Category: USMNT

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: 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.