On November 21, just over a month from now, the US men’s team will play their first Football World Cup match in almost 8.5 years. Thank God. More than 1,600 days have passed between when the Americans were eliminated from the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification and when they won this time, and now more than 200 days have passed since qualification. After the longest wait between world championships, it’s about to arrive.
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The coaches of the national teams have been signed for the Football World Cup cycles, and the contract of the American coach Gregg Berhalter expires a few weeks after the tournament in Qatar. His first year was spent fiddling with rosters and watching as many players as possible, and his second year was almost non-existent due to COVID shutdowns.
His third place was a string of injuries, three victories over Mexico and a bumpy and disappointing crawl through qualifying. His fourth included qualifying and a summer (and early fall) of sluggishness. The optimism has waxed and waned, as has the faith in the work that Berhalter is doing. But as we enter the farewell phase of this eight year drought, I still have four questions about Berhalter, his team and the upcoming major tournament.
How have the U.S. done under Berhalter?
To begin answering this question, let’s go back and answer the broader question: how did the US do, period? At the moment, the national team is ranked 16th in the FIFA rankings and 24th in the more predictable rating. Here’s a quick chart of how that compares to his year-end rankings, going back to 1994 when the US hosted the World Cup.
Given that the country’s interest in football has grown and its investment in football has risen – perhaps primarily due to increased investment in MLS academies and sub-MLS leagues – the US has not improved its overall standing in world football since its original post. -1994 surge. Its golden era in both sets of ratings began around 2000, gained momentum in 2002, and ended around 2005. Since then, the US has been plunged into almost identical cycles.
In 2005, the US averaged 13th in the two rankings above, but dropped to an average of 28th the following year when Bruce Arena’s management contract expired. Three years later, in 2009, they returned to an average of 16th under Bob Bradley, but fell to an average of 35th two years later when he was sacked in 2011.
These cycles continued under Jürgen Klinsmann. In 2013, they were once again within striking distance of the top 10, but returned to the top 30 when he was sacked in 2016. And after a couple of years of stagnation at the start of the Berhalter era, thanks in part to a lack of opportunity. during COVID-driven 2020 – in 2021 they rose again to adolescence and then dropped to the current average of 20th.
So, we are heading to the Football World Cup, at a key moment. A strong performance at the FIFA World Cup is likely to lift the US up, and for the first time since the 2004-2005 season. will be in the average rating among teenagers for two years in a row. With so many main cast yet to reach their peak, that would paint a terribly optimistic picture of the years to come.
By the way, how would we define a “hard” display? Given that EloRatings.net ranks the US (24th), Iran (21st) and Wales (26th) almost equally at the moment, “solid” will likely require promotion to the playoffs and avoiding breakthrough against England and/or a round of 16 opponent.
Meanwhile, a lower figure in Qatar would mean that the trajectory of the Berhalter era would largely mirror that of the Klinsmann and Bradley eras. Berhalter has been USMNT manager since December 2018, and whether you like it or not, the World Championship will be the final verdict of his tenure. How will he be remembered?
So let’s go back to the original question, how is Berhalter doing so far? It looks like any recent American coach. But based on how the American performed at the club level, we can conclude that he achieved about the same results with a more talented, albeit less experienced squad. When the US reached the quarter-finals of the Football World Cup, they did so with a team of seven players who played for a team in one of Europe’s five leagues. This year there will be 12-14 such players in the national team for the FIFA World Cup.
Of course, some of the team’s most talented players have struggled with injuries; Here I will note again that Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reina, Weston McKenny, Tyler Adams and Sergino Dest played together in the same American match only once. But with more options, appearing at the Football World Cup with three wins, especially with what may actually be a reasonably healthy team, will still reflect badly on Berhalter’s overall game.
Is it fair that, after four years and 56 matches, Berhalter will be judged almost entirely on a swing from three to five matches at the end of the fourth year? Almost certainly. Is this how it works in international football? Absolutely. In other words, the Football World Cup is the final exam at the end of the semester.
Who gets the final eight (or so) spots?
You are allowed to bring 26 players with you to Qatar World Cup. Based on who is currently healthy and who Berhalter seemed to have preferred over the last year or so, we can safely assume that there are about 18 of these names (listed alphabetically).
Berhalter could be a surprise due to the club’s form, which could negatively impact someone like de la Torre, who played just 38 minutes for Celta this season, or Desta, who had a hard time moving to AC Milan from Barcelona in the summer, but that would really be a surprise. For more know about England Vs Wales Tickets.
If Long’s questionable performances in the September friendlies didn’t give him pause, Berhalter has made his preference clear for now. And aside from centre-back Miles Robinson, whose unfortunate Achilles injury in May ruled him out of consideration after he nearly locked out the starting position for Team USA, it looks like, despite a string of recent minor injuries, all of his other favorite players would be currently available if the Football World Cup started today.
Pulisic and McKenny will obviously be the backbone of this team, but what about the players around them? One thing is for sure: Berhalter clearly has his favorites.
Thus, eight more players remain to be chosen: a third goalkeeper, plus perhaps one or two players in each of the other categories of positions above. Based once again on who Berhalter seems to have been paying the most attention to over the past year or so, here are rough lists of likely candidates for these final spots. From the start of 2021, they are the only two other goalkeepers to play for Berhalter other than Turner and Steffen.
Palmer-Brown and McKenzie took part in the last international window, and Carter-Vickers would have taken part if not for the injury. Sands has played six times for the United States since the start of 2021 and is doing well for the Rangers. John Brooks also played six times for Berhalter during this time but appears to be in trouble and has not had much playing time since signing for Benfica.
This unit is somewhat of a mystery. Robinson, Yedlin and probably Dest probably don’t hesitate, but at least one more defender will go to Qatar World Cup. Cannon is Berhalter’s favourite, but is still recovering from a groin injury that knocked him out of the September friendlies. Scully, 19, is starting his second season with a Bundesliga team; he might seem simple, but Berhalter only played him three times.
With Roldan also struggling with a groin injury (he is now healthy), Berhalter was able to take a closer look at Cardoso and Tillman, who made four appearances for the United States in the September international window. A year ago, Busio appeared to be on his way to taking over, but he has only made one appearance in his last 13 U.S. appearances.
This is where Berhalter’s preferences are particularly at odds with form and statistics. He invited Pepi to the September camp despite a long run of poor form, and in 59 minutes against Saudi Arabia, Pepi had only 13 touches and no strikes. For more know about Football World Cup Tickets.
He also brought in Sargent for the first sign of the 22-year-old England second tier’s form improving; Sargent played 45 minutes against Saudi Arabia, landing 15 touches without a shot. Shooting is usually an important stat for a forward, and outside of Ferreira, Berhalter has struggled to find someone who uses them consistently.
No one would be surprised if Berhalter chose two or so from among Pepi, Sargent and the veterans Arriola and Morris. They are clearly the ones he is most comfortable with at the moment, for better or worse. But if the form of the club really matters, then Pefok or Wright should attract more eyes than they have of late.
Does the team’s identity fit the personnel?
On December 4, 2018, at a press conference introducing Berhalter as head coach, Ernie Stewart, a former USMNT forward and current athletic director, was asked how to define the success of the Berhalter era. He broke his answer into three parts. Two of them were quite specific qualifying for and succeeding in the Qatar Football World Cup but the third was more abstract: Make sure the way we play is identified by our fans so that they see exactly what they need on the pitch.
This answer was problematic from the start, if only because fans will never agree 100% on aesthetics. But when you hire Berhalter, you hire ownership. In his five seasons with the Columbus Crew MLS, Berhalter’s teams averaged at least 5.0 passes per possession each year, and had a ball possession rate of at least 53.6% in three of those five.
Columbus was more passive defensively than many teams in possession, but he clearly believed in patient formation from behind and trying to slowly pin opponents to the ground with longer possessions.
It was easy to see how difficult it can be to put together such a specific style for an international team when you have so much time to train and you can’t control who is in your pool of players. Will the US be able to take this approach against more talented teams, given that talent and ball possession are fairly well correlated with each other? And will the short pass work without falling down on some of the bumpier pitches they might face in a CONCACAF away game?
Berhalter, second from right, came to work with big ideas in 2018, but it’s hard to see how he managed to bring that vision to life. When asked about this at the opening press conference, Berhalter simply said, I think when I took over Columbus five years ago, if I told you that Columbus would look like a team based on possession, you likely to ask questions like this. That is, he did not answer the question at all.
Four years later, developing a style of possession really proved to be a challenge. The US has been able to dominate possession and beat teams with far less talent, averaging 57% possession in 56 games and exceeding 65% on 10 occasions. But when they faced good teams, they either struggled to control the ball or tried to create something with it.
In 26 matches, Berhalter’s USA played against teams that are participating in this year’s Football World Cup, they had 17 possessions but only scored 16 goals in those matches and averaged 1.53 points per game. In just nine games under 50%, they scored nearly as many goals (13) and averaged 1.89 points per game. Most of their best games 4-1 over Canada in November 2019 (37% possession), 3-0 over Morocco in June 2022 (52%), all three wins over Mexico in 2021 (37%, 43% and 49%). many possessions. They were both better and more productive off the ball, despite Berhalter’s intentions.
The same story was throughout the qualification of the Football World Cup. In five games at or below 50% possession, they averaged 2.2 points and 2.2 goals per game. In nine games with over 50% possession, they averaged 1.6 points and 1.1 goals. Establishing quality possession was accidental, and when they did, they didn’t get creative enough to unlock the built-in defense. It’s absolutely true, however, that injury luck could help: Pulisic, Reina and Weah all play for clubs with a lot of possession, but they’ve only played together three times.
Even worse, in their September friendly match against the US, Japan put a lot of pressure on them and the US conceded. Japan doesn’t always depend on pressure, but they sensed a weakness and took full advantage. They started an incredible 15.2% of their possessions in attack – by comparison, even Manchester City (10.7%) and Bayern Munich (10.6%) do not come close to that percentage in club play.
Matt Turner talks about his USMNT teammates and explains why he doesn’t like the golden generation phrase. Against both Japan and Saudi Arabia, the US had at least 55% possession, but converted only 11 combined shots, two shots on goal and zero goals. In the final stages of preparation for the Qatar Football World Cup, after nearly four years of Berhalter’s rule, the US failed miserably on most of what should have been its guiding principles.
Certainly a frustrating game of setting up can help everyone refocus and get their motivation level up to the right level; In the end, the US lost to the Netherlands and Ireland ahead of the 2002 Football World Cup, only to almost reach the semi-finals. All hope is obviously not lost, but the fact that the performances were poor and seemingly indicative of previous releases was terribly scary and definitely not something fans want to see.
Who wins: the USMNT or the Snubbed USMNT?
Let’s end this part with a thought exercise: if I’m so concerned that the US isn’t playing the style their talent base is built for, can I create an Alternative USMNT that could potentially outperform the actual USMNT that Berchalter is likely to deliver on a field in Qatar World Cup? Better yet, can I do this without using any of Berhalter’s regulars?
Choosing only from players who have played no more than 150 minutes for the national team in the last 12 months, here is my list of 26 people. Due to the solid depth at the central defender and the questionable depth at the defender, we are going to use a Union Berlin style 3-5-2 formation with a veteran defensive structure and the highest possible speed on the field.
Goalkeepers: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Ethan Horvath (Luton Town) and Josh Cohen (Maccabi Haifa)
Center-backs: Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes), Tim Ream (Fulham), James Sands (Rangers), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City), John Brooks (Benfica), Matt Miazga (Cincinnati)
Fullbacks: Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), DeJuan Jones (New England), Konrad de la Fuente (Olympiacos), John Tolkin (New York Red Bulls)
Midfielders: Djordje Mihailovic (CF Montreal), Malik Tillman (Rangers), Sebastian Lletget (Dallas), Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg), Gianluca Busio (Venezia), Alan Sonora (Independiente), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Julian Green (Greuther Furth)
Forwards: Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor), Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati), Josh Sargent (Norwich City)
Of course, when it comes to ideal full-back options, the number of players is small – although Vines and perhaps Jones could excel in such roles – and the real US midfield of Adams, McKenney and Musa offers much more athleticism and advantages than my choice. . But it’s possible that this team equals the real USMNT front and back, and with a combination of midfield creativity, sheer speed, and finishing ability up front, it could stick to the chosen identity better than the actual USMNT has of late.
It would be to the advantage of the real USMNT to beat this snubbed team, and hopefully they do win. But if Berhalter’s team really fails to advance in Qatar Football World Cup, despite the fact that it may be by far the country’s richest overall talent pool, it will likely be because other teams know themselves and use their strengths better than the US. . And that would reflect badly on Berhalter’s four-year era.
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