everyone and ended up in a harmless goal kick. It’s not his fault he was the wrong guy brought in, but it is what it is.

Kellyn Acosta – 6.0

Calm and composed after he came on for Musah. Musah had been out of gas for a minute already so his arrival was overdue. Exactly as you would expect from him, he was responsible defensively, solid in possession, and made a brilliant tactical foul on Gareth Bale to prevent him from attempting a long range winner into the gaping US net, vacated by Matt Turner’s moment of madness. For some reason, he allowed Pulisic to take a late corner kick despite being by miles the best the US have in that department, and Pulisic being among the worst. Half point penalty for that, even if it wasn’t his decision. Hey, nobody said this would be fair.

Haji Wright – 6.0

Replaced the hard-working Sargent, and immediately made a nuisance of himself in the Wales box. Never got any real clean looks on goal, but it isn’t hard to see that he’s in good form for his club, and maybe should be in consideration for an earlier arrival from the subs bench than he got.

Jordan Morris – 6.0

A sentimental favorite, Morris made his World Cup maiden appearance late on, replacing Weah. Won possession a couple of times on the right wing, and tried to be positive with his play. Another for whom it could be argued his introduction came a few minutes too late. Now, on the flip side, Morris is no Gio Reyna. And when Morris was introduced as the fifth and final US sub, it cemented that Reyna, who is probably the US’ most dangerous player, wouldn’t see the field. Maybe he picked up a knock, in which case this is understandable. But barring that, it’s massive tactical blunder from Berhalter.

COACH Gregg Berhalter – 3.5

It’s not Berhalter’s fault that Zimmerman made an awful tackle to concede the penalty. It’s also not his fault that the majority of the referee’s decisions went against the US. He also started a very solid group of 11, including Tim Ream, acknowledging what we all have known for the last six months – omitting the Fulham captain would be a criminal error. But, the decision to park the bus in the second half instead of chasing a second goal was inexplicable. Waited too long to sub off tired US legs, and when he finally did, it amounted to a concession that the US would gladly take a draw. The man got this team qualified, which is more than what can be said for his predecessor, but this is the most talented team the US has ever sent to a major tournament. Failure to escape the group stages will be a fireable offense, and after today’s second half shit show, it’s hard to see this team doing enough against England to make the Iran match matter.

Who Should Be The USMNT Starting 11?

It’s a burning question. We probably know the answer to who will start for the U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter surely has his favorites, his doghouse residents, and a shitty system he’s married to that is a lousy match for the skillsets of his player pool. But if the choice was made on things like merit, form, common sense and win probability added, that lineup would look different and everyone knows it. So who would they be?

First, some housekeeping. Why Berhalter doesn’t do this is beyond me but in order to maximize the output of what’s available, you have to play a formation that is a modified 5-3-1-1 or 5-3-2, with two wing backs making up 40% of the defense, with the remaining 60% comprised of three center-backs. More on this in a moment.

GK: Ethan Horvath, Luton Town

Berhalter seems committed to Matt Turner, who barely plays at Arsenal, and when healthy, Zack Steffen. Steffen is a decent keeper, but blunder-prone which you simply can’t have on the big stage. Turner is an ok shot-stopper but has poor hand position and is consistently late to set his feet. Horvath is unspectacular, and while he may not steal any games for you, he certainly won’t give them away either.

Also in consideration: No one. The goalie pool is shallow. Sean Johnson is ok, Gaga Slonina has promise but is barely 18. It’s Horvath or bust.

LCB: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic

We’re assuming a return to health for CCV here, but he was clearly the best defender in Scotland last year, and is a set it and forget it central defender. As well-rounded as defenders come, he’s a must start if fit.

CB: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC

Everpresent in the center of the U.S. defense, he’s the glue that holds the back line together. Formidable in the air and cerebral on the turf, he’s a throwback to the big center backs of old.

RCB: Tim Ream, Fulham

Now, this won’t happen, but it should. Yes, he’s old, but that hasn’t stopped him from being virtually ever-present for Fulham this season in the Premier League. You may or may not have noticed, but the steady veteran’s consistent performances have been a huge contributor to Fulham’s surprisingly solid start to the season.

Other Options: Chris Robinson is just about International quality. But the drop off to Erik Palmer Brown is steep. Precipitously steep. Best to run with these three as far as they’ll take you.

LWB: Jedi Robinson, Fulham

Playing three center backs can really allow the U.S. to take full advantage of Robinson’s attacking prowess. His speed and recovery make him an adequate defender but the U.S. is at its most threatening when he and (spoiler alert) Sergino Dest are marauding up their respective wings. Robinson’s final ball is abysmal, but he still causes all kinds of havoc.

RWB: Sergino Dest, AC Milan

He needs to get healthy, and he needs to get game time, but hes a dynamic threat on the wing. Like Jedi on the other wing, playing three center backs allows Dest to attack more freely, and he’s always a threat when running with the ball at his feet.

Other Options: None, really. Joe Scally is a nice talent, and DeAndre Yedlin a dependable veteran on a very young team, but neither move the attack on either wing like Jedi and Dest.

DCM: Tyler Adams, Leeds

His start in the EPL has been inauspicious but he’s a no nonsense, tough tackling stud in holding midfield. If he recaptures his Bundesliga form, he’s as good of a player as the U.S. have. If healthy, or not on yellow card accumulation suspension, he’s a fixture.

LCM: Christian Pulisic, Chelsea

The USMNT’s most recognizable star is a polarizing figure in soccer circles, but he’s a one-of-a-kind in the U.S. player pool. He disappears for long stretches on occasion but he’s never much more than an opportunity away from a big goal.

RCM: Tim Weah, Lille

Weah is a tough player to describe. He’s skillful and dynamic, but what you really need him for is his explosiveness. Capable of putting the defense consistently on its heels, he’s a threat to score for a team that doesn’t have a ton of pure scoring threats.

Other Options: Luca De La Torre and Yunus Musah are both talented centrally oriented midfielders but are probably best left on the subs bench if all other options are fit.

AM: Gio Reyna, Borussia Dortmund

We’re not just assuming health here, we’re praying for it. Fit, he’s the team’s best player. Nobody knows it because he’s spent so much time injured but the kid is a damn magician with the ball. The finishing product could be better but he draws so much attention in the attack, he’s an assist waiting to happen. His presence might make the difference between a group stage exit and a round of 16 appearance.

Other Options: Brendan Aaronson is a favorite of Berhalter, which of course he is because… never mind. Anyway, I’ve come around a little on Aaronson. I used to scream bloody murder at his inability to keep formation and reckless runs into no man’s land. Now, I appreciate his relentless hustle and willingness to chase even lost causes, even if his finishing is dreadful. If he could learn to run at defenders with the ball at his feet, he’d win a penalty every other game.

ST: Jordan Pefok, Union Berlin

Probably the only true center forward the U.S. has. Pefok is in nice form for the German upstarts, and while he’s prone to blasting sitters into row zed, he’s also a consistent threat to get behind the defense. Scoring for the U.S. will take the whole village, but Pefok is the most in form striker in the pool.

Other Options: Ricardo Pepi is off to a nice start in Groningen, but he’ll have to show it for more than a few games in order to head the pecking order at striker again.

Well, how did we do? Who would you start if the decision was yours? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports. Thanks for reading.

The USMNT Has a Goalie Problem

Over the last three decades, the United States mens team has cycled through various weaknesses that have kept it on the outside looking in at the world’s elite programs. But goalie has always been a strength. The steady hands of fellas like Casey Keller, Brad Friedl, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and even the few cameos made by MLS stalwarts like Nick Rimando always gave the team at least a fighting chance to hang with the powerhouses.

And now, with more and more players making the leap to, and playing significant minutes in Europe, the U.S. is in theory supposed to have its best crop of goalkeepers yet. The reality, however, is that they don’t. Even though Zack Steffen and Matt Turner are on the books at two of England’s biggest clubs, they have given fans, let alone coach Greg Berhalter, no reason for confidence. Third choice and Gold Cup hero Ethan Horvath would seem to be an option, but he can’t unseat Brice Samba at Nottingham Forest. The youth ranks include highly rated Gaga Slonina, but Poland came calling and he may very soon no longer be an option.

Oddest of all, this is rapidly becoming a five alarm fire, and nobody is talking about it. They really need to be.

Let’s start with Steffen. In his most recent high profile game, he dilly dallied in possession, allowing Sadio Mane to disposess him directly into the net, essentially sealing Manchester City’s FA Cup semifinal defeat. Now, everyone is human and even the world’s finest keepers like Jan Oblak and Thibault Courtois have had moments they’d rather forget. But it’s becoming a pattern with Steffen in big games. In last year’s FA Cup he horribly misjudged a through ball, allowing Chelsea’s Timo Werner and Hakim Zayech to combine for an easy winning goal. In the World Cup qualifying loss to Costa Rica, in which the U.S. sealed their ticket to Qatar anyway, he was caught on his heels with his hands at his sides on Juan Pablo Vargas’ well-taken header to open the scoring. While it would have taken a solid save to keep the ball out of the net, a goalie has to at least be in position to try, which Steffen wasn’t. The sting was worsened by Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas making a string of excellent reaction saves to keep the game scoreless up to that point.

The U.S. was still controlling possession and had the lion’s share of the attacking chances but the game was then put out of reach after another Steffen error, this one a brutal blunder in which he failed to hang on to a harmless cross, leading to a scramble and an ultimately easy tap in for Costa Rica to double their lead.

If Matt Turner has been better, it’s only by a slim margin. When the U.S. traveled to Canada in World Cup qualifying, a match they should have had designs on winning considering the absence of the world class Alphonso Davies, it was Turner who failed to get set on Cyle Larin’s opening goal. While Larin’s shot was well-hit, the replay showed Turner would get his fingertips on the ball despite not being able to muster any kind of a dive. An awful error? No, but once again, the pain was made worse later on in the game when Canada’s Milan Borjan produced a beautiful one-handed parry of Weston McKennie’s goalbound header to preserve Canada’s lead. Lev Yashin himself could have done nothing to prevent Canada’s stoppage time 2-0 strike, but it was nearly academic anyway as a few minutes earlier, Turner nearly gifted a goal to the Canadians by fumbling a completely harmless shot right into the path of an oncoming striker, who somehow contrived to smash the ball right back into Turner.

The U.S. is getting better, no doubt. But if they want to progress farther than they ever have come Qatar, they will need their goalkeeping to steal them a game, as Tim Howard so nearly did against Belgium in 2014, but for Chris Wondolowski to blast over when scoring seemed easier. Right now, their goalkeeping looks more likely to lose them a game than win them one.

There isn’t an easy solution. There’s no explanation why Horvath hasn’t gotten a shot at it. Chituru Odunze and the aforementioned Slonina may very well be too young for the big stage. It’s possible an MLS veteran like Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid could step up, but neither looks great so far this season.

One thing there is as a silver lining is time. The games don’t start tomorrow. Someone can step to the forefront and stand out. But step one is for Berhalter and company to admit there’s a problem. And they haven’t, and likely won’t.

Got a solution we haven’t thought of? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

The MLB Lockout: Stop Giving the Players a Pass

There’s a quote attributed to Charles Baudelaire, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Well, the MLB Players Association may have once again managed to achieve its equal by convincing the virtual unanimity of baseball fans that the owners are the ones solely to blame for the lockout. Then again, your average MLB fan is an easy mark. We do, after all, cheer for the players to perform on the field, not the owners. And when we don’t get that, it must be the evil owners’ collective fault, right?

Now, before you begin to interpret this as some kind of sympathy piece on the plight of the MLB franchise owner, let’s clear a couple of things up. The owners are in fact a greedy bunch. They absolutely want to pay players as little as they have to. But what business owner doesn’t? Why do you think the guy who owns the local pub pays his service staff minimum wage or close to it? Because people will work for it. Same thing with the local MacDonald’s franchise owner. Same thing with the hardware store. Same thing with the insurance company.

Let me tell you a story for context. Years ago, I was working for an insurance company, making about 60 grand a year. I wasn’t sad about it. It was a decent job, I had a decent boss, great friends at the office, a short commute, most things you could want in a job when you’re fairly young with not a ton of responsibilities. Then my decent boss left for greener pastures. Then the creative director of my department did too. I inherited the entirety of his role, but with no bump in title or pay. Ok, I thought. I will prove that I can handle this, and THEN the bumps will come. So I worked my ass off. Then our coordinator, the guy whose sole responsibility was to ship stuff where it needed to go, made so many mistakes that he was eventually stripped of all responsibility. Why wasn’t he fired? Well, he was the NEW boss’s first hire, and the new boss was terrified of looking bad on that, and just about everything else. (He was otherwise a decent fella who treated those who reported to him nicely. And sadly, raises were not approved by him – those went through his boss.) Guess who had to take that job over, while the coordinator’s role was reduced to watching old boxing matches on YouTube, and occasionally representing the department at an event (a role in which, to be fair, he was excellent). You guessed it. Suddenly, my job I enjoyed was wearing on me. The overtime was oppressive, and I admittedly didn’t handle the stress as well as I could have. I once again asked for a raise, and was told I needed to improve certain areas of my performance to justify it, despite consistently excellent annual reviews. Fast forward a couple of years, my wife and I are expecting our first child. I once again ask for a raise, and am told that my request would be reviewed at my annual review. My child is soon born, and my insurance premiums go up by $400 a month. I cut back my overtime so I can actually be a father to my newborn. They hire a new person that reports to me, but gets paid $4500 a year more than I do. At review, it’s held against me that I cut back my overtime. “Questionable dedication to the company” were the words used. Did I mention the creative director that left a while back had a salary of $115,000 a year? So, way too late, which is absolutely my fault, I decide to leave. I will find a new job so my growing family can maintain a roof over its head. So I did. Within a few months, I got an offer for a position with a new company paying approximately $17,000 a year more, with superior insurance benefits for $450 a month LESS than at the current place. For the final time, I went directly to the VP who approved the raises for my department and told him the exact number I needed to earn. He laughed at me and said, “We value your contributions but you have no leverage to ask for that kind of raise. You have a family to support and you have a stable job here. If you want to keep it stable, you should probably be more self-aware of your situation.” So I handed him my letter of resignation. I anticipated his response, maybe not verbatim, but the end result anyway. If I was wrong and he agreed with me, I could always shred it and no one would know. But that isn’t what happened.

Why did I tell you that story? Because nearly everyone has one like it. Nearly everyone has worked somewhere where they are underpaid, taken for granted, underappreciated, pick your adjective and change some of the details, and that is likely YOUR story. Maybe you handled it better than I did. Maybe you realized your situation more quickly than I did. But the majority of people just take it (like I did for far too long) because they fear change, value stability, whatever you want to call it. And these same people are up in arms that owners don’t want to pay guys who make ten million a year, twice that. They are up in arms that the league minimum is hovering around half a million, instead of twice that. Because how is a rookie in his early 20s supposed to survive on only half a million? How can any player in the entirety of baseball claim they are underpaid with a straight face? Yes, I know, some guy who outperforms the average player but earns less than him can technically, and by definition, argue it. But let’s get real.

I digress. Let’s take a look at why virtually all the arguments in favor of the players with this lockout are trash.

There are no small market teams. ALL owners are BILLIONAIRES!

False and true. There are small market teams. It’s an easy calculation of revenue. What do the Kansas City Royals get in revenue annually compared to the Yankees or Dodgers? Fan attendance? Jersey sales? I mean, I could do the research and get you the exact dollar amount, but why bother? We both know the result of that search, Mr. or Mrs. Reader. But are all owners billionaires? Yeah, maybe in terms of net worth. But most owners of MLB franchises are not just owners of those franchises. Their MLB franchise is ONE of their assets – one of their business ventures. And they are under no obligation to run it at a loss. Rich people got rich by running businesses at a profit, and investing wisely. The notion that they should abandon those business principles because some teams are perennially shitty is absurd. They are in this to make money. Just like the shitty owners at your job that could pay you $5 an hour more and not even notice it on their bottom lines, but don’t. Why? Because they don’t have to.

Minor league conditions for players are unlivable!

YES! Great energy there. And the majority of MLB owners really are dog shit for how they approach minor league compensation, housing, nutrition, etc. The problem is, you don’t care about that. There are organizations out there like Advocates for Minor Leaguers fighting the good fight to improve lives for those players. But when you suddenly posit this as an argument against owners, it’s disingenuous because all you care about is your MLB team’s owner ponying up enough money to compete for elite free agents. So kindly save the virtue signaling.

I don’t have a pithy quote for this but this is for the advanced statistics and metrics nerds.

Full disclosure, to a degree I am one of these nerds. But without fail, the loudest advocates for the players are the Moneyball believers that will denigrate your right to fandom if you don’t adopt WRC+ as the be all end all of metrics when it comes to an offensive player’s value. But when suddenly that metric and other ones like it for pitching and what have you become the justification for teams paying rookies the league minimum instead of mediocre veterans tens of millions, where does that leave you? On an island. Without an argument that holds water. Can’t have it both ways, pal.

Owners exploit guys like Wander Franco with below market deals when they could be worth so much more!

Sure. Exploiting them with 200 million dollar contracts. A kid who came from nothing will now, no matter what happens, will be able to provide for his great great great grandchildren is being exploited. No matter if he suffers a horrible career ending injury, he will have 200 million dollars to live off of. Sure, you can make an argument that the Braves got a ridiculous bargain with Ozzie Albies and his 35 million dollar contract. I agree wholeheartedly. But he chose guaranteed generational financial security in the immediate with the potential for hundreds of millions more in free agency while still youngish over gambling on…what? Staying healthy so he could get hundreds of millions a few years earlier? People making $12 an hour at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts are making these arguments. Hashtag perspective and shit.

I pay $16 for a beer at the stadium! So my owner can pinch pennies!?

No, asshole. You pay $16 for a beer because Max Scherzer can make $45 million a year. And look, I don’t begrudge Scherzer that money. This is baseball economy, he’s in the top three pitchers of this generation, and he earned it. But let’s be honest. Does Scherzer NEED that money? Is he hurting? What if, hypothetically, there was a salary cap in place, and the max he could make was $20 million a year? The vast majority of Major League Baseball players will serve the highest bidder, regardless. They’ll tell you tales about wanting to win and this and that. But let’s be honest. There are maybe 8 teams that have a chance to win the World Series in 2022. All of them would gladly pay Scherzer $20 million to pitch for them. The Mets have zero chance of winning the World Series. They will struggle to make the playoffs to begin with. Scherzer is a man who is trying to maximize his own personal value. Just like the owners…

I just care about baseball…

No you don’t. Shut the fuck up. You are after Twitter clout, because that one woman you have your creepy eye on will finally give you attention if you virtue signal enough. If what you wanted was baseball on the field, you would advocate for adults on both sides (who make more money in one year than you will in your lifetime) to meet in good faith and reach amicable conclusions.

Hey man, underpaid is underpaid!

No. It isn’t. Teachers are underpaid. Firefighters are underpaid. Grown men playing a child’s game that will make them millionaires, in many cases hundreds of times over, are not underpaid. They work part time. Six months out of the year. And before you hit me with the, “oh it’s a year round thing, they have to stay in shape!” Seriously, shut the fuck up. We ALL need to stay healthy and in shape if we don’t want to die early. It’s working out for an hour a day, a few days a week.

In conclusion…

The owners are greedy bastards. The players are greedy bastards. You make five figures. You’re arguing in favor of making your own parking, ticket, beer and memorabilia prices go up. For the love of God… just stop.

And hey, now that I’ve pissed you off, follow me on Twitter at @thestainsports. I love you! Thanks for reading.

Player Ratings: USA vs Mexico

The last time I wrote one of these, I was less than complimentary of most of the squad. There’s no bigger enemy to the USMNT than Mexico, and I have to admit, I was a little worried about whether the young US team would be up to the task and pressure. I was also worried that Greg Berhalter would pull some nonsense. Happy to admit I was wrong. Without further ado, here are today’s player ratings on the standard 1-10 scale, with half points available when I can’t make up my mind.

Coach Greg Berhalter: 7.0

One of the skipper’s best games as the team’s coach. He picked ten of the best 11 available to him to start the match, the only outlier being Brendan Aaronson. He stuck with the young guys later in the game when he usually subs them out after 60 minutes or so. Not subbing Aaronson off sooner was poor, but he did little else wrong.

GK Zack Steffen: 8.0

The Manchester City number 2 is probably my USMNT number 3, behind Ethan Horvath and Matt Turner, but he was excellent today. He made a huge first half save on Herving Lozano to keep the game scoreless, and otherwise got his hands on everything else that got close. He could be more authoritative with his punches on set pieces, but tonight is not the night to quibble.

D DeAndre Yedlin: 7.0

You always worry a little that the rugged wing back is going to do something dumb and get an early yellow card, compromising him for the rest of his time on the pitch. He didn’t offer a ton offensively, but won several key challenges to shut down Mexican attacks. His most important moment was his last ditch hustle challenge on Lozano’s first half opportunity to put him off just enough that maybe he had to rush his attempted finish just a little. Solid display from the veteran.

D Myles Robinson: 6.5

A late red card, the result of a correctly called second yellow after a stupid first yellow early on, marred an otherwise sterling effort by the young Atlanta United center back. You’d like to see more composed distribution from the rear, but he was impeccable in the air tonight.

D Walker Zimmerman: 9.0

One of two candidates for man of the match, he played the best game of his career for the shirt, in what’s probably the biggest game of his career. Steady, intelligent, committed, he was brilliant. If he can do this consistently, he won’t be in Nashville for long.

D Antonee Robinson: 7.5

Always a threat on the left wing, the Fulham defender put in a relentless shift. It wasn’t always sophisticated, but he ran endlessly, tracked back on defense, and it was only subpar final balls that blemished an otherwise excellent shift from Robinson. He’s a deserved mainstay in the US defense.

MF Yunus Musah: 5.5

Not a great showing from the kid. Also not terrible. He, as he usually does, had flashes of individual brilliance, but turned the ball over multiple times in midfield, hammered a quality scoring chance into row Z, took a dive in an attempt to deceive the referee rather than have a shot while in a dangerous position. He’s a headache for opposing defenses, and should continue to start, but he’ll want to be better than he was tonight.

MF Tyler Adams: 8.0

Customary excellence from the captain. Mexico never was able to attain any comfort in midfield possession and it’s largely because Adams didn’t let them. He’s simply a world class holding midfielder. His presence allows the US creative engine to operate. There probably isn’t a more important player to the team.

MF Weston McKennie: 7.5

His second half goal put the game on ice. Ran tirelessly and maybe deserved a better rating. Nearly had a goal earlier if not for a nice reaction save from Memo Ochoa. He was a little bit too easy to dispossess on multiple occasions, and his first touch let him down a few times, so there’s room for growth, but there was far more good than bad today. He’s a star.

F Timothy Weah: 9.0

A star is born, but let’s be honest, we all knew it was in there. Like Zimmerman, this was Weah’s best game for the USMNT. A constant threat on the ball, always looking to create, he has the makings of a superstar. Beat a quality player in Jesus Gallardo one on one to set up Pulisic’s game winner. Was everpresent in tracking back on defense. Berhalter left him in until his legs were ready to fall off, and he earned every second. No amount of praise for his performance tonight would be enough.

F Ricardo Pepi: 5.5

He certainly tried hard, and in true center forward form tried to create shots out of nothing, but it wasn’t there for him tonight. Didn’t do a whole lot wrong, but you need your center forward to be more of a presence, especially against Mexico’s suspect center back duo. Nothing to worry about. Better performances will come. He’s the number 9 whenever he’s fit.

F Brendan Aaronson: 3.0

It’s difficult not to pull for him because of his absurd effort level. He pursues relentlessly, chases lost causes, and gives it every ounce of his being for every second he’s on the field. The problem is he isn’t a good soccer player. He shatters offensive shape with wildly ineffective runs, tries trickery when simplicity would be better, and turns the ball over too much. Way too much. I never thought I would say this, but the US is far better off with Paul Arriola. Neither is international quality, but Arriola is at least a steady veteran who will run to the right places.

The substitutes

Christian Pulisic: 8.0

Came on for the final 25 minutes and scored the winner. There’s such a difference in quality when the oft-injured winger is on the field. Also helped well with composed defending while the US protected their lead late on. He’s world class, and we saw it again tonight. Now do it for 90 instead of 25.

Kellyn Acosta: N/A

Not on the field long enough to get a rating, but that’s a good thing. He’s the worst player in the US squad and shouldn’t be anywhere near it. Committed a stunningly idiotic foul seconds after coming on to help Mexico start an attack.

Chris Richards: N/A

Not on the field long enough to get a rating. Made a couple of solid headed clearances late on. Looked composed for the handful of minutes he played, and that’s a positive departure from the last time we saw him on the field.

Jesus Ferreira: N/A

Not on the field long enough to get a rating. Looked a bit jumpy and nervous. Lashed a late chance narrowly wide. But the commitment was there.

USMNT v Costa Rica US Player Ratings

The USMNT came into Columbus to face Costa Rica in as close to a must-win game as a team can have at this stage of World Cup qualifying, considering their humiliating performance against Panama last week. For these ratings, we’ll be using a standard 1-10 scale with half points available when I can’t make up my damn mind.

Coach Greg Berhalter: 3.0

It’s not a good look when you come into a vital fixture and your team immediately gives up a goal in the first minute. His tactics lack imagination, and far too frequently, the team ends up passing back to the goalie when having been in a threatening position. It’s brutal to watch. To give him credit where it’s due, he stayed with his effective players longer than against Panama, and didn’t repeat the calamitous mistake of subbing off Yunus Musah 20 minutes before he had to. Berhalter remains one of the worst coaches in CONCACAF, but at least this was slightly better from him.

GK Zack Steffen: 4.5

He was partially to blame for Costa Rica’s opener after a wild and unnecessary attempt at a headed clearance, though he was unfortunate that Tyler Adams played Costa Rica onside on Keysher Fuller’s opener. Didn’t have to do much else, but looked tentative on multiple late Costa Rica set pieces. He’s better than he showed, and US will need him to be better if they want to qualify.

LB Antonee Robinson: 5.5

One of the more skillful players on the pitch for the US, Robinson was assured in defense and marauded up the left wing with regularity. Sadly for the kid, the quality on his final ball was lacking every time. Every. Fucking. Time. He’s a star and only getting better, so one would think the consistent quality will come with more experience on the national stage.

LCB Chris Richards: 3.0

He’s just not an international quality player yet. Miles Robinson was the more calamitous of the two US center backs today, but Richards did a shit job communicating, and his distribution was atrocious. The US has better at their disposal, so it’s hopefully a short term problem.

RCB Miles Robinson: 1.0

He’ll want to forget this one. By far the worst player on the pitch for either side. Did nothing good, lots of bad, and now I have to explain to my five year old what “GET HIM THE FUCK OFF THE FIELD” means. His diabolical giveaway with the result still in doubt was only not a disaster because Bryan Ruiz runs about as fast as an ice skater in quicksand. He’s part of the future in the US defense, but the present leaves tons to be desired.

RB Sergino Dest: 7.5

Lest you think I’m just a cynic who slams everyone, Dest was a bright and shining star for today’s US side. His inch perfect strike brought the US level and he consistently caused problems for the Costa Rica defense with his inventiveness and relentlessness. The quality of his final pass was lacking at times too, and I also penalized him half a point because I can’t figure out how to put the tilda above the n in his name, and wasted like ten minutes trying to figure it out.

MF Yunus Musah: 7.5

The sky is the limit with this kid. Once again he was a menace for the US in midfield, consistently springing his wing backs free with perfect passes after drawing defenders to him. He’s willing to compete for 50-50 balls despite not being all that big. Simply put, he’s as vital to this US attack as Christian Pulisic is when the latter is healthy. If he lacked something today, it was aggression. He can run at guys, and a leaky Costa Rican defense presented the perfect opportunity.

MF Tyler Adams: 4.5

Adams is the backbone of the US midfield, and crucial to the team’s defensive efforts, especially considering the abysmal play by their center backs today. He played Costa Rica’s opener onside, and wasn’t his usual commanding self in the defensive center of midfield. His passing was mostly poor, but to his credit, he never failed to track back at full effort. Middling overall, and he can do better, and hopefully he does against Mexico.

MF Weston McKennie: 5.5

Always dangerous with the ball at his feet, McKennie covered a ton of ground and put in a maximum effort shift. The quality that you want on his passes wasn’t there, and he failed to get off any meaningful shots – turning the ball over while in advantageous position multiple times. But all in all, he helped a lot more than he hurt. As an aside here, I dinged him half a point because he too is prone to giving up on a threatening situation too quickly, and making a play that inevitably ends up as a back pass to the goalie six touches later.

F Brendan Aaronson: 4.5

Aaronson is maddening. On one hand, he has a flair about him and isn’t afraid to try things with the ball at his feet. He’ll run at defenders with abandon, and nothing is off the table in terms of creativity. On the other hand, he is prone to being out of control. And that’s what happened today. He tried a lot of stuff, and tried it hard. Not a lot, if any of it worked, but the effort was there. You’re not seeing the finished product with him yet, so he should remain in the side most matches. Hopefully some of that polish he needs comes in the qualification campaign. Apropos of nothing with this game, Aaronson reminds me a ton of Shane Long, the English striker who spent a bunch of time at West Ham. Not the most skillful of players, but never quit on a play, chased lost causes, and infused his side with energy. There’s no small amount of value in that.

F Ricardo Pepi: 5.0

The inevitable tap of the brakes with Pepi-mania had to happen. After how his first couple games went, I mean, come on. Now, the kid was nowhere near bad, and victimized by largely inaccurate crossing from his teammates, but at the end of the day you want your center forward to have impact. And today wasn’t that day. Subbed off late on and was gassed, so the energy expenditure was up to snuff, and again, there’s value there.

F Timothy Weah: 7.5

THERE it was! I’ve been waiting to see what the hype was about for a minute now, and we saw it tonight. Even before his cracking shot that resulted in the winning own goal, he was consistently involved in the offensive play. He used his body well to shield and win balls, and always seemed threatening with the ball at his feet. He was the total package. If there’s room for improvement in today’s performance, on several occasions he waited a little too long to lay the ball off to various teammates, resulting in a slow of momentum. Nothing to be even remotely concerned with – he’s still playing his way back into form after a lengthy injury layoff. If it wasn’t Dest, Weah would be man of the match.

The Subs

FB Deandre Yedlin: 6.5

It’s hard to grade a sub on just the fifteen minutes or so that he’s out there, and Yedlin is normally terrible, but today he shone in limited exposure. Sent in a few well placed crosses, provided good outlets in space to his teammates, and in general kept the Costa Rican defense off balance with his speed. Good showing from the veteran in a big game.

MF Gianluca Busio: 6.0

Came on late for a tiring Musah, and in general slotted seamlessly into the play. He’s another guy that’s just a kid in the big picture, so any rough edges we assume are going to get sanded with experience. He’s certainly not intimidated by the qualifying stage, and looked strong on the ball. My one complaint is he had a quality chance on goal to put the game out of reach, but clobbered an uncomposed shot harmlessly into the legs of a Costa Rican defender, when a fake and one extra touch may have had him alone against the keeper. Like Yedlin above, nothing to be ashamed of in his time on the pitch.

Gyasi Zardez: 7.0

This might be the role for him. Another guy who I think is generally just not good enough, he was the best of the US subs after coming on for Pepi. Thoroughly disinterested against Panama, Zardes threw his body into the game, competed fiercely for 50-50 balls, and defended responsibly on two late Costa Rica set pieces. If you can get 15 minutes like this from him, he’s worth a squad spot.

FB Walker Zimmerman: N/A

Was only on the field for a few moments, brought on for the specific purpose of marking a big Costa Rican attacker on a set piece, and managed to flub the assignment but to no penalty. Would be harsh to grade him on his one play, so we’ll leave it as N/A.

F Matthew Hoppe: N/A

Came on late for Weah. Made a couple decent plays, including a pseudo bicycle kick to keep a wayward cross in bounds, and hustled. Too limited of a sample size to issue a proper grade, but he certainly didn’t hurt anything by being on the field.

Overall: 5.0

Some bright moments today, by some bright talents, but if this team doesn’t want to get blown out by Mexico next game, 75% of the guys on the pitch have to be better, and not just by a little bit.

One For The Armchair Quarterbacks

It’s a tale as old as time. Laughably out of shape dude several beers down shouts at the television about what an idiot his NFL team’s head coach is. The retort is virtually always the same. “Oh, you think your fat ass could do it better?” Well, actually…

So here’s the thing. Most NFL coaches are so laughably bad at their jobs that they’d be fired instantly for equivalent performance in a “real life” job. Honestly, think about it. Let’s say you’re a project manager and you have a high visibility project due by the end of the week, and an employee to handle each key deliverable. However, instead of having the graphic designer do the art, and the copywriter do the writing, and the procurement specialist get the printing and production in order, you decide to have the meth head from the train tunnel do all three.

Now, there’s a lot that we don’t see that goes into a coach’s job. All those practices and video sessions on every other day of the week besides Sunday (or the odd Monday or Thursday) but literally not a single person gives a shit what goes on on anything other than game day. A team could spend every practice kicking each other in the nuts as hard as they can, and if the team won on game day, nobody would give a shit.

Unsaid here is that, in many cases, the plays are called by the Offensive Coordinator, so there’s some element of a buffer between the head coach and the play calling, but hey, the shit rolls uphill.

To be fair, the average Joe could never scheme up an offensive plan or philosophy that would work on a pro field. So we’ll give the actual coaches this one. But then, they’d never be able to score meth with the ruthless efficiency of the guy from the train tunnel either, so…

Back to the fun bit, why could your average Joe be a better coach than, say Ron Rivera? Well, let’s just take a look. On Sunday, the WFT took on a talented Buffalo Bills squad with an explosive offense and exploitable defense. It’s no secret that the WFT will live or die by its defense, but the do have a couple of explosive pieces on offense in the wildly talented Antonio Gibson and the criminally underappreciated Terry McLaurin. So naturally, to give his team the best chance to win, Rivera made sure to give the ball to his best offensive players as little as possible. Sound stupid? That’s because it is. Rivera has actually been reticent to include Gibson, who was a God damn RECEIVER in college, in the passing game at all, opting instead to use JD McKissic on all passing downs. To make matters worse, Gibson actually took a screen pass 73 yards for a score in the first half… and then didn’t see another pass all game. McLaurin? Only four receptions all game. Yes, the WFT was missing starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but that’s no excuse. Defenses can scheme ways to minimize a wide receiver’s impact (at the expense of course of leaving other guys wide open) but there’s no excuse for Gibson having only 14 touches. None. And this isn’t a one-off.

What about Nick Sirianni? I mean, anyone who saw that introductory press conference already knew… but good God… this guy isn’t a tool. He’s the entire shed. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’s essentially brand new to his job, the following is criminal. It took until midway through the second quarter for Miles Sanders to get his first carry. He finished the half with two. He finished the game with two. Coaching 101, when you face a high-flying offense, the best defense against them is to let them on the field as infrequently as possible. But no, against an exploitable but opportunistic defense, Sirianni decides to have Jalen Hurts heave the ball downfield and abandoned the run entirely. It’s immediately fireable.

It’s not limited to the guys we can all agree are laughing stocks. The Jacksonville Jaguars would never yeet Urban Meyer just three games into his tenure, but in a winnable game against the Cardinals on Sunday, James Robinson got only 15 carries. Yes, he also got six receptions, and 21 touches ain’t horrible but when you have a stud, feed him. More criminal than that, Laviska Shenault, the Jags’ most explosive playmaker, got a mere four touches. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been given free reign to heave the ball all over the field so far though, and the five interceptions the last two weeks is the proof.

Virtually everyone in the football world knows the Rams’ Sean McVay is a savant. The problem is, they never put the asterisk by savant to denote that it’s purely at designing schemes. Play calling is another story. He actually called a good game against Tampa Bay on Sunday but the previous week, with a chance to ice the game against the Colts on the road, he entirely shit the bed, as he’s done over and over with the Rams. The situation, it’s a late fourth quarter third and two, and the exhausted Colts defense hasn’t been able to stop the burly Sony Michel on something like six consecutive runs. So rather than sticking with what clearly was working, McVay called for a receiver sweep to Cooper Kupp that ended up losing five yards. Just because a play fails, however, doesn’t mean it was 100% the wrong call. But calling a play that can’t possibly succeed, such as a receiver sweep that goes 15 yards horizontally against a nine man front before it turns upfield, is stupefying. All’s well that ends well as the reliably Matt Gay made a field goal and the defense held, but it’s a pattern. Never mind the Superbowl loss to the Patriots, but the playoff miss of 2019 can be attributed to at least three losses McVay’s atrocious play calling exclusively caused. He’ll be the Rams coach for life if he wants to be, and that’s probably deserved considering he’s managed to bring success to a franchise that suffered through Jeff Fisher, but Jesus, man, let your offensive coordinator make the calls.

And then there’s Bill Belichick! Just kidding. He’s the GOAT.

David Culley… oh, you haven’t heard of him? Don’t blame you, neither have I. But he’s the Texans coach. With reliable veteran Tyrod Taylor at the helm, equally reliable veteran Mark Ingram got 26 carries in a bruising week 1 win. Fast forward to week 3, with Taylor injured and rookie Davis Mills at quarterback against a 2-0 Panthers team… 6 carries. It’s wild, isn’t it?

I could go on. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon. The Bengals somehow stuck with Marvin Lewis for two seasons in which they totaled…what, one win? Nobody in the history of football combined longevity and dumbfuckery quite like Jeff Fisher. Ask any Rams fan.

So this one’s for us, the doughy beer drinking armchair quarterbacks who think our favorite team’s coach is an idiot. We don’t just think it. They are.

MLB Needs to Change This Rule

How’s that for a title? Any idea what I’m talking about? If you don’t, in an era where the powers that be can’t help themselves, tinkering with ridiculousness under the laughably absurd false pretense that the games are too long. But hey, if you think they need robot umps for balls and strikes, I can’t really fault you. Home plate umpiring is terrible and only getting worse. If you think they need a universal DH, that’s ok. You can be wrong and still be a decent person.

But this isn’t about any of that. This is about the tragicomic way the recent Mets Marlins game ended, when Michael Conforto was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. You can check out Jomboy breaking it down here. Or for a quick recap, here’s what went down:

With the sacks packed in a tie game, Marlins reliever Anthony Bass threw a two strike slider to Conforto that was well in the strike zone. Conforto, possibly sensing he’d been beaten, leaned out and stuck his elbow pad into the pitch. The ball grazed the pad and nestled firmly in the catcher’s mitt. Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa, a special brand of terrible unto himself, actually started ringing up Conforto for strike three, and mid flourish, changed his mind and awarded Conforto first base, and the Mets the game.

Obviously, Bass and Marlins manager Don Mattingly argued the call but the damage was done. Kulpa and umpiring crew went under the hood to review the play, but could only make the determination that Conforto was indeed struck by the ball. Why? Because that’s all they were allowed to review.

By rule, a batter must make a reasonable effort to avoid being hit by a pitch. If the umpire rules that he doesn’t, then he doesn’t get awarded first base and the pitch is called a ball, assuming it’s out of the strike zone. From this rule, it can be inferred that a batter cannot deliberately put himself in the path of a pitch either, which Conforto clearly did. But, alas, not reviewable.

Moreover, also by rule, if a batter is struck by a pitch that is in the strike zone, the umpire is to call a strike and not award the batter first base. Bass’ pitch to Conforto was clearly a strike – even Kulpa was ringing him up before having last second change of heart. But of course, this is also not reviewable.

Why are they not reviewable? Who the heck knows, to be honest. The confederacy of dunces that runs Major League Baseball will do what it’s going to do. That said, when it comes to replay review, the line does have to arbitrarily be drawn somewhere. Where is that line? I don’t know and I don’t care.

However, what I do know is that MLB can take a cue from another major professional league who constantly struggles with its much maligned replay system, and what can and can’t be reviewed. The NFL automatically reviews all scoring plays. Someone scores a touchdown? Ok, let’s just make sure nothing wonky happened. Seems reasonable, right?

Here’s what MLB can do, and start doing immediately. Automatically review all plays on which a winning run scores. In 99% of cases it will be academic anyway as there won’t be any dispute. But in the odd case that there is, like we just had with Miami and the Mets, the review office can make a swift determination that shenanigans went down.

Sure, rule changes have to be collectively bargained or whatever, but I can’t see the Players’ Association fighting this. And if they do, Joe Torre can tell Tony Clark to go eff himself and make the change anyway. What are the players going to do? Strike?

Who knows, maybe the Mets would have won the game at some point anyway. But maybe they wouldn’t have. And maybe the Marlins will finish the season one game out of a playoff spot. MLB has to do everything in its power to ensure things like that don’t happen due to a butchered call.