ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: With the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs still on a break and Andrew Wiebe welcoming Cameron Russell into the world (congrats!), the ExtraTime Radio crew spends some time talking to new Revolution head coach Brad Friedel to understand his philosophy heading into his first professional coaching gig, and previewing the young USMNT squads matchup in Portugal (3:45 pm ET; FS1, Univision, UniMás). Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
On Monday's ExtraTime Radio our own Ben Baer called Tuesday's friendly against Portugal (3:45 pm ET; FS1, Univision, Unimas) one of the most meaningless USMNT games in recent memory, or perhaps ever. And he's not wrong.
- The US will be playing without their best player(s)
- Portugal will be playing without their best player(s)
- The US will be coached by a guy who's unlikely to ever coach them in a second game
- There will be 1833 days between the friendly and the next possible US appearance in a World Cup
Win or lose, it doesn't matter much in Leiria. What matters is who plays, and how hard.
With that in mind, here are a few things that I want to see from the US, as well as an I-have-no-idea-what-we'll-actually-see-but-I-hope-it's-this lineup prediction. Away we go:
Body Language & Intent
The disengaged, lackadaisical, soft USMNT that showed up for the first 45 minutes against Trinidad & Tobago is seared into my memory, and will never disappear. It was part of a longer trend for this program, one that has been the storyline of this decade.
The defining characteristic of the group that's played most of the minutes this decade is an ability to concede bad goals at the worst possible times No result is safe, no matter the opponent. Whether it's back-breaking late goals by the likes of Silvestre Varela in the World Cup or Rafa Marquez in Ohio, or careless early goals via the likes of Marco Ureña in New Jersey or Ezequiel Lavezzi in Houston... in crucial moments, the US have been soft.
Want some good news? The last two US U-20 teams – whose alumni fill this roster – have not been soft and have not been tentative. You see it in the individuals themselves at the club level: players like Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga, Weston McKennie (and Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola, two who aren't here) are 90-minute killers.
No matter who plays in this one, that's the body language and intent I want to see. The US have to make it hard on Portugal, and rediscover that as a program-wide identity.
A New Pair
To be fair: John Brooks has been amongst the softest US players. For all his gifts, physical and technical, he has a propensity to lose the first physical challenge of any game, and once he makes one mistake, has a way of turning it into another three mistakes.
That said, I want Brooks out there. He's healthy again, having played 180 minutes for Wolfsburg since the end of October, and at 24 is just entering his prime. Between him and Miazga, the US should have a young-ish, mobile, aerially dominant center back pairing to build around for the next five years.
Maybe Cameron Carter-Vickers or Justen Glad or Erik Palmer-Brown or insert young CB here pushes into that group, or maybe one of the veterans has a bit of gas left in the tank. Maybe the next coach decides three- or five-at-the-back is the way to go. Things can happen.
But on the face of it, Brooks and Miazga are the most talented center backs in the pool.
The lack of a consistent center back pairing this decade played, in my opinion, an outsized role in the US having so many "soft" moments since 2011. And the single best thing Dave Sarachan can do for the program with his caretaker position is to get these guys a rep together, and start the ball rolling on what will hopefully be a more cohesive and solid bunch for the 2022 cycle.
Flood the Midfield
The US lost to T&T for of a lot of reasons. One of them was the inability to get pressure to the ball in central midfield.
Here's what the Soca Warriors did from about 7:30 to 9:20 on the clock in that game:
Green arrows are completed passes, yellow is a key pass (a pass that leads to a shot). Red arrows mark incomplete passes.
There are, of course, no red arrows.
Now, it's not like the US made the whole game that easy for T&T, but the first half was pretty close to being a stroll. Part of that goes to the body language & intent issue above, but part of it goes to simple formational responsibilities. The US were undermanned in that crucial part of the pitch, and that let T&T get into a rhythm, and once you allow that you start to tilt the scales ever so slightly, touch by touch, against yourself. You open the door for things like freak own-goals or 35-yard bombs to ruin your quadrennial.
Whether it's a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-5-2 or a modified 4-3-3, the US need to get numbers into that part of the pitch.
Get a Creator Out There
The closest thing this roster has to a playmaker is Kelyn Rowe. He should play 90 minutes. Whether those come on the wing or underneath the striker(s) in the hole... I don't really care. I just want to see the US put out at least one midfielder with the ability to make a special attacking play, who has a little bit of "wow, I didn't see that coming..." vision.
Obviously this is Pulisic's job when he's available. But I swear there is no law that prohibits coaches from putting more than one truly creative type on the field at a time.
I understand why Alejandro Bedoya and Tim Ream are there (and I wrote, a month ago, that Bedoya should be part of the roster). I am glad that the soon-to-be-29-year-old C.J. Sapong has been called in, as I think he can play the Alan Gordon/Conor Casey/Brian Ching role for this cycle. Eric Lichaj is a useful choice because he can cover either the right or left side.
But I don't want to see any of those guys start in this game. The only guys on this roster over 25 that I want to see extended minutes from are Danny Williams, Bill Hamid and Jorge Villafaña (by default – I wish Brandon Vincent had been on this team).
My Formation and XI
There's quite literally no pressure right now. It's time to try something different, to trust the kids, and to start building for 2022.