Category: Team USA

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.

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.

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.