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.

Picking the Ideal USMNT 26-man Roster

Picking the Ideal USMNT 26-man Roster

The United States Mens’ National Team roster for the World Cup will be revealed on November 9th, so instead of purely complaining about Gregg Berhalter’s roster decisions after the fact, I will put out my ideal 26-man roster ahead of time. This is not in any way a prediction, as we all know Tim Ream won’t make the roster despite being the captain of a team in the middle of the Premier League table, and this roster doesn’t include any of GGG’s inexplicable infatuation with Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, and Aaron Long. So, who do I have on the roster? Let’s start with my starting 11, and I will keep to the current USA formation of 4-3-3.

Attack:

ST: Ricardo Pepi, Groningen

LW:  Christian Pulisic, Chelsea

RW: Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund

Pulisic is the best player the USMNT has, while Reyna might be the single most talented player to ever put on the United States kit, but injuries have already been a real concern and he won’t even turn 20 until after the rooster announcement. At the top of the attack I put in Ricardo Pepi as the winner of the position most up in the air for me, more on that later. 

Midfield:

LCM: Weston McKennie, Juventus

RCM: Yunus Musah, Valencia

CDM: Tyler Adams, Leeds United

McKennie recently went down with a thigh injury but, by all reports, is expected to be 100% come November 21 when the USA take on Wales. Musah oozes talent but has been a bit inconsistent with Valencia and has yet to really show his talents translate to the USMNT, but I still have faith. There is no single player more irreplaceable to this squad than Tyler Adams as there simply is nobody in the system that does what he does. He isn’t the best player on the squad, but absolutely the most irreplaceable. 

Defense:

LB: Antonee Robinson, Fulham

LCB: Tim Ream, Fulham

RCB: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC

RB: Sergiño Dest, AC Milan

Jedi is the guy left back, and he would be a top LB at an elite club if he could simply cross better. His runs from the the back are deadly, they just all seem to die on his crosses at the end. Despite that, he puts pressure on the opposing defense while defending well himself. Yes, Ream is 35 and hasn’t put on the stars and stripes in more than a year, but he wears the armband for Fulham, and does so standing next to Jedi meaning no player has more chemistry and can predict the runs better than he. Zimmerman has been a steady contributor even if his last couple appearances for the national team were a bit underwhelming. Dest has bounced around after plenty of transfer speculation away from FC Barcelona this summer, he landed a loan deal to Milan, where he has barely seen time. That said, he is the best offensive wing back and is a no-brainer to get the start. 

GK: Matt Turner, Arsenal

There has long been plenty of back and forth as to who deserves the #1 for GGG, but that seems to have been put to rest with Turner now playing for Arsenal and looking solid there. He seems to be the clear cut man at keeper for this squad. That said, he has been out the past two matches, a return Thursday would be a very good sign.

There are going to be 15 available substitutes this year, so here are my backups who should be on the roster and what position(s) they can play. 

Attack:

LW/RW: Brenden Aaronson, Leeds United

RW: Timothy Weah, Lille

ST: Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas

ST: Jordan Pefok Siebatcheu, Union Berlin

Aaronson is a guy I have a love/hate relationship with as I absolutely love his motor, but he feels so unpolished. There is growing sentiment for him to be a starter, but his energy, off the bench, in a climate like Qatar, that could be a genuine game changer. Weah is another guy who one could easily argue to start, and I wouldn’t be against it if Reyna moves back to midfield in place of Musah and Weah gets the start up top, but I can’t trust Reyna to go 90 in every match for an entire tournament. Having Weah available as a sub will be massive. Ferreira will likely be the 9 for this squad, but he plays more like a 10, and you can’t 0-0 draw your way into the knockout round, so I like him better off the bench, especially if the USA has a lead. Pefok has the second most combination of goals and assists on the team currently atop the Bundesliga, need I say more?

Midfield:

CM: Luca de la Torre, Celta Vigo

CM: Malik Tillman, Rangers

CM/LW/RW: Djordje Mihailovic, CF Montreal

CDM: Kellyn Acosta, LAFC

There is some availability concern for LDLT as it was announced he has a muscle tear and is out three weeks, that was 25 days before the Wales match, but I am choosing to be optimistic. If you want to feel good about what Tillman can bring, watch him weave through the Motherwell defense. If you don’t want to feel good about him, go watch all his UCL appearances outside of the one against Napoli. Mihailovic will be heading to AZ come January 1, and he is not in the MLS camp which means he will not be on the club, but he had the best MLS season of any American not named Brandon Vasquez. Accosta is probably the single best free kick taker on the squad, so he is an excellent option as a late sub with a lead as he is defensive focused in midfield, but also in need of a goal as he seems to be the only player capable of getting good ball into the box on a set piece. 

Defense:

LB/RB: Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach

RB: DeAndre Yedlin, Inter Miami

RB/CB: Reggie Cannon, Boavista

CB: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic

CB: Chris Richards, Crystal Palace

Scally might be the second best overall wing back, better than Jedi, but he can play both the left and right so he is an easy option to be one of the primary subs in this tournament. Yedlin will likely be the only player to make GGG’s final roster with any World Cup experience and technically would be here too, although Ream was on the roster in 2014, he did not get on the pitch at any point. Bringing that experience is huge, plus he has as feisty an approach as anyone, which certainly has its place. Cannon has looked good for Boavista, and has even seen minimal time at center back, so he brings versatility to the back line the squad really lacks. CCV and Chris Richards are both guys who have looked solid and could easily be the starting CB duo in a position group that is as interchangeable as there is outside of the 9 on this roster. Richards is still a week or so away from training, so he is yet another player with injury concerns as the roster deadline approaches.

Goalkeeper:

Ethan Horvath, Luton Town

Zack Steffen, Middlesbrough

Horvath has six clean sheets in the Championship while Steffen has been busy in goal with a questionable defense in front of him in Middlesbrough. Steffen was once the answer as the future GK for the club, but he very well may be number three at the end of the month. 

This is a roster I don’t think struggles to get out of the group and, depending on draw, could get a win or two in the knockout round. It is also a team who has struggled to but the ball in the back of the net, so that 0-0 draw through the group mentioned earlier is also within the realm of possibilities and missing the knockout round is possible. Overall, the expectation is getting out of the group, with winning the group the likely target and, frankly, I wouldn’t be satisfied without a trip to the quarterfinals.

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.

NFL Week 5 DFS Lineups

As we get The Stain back running with more consistent content, why not try to make our readers some money. Here is my FanDuel and DraftKings lineups for today:

These are tournament plays going with a couple flyers. Cowboys D should get plenty of sacks against the Rams, Zappe is facing possibly the worst D in football. Teddy B I expect to put up massive numbers too.

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.

First Reactions to USA’s World Cup Draw

The World Cup draw is officially behind us, the United States is in the World Cup after missing out four years ago, so how did the USA do in terms of the draw?

There was some hope the USA would be drawn in group G or H so they could open their run on Thanksgiving Day, but they land in Group B, which is the second best schedule hopes as they will begin their run on the first day of the World Cup and get game two on a day most Americans will have off, the day after Thanksgiving.

One tough part of the draw is landing with the European Playoff, so the final member of the group won’t be decided until June.

That first match on Monday, November 21 will be against one of Wales, Scotland, and Ukraine. The most favorable matchup of the group is Scotland, Wales is the best team with the best player in Gareth Bale, but Ukraine could be an interesting opponent as the world (sans-Russia) will be pulling for them given what the country is going through. Realistically, this should be three points for the USA, although a matchup with Wales and Gareth Bale could be problematic.

Match two will be Friday, November 25th against arguably the biggest rival outside of CONCACAF the USA has, England. The last time they faced each other in the World Cup English keeper Robert Green botched a save on an easy shot from Clint Dempsey and the match ended level 1-1. This has all the makings for an incredible watch, as England will certainly be favored, but are by no means a lock to beat the USA. The hope in this match would be for the Americans to lock in a point, but three points are possible as is zero. This will likely be the match that determines the group winner.

The final match of the group stage may be the most favorable matchup in Iran, although history isn’t favorable. The USA and Iran have only faced off twice before, drawing a friendly in 2000 and losing 2-1 in the 1998 World Cup. That said, the best player on Iran is arguably Sardar Azmoun, the forward who recently moved to Bayern Leverkusen. Azmoun has scored 40 goals in 62 appearances for his country and scored 52 goals in 79 matches for Zenit Saint Petersburg. He will be the main focus, but three points for the USA is a must in this matchup.

Assuming USA get through the group stage, being in Group B is a big benefit, as the first knockout round is against Group A, possibly the weakest group in the 2022 World Cup. Qatar and Ecuador will open the World Cup, but neither are truly expected to get out of the group. Therefore the knockout round matchup will most likely be against Senegal or the Netherlands depending on seeding.

Winning Group B is not the most likely outcome, runners-up is most likely, but winning the group could be huge for the USA. Chances are Netherlands wins Group A, a matchup the USA would like to avoid as Senegal would be the preferred matchup. Yes, Sadio Mane can single-handedly end anyone’s run in December, but the rest of the roster simply doesn’t have the depth of Netherlands.

The expectations on USA should be high given the draw. Not getting out of the group stage will be seen as absolute failure by the club. From there any success in the knockout stages will be positive, although a loss in the first knockout game won’t be a negative for the club. That said, a trip to the quarterfinals is something that is certainly not out of the club’s reach.  

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.