Commentary / US / US Soccer / USMNT

No, really, what is the USMNT doing?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

So, let me get this straight, Gregg Berhalter: Your United States Men’s National team is “progressing.”

We’re all supposed to watch a battering by Mexico and an extremely lackluster draw against Uruguay’s C-team and shrug it off because they’re “on the right path.” Got it.

No, seriously, guys. The Mexico loss was actually better than the Gold Cup Final loss because the USMNT was “playing like Berhalter envisioned,” which is apparently generating zero shots on frame from inside the 18.

You know what, though? It’s not even necessarily about the results. Losing to Mexico is the worst (and this was a terrible one), but the reality is they are a good team with a good coach. Sure, Uruguay didn’t have Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavini or Diego Godin or any of their top players, but whatever. You’re allowed to lose a friendly.

The problem here is the presentation. The problem here is a playing style that isn’t working. How Berhalter wants his team to play doesn’t mean jack if he doesn’t have the players to do it. His envisions are meaningless if they aren’t going to come to fruition at some point. Believe in the players all you want. Tell the media how hard they’re working, that they have relentless mentalities, and you’re proud of them.

How about we put some of that relentlessness into a counter attack? You’re a soccer coach, not a life coach.

The current play on the pitch is frustrating enough, but it’s frustrating before we even get there. The lineups Berhalter is putting out are anti-progression. Enough of Gyasi Zardes already. It has nothing to do with what kind of player he is. Forget his Major League Soccer scoring record. Is he going to be at the World Cup with us in 2022? No? Ok, then he has no business being on the roster right now. Even if you do not think his USMNT presence is one of the most mind-boggling consistencies in all of soccer, his age (28) alone goes completely against Berhalter’s narrative.

I’m just as disappointed with Josh Sargent as anyone. Things look shaky up top and there is no clear answer at striker. It just can not be Zardes. If you truly want to develop young players, put them in the lineup. Move on from the Michael Bradleys.

Thatt goes for all positions. What is the purpose of starting Brad Guzan in St. Louis? Why is he with the team? So Zack Steffen is hurt. So he gives up three awful goals. So he stinks. None of those things point to a 35-year-old Guzan. Throw a young guy in there and see what happens. Please, just start a completely new era.

Listen, I love Tim Ream. Really, I do. I’ve been a Fulham supporter for almost a decade. He was our player of the season and he is a reliable defender at a certain level. I don’t want him anywhere near the USMNT anymore. I don’t want him wearing the captain’s armband. Not because he isn’t one of our best defenders (he isn’t) or because he can’t teach the young guys something, but because he is not part of the future plan. He went to school in St. Louis and probably had family and/or friends in the crowd on Tuesday, but that just isn’t reason to play him. Where is Matt Miazga? Where is anyone else?

Starting Guzan and Ream goes fully against what Berhalter is telling everyone. If you’re not going to get a result in a meaningless match, might as well get some younger players some experience.

“I see where the narrative is going now, it’s ‘Why are we playing the way we’re playing?’” Berhalter said. “The second is, ‘We don’t have the players to do it.’ That’s what all of you guys are thinking. And to me, it’s about developing players. We’re making progress. That’s not going to be your narrative right now, and I understand that. But internally, we believe we’re making progress.”

You’re damn right it’s not going to be our narrative right now. How could it be? You’re saying this and then starting players that were done developing 10 years ago. If you are truly going to commit to a playing style, commit to the young guys, too. Commit to the development.

You can say what you want about this international break, but the fact is nothing about these couple weeks have pointed to the USMNT taking the next step. Not the lineups, not the results, not the rhetoric. It has been almost a year under Berhalter already and his training sessions aren’t long enough and he has limited player selection and he probably deserves more time, but none of it feels promising. If anything, it feels like a step back.

You don’t want Jurgen Klinsmann. Fine. You don’t want Tata Martino because he doesn’t speak fluent English. Fine. What is the answer here, then? Time? Are we even convinced that time will prevail after these two matches?

Ever since the USMNT historically failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, I keep going back to Taylor Twellman’s reaction. Every time I’m watching a match or discussing the player pool or scoffing at Zardes slicing a sitter, I go back to his question: What are we doing?

We have money. We have world-class facilities. We have resources. We have athleticism. We have players playing in the biggest leagues in the world. We have all of these things that Uruguay, Venezuela, and Jamaica don’t have, and we can’t beat them.

What are we doing? I still don’t know.


  1. The learned nothing from the last disaster. They waited a year to hire a coach… that’s the brother of chief operating officer of US Soccer.


    Nothing has changed. Except maybe ticket prices. They’ve probably gone up.

    • Ticket prices for any US Soccer-run event are obscene.

      Tickets for decent seats for the Gold Cup at the Linc were ridiculous (at least it was a double-header, even if you were only interested in one game).

      Tickets for the USWNT at Talen in the bone-chilling cold were basically twice the face value of the same seats for the Union

      Tickets for the USWNT “victory tour”, to see half-soccer were also super-expensive

      While I spent my money on two of the three, I know a ton of families who did not – simply because of the price.

  2. Agreed 100%

  3. Chris Gibbons says:

    There is actually an older American striker with more goals in MLS this season than the aforementioned Zardes: Chris Wondolowski. The two guys right below Zardes on the list in 2019 are Jozy Altidore and CJ Sapong.

    Talk tactics however you want, but there is no scenario in which the US makes progress as a soccer-playing nation while starting two guys from the 22nd place team in MLS.

    • Amen! Anyone who has watched Will Trapp over the pre-gold cup warm-ups, gold cup, and recent friendlies knows, plain as day, he is NOT international class. Completely lost and out of his league.

      Why keep calling him back? (Other than the fact that he has a relationship with the Coach from the Crew).

      • It’s precisely that relationship as to why he is there. Trapp is a natural leader and is basically an assistant coach out there for training everyone on Berhalter’s system.
        With Wil’s skill level plateauing, I don’t see him around next year once the guys have a decent handle on the system though. I think Gregg already recognizes that.

  4. Berhalter wants the team to play like Barcelona, Liverpool or Man City. Problem is that the players just do not have the skills for that style of play. Therefore if it becomes clear that playing out of the back does not work (like against Mexico) then come up with plan B at half-time. Do not play 2 halves like chickens without heads.

    • Funny you put it this way (sticking to the system at all costs even though it obviously isn’t working). It sounds alot like our frustrations with Union during the Stewart regime before he left to spend a year hiring…Greg Berhalter to manage the USMNT.

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    Listen people. I get the frustration. I do.
    This isn’t about Barcelona. Liverpool or ManCity.
    This is about France.
    The French won a world cup palying on the counter. they defended like demons and used a lightening quick counter attack to beat all comers.
    this is becasue the coach was a world class no nonsense holding defensive midfielder.
    the thing is, if and when Zinedine Zidane takes over when Deschamps is done, he will institute his version of the game. And make no mistake, if that is a possession based style, tha’s how the French will play.
    Here’s the rub, in order to win a world cup you HAVE to be able to control the ball at every stage and in every phase of the game then CHOSE to play a certain way.
    Until, our federation decides this is how all MLS teams will play (like in Spain) thereby defining a possession system (which isn’t ever going to happen btw) the US will assimilate to the style of the coach.
    You can’t build a possession culture over night. You can’t expect guys who played Route 1 soccer as 10 year olds to have the wherewithal to have a Vison of the Game.
    Here’s the final point. I think the generation behind Christian, and Weston, and Josh is laying in wait and is closer to that Vision… than any generation before.
    Hey everybody, take a breath. We’re either going to get it right or its all going to be wrong… but you can’t blame Greg Berhalter for it.
    By the way… for those who think I’m smoking ganga, why is it 66 MLS USDA Academy coaches have spent a year studying French footy over the last decade.

  6. The one positive that I saw in the Uruguay game is that American players were taking on Uruguayan players one on one with the ball at their feet. After watching USA teams for decades try to use “systems” to compensate for inferior individual ball skills, it was nice to see players whose first response to an opponent getting close was not to pass the ball away as fast as possible.
    They still have a lot of work to do, but I feel like a lot of the young guys have really promising ball skills.

  7. Nobody mentions individual dribbling skills, talent on the ball in small spaces, one on ones. You can’t play from the back without it and keep the ball.

    We Americans don’t have the talent, by and large. The few exceptions confirm the rule. We can’t play like Barcelona and Chile used to. Get over it!

  8. I have to admit I was definitely on the side of “what are they doing?”. I also have to admit that I saw 10-15-20 mins of an American side I’d never seen before. One that played confidently out of the back, and decently at that, till Mexico made adjustments and it all fell apart. But, and more to my actual point, somewhere in that match, I started not caring. I really don’t care anymore. They think their shit don’t stink. I think it does, and I am tired of pretending it doesn’t, so we can all have something to root for in a men’s USA jersey. I’ve had enough of the soccer chalice holders in this country. I’m through with the back room deals, downright greed, nepotism, and basic tom-foolery that makes up USSF and almost by association, though not due exclusively too, MLS’s hierarchy. So, I’m done watching till they actually make progress that can be seen.

  9. One big problem i see is the preference for mls players and coaches. Klinnsman got fired for telling everyone to go to europe. The ones who went got better even if they had fewer club game minutes. Now we have regressed (again) to mainly mls players who don’t have the tactical knowledge to change play during a match. Playing out of the back needs to be fast and open but that’s not how usmnt play it.

  10. I’d rather watch copa liberadores game between 2 teams I’ve never heard of with fast pace high intensity attacking.

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