Some Take Aways from Early Friendlies

The US team won last night 1-0 against rival Mexico in Nashville, TN. The game was a sloppy ugly mess in the first half with the Americans looking even more outclassed by Mexico than what Brazil had done to them a few days earlier. This felt like it had the potential to be a win that hurts us — one that we suddenly get that buoyant feeling that maybe we belong and we have something here, but giving us false confidence that perhaps these feelings are failing us. There was a lot of talk after failing to qualify for the World Cup many spoke about the fact that our failure had been a long time coming. Winning games ugly, games maybe we shouldn’t have ever won, masked the fact that we had real chemistry issues, It masked the fact that we had lost our identity, we weren’t as good as teams even like Costa Rica who seemed to have more of an identity, structure and knew how best to utilize their star players. That perhaps we should not qualify for the World Cup for this entire thing to really be looked at and rebooted.

I come away from the game, trying not to just grasp pure positives, but not also completely bashing a team that won a game against its rival. A game I always enjoy watching them win no matter the circumstances. I tried to take three key areas to improve and three positives from the game.

Improvement Stat

1. Coaching
We still have not selected a coach in over a year, we don’t seem to have solved our striker issue and we still seem to be wrestling and struggling for real identity and formation. Sarachan is in a tough position and not to blame – interim status, taking over after a World Cup shocking failure, managing expectations, chemistry and unity struggles, a new role in GM being developed without clear vision and bringing on young players whom Arena and Jurgen never invested in. With these games not being important and some key injuries he’s not really able to play with the full squad that he would like to. However, we need a coaching solution and we need it soon to start this next cycle right and chemistry being developed between coach and players.

As Taylor Twellman harped on last night against Mexico, these games against big countries matter for chemistry and for developing formations, strategy and style. If we are waiting on a big name like a Rafa Benitez (never going to happen) that is one thing, but if we’re waiting out an MLS contract, why can’t we use that person as the interim like Mexico may be doing. Either way, we need our coach in place now.

2. Goal Scoring
Clint Dempsey has finally hung up his boots and the weight of that move feels daunting to this squad. Clint brought a special brand of soccer to the field for the US and was arguably (I will argue for this) the best player to ever wear the US crest. He was respected at the highest levels in the EPL and always a danger for us. Sure he missed a few opportunities, but the threat he brought when he entered games and some of the historic goals he scored won’t soon be forgotten.

Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore are still arguably our best strikers in the pool even as many beg for young unproven talent, the fact remains they have the track record. This is sad and needs to change really soon. Jonathan Amon and Andrija Novakovich deserve a chance and Nova probably should have been called in against Mexico to close out the game. Josh Sargent and others really need to own this opportunity for their clubs and step up to challenge Dempsey’s place in history for us to have a real go at this next cycle.

3. Defensive Midfield
I have no problem saying Wil Trapp is not the answer. Many will argue with me, but I just do not see it. This wasn’t one or two bad games, he just doesn’t seem to have what it takes at this level to turn the corner and I truly believe that our arm band must be warn by someone with European experience.  It wasn’t one embarrassing play — it was continuous poor passing, poor runs, poor defense and key mistakes. Our midfield looked out of sorts and lacking leadership or direction.

I was a fan of #4 and defended him on many occasions when others turned their backs. Bradley had been great in Europe and come home and won an MLS title, he had earned it. Trapp is not our answer, but I’m not sure who takes this spot. It’s something we have got to get resolved soon though because it’s causing major issues for the rest of the team and showing more and more Michael Bradley’s value in that spot even with the abuse he took from media and fans.

What’s Going Our Way

1. Players Pool
We have an incredible pool of up and coming players – good players in great leagues around the world – players like DeAndre Yedlin on Newcastle, Timothy Weah on PSG, Christian Pulisic on Dortmund, Weston McKennie on Shalke, Matt Miazga at Nantes on loan from Chelsea, Bobby Wood at Hannover and many up and coming players ready to break or flirty with a future in Europe like Josh Sargent,  Tyler Adams, Antonee Robinson, Shaq Moore and Cameron Carter-Vickers. There is so much potential rising and yet when they have taken the field together this year they seem to be missing something.

2. Goalkeeping
Zach Steffen has looked strong and I believe he has claimed this position as his to lose. He has done decently being in position, his reflexes are incredible and he’s made some important saves this year. Brad Guzan is not the answer and no other young keeper has shown as well as Steffen to date. Bill Hamid is back in MLS after taking a shot.

Zach is still very young, but has a lot of talent and is gaining great experience at the international level against some of the top teams and players in the world. I would love for a European club to pick Steffen up to push him, but based on his current performance he’s holding his own and seems to have landed the spot.

3. Backbone of our Lineup
I came away this week with a few thoughts about the beginning of a backbone for this team though of course our #6 and #9 are weak spots that we need to fix soon to complete that. Zach Steffen look solid in the back, John Brooks and Miazga look like a pairing, when healthy, that could strengthen the backline with Yedlin on the right. Pulisic, McKennie and Adams are certainly in the mix for the midfield and Weah is knocking on the door of joining that group though he’ll need to secure playing time to stay there for the next few years.

I think we have a few pieces coming together this year that if healthy, if they continue they could be a great core for some young surprises to emerge from the pack and join. We have a ton of young players in Europe right now that are not on many radars, but it’ll only takes the right coach or situation to turn around.

I do think we have some major hurdles ahead that will have a tremendous impact on our next cycle, coach being a key component.

I do not believe this win is an important part of our future, but winning does help confidence and relieve pressure. Young players winning, no matter or how and getting goals against big teams will help them in the development process.

I do believe that we have an exciting future and a growing movement of both youth development, our home league very slowly improving and young players getting well deserved attention abroad as a solid talent pool to select from and sign. The potential for success is at our door step, but we still have to walk through it.



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