USMNT 2021 to-do listing: Discover a striker, construct depth behind stars and decide way forward for veterans

In a yr that was interrupted world wide by the coronavirus pandemic, the United States males’s nationwide crew performed simply 4 matches in 2020. With so few alternatives for supervisor Gregg Berhalter to get his crew collectively, it quantities to a misplaced yr in this system’s evolution as U.S. Soccer prepares to proper the wrongs of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia by confirming a spot at Qatar 2022.

In order we usher within the new yr, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Austin Lindberg and Gus Elvin make a to-do listing for Berhalter & Co. for 2021. In 12 months’ time, the U.S. can have its focus fixated on the World Cup, and far must be completed by then.

Leap to: Striker and center-backs | Build depth | Manage the pool for busy ’21 | Determine vets’ futures

Merchandise 1: Stabilize striker, center-back positions

A yr in the past, Berhalter appeared to haven’t any scarcity of lineup points. Exterior of Christian Pulisic, there wasn’t a lot in the way in which of creativity, at the least in opposition to high quality opposition. The midfield’s form additionally appeared unsettled because it appeared unclear the place Tyler Adams can be deployed: right-back or defensive midfield?

– Lowe: Musah’s USMNT call-up no fluke

However regardless of a dearth of video games in 2020, the progress of some parts within the participant pool meant that a few of these issues started to resolve themselves. Giovanni Reyna‘s breakthrough with Borussia Dortmund ratcheted up the crew’s potential within the attacking third. There’s additionally Yunus Musah to contemplate, although the dual-national has but to resolve if he’ll totally decide to the U.S. after impressing in the November call-up to face Wales and Panama.

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The smile on Adams’ face following November’s 0-0 draw with Wales spoke to his consolation when stationed in entrance of the backline. In the meantime, Weston McKennie‘s spectacular debut season with Juventus hints at extra consistency with the nationwide crew. There have been even optimistic indicators on the traditionally troublesome left-back spot with Antonee Robinson‘s maturation, although some extra consistency — at the least in a U.S. shirt — continues to be required.

But issues at both finish of the pitch shall be conserving the wheels in Berhalter’s head turning — striker and one of many center-back slots.

The beginning striker function stays up for grabs regardless of Gyasi Zardes‘ spectacular 12-goal season in serving to Columbus Crew SC to win MLS Cup in 2020. His earlier time beneath Berhalter with the Crew means he nonetheless stays one of many supervisor’s favorites, but there stays this impulse to look elsewhere. Werder Bremen teen Josh Sargent is lauded for his willingness to do the soiled work, but has scored simply as soon as in 14 video games this yr within the Bundesliga. There are additionally kids Sebastian Soto (Norwich) and Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen), in addition to 18-year-old Matthew Hoppe, contemporary off his hat-trick final weekend for Schalke in opposition to Hoffenheim.

“I feel we’ve some high quality strikers which have completely different qualities, however they will all be efficient in what we do,” Berhalter instructed ESPN. “For us, it is about persevering with to look at them, watching them carry out, watching them rating targets. And when the timing comes, you understand, choose the suitable guys who can execute what we’re asking. It is very nice to see that group of fellows [performing] and simply think about the probabilities.”

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Jurgen Klinsmann heaps reward on Matthew Hoppe after the American teenager’s heroic hat trick for Schalke.

Then there’s Jozy Altidore. The Toronto striker, now 31, nonetheless has the instruments to be devastating. But accidents proceed to chip away at his total health, and Berhalter appears unconvinced. “I feel for Jozy, it is only a matter of staying wholesome, being wholesome, after which everybody is aware of what he can do when he is there. The consistency of [his fitness] goes to be vital.”

Altidore was called in for the shrunk-down January camp, giving him a possibility to indicate the U.S. supervisor that he might be trusted as World Cup qualifying begins later this yr. Who is aware of if he — or any of the candidates, for that matter — will seize the possibility earlier than him.

The middle of the protection has some questions as nicely, although not because it pertains to John Brooks, who’s set to anchor the left aspect. The veteran has been a constant presence for Wolfsburg and appears to have shed the harm bug that has plagued him up to now.

Who will play subsequent to Brooks is a unique story. Aaron Long handled ups and downs in 2020 however nonetheless appears to have Berhalter’s favor, making it more durable for reigning MLS Defender of the 12 months Walker Zimmerman to make a breakthrough. Matt Miazga‘s transfer to Anderlecht has completed him some good when it comes to common minutes, and he stays firmly in consideration.

“We’d like center-backs that may execute our sport mannequin and play with house behind the backline, that may win duels, that may move out of the again,” Berhalter mentioned. “There are plenty of expectations on our center-backs, and what we do. I feel that, once more, the ultimate choices [over who starts] will come right down to the shape they’re in with the golf equipment, how they proceed to develop in some circumstances, after which based mostly on what sort of opponent we’re taking part in.”

Lastly, whereas it nonetheless appears a bit early for Mark McKenzie, his current transfer to Belgian aspect Genk may speed up his growth in a approach just like that of a few of his better-known teammates. Chris Richards is one other expertise who’s aiming to make his mark with the U.S. squad, in addition to at Bayern Munich. There isn’t a scarcity of candidates and the competitors to turn into Brooks’ most popular associate in central protection shall be intense. — Jeff Carlisle

Merchandise 2: Construct depth behind high-profile starters

The long run is shiny as Pulisic (Chelsea), Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Sergino Dest (Barcelona), McKennie (Juventus) and plenty of others have damaged by means of at prime European golf equipment. Whereas Berhalter seems to have a robust nucleus in place for each the current and future, the following problem for the U.S. shall be to construct depth and competitors throughout the participant pool. In different phrases, it is paramount that the U.S. proceed to spherical out the squad behind the anticipated regular suspects: Pulisic, Reyna, Dest, McKennie, Adams, Zack Steffen and Brooks.

At current, the U.S. have round or seven or eight surefire starters, with striker and right-sided center-back the most important remaining questions for Berhalter in relation to his beginning XI. After that’s the place issues get muddled, as with simply 4 worldwide friendlies in 2020, Berhalter wasn’t afforded a lot of an opportunity to dive into his participant pool, make judgments on function gamers or begin forming a two- or three-deep hierarchy at every place. The U.S. has no scarcity of choices at striker and center-back (see above), whereas Jordan Morris, Tim Weah, Tyler Boyd, Paul Arriola, Konrad de la Fuente, and Chris Mueller will compete for roles out broad.

Musah (if he sticks with the U.S.), Sebastian Lletget, and Brenden Aaronson are all versatile sufficient to play as both No. 8s or No. 10s in midfield, whereas the U.S. can be in good fingers from a depth perspective at right-back with the succesful Reggie Cannon backing up Dest.

“To me, this group is a end result of the event system in America,” mentioned Berhalter. “And I feel it is reflective on the funding that [MLS] possession was put into youth growth, how [much] different academies have put into growth. The Growth Academy had loads to do with it, and now you are beginning to see that it is a systematic growth of gamers.”

But the U.S. is skinny in defensive midfield and at left-back. Adams is the stalwart No. 6 for the U.S., whereas Fulham‘s Robinson continues to enhance and appears to have made the beginning left-back job his personal. Points at these two positions lie when it comes to depth, although, because the U.S. would not have a transparent backup for both at current.

We begin with Adams, some of the indispensable gamers due to his capability to play as a lone defensive midfielder and because of the quantity of floor he can cowl. The RB Leipzig midfielder’s function can’t be overstated as he papers over so lots of the aspect’s shortcomings, however his troubling historical past of muscle accidents is a priority. With 33-year-old Michael Bradley‘s future unsure on the worldwide stage, Berhalter should discover alternate options.

The U.S. shall be seeking to one among Owen Otasowie (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes), James Sands (NYCFC) and even lately flipped twin nationwide Andres Perea (Orlando Metropolis) to emerge as the reply to their No. 6 conundrum. The U.S. is in good fingers with Adams, but when he have been to go down in a jam-packed 2021, would the U.S. be capable to cope?

The image is even much less clear at left-back, as behind Robinson there isn’t any pure match who has earned Berhalter’s belief. MLS kids Sam Vines and Chase Gasper are two to look at right here, but when something occurred to Robinson, the likeliest situation would see Dest transfer over to left-back and Reggie Cannon or DeAndre Yedlin begin at right-back.

The USMNT could possibly be on the verge of one thing particular, however touchdown on the suitable function gamers and establishing depth the place wanted most are crucial as they start a vital calendar yr. — Gus Elvin

Merchandise 3: Handle participant pool to compete on 4 fronts

The listing of competitions for 2021 is lengthy, assuming the COVID-19 pandemic cooperates, which it hasn’t proven an inkling of doing over the previous 10 months. There’s Olympic qualifying in late March, the finals of the CONCACAF Nations League in June, the Gold Cup in July, the Olympics themselves (fingers crossed), and the most important one of all of them, World Cup qualifying beginning in September.

“It is fairly easy when you consider Nations League and Gold Cup,” Berhalter mentioned. “We need to be in two finals, and hopefully win two finals. We have but to win a trophy since I have been teaching [the national squad] … that is actually a aim of ours, and I feel it doesn’t matter what group is on the sector, we nonetheless need to be competing for a championship. I feel that is an vital message.

“With World Cup qualifying, we need to put ourselves in place after the primary eight video games [from September to November 2021].”

The issue dealing with Berhalter is one wherein he should stability seeing his beginning XI as typically as doable — even because the pandemic rages — whereas staying within the good graces of the gamers’ golf equipment. With unprecedentedly congested fixture lists, abroad gamers will want a break in some unspecified time in the future. It is a thought by no means removed from Berhalter’s thoughts.

“We’re all the time fascinated with, ‘Who’re the most effective [fringe] guys and who’s in kind?’ And we would like to have this man, however he is received a little bit harm. There are all the time circumstances, proper? So it is actually troublesome to plan that far forward and say, ‘OK, that is the group we’re 100% assured in,’ as a result of till they’re on the airplane, you do not know. There is a weekend sport, after which they fly off, and you haven’t any concept what is going on to occur in that sport.

“For us, we predict the [USMNT talent pool] has affordable depth. I might say the shortcoming of the crew in most areas is expertise, however that’s made up for with expertise. Now, it is about getting that expertise some expertise.”

For that cause, essentially the most smart method is one wherein the highest weapons are known as in for the finals of the CONCACAF Nations League. There shall be a world window in March to try to construct on what few camps happened in 2020. The crew chosen for the Olympic qualifying match is difficult by the truth that not solely is it an Underneath-23 match, however golf equipment aren’t required to launch gamers, hinting strongly at a squad picked closely from MLS versus Europe-based gamers.

The Gold Cup will possible draw from MLS as nicely, however the roster could possibly be fully completely different if the U.S. qualifies for the Olympics, as the 2 tournaments can have some overlap. Whereas it is simple to dismiss each tournaments as being unimportant when it comes to the competitors stage, it is nonetheless useful worldwide expertise, and depth shall be important as Berhalter navigates his approach by means of the slog that’s WC qualifying. That can start in September, and the extra gamers Berhalter has who can excel in these tournaments, the higher off the crew shall be. — Jeff Carlisle

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Kasey Keller praises USMNT Participant of the 12 months Weston McKennie for the way rapidly he has tailored at Juventus.

Merchandise 4: Decide which veterans have a future

The youth motion throughout the nationwide crew has been nicely documented, and to nice fanfare, however there are 4 gamers with appreciable worldwide pedigree at Berhalter’s disposal whose careers are nearing their ends. Bradley, Altidore, Brad Guzan and Tim Ream all may need roles to play because the Stars and Stripes seems forward to Qatar 2022; or, simply as doable, they won’t.

Altidore is the one one among this quartet to be known as into Berhalter’s January camp, and contemplating the People’ inconsistent play on the No. 9 place and relative lack of depth, he could be the most effective positioned of this group to have a spot transferring ahead. Ream finds himself in an identical state of affairs, with the second center-back spot broad open and having gone the total 90 in six of the U.S.’s final seven contests earlier than the pandemic-enforced shutdown.

Every has vital hurdles to beat, although, in the event that they’re to carve out a recurring function in 2021. For Altidore, it is remaining wholesome, having been match sufficient to start out simply 11 of Toronto FC‘s 20 video games throughout a shortened 2020 marketing campaign. Ream, then again, has discovered minutes arduous to come back by at Fulham in current months; already 33, his usefulness for a nationwide crew with its eyes on making a splash on the World Cup in slightly below two years’ time could be on the wane.

For Bradley and Guzan, the percentages of continued participation are longer. Neither has performed for the U.S. in additional than a yr, and Guzan had already been usurped by Steffen because the People’ No. 1 nicely earlier than his most up-to-date look. Equally, Adams has established himself because the No. 6 selection, however he is additionally been liable to harm, and the squad lacks another choice who possesses the instruments essential to function on the base of midfield. Does this preserve the door a tiny bit open for Bradley? We’ll discover out quickly sufficient.

“I feel I have been in line with my messaging since I first took over,” Berhalter instructed ESPN. “Initially, we actually worth veterans. We worth what they carry, we worth their expertise, we worth how they will help the group. And with all these guys, it is only a case of them taking part in and being in kind. Then, there can completely be a job for them, and that is what we’re in search of.

“That is the measuring stick for these guys: Are they taking part in, and are they in good kind?”

Come the tip of 2021, the U.S. shall be lower than a yr away from the 2022 World Cup, a match at which expectations shall be excessive contemplating the glut of burgeoning younger expertise on the crew’s disposal. Expertise is a nebulous worth, however because the calendar turns and Qatar looms bigger on the horizon, Berhalter might want to quickly decide which vets he wants at his disposal — if any in any respect. — Austin Lindberg

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