USMNT Depth Chart Refresh

A quick refresh to the USMNT depth chart that now reflects a couple moves that become official January 1. There will be a more in-depth update following the late-January to early-February international break.

No real changes to the CF position, all eyes on Pepi to see where he lands in this winter transfer window, with all signs pointing to joining John Brooks at Wolfsburg. Dike also could be on the move, multiple teams in England reportedly have reached out for a loan, but Orlando City seems to be set on a transfer or nothing.

Cole Bassett has been added to the LW FTF as he made his senior team debut against Bosnia & Herzegovina, scoring the winner in the match. He is still just 20 so leaving him as a future option until he makes an appearance in a non-friendly.  I also updated Yaya Toure’s name to his given name of Dantouma as he seems to be using that more as he makes the European tryout tour. He could be on the move this January.

Moved Jordan Morris from LW to RW as he can play either side competently but there just isn’t the same depth on the right. He looked good in his return to the USMNT, making numerous impressive runs against B&H. I have also moved Gioacchini ahead of Arriola as his performance in France is deserving of a boost. Cowell also made his debut against B&H, making some quality runs but showing his youth too as he gave the ball away too easily.

Caden Clark should be ending his loan with NYRB and heading to Germany to join Tyler Adams at Leipzig. Getting run there will quickly make him a must use for the USMNT and the FTF tag could fall off soon. The big news is the addition of Richard Ledezma who is finally back from his ACL tear and starting to get run again. Would not be surprised to see him get a call up in the next international break.

No changes to the RCMs, although Sebastian Lletget’s run with the LA Galaxy has ended with 158 appearances signing with the New England Revolution.

Johnny Cardoso was impressive in his return to the senior team. He didn’t have any real impact moments, but he may have been the most impressive starter in the match against B&H. Tanner Tessmann could be moving up here soon. He is getting plenty of run with Venezia playing alongside Gianluca Busio, which could help him get more run with the national team. Taylor Booth is added as a FTF here, although I am not sold on the position. He could be CDM, he could be the RCM, he has seen time at right wing and right back. Basically, I liken him to a utility infielder in baseball, can play wherever you need him to and be serviceable.

There aren’t any changes here….yet. George Bello got the start and, as much as I want him to be a thing, he just isn’t there. Meanwhile, Jonathan Gomez is finally making his move to Spain after becoming the first ever USL Championship player to see action with the senior team. It was his work and skill that led to the Bassett goal and I fully expect to drop the FTF tag very soon.

Added Brooks Lennon after he looked solid in his senior team debut, although he was a bit all over the place and Johnny regularly had to fall back to fill into the hole left by him. Bryan Reynolds got the call up which was good to see, but he is still seemingly a forgotten man at Roma. I also updated Shaq Moore as Tenerife is not in La Liga, but LaLiga 2.

A couple changes to the LCB as Henry Kessler looked good and has made the list while Kobi Henry getting the call up, despite not playing, makes him worthy of a FTF tag.

Possibly the most notable change is Walker Zimmerman jumping ahead of John Brooks. Quite frankly, Zimmerman has looked really good for the USMNT while Brooks has struggled with Wolfsburg and appears to have lost a step. This is a battle that is worth watching between now and November.

Couple changes at keeper, although the main focus will be the number one, a battle may have opened up for the third keeper to make the WC roster. Horvath has been riding the pine quite a bit for Nottingham Forest while Sean Johnson just helped NYCFC to the MLS Cup, including surviving multiple trips to PKs. John Pulskamp was called up to the national team but didn’t dress, so he is added as a FTF as he is worth keeping an eye on.

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.

USMNT Depth Chart: Central Defense & GK

The center of the defense is the last line of defense, the USMNT has long had big bodies back there from Alexi Lalas, to Oguchi Onyewu, to John Brooks, and goalkeeper has long been one of the biggest strengths of the team, but it might the center of the back line/GK just might be the biggest weakness of today’s USMNT.

Summary: Before this summer, Miles Robinson was just another name among the center backs for the USMNT, but the Gold Cup changed all that. He played every minute of the tournament and came through with the extra time cup winning header. He has been a staple in the lineup for the World Cup qualifiers until a second yellow vs. Mexico landed him with a one match ban vs. Jamaica. McKenzie can play either center back spot, but he is best as depth at the LCB and can even fill in at LB in a pinch. Richards was the name many USMNT fans were keeping an eye on to make the jump from prospect to the starting man, but Robinson’s ascension but a hold on that. One could argue for Richards ahead of McKenzie, and I think he will leap from him come next summer/fall, but for now he is the third guy for me. Miazga and Ream aren’t real factors currently, but Miazga has made 22 appearances with the national team, while Ream has been on the squad during WCQ and plays next to Antonee Robinson with Fulham, so the familiarity combined with experience could work in Ream’s favor.

Summary: Brooks has been the rock for this club for a number of years not, but he has looked a step slow with Wolfsburg, especially in European competition, and Zimmerman just put together the best international break of his career. While this position seemed to be as much of a sure thing as Pulisic being a starter, there is now real questions as to who the best option is. Long is very much a similar case to Tim Ream as both are veterans of the USMNT despite not really having much of an impact in recent memory. Che may be best suited to be a right back, but there are already so many quality options there I had to include him as a FTF at right center back. He may have been the best player on the pitch for the U20s in Mexico on this break and may not be for the “future” for long. He was on the roster for the Gold Cup just didn’t see any playing time. I could see that changing come late qualifying.

Summary: There may not be a more competitive battle for the number one, literally and figuratively, than the battle between Steffen and Turner for the starting keeper. Turner is the starting keeper for the best team in MLS, while Steffen struggles to get playing time with Manchester City. The lack of playing time was what had Turner with the slight edge, but Steffen hot his chance in a Carbao Cup match and came up big in PKs, then had a very good showing this break, so the needle may be leaning slightly in his direction now. Horvath and Johnson have both seen time as the third option recently with Johnson again a MLS starter, Horvath was recently a Champions League keeper with Brugge, but really battled with Simon Mignolet for time, so he is now in the Championship. Guzan is the old vet and there is definitely a value to having that as an option, and he saw time with the first team this past summer, as did Hamid, although neither have received a call during qualifying. Don’t let the goals against in the Revelations Cup fool you, the center backs let him down in that tournament, he actually looked good despite the score lines. He may be the main starter with Chicago come next season, and I would expect him to get some interest from European clubs at that point. Odunze was a surprise inclusion back in November of 2020, but when you have a guy with that much promise and is eligible for the USA, England, Canada, and Nigeria, you need to stay on good terms with him. He does not actually have a senior appearance at either the club or international level, but he is a freak in terms of size, 6’7”, and is under contract with Leicester City currently playing for their youth club.

USMNT Depth Chart: Wide Defense

For the defense, I am splitting it up into two posts, wide defenders and central defenders, with the goal keepers included in with central defenders. There is a very clear difference in depth on the right and left side of the defense. In all reality, the top four right backs would probably be the number two left back, but they are natural right backs so I am keeping them in their natural position for this list. With that, here it is:

Summary: It is a little odd to have player on a team in the second tier the number one guy at this point, but Antonee Robinson is currently playing in the Championship but is easily the best left back for the USMNT. His runs are impressive allowing him to turn defense into offense in a flash, but he can get caught too far up field quite a bit. He leaves a lot of work for the left center back, but he is a key cog in the USMNT wheel. Bello is a guy I want to be good enough to push Robinson, he just isn’t there yet and may not ever quite get there, but there are flashes. I am happy to see Vines getting some action in Belgium but hasn’t earned himself a regular role there yet after being a common name in the starting eleven for the Colorado Rapids. Gomez was referenced in the first post of this series with his brother Johan as a center forward. He is a big one as he has really impressed with Louisville City, shaking a defender to the ground and drawing a hand ball in the box that led to the game winning PK that sent Louisville to the conference semi-finals, but he has six appearances with the USA U16s, one with the Mexico U16s, three with the USA U17s, and two with the Mexico U20s earlier this year. He could very well be the second best true LB in a year or two as he is heading to Real Sociedad B after Louisville’s run ends, so getting him committed to the UNMNT senior side is important. Paredes may be a bit of a stretch to call him a left back as he is really a left mid and has seen time at left wing and left back with D.C. United. To me his future with the national team is as left back currently, although there are reports Salzburg is interested in going after him if Aaronson eventually transfers to a larger club.

Summary: This might be the deepest position at the USNT level and one of only two I don’t have anyone tabbed as a FTF. Dest is the unquestioned starter when healthy, but that has been a struggle for him this year which is why we have seen a lot of Yedlin. Yedlin bring a fearless approach to the position that is both a benefit and a potential liability if he gets too aggressive. Cannon is a guy I would like to get a little more run but he just has two guys two heavily entrenched in the spot ahead of him. Scally finally got his a call up to the senior team after really shining for Monchengladbach, but did not see any time on the field in either match. He would technically qualify as a FTF given he is 18 and hasn’t technically debuted for the senior team, but he is simply too good to be counted as a future option because he is a legit option now. Moore is a guy that regularly gets overlooked but looks good whenever he gets a shot and is competing in La Liga. Reynolds was on track to compete with Yedlin and Cannon to be the second man in line but has seen extremely limited playing time since moving to Roma and his stock is simply tanking at this point.

USMNT Depth Chart: Midfield

Moving on to the midfield, the USMNT is running with a holding midfielder and two center midfielders with the right being more attack focused and the left a little more well-rounded. With that, let’s take a look starting with the left midfield.

Summary: McKennie had his issues early in qualifying as he was sent home for violating Covid protocols bringing his maturity and leadership into question, but he has bounced back well of late. Busio got his first taste of World Cup Qualifying action in Jamaica with McKennie out due to yellow card accumulations and looked good. One concern with the squad is the lack of a quality corner taker, and mid-game he went to Brenden Aaronson and essentially demanded he take the corners moving forward. They weren’t great, but the pace and shape of the ball was a clear upgrade. After Busio there is a real drop-off. Green is a guy we have long been waiting to step up, but that just may not be in the cards for him, instead he is merely quality depth. Luca only has four appearances with the national team but has plenty of experience in Europe. He is unlikely to be an impactful option but, again, provides some depth at the position. The FTF of Clark may be the best FTF of the group as he has looked very good with NYRB and will be heading to Germany to join RB Leipzig once NYRB run in the MLS playoffs is over. He will become an attacking midfielder ahead of fellow USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams (coming later in this post) and that relationship could make the future come sooner than later. McGlynn is the first of three members of Philadelphia Union in this section and are a must watch for USMNT fans this MLS playoff.

Summary: Musah has taken the right midfield job and run with it, making it his job to lose after just a few matches in the position. He is just 18 but his skill level is undeniable, although the consistency does lack due to his youth. Acosta should not be in this position, but it has been made clear Gregg Berhalter wants him here as a late match sub to add a defensive focus. I like him more as a center defensive midfielder, where he would likely land third in the depth chart for me, but this is a light position and it is where he is seeing the most time, so here he is. Roldan and Lletget are quality MLS midfielders and are quality depth options, they just aren’t guys who will help massively on a competitive international stage. Mihailovic has shown flashes that are enough to get him included in the depth chart, although he will likely fall off if he is not included in the next international window. Aaronson and Sullivan are teammates with Philadelphia and Aaronson is a more attacking midfield option but there isn’t a position that truly fits that, so he falls into the right midfield. He is more controlled than his brother, but likely doesn’t quite have the upside. Sullivan is still just 17 and has yet to even wear the stars and stripes at the youth level, but there is raw talent that justifies him making the list.

Summary: Here is a position that is Tyler Adams and then all the rest. Adams has worn the captains arm band regularly during qualifying and rarely misses a minute of action. Acosta would most likely be the true replacement should something happen with Adams but, since he sees so much time at right midfield, I have Sands as the number two here. Sands has seen here and at center back with the national team and with NYC FC, so he brings versatility and has plenty of MLS experience despite still being only 21. Yuiell is the only other name on the list who has been included in the qualifying rounds, although there isn’t much difference between he, Williamson, and Tessmann. Leyva looked like of the better players on the U20 squad in the Revelations Cup and likely earned some points with the national league hierarchy. Otasowie has one appearance with the national team, but still qualifies as a FTF, barely, as he is 20. The reason he still falls as FTF is he has only 6 total appearances in senior action all with Wolverhampton before transferring to Brugge, where he is at least witnessing major European action first had, so there is some value to that.

USMNT Depth Chart: Attack

As we come out of another international break, we have decided to keep a running depth chart for the USMNT. It has become very clear Gregg Berhalter is running with a 4-3-3 with two wingers outside the number nine and a pair of central midfielders ahead of a defensive mid, with the right ride of those two central leaning slightly more attack focused. We will roll out our latest depth chart in a four-piece series, broken down in attack, midfield, wide defenseman, and finally central defense and keeper. Certain positions are a bit fluid (left center back and right center back the most fluid of them all) and we will not list the same player twice, even if most the right backs are also depth at left back.

Also included will be players deemed “For the Future” or FTF who are players still playing for youth versions of the USMNT, although a couple will have limited call ups to the senior side, worth keeping an eye on.

We will list the players with Name – Team – League – Country (for MLS it will be USA even if it is a club based in Canada)

With that, let’s start with the attack:

Summary: Pepi is the clear-cut number nine for the club, but behind him is a massive question mark. Pefok has had moments but didn’t get the call up multiple cycles in a row. Sargent has the potential but seems to have fallen out of favor some. Ferreira seems lost when on the pitch at the national level and Dike just isn’t there yet. It may come down to the veteran options of Zardes and Altidore. FTF features both Sanogo, who hasn’t had a senior appearance national or domestic yet but had a solid showing at the Revelations Cup in Mexico with the U20s and was on this year’s Next Generation list at The Guardian. Gomez has not made an appearance at any international level, but he has a pair of goals for third tier German side FSV Zwichau who is managed by former player that has a single appearance with the USMNT in Joe Enochs. Gomez’ brother will also show up in at the wide defenseman list, but both have options between USA and Mexico, and it may be important for the USA to get them committed rather than heading south.

Summary: There is no more clear-cut number one at a position than Pulisic, but this may also be the deepest spot other than right back. Aaronson has been an every match starter, but I don’t have him in my top-11. He is a high effort player but lacks discipline and finishing skill at times. Against Mexico he too often found himself out of position, changing the USA shape from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-2-Aaronson. Konrad has moments of brilliance but lacks consistency. Hoppe is a guy who could play center forward, but his time with the national team has been on the left side. He has future potential of being in the top 11, he just isn’t there yet. Lewis has only seen limited run but has fared very well in MLS, while Morris has a quality track record with the national team. Once fully healthy again he will likely climb his way up this crowded list. The FTF is Gutierrez and Toure, with Gutierrez a guy that looked good for the U20s in Mexico and has seen plenty of first team action with Chicago despite only being 18. Toure is the biggest dark horse to make the list at any position, he is on loan from the Rapids to the USL where he wasn’t even a regular starter, but when in he makes impressive runs and the raw ability is special.

Summary: Reyna has been battling injuries, but when healthy he provides an incredible winger option opposite Pulisic. That said, Weah took every advantage of this international break as he was arguably the best player on the field vs. Mexico, and he scored an impressive goal against Jamaica. Arriola has been a popular sub for Berhalter and is a poor man’s Aaronson for me, plenty of energy and effort, skill just isn’t there. Gioacchini is an interesting one for me as he has looked good for Montpellier, one of the rare loans up as he is under contract with Caen in the second level of French soccer. Gioacchini has proven he belongs in the first flight and could be a candidate to battle for one of the last spots on the World Cup roster. Cowell is the FTF here and could be argued is a center forward, he saw time at left wing with the U20s this break but also wore the 19 and played right striker while setting up a goal against Mexico. In the end, I think he is on the right side and is a future scoring threat as he was tied for second in goals for San Jose this season and tied for most games played, although over half his appearances came as a sub.

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.