Category: Soccer

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.

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.

Best Goals from Non-Top Tier Leagues

Over the weekend, Elisha Sam of Notts County scored one of the more unbelievable goals you will ever see as they took on Oxford City in the FA Trophy Quarter Final. Notts is currently in the fifth tier of English football, and the goal is a favorite for the 2021 FIFA Puskas Award.

The Puskas Award has been awarded every year since 2009 and it goes to the “most beautiful” goal of the year. Ten goals are nominated each year, so I scrubbed them all and put together a list of all the nominees from non-top tier competitions. Many are World Cup goals, but are of the U-age variety, so those don’t count as senior goals, therefore not top tier. Here are the eight I found:

Lionus Hallenius with a ridiculous volley for Hammarby IF against Syrianska FC in the second-tier of Sweden’s football in 2010, the Supperettan.

Julio Gomez bicycle kick for Mexico vs. Germany in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup

Olivia Jimenez from distance for Mexico against Switzerland in the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup

2015’s Puskas award winner is this spinning bicycle kick off an impressive volley for Wendell Lira and Goianesia against Atletico Goianiense in 2015.

David Ball finds the corner from distance for Fleetwood Town against Preston North End in the 2014-15 League One season.

Daniuska Rodriguez of Venezuela breaks multiple Colombian ankles before tucking one in the corner for this goal in the 2016 South American U-17 Women’s Championship.

Denya Catellanos wastes absolutely no time at all putting a ball in the net for Venezuela against Cameroon in the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

Jordi Mboula makes multiple Borussia Dortmund defenders look foolish as he scores for Barcelona in the 2016-17 UEFA Youth League.

The All “You’ve Never Heard of ‘Em” of Soccer’s USMNT

After their dismal qualifying performance for the 2018 World Cup, resulting in them missing the tournament for the first time in decades, confidence in the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was at an all-time low. The team’s on-field play was disjointed, they were dismally coached by Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, and little hope sprung on the horizon. A few years later on, oh how much has changed. A string of positive performances under current coach Greg Berhalter, along with a flood of talented players making names for themselves in Europe and across the world has optimism once again coursing through U.S. soccer fans’ veins.

Recent friendlies have seen many players snag their first caps, and has thrown fuel on the fire of one soccer’s most fun guessing games: who are going to be the 23?

Well, some answers to this question are obvious. Everyone knows who Christian Pulisic is, the talismanic attacking midfielder currently kicking ass and taking names for Chelsea. Other young stars on the rise like Konrad De La Fuente, Sergino Dest, Josh Sargent, Weston McKinnie, and others are rapidly becoming household names.

But what if Berhalter wanted to really plumb the depths of the talent mine to round out the back end of the roster? He would probably schedule a friendly to audition a bunch of heretofore unknown players for those spots, wouldn’t he? Well, if WE were Berhalter, it’s what WE would do.

Here’s how that lineup might look.

Goalkeeper: Divine Imasuen

The United States has rarely been hurting for goalkeeping talent, which makes it weird that they kept running out Brad Guzan for so many games after the over overrated Tim Howard era. That being neither here nor there, the U.S. maintains a healthy stable of good goalkeepers, including but not limited to guys like Zach Steffen and Ethan Horvath. But if they ever wanted a, uh, intervention at the position, they might go with Divine Imasuen. The 19-year-old is currently contracted to Tennis Borussia in the German Regionalliga, which is somewhere between the 4th and 16th tier of German soccer. I’d say he was plying his trade, but it doesn’t look like he’s gotten on the field yet. Competition must be stiff up there in Tennis, wherever the hell that is.

Defender: Jonathan Campbell

Jonathan Campbell. He even sounds like a defender, right? John Brooks. Timothy Chandler. Jonathan Campbell. Would you even ask the question? Campbell is a veteran of sorts at age 29. Deep MLS fans may even remember the time he spent with the Chicago Fire from 2016 to 2018, and his cup of coffee in 2019 with the Seattle Sounders. Campbell supposedly announced his retirement in May of last year, but joke’s on you morons. The interwebs tell me he’s currently lacing them up for Svay Rieng in the Cambodian C-League. If my wild dreams of a Jonathan Campbell Disney movie-type late rise to stardom have any chance of becoming reality, I really hope there’s not a Cambodian A or B-League…

Defender: Rayan Holland

No, that’s not a typo, presumptuous grammar snob. You think I don’t know how to spell Ryan? That isn’t even this guy’s name. Anyway, Holland. He was born in England, but for some reason that I assume involves at least one of his parents, he has U.S. National Team eligibility. And a good thing he does, because if his recent performance for Kettering Town of the English National League (a mere four tiers below the Premiership) are any indicator, a call-up could happen at any moment. I may or may not have made some assumptions about those performances, because it’s impossible to find any information on his play, but come on. Rayan Holland! What a name!

Defender: Tom Tom Johnson

If you’re wondering why Johnson’s first name is Tom Tom instead of just Tom, or Thomas, or Tommy, so am I. Imagine being a 25-year-old from New Jersey, and having to introduce yourself with a name that sounds like something your grandma puts in your birthday card accompanying the wool sweater she knit you. Well, grandma can be proud of lil’ Tom Tom because he’s representing Rincon in the Spanish Autonomicas Division. I don’t know anything about Rincon, or Autonomicas for that matter, except that it’s below the Tercera Division, which my high school Spanish gives me reasonable confidence in asserting it’s well below the Primera Division as well.

Defender: Leo Krupnik

This is funny because Krupnik is old enough to have been born in the Soviet freaking Union!!! At 41, he’s still younger than me but whatever. While I can’t find any statistics on him after 2015, he’s still apparently somehow with Maccabi Umm Al Fahm in the Israeli Liga Bet. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Krupnik actually had a fairly long, if a bit undistinguished, career in pro soccer, including a brief stint with the New York Red Bulls in 2009. And if you think 41 is too old to have a shot at making your international debut, well then you’ve clearly never seen Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. Jimmy Morris may have been about 36 when he cracked the big leagues with the Devil Rays, but Quaid was at least 60 when he played the part.

Midfielder: Mukwelle Akale

I had a whole litany of funny things to write about Akale, who is from Minneapolis and currently patrols the wing for Pafos in the Cypriot first division. That means it’s in Cyprus, you uncultured cretin. Turns out, I’m the dingus and the joke is on me. If Akale ever did get that call up to the senior team, it would only be his first time representing the senior team. That’s right. Akale has represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-18, and U-20 levels. *throws jokes into trash can*

Midfielder: Nehemia Perry

Perry is a 27-year-old of Jamaican descent but American eligibility who patrols the midfield for St. Andrews. No, not that St. Andrews. Not the other St. Andrews either. This St. Andrews is in the Maltese Challenge League. This is noteworthy because I was today years old when I found out that the Malta has multiple tiers of professional soccer. The Challenge League is not in the top one. To be fair to Perry, the limited statistical availability for Maltese lower league soccer still confirms he’s logged a few minutes for the team, even smashing home a goal. And can you say that you have scored a goal in professional soccer? Yeah, I didn’t think so, so shut up.

Midfielder: Athanasios Scheidt

In case you wondered, Scheidt’s name is pronounced shite. I know this, because I understand the basics of enunciation, and in the off chance I’m wrong, it means that God hates us and we’re all doomed anyway. Scheidt was born in Germany but apparently has at least one American parent, which passes the sniff test because we’re known as a country in which parents name their kids some pretty weird ass shite. See what I did there? Your new favorite player with the name Athanasios earns that distinction over all the other Athanasiosi by playing for Radomiak Radom in Polish I Liga. Or maybe it’s the 1 Liga? Who the hell knows, but it’s not the Ekstraklasa, which is evidently the top tier in Polish soccer.

Midfielder: Ben Sippola

Remember this guy? No you don’t, you damn liar. I mean, sure, there’s an off-chance you were a die-hard Columbus Crew supporter circa 2011, and knew his name from the occasional appearance on the substitutes bench. But let’s just be honest with one another. You weren’t a Crew fan in 2011, you’ll never be a Crew fan, and I had a third thing I wanted to say here but my train of thought got derailed. The 33-year-old Sippola currently is on the roster of Torslanda in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer. I can’t find any stats for him after 2013 so he might just be a coach. But it’s more fun to think of him out there whipping crosses and snapping fibulas in sub zero temperatures.

Forward: Arda Bulut

Bulut currently smashes goals into the back of the net for Karacabey Belediyespor in the Turkish second division. Yes, I absolutely copy and pasted that team name, because the chances of me typing that out without a typo that changed it’s meaning to goat humper or something embarrassing was close to zero. Also, Bulut has really only smashed in one goal. In 70 career minutes. Wipe that smirk off your face. It’s one more goal than you’ve scored.

Forward: Dion Acoff

Listen, man. You can’t go out there and bag goals for an Icelandic powerhouse like Throttur Reykjavik without being a badass on the pitch. Or maybe you can. Maybe you just have to be kinda good at soccer. And Acoff might be, because the 29-year-old from Fontana, California sees semi-regular playing time with Iceland’s biggest soccer club and has netted 16 career goals for them.

Substitutes Bench

Goalkeeper: Brian Schwake

The 19-year-old Schwake still has his whole career in front of him. If he doesn’t suck, it could be a long one. He does, however, play for Linlithgow Rose in Scotland. Heard of them? If not, that’s because they play in the Scotland Feeder Leagues. I don’t know what a Feeder League is, but it’s likely several levels below the Premiership, which is home to storied clubs like Rangers, Celtic, Dundee United, Hibernian and others.

Defender: Stephen Payne

Shaun accused me of writing too many homer articles. And while he’s right about that, I’m passive aggressively clapping back by including as many Southern California guys as I can. Payne was born in Riverside, which I just now noticed could just as easily be in Nigeria as it could in California, but whatever. He’s logging full-time minutes for Vilaverdense in the Portuguese Campeonato de Portugal Prio. That’s a few levels below iconic clubs such as Benfica, but hey, how many minutes are you logging in pro soccer? In Portugal? Where smoking hot women basically grow on trees? Exactly.

Midfielder: Faris Abdi

Hey look, another Southern California kid! Abdi is 21 years old, which low key sucks ass for him because he plays for Al Quadisiya in Saudi Arabia, and rumor has it if you drink alcohol there they lop off body parts. Abdi started his career in 2019 with Austin Bold in the U.S., and while I can surmise little more about them apart from being in Texas, my feeling is he shoulda stayed there. Dude could be getting druuuuuuuuuuuuunk right now.

Midfielder: Lee Nguyen

Remember this guy? This time I believe you. Why? Because Nguyen has logged more than 20,000 minutes of MLS soccer in his career. Those days are behind him as he currently plays for Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. Fun fact, in the off chance that Nguyen did somehow get a call up to the National Team at age 33, it wouldn’t be the first time he did. From 2007 to 2016 he was capped by the U.S. nine times. In his prime, he was a heck of a player.

Forward: Maki Tall

Standing at 173cm, Tall is anything but. I’m clearly running out of jokes and I also don’t have any idea how many feet and inches that translates to. I only know my German parents used to say, roughly translated, “that guy is nearly two meters tall,” to anyone over six feet. 173cm is not two meters. At least it freaking better not be, otherwise I’ll throw my laptop in my non-existent swimming pool and go to bed. Tall is 25, was born in Washington D.C., and plays for Francs Borains in Belgium. They’re an amateur team, which I assume means they’re in a tier well below teams that are…well, in a professional league.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I would remiss if I didn’t credit Soccerway.com here. Without that amazing website and its innumerable soccer rabbit holes to jump down, it would have taken me years to write this article, and I’ve have damn quit after 45 minutes.

USL Title Game: Louisville City vs. Phoenix Rising

Courtesy: Aaron Whelan

The sun may be setting on the 2018 USL season and an international superstar’s career, but there is one more match to be played on the United States second tier soccer calendar. Thursday night on ESPN 2, Louisville City FC will play host to Phoenix rising in the USL title game, this one held at Lynn Stadium at the University of Louisville rather than Louisville City FC’s traditional home field of Louisville Slugger Field.

History will be made as Louisville City is looking to become the USL’s first ever back-to-back champion while Phoenix Rising is looking to become the first road side to ever lift the USL Cup. The soccer world will certainly recognize one name on the pitch, as Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba makes his final appearance of his career. He comes into the match tied for the most goals in the playoffs, 3, with Michael Seaton of Orange County SC (the club Phoenix Rising beat to get to the title game) and Brian Ownby of Louisville.

Courtesy: Aaron Whelan

During the regular season, Cameron Lancaster of Louisville ran away with the scoring title, scoring 25 goals while the two closest to him had 20. Chris Cortez led Phoenix rising with 17 goals this season. In net, Carl Woszczynski of Phoenix Rising finished tied for third in the league with 12 clean sheets, while Louisville City keeper Greg Ranijtsingh finished one behind with 11.

If you an MLS fan looking to see names you may recognize, Louisville City has 21-year old Jonathan Lewis on loan from New York City FC where he scored three goals in 25 appearances in 2017. Phoenix Rising features six players on loan from an MLS club, including a trio of Los Angeles FC youngsters, although none of the three made much of an impact this season.

The match will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 PM EST and will be worth the watch for many reasons, but historically to see Drogba play the final match of his career.

World Cup Predictions

The USA is not in the World Cup that begins the day after we find out the USA will host the World Cup in 2026. It has been hard to get revved up for the next month of soccer without the USA, Italy, Netherlands and Ghana competing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be a fun watch. I looked through the groups and break down who I think will get out of each group and who will win the cup.

Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, & Uruguay

I have Uruguay winning the group behind the easiest footballer to hate, Luis Suarez, but they have plenty of talent in Edison Cavani, Diego Godin, Maximiliano Pereira and more. They are a solid team but nothing special as you will see in the knockout rounds. Russia actually has a good shot to win the group behind big Russian names that aren’t well known to casual soccer fans. Alexandr Golovin is a special young talent at CSKA Moscow, while the Miranchuk twins from Lokomotiv will really open eyes at this year’s tournament.  Egypt will finish third behind star Mohamed Salah, while Saudi Arabia will struggle to secure a point.

Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, & Iran

This one is very top heavy, but I have Portugal tabbed to win the group. Behind Christiano Ronaldo, you have the likes of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Alves, Pepe, and more. They simply have more talent and are a better team than runner ups Spain, who I don’t see having the scoring to make it deep into the tournament, but good enough to get out of the group and possibly one more match but not go on a run. I see Morocco finishing third with Iran struggling to get a point, much like the other team from the Middle East.

Group C: France, Australia, Peru, & Denmark

France might have as much talent as any team in the tournament, and should cruise through the group. There is so much talent in fact, Karim Benzama, Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot, and Aymeric Laporte will all be watching the tournament from home. The second team from the group may very well be determined on Friday when Peru and Denmark face off. I see Denmark knocking off Peru behind the star Christian Eriksen and a plethora of forwards they have on the squad. That leaves Australia last in the group, but I know I will tune in to see Tim Cahill in likely his last World Cup.

Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, & Nigeria

There is not a traditional “Group of Death” this year, but this may be as close as it gets. Argentina features arguably the best player in the world. Iceland is coming off a fantastic showing in the Euros two years ago that made them the darlings of the soccer world. There might not be a better midfield duo in the tournament than Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for Croatia, and Nigeria features vets Victor Moses and Mikel John Obi. In the end I see Argentina finishing first while Croatia is a very strong second.

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, & Serbia

Brazil has been a quiet team heading into the World Cup for the first time ever, but I still see them coasting through a solid group. Serbia has the veteran leadership to escape as the number two team, just ahead of Costa Rica followed closely by Switzerland.

Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, & South Korea

This is another really interesting group that will have Americans unsure of how to root. Do you pull for rival Mexico to represent the CONCACAF or do you root for them to face an early exit. Germany is easily the best team in the group and will run away with it, while I do see Mexico just holding off Sweden with South Korea coming in last.

Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, & England

If France is the most talented team in the tournament, Belgium is 1B. They may actually be able to roll out Youri Tielemans and Adnan Januzaj as subs, which is a nice luxury for head man Roberto Martinez. England has a special group of players that may make them a threat in Qatar in four years, but they definitely have enough to finish second in this group. I see Tunisia having a good showing and actually finishing third in the group, ahead of Panama.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, & Japan

This might end up being the least interesting group of all, but there is some sneaky talent here. Robert Lewandowski is still an elite goal scorer and will carry the club to a win in the group. Senegal is solid but will finish last in the group. The Colombia vs. Japan game on Tuesday will be more important than some expect. With a new coach at the helm, veteran stars Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, and Shinji Okazaki are seeing more time on the pitch for Japan. That said, I think Colombia has just enough to finish second in the group over Japan.

Round of 16:

Spain over Uruguay
Portugal over Russia
France over Croatia
Argentina over Denmark
Brazil over Mexico
Germany over Serbia
Belgium over Colombia
England over Poland

The best match here will be France and Croatia, as Croatia has the team to push France to the brink, but France just has too much talent. If it is Spain against Russia rather than Portugal, I could see the hosts advancing to the quarters.

Quarter Finals

France over Spain
Portugal over Argentina
Belgium over Brazil
Germany over England

This would make for an incredible Quarter Finals to watch. France has incredible talent knocking off an undermanned Spain club. The two best players in the world face off yet again in Portugal and Argentina. Belgium’s talent is just too much for the always dangerous Brazil club. German and England face off in a rivalry that is always fantastic.

Semi Finals

Belgium over France
Germany over Portugal

The two most talented teams face off with Belgium coming out on top, while the best team overall in Germany knocks off arguably the best player in the world.

Third Place Game

France over Portugal

This is typically the least interesting match in the tournament, and there is a real chance Ronaldo doesn’t even play in it, but France will get the chance to show their depth and take third.

Final

Belgium over Germany

In a final that will have people worldwide really confused by the far too similar flags, it is talent that wins out over team play. I see Belgium lifting the cup in a final that could be epic.

USA Player Ratings VS Germany

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to assign grades to players who barely touched the ball. The statistics will show that Germany had possession of the ball 60 something percent of the time. It sure felt more like 80 something. The Germans were definitely good value for their win, and with more clinical finishing (or perhaps less heroic defending by the U.S.), they could have won by three or four more goals and sent the United States packing. As it is, the States are through to the knock out stage and here’s how the boys did against Deutschland.

GK – Tim Howard: 6.0 – Mueller’s bullet in the 55th minute was unstoppable, but had Howard simply collected the soft header low to his right rather than try to punch it out through the middle of the box, his score would be higher. Apart from that moment of madness, he was steady and commanding in the box, though nothing overly spectacular was required of him.

D – DaMarcus Beasley: 6.5 – Another solid performance from the veteran. One of the few U.S. players who got forward a little bit, and wasn’t beaten on the defensive end either.

D – Omar Gonzalez: 7.5 – Man of the match for the Americans. Several well-timed tackles to save sure goals and apart from a muffed clearance early, was brilliant. Didn’t support the offense much but when your team doesn’t have the ball, what can you do?

D – Matt Besler: 7.0 – Besler might well be the next American defender to get a contract from an English Premier League side. Few players have been steadier in the group stage. You can add toughness to his resume too, as he’s dealt with a troublesome hamstring.

D – Fabian Johnson: 5.0 – Disappointing performance from the right back. He wasn’t terrible, but completely failed to run at Benedikt Hoewedes after the German left back picked up an early yellow card. Made some timely interceptions, but also gave the Germans too much room in attack.

M – Brad Davis: 4.5 – The MLS veteran appeared out of his depth at the World Cup level. Left Beasley exposed at the back too frequently by failing to fill the gaps. Never got to attempt any free kicks, which is his specialty and the reason he was put in the side to begin with. Subbed out in the second half, probably later than he should have been.

M – Kyle Beckerman: 6.5 – Did what he always does. Provided solid support in front of the back four. Even made a few forays into the German half and didn’t look out of place, nor was he caught in possession like he was against Portugal a couple of times. Nice shift put in by the veteran midfielder.

M – Jermaine Jones: 6.0 – Didn’t show the all-around brilliance he displayed in the first two group games, but certainly wasn’t bad. His touch let him down a few times, but he defended well like he always does, and managed to avoid picking up a yellow card and preserve his eligibility for the round of 16. Fortunate not to be hurt after a gruesome looking collision with sub, Alejandro Bedoya.

M – Michael Bradley: 5.5 – Decent recovery performance by Bradley. After being historically awful against Ghana and Portugal, he can consider himself fortunate to not have been dropped. He wasn’t able to accomplish a ton offensively, but he managed to not give the ball away in bad positions, and was able to distribute well to the wings on the few occasions the U.S. managed to keep possession.

M – Graham Zusi: 4.5 – A bit of a let down from the Sporting Kansas City man. His delivery on corners was poor, and apart from going fairly close with an early effort that Manny Neuer probably would have stopped anyway had it been on target, was anonymous.

F – Clint Dempsey: 5.0 – Was completely shut down by the German defense. Fluffed a glorious chance at a headed equalizer deep into second half stoppage time to put a bow on a thoroughly forgettable offensive day for Deuce. That said, he tracked back and defended well from the front, which against Germany, is key for your forwards to do.

The Substitutes

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 5.0 – Fairly anonymous, apart from colliding with Jones, in the 20 minutes he was given. Had a sight of goal late in the second half, but took slightly too long to let it rip and let Phillip Lahm nip in for a sliding deflection.

M – DeAndre Yedlin: 4.5 – Shocking that he wasn’t introduced earlier with his youth and speed. Wasn’t lacking in energy, but the one chance he had to whip a dangerous cross in resulted in an unsophisticated larrup 25 feet over the goal and end line.

Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann: 5.5 – No magic subs this time, and a head scratcher in starting Davis. Also took too long to introduce fresh legs in Yedlin. That said, if you want to look at the group stage as a whole, he did well to advance the U.S. out of a brutal group.

The Referee: Ravshan Irmatov, Uzbekistan: 5.5 – Botched an advantage call early, and missed a couple of fouls committed by the Americans. Notably, both Bradley and Beckerman were fortunate to avoid early yellows. Reminder, 5.5 is not an awful grade. It’s not a great grade. It’s just there. And Irmatov, like the two refs that officiated the first two games, didn’t make any game-swinging bad decisions. There weren’t any near penalties, but still, he let the players decide the game.