0928 USMNT MLS RISE_FALL

Uninspiring, deflating and disappointing. These are the adjectives in regular use to describe the final pre-World Cup window for the US men’s national team. A 2-0 loss to Japan and a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia was not how they drew it up.

Matt Doyle wrote his wrap-up of the window, mostly forward-looking questions facing the team heading towards Group B play in Qatar, which is now less than two months away. In this space, we’ll do Stock Up, Stock Down. There were a lot of options for down. Not a ton for up.

Let’s start with the “positives”, I guess?

Stock Up

Injured players to miss the camp

Fans and analysts have spoken highly of Yunus Musah, Tim Weah and Antonee Robinson. Their talent and contributions haven’t been overlooked. Far from it, actually, but never has their importance been more obvious than over the last 180 minutes.

Musah is awesome as a pressure-release valve in the midfield, which would have been extremely useful against Japan. His ball progression and line-breaking would have been extremely useful against Saudi Arabia.

Weah offers a different dynamism than any of the wingers, for his directness and ability to be goal-dangerous and (trigger warning) vertical. He balances the attacking trio because the natural inclination for regulars in those spots – Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Jesus Ferreira and Brenden Aaronson – is to drop in to receive the ball rather than go in behind.

There is not a like-for-like replacement for Robinson in this pool who's ready for World Cup minutes, as Doyle and I have been talking/writing ad nauseum for a few weeks (months?). Sam Vines had a chance to win the backup role, and he might have just because it’s a better option than a right-footed Sergino Dest/Joe Scally to play inverted, but no one can replicate what Robinson does. Hopefully he’s fit/fresh enough to play every minute for the USMNT at the World Cup.

Chris Richards, too, but he has been oft-injured anytime he seems poised for a greater role with the national team. His injury against Canada came when it seemed he was winning the starting role, and then he pulled out of this camp when it seemed that he’d have the inside track at partnering Walker Zimmerman.

Pefok and guys who missed the cut

Like the backup QB that sticks around for a long time in the NFL because he looks pretty good holding a clipboard and we never actually see him throw an interception as he’s never in the game. Who knows if anything would have been different… but it hardly could have been worse.

Pefok has three goals and two assists in 443 Bundesliga minutes after joining Union Berlin this summer. He won the Golden Boot in Switzerland last season. He wasn’t included on the September roster, with the staff opting for Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi. The attack generated zero goals and two shots on target in 180 minutes. There were few chances created, to be fair, but maybe Pefok could have helped the team play more direct when Plan A wasn't working.

Tim Ream was another name some hoped to see get recalled thanks to his form with Fulham in the Premier League. Maybe the continued open door in central defense keeps him in play. John Brooks too, theoretically, though it seems that ship has sailed under this staff.

To a lesser extent, Eryk Williamson and Brandon Vazquez could have seen their stocks rise, but they seem too far down the depth chart for it to really matter for this World Cup. Vazquez hasn’t been with the national team and Williamson was overlooked as an injury replacement, as Johnny Cardoso got the call.

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Matt Turner
Goalkeeper · USA

Finally, a player who actually played to get Stock Up. The Arsenal goalkeeper played all 180 minutes and, if not for his saves, the Japan game would have gotten out of hand. It should have gotten out of hand. If not for Turner (or probably Saudi Arabia missing a few chances from six yards out), that 0-0 draw would have been a loss.

Turner’s distribution wasn’t perfect. Neither was anyone else’s playing out of the back. Maybe it’s weird I prefer to first analyze a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability than their distribution, who knows!

Zack Steffen hasn’t been good in the Championship with Middlesbrough and is just coming back from an injury. Ethan Horvath is also in the Championship, his first chance to be a regular starter since 2018-19 (and even then, he didn’t start the first third of the year).

Turner has to be the starter against Wales.

One of the few “veterans” on this team, Zimmerman was up for it over the two games. He wasn’t great – no one was – but he was fine. And given the relativity of how uninspiring the last two games were, that’s enough for Stock Up.

Zimmerman (who turned 29 in May) is the oldest outfield player (!!!) on the September squad. It seemed to show in a positive way.

Stock Down

Gregg Berhalter
Manager

This has to be the lowest Gregg Berhalter’s Q-rating has been probably since halftime of that Honduras match a year ago, when the USMNT were staring down the abyss of two draws and a loss in three matches to open World Cup qualifying.

It’s hard to overstate how deflating the last 180 minutes were for the USMNT. They were played off the pitch by Japan and didn’t control the game against Saudi Arabia. With zero goals, two shots on target and very few real chances created, the performances generated a big xSIGH rating from fans.

For a year, there have been questions at center forward. Since Miles Robinson’s injury, there’s been a question at center back. There’s been questions about how to get the most out of Christian Pulisic and others. Those have not been answered.

The best thing to say about the window is the games were not at the World Cup. We await the opening game Nov. 21 against Wales to see if there are any adjustments or if they can shake off this window. Collective optimism is not in deep supply.

Vibes

Tough 180 minutes for the vibes.

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Aaron Long
Defender · USA

Long has had the chance to win the starting center-back gig next to Zimmerman over the last two windows. He started both games in September and was thoroughly unconvincing.

Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers pulled out of the camp with injuries. They (particularly Richards) were the other options for that starting spot. With Long’s performances, that may have been opened up for Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown and perhaps even Ream now.

Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and the team’s stars

Charlie Davies kept repeating it on our watchalong of USMNT vs. Saudi Arabia: The players can’t escape blame.

There isn’t a shortage of blame to go around, that reservoir is deep, but Charlie (as a former USMNT forward himself) was particularly disappointed by those on the pitch. They didn’t match Japan’s intensity and, while it was a bit better against Saudi Arabia, didn’t quite have that bounceback ferocity nor confidence.

In this era, that starts with Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and other leaders. McKennie and Pulisic struggled, as did Adams.

Gio Reyna, one of the brightest talents in the group, walked off with muscle tightness in the 30th minute against Saudi Arabia. Injuries limited Reyna to just 193 minutes over 14 World Cup qualifying matches.

All of the forwards

I feel like I’ve written something to this extent numerous times. It’s almost cliche now, and given all of the words laid out above this, we’ll keep it succinct.

Center forward remains a question mark. Not all of it is their fault even. How many chances were created over the last two games?

Josh Sargent made his return to the national team thanks to great form with Norwich in the Championship, but only played 45 minutes. Ferreira and Pepi didn’t do much to help their cases.

Ferreira is probably the only lock from this group to make the roster and he’s not a lock to start. Center forward will remain atop the discourse going into the World Cup, just as it was going into World Cup qualifying.