Who: USMNT vs Mexico
When: Friday, September 6th at 8:30pm ET
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
Line: USMNT +210 | Draw +240 | Mexico +130
Short Hills, NJ – “I keep the options open,” said Sergino Dest. And with that honest answer to a far from simple question. Sergino Dest sent all of the U.S. Soccer loving world into a panic.
But is the US Soccer loving world ready for him and Josh Sargent?
Is Dest the best American defensive prospect?
The exciting 18-year-old Ajax first-teamer, UEFA Champions League competitor, and U.S/Netherlands dual national wasn’t trying to send all of the U.S. soccer-loving world into a panic, but he did. When you’re eligible to play for the country you were born and raised in, i.e. the Netherlands, your every utterance raises that possibility.
Dest is a lightning-quick fullback equally comfortable on the left or the right. He’s eminently dangerous in attack and steadily improving defensively. Although English is not his native language, Dest did his best to explain that yes, the Dutch Federation contacted him, though fortunately, perhaps for U.S. hopes, that contact, “was not like the first team yet. It was like the under 23s. And they want to have a meeting with me.”
I keep the options open.
The U.S. can cap tie Dest at next month’s CONCACAF Nations League. Again Dest was noncommital about the prospects of this, saying, “I can’t make that decision.”
But all is not lost for American soccer. Dest is eligible for the U.S. through his father, Kenneth, and has been a regular member of youth teams for the U.S., including the U17 and U20 World Cups.
And Dest doesn’t underestimate that experience. “I say [playing for the U.S. youth teams is] a big opportunity. And I’m also like, proud to play for them. And for me, they give me a lot of chances when I was younger. So I respect that.”
Asked how his family feels about Dest lining out for the U.S., Dest said, “Yeah, my whole family’s proud of me. I’m the first real soccer player in the family. Like everybody supporting me.” Dest expects his father and his Uncle John to be friendly faces in what will be a largely pro-Mexico crowd Friday at MetLife Stadium.
After being passed over, Josh Sargent ready for his moment
Another young player on the rise for the USMNT is striker Josh Sargent, who made the highlight reels with his first goal of the season for Werder Bremen in a 3-2 win over Augsburg this past Sunday.
Sargent was passed over by Berhalter for the Gold Cup squad. The timing of that decision raised eyebrows, as it also ruled the 19-year-old out of the U20 World Cup.
Sitting with a group of reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Sargent’s candor was admirable as he recounted his feelings regarding the summer snub.
“I think it took a few days for me to really calm down about the situation,” Sargent told reporters. “But like I said, when I had the time to think about it, you know, I was able to be with my club, the whole preseason. And it was a very good opportunity for myself. And I thought I did a good job with that. And now I’m in a very happy place with myself and with my football now what’s going on, so looking to build off of that here at this camp.”
Sargent stressed that any bad feelings he may have had have been put aside. “Of course I was upset right after the Gold Cup. But you know, there’s no hard feelings, it’s football.”
Sargent used that time wisely and had a productive preseason, only to find himself on the bench for Bremen’s first couple of matches. Then a start versus Augsburg resulted in a wonder goal when Sargent flipped the ball over the keeper’s head before rounding the hapless custodian and finishing in superb style.
The man known as the Red Menace smiled when High Press Soccer brought up his first goal of 2019. Sargent is still clearly relishing it, as do his teammates. “They’re all very happy for me. And it’s a great, great group of guys in the locker room. And that was, I think, not just the goal, or how I scored it. But the goal itself was very good for myself. Moving on to these next games, and it’s given me good confidence. So I feel great.”
Following up, HPS asked Sargent about his decision to pursue his career in Germany, and would he recommend it despite a tough first season, where he struggled for playing time.
“I think it’s really based on the person themselves, how they feel. I mean, it’s a different situation for every player. So whatever they feel most comfortable with, and whatever they think will challenge themselves. I think that they’ll go with that.”
Sargent was asked how he dealt with that bench time. “Yeah, with the youth teams and growing up, I was always used to, you know, being one of the best players, always being one of the coaches’ favorite. So to go on the opposite side of that, it was pretty tough.”
Sargent noted, “My confidence kind of hurt a little bit. So over the summer, I was able to relax. And at the beginning of this season, kind of get that back. So I feel good now.”
Who: USMNT vs Mexico
When: Friday, September 6th at 8:30pm ET
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
Line: USMNT +210 | Draw +240 | Mexico +130
Short Hills, NJ – Missing out on the 2018 World Cup was a serious blow to the USMNT leading to the resignations of coach Bruce Arena and President of US Soccer Sunil Gulati. Players weren’t spared the house cleaning, either. First interim boss Dave Sarachan pushed veterans aside while he blooded numerous newcomers in his year in charge before yielding to “permanent” coach Gregg Berhalter. Now, Berhalter has elected to play the kids in a pair of friendlies versus Mexico and Uruguay over the FIFA International Break.
Wednesday afternoon in a roundtable setting, High Press Soccer was among the small group of reporters that spoke to three of the young veterans that are set to lead this team in the present and into the future.
Pulisic, McKennie, Steffan and Adams are the present and the future
RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams remains sidelined with a stubborn injury, leaving it to Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Zack Steffan to represent the “future is now” contingent.
Any discussion of the USMNT starts with the young man from Hershey, Pennsylvania, Christian Pulisic. The $73 million dollar man was asked about Mexico, who defeated the U.S in the Gold Cup final 1-0, Chelsea, and his adjustment to the English Premier League.
“Yeah, we’re taking it very seriously” Pulisic began. Referencing the Gold Cup Final defeat, the 20-year-old attacker said it was “obviously a disappointment. You know, a tough one in the final wanting to win that one bad. But the best thing is, we have a chance second chance now. So we’re excited for it doesn’t matter that it’s a friendly.”
“Incredible” Premier League a “challenge” for Pulisic
Words can tell part of the story of Pulisic’s delight at joining Chelsea and playing in the Premier League and here are some from the man himself.
“It’s amazing,” Pulisic volunteered. “I mean, it’s everything I hoped it would be and more so, it’s incredible.” “It’s been great learning, you know, under [new manager Frank Lampard],” Pulisic went on. “And playing with top players and in the Premier League, it’s, it’s incredible. I’m still I’m still learning a lot. And I have a long way to go. But it’s been great so far.”
The rest of the story was told by the ear to ear grin that was plastered across the face of U.S. men’s soccer.
Asked about his adjustment to the English League, Pulisic had this to say. “I mean, it’s not like a huge difference or something that you really notice but it’s great man. The speed. It’s very intense. The games are very intense. Every single game I’ve played so far has been had a new challenge. And I mean, it’s, it’s great. And I’m learning a lot.”
It was noted that Pulisic signed for Chelsea when Maurizo Sarri was the manager, but since then former Chelsea (and New York City FC) star Frank Lampard has taken over at Stamford Bridge. Pulisic was asked about playing for the younger Lampard.
“Yeah, I mean, it worked out really well for sure. Frank’s a great guy, and he’s helped me so much and he understands you know, where I’m coming from. And yeah, he’s been really, really good job and helped me, teaching us, especially, a lot of the younger guys on the team and also mixing in well with some of the more experienced guys and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and to play with this team. It’s been it’s been amazing.” – Pulisic on Lampard’s influence
Who you got: Pulisic or Lozano?
With Chelsea discussed, one of the Mexican journalists on hand asked Pulisic about the debate raging in Mexico: Who is better — Pulisic or 24 year-old El Tri star Hirving “Chucky” Lozano — who recently transferred from Ajax to Napoli?
Pulisic demurred, saying Lozano is a fine player, although he was unaware of the debate. When asked more bluntly by a second Mexican journalist, “Who is better you are Chucky” Pulisic brought the house down when he said, “I’m not gonna give you like an Ibra answer,” before adding more seriously, “but obviously, I’m very confident in myself.”
McKennie still adjusting to Bundesliga
Weston McKennie followed Pulisic’s path to Germany, joining Schalke 04. Like Pulisic, McKennie quickly made his way to regular first team action. Also like Pulisic, McKennie has become a centerpiece with the USMNT.
Recently turned 21, McKennie is more outgoing than his former youth national teammate and has emerged a leader for club and country despite his young age.
Three games into the new Bundesliga season, McKennie and his Schalke club are still adjusting to a new coach, former U.S. international David Wagner. Although Wagner is German-born and raised, McKennie said of his relationship with his new boss, “it’s always good whenever you have a coach that has been through it himself, because it’s more relateable.”
“Honestly,” McKennie added, “you guys may not believe it but me and him, we don’t speak in English. We’re speaking German. Which I was also surprised to find that out, too. But, he’s real big on making sure everyone knows German.”
Not that McKennie objects. “I think it is right to do. We play in Germany, live in Germany.” That is not to say that the American connection doesn’t come into play. “Being able to connect to him on a more personal level, you know, whenever I speak about things that are in America, he knows what I’m talking about. So I think that’s also good.”
Positional stability would also be good for the versatile McKennie, who was played all over the field by the previous regime at Schalke. Does McKennie feel that Wagner will let him find a spot and stay put?
“I definitely hope so,” was McKennie immediate response. “I think we’re on the same page when it comes to that. I think he sees me as a midfielder, you know, six, eight, or 10, one of the three, not a right back or forward or left wing. So, I think he also realized that I’m best when I’m in that position. And that’s whenever I feel like I can bring something to the table.”
Steffen also cutting his teeth in Germany
No team can succeed without a top-class goalkeeper and if the start of the Bundesliga season is anything to go by, the USMNT is set both now and well into the future with 24-year-old Zack Steffen between the pipes.
Steffen failed to settle during his first stint in Germany, where he signed with Freiburg after his sophomore season at the University of Maryland. Returning to the U.S, Steffen eventually took over the number one job with the Columbus Crew, earning a MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award and catching the eye of Premier League champions Manchester City.
After signing with City, Steffen was loaned to Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf and this time around things have gone better for the talented keeper. Helping smooth the way for Steffen’s second stint in Germany was USMNT and Dusseldorf teammate Alfredo Morales, who reached out to Steffen during the off-season.
“He and I really kind of bonded since me being over there. So it’s great to have another familiar face over here,” Steffen noted.
“It was really nice of him to reach out to me,” Steffen noted. “I was on vacation when he did and it brought a smile to my face just because to have some familiarity over there already because everything’s new, it was great and definitely lucky to have him over there.”
A more mature Steffen has certainly looked the part on the pitch, earning Man of the Match honors in Dusseldorf’s season-opening 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
Steffen feels that the Gold Cup was “a really good stepping stone for this U.S. team.” He explained, “For a lot of us, that was our first senior tournament that we were really thrown into, so we played against some good teams. And we had some games where we thought we could have played better could have been more composed on the ball and could have worked together more, and then we had some games that we played well.”
Things have started out well for Steffen in his Bundesliga reprise, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. number one has given up on Man City. “Yeah, my goal is obviously is to play for City, get back to City and compete there for a spot. I have those goals, but at the same time I take it day-by-day and week-by-week and try and progress and get better. Playing the games and executing my role and then learn from the guys on my team and my coaches and that process one day will hopefully get me to City.”
Every month, High Press Soccer will issue it’s Global Soccer Table. These are the best XI teams in the world, as seen by our staff.
For now, clubs will only be judged on their domestic performance to date. When Champions League and Europa League matches get underway, those will factor into the rankings as well.
At the September international break, here are who we see as the XI best squads in the world.
11. Tottenham Hotspur
How about this for irony: the #11 spot was going to Ajax. Then “Mr Ajax” himself Tyler Everett submitted his ballot with Tottenham all the way up at #1 (or more accurately, #6) and it bumped Ajax off. For the love of Dennis Bergkamp!
As Tyler noted, “We’re just a few months removed from them making the UCL final and they’re deeper now.” True. But Spurs need to stop dropping points or they’ll drop off the list. Maybe with the transfer window closed and Christian Eriksen getting more starts, Spurs stabilize.
10. Paris Saint-Germain
The most combustible train-wreck of a squad just got more flammable with the addition of Mauro Icardi. Maybe the mercurial Icardi adds another goal per game for PSG in Ligue Ugh play, but their backline will still get shredded in the UCL.
Plus, PSG has a rash of key injuries to deal with in the short-term (Mbappe, Cavani) as well as the re-integration of Neymar to the squad. Interesting month ahead.
9. Borussia Dortmund
The reason we do these monthly instead of weekly is to allow for some larger perspective. BVB suffered a surprising 3-1 loss to newly promoted Union Berlin. However, they dominated possession (75%), total passes, and had a higher xG (1.6 to 1.05). The away match was also kind of insane, complete with some over-the-top fan behavior. Shit happens. BVB is fine.
8. RB Leipzig
Our boys! This year’s Ajax!
RB Leipzig are at 100% and sit atop the Bundesliga. They’re playing fun football, averaging 3 goals per game. Timo Werner has been an absolute boss.
They ultimately won’t win Germany’s top division, but they’ll make it more than a two (or one) team race.
7. Inter Milan
Antonio Conte doesn’t mess around. He got rid of players he didn’t like. He brought in those he does. This is a talented squad. Too bad they drew a brutal UCL group. However, they will challenge Juventus all season long in Serie A.
So unlikable. Still so good. Domestically.
Juve are behind Inter on goal differential in the Serie A table. We think they’re vulnerable in the UCL. Regardless, they don’t drop behind Inter until they start dropping some points. This squad has so much talent they had to leave Emre Can off their Champions League squad. Other than City, they might be the only team in Europe where Can gets dropped like that.
Eighth in La Liga?! The horror!
When Lionel Messi returns, everything will be just fine. They’ll shoot up the rankings. It is worth noting though: this team without Messi still has a ton of talent. They should win more consistently. They shouldn’t be dropping so many points. Maybe Ernesto Valverde is the problem?
4. Bayern Munich
They just beat Mainz 6-1 where six different players scored a goal. After a surprising opening matchday draw vs Hertha and a hasty Philippe Coutinho loan in, this is quickly starting to look like Bayern of old.
3. Atlético Madrid
Perfect record and atop La Liga. Preseason, we touted Atlético as the best value buy in all of Europe to win their league (+1400 at the time). Those odds have dropped to +450. They’ll continue to drop as the season goes. Credit to Diego Simeone for integrating so many new parts without missing a beat. They’ve proven they can score early and then suffocate their opponent for a win. They’ve proven they can get behind and crank up the offensive to win. This squad is for real.
2. Manchester City
Yeah, they dropped points to Tottenham. City were still clearly the better squad. They have the best depth of any team in Europe. Having said that, the loss of Aymeric Laporte for three months highlights one of the few potential weak spots on the roster. Can John Stones effectively hold down the fort? Or will they be more susceptible to elite counter-attacking teams? We may not know the answer to that question until November at Anfield. But it’s worth watching.
This year’s squad may be the fifth best soccer team of all-time. They haven’t dropped a point domestically. They won the UEFA Super Cup. Sure, Liverpool don’t have City’s depth. But their top XI is on par with City’s best line-up, especially with the loss of Laporte. Liverpool holds the top spot until they actually (ever?) drop a point.
First off the bench: Ajax
As noted, Ajax was #11 before Everett’s ballot. Expect them to crack the rankings next month.
In June, we wrote how Liverpool had climbed the ranks as one of the all-time greatest squads according to ClubElo. Their start to the 2019-20 campaign, going 4-0-0 in the Premier League and winning the UEFA Super Cup, has only improved their case.
For those unfamiliar, “Elo estimates the strength of a club based on the results against opponents and their strength.” The site aims to look past point totals and trophies to zero in on how strong a team is compared to its peers in a given year. The all-time Elo rating measures the peak strength of a given year’s team.
This year’s Liverpool moves to 5th best all-time
It’s still only September, and Liverpool could certainly keep climbing. They have a manageable 2019 UEFA Champions League group drawing where they realistically may only drop one fixture (away – Napoli). Domestically, their most likely trouble spots to drop points in the coming two months are away at Chelsea (which immediately follows their Napoli match) and a November home fixture vs Manchester City. However, December is brutal. Liverpool will play a minimum of 8 matches with a thousands of miles of travel, including trips to Qatar (FIFA Club World Cup) and Austria (UCL tie vs Red Bull Salzburg).
Regardless of the brutal schedule, Liverpool could climb to fourth before the year is over, moving past that 1961 Real Madrid squad. Catching up to Pep Guardiola’s 2012 Barcelona or 2014 Bayern Munich seems unlikely. It would take an unprecedented domestic and European run to catch those two all-time great squads. If they somehow manage to navigate their remaining 2019 schedule with few if any losses, they’ll certainly have had one of the greatest year’s in soccer history.
We’re a month into the 2019-20 Premier League season. Each club has played four games. While that’s still a relatively small sample size (9.5% of the schedule), there is enough data to go on and identify who has been the Premier League’s best XI so far.
First, the general criteria:
- Goals are rare events. So counting numbers on goals and assists matter.
- Overall ratings (WhoScored, Squawka, etc) will be considered heavily.
- Team success matters. As much as we want to name Teemu Pukki to the squad (we’re clearly #teamteemu), Norwich sits in the relegation zone. Sorry, Puks.
Premier League best XI so far
To ensure we get the most deserving players in, we’re going with a 4-3-2-1. Here are the picks.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Matchday 4 helped boost a few players onto this list. Hugo Lloris is one of them.
He’s statistically the best keeper in England so far this season. Against Arsenal and Manchester City, he met the eyeball test as well. Both of those matches Lloris deserved Man of the Match honors. He is the biggest reason Spurs drew City, outplaying Ederson and recording 8 saves.
Defenders: Emerson, Matip, van Dijk, Pereira
- Emerson: He’s been Chelsea’s statistical best player this year and is giving Andy Robertson a run for “best left-back” status in the Premier League this season. The 25 year-old Italian is smack dab in his prime and is playing with pace and confidence. He’s been solid defensively, leading the Blues in tackles and interceptions per game.
- Joel Matip: Liverpool’s best defender this season is obviously…Joel Matip? Believe it! Matip has thrived defensively since paired with Virgil van Dijk. He’s bumped promising Joe Gomez from starting XI consideration. His rangy limbs have disrupted many threats this campaign. And he’s added a goal to boot.
- Virgil van Dijk: VVD is another player whose strong matchday 4 bumped him into this spot. The UEFA Player of the Year and likely Ballon D’or winner hasn’t been quite as absurdly good this year, but he’s still a beast. Yeah, he was dribbled past, but he’s still winning 5 aerials a game, drawing 1.5 offsides per game, making 4.8 clearances and 1.8 interceptions. Liverpool isn’t clean sheeting every other game, but without Alisson, van Dijk has still helped ensure Liverpool remain at 100% this campaign.
- Ricardo Pereira: This almost went to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has been worth the price so far. However, the Manchester United record transferee only bests Pereira in one major defensive category (tackles, 6.5 to 5 per game). Leicester sits in third place right now, and Pereira has been a major reason for their success. Like Emerson on the left side, Pereira is 25 and thriving as he hits his prime. He’s a defensive machine, enthusiastic tackler, and a strong penetrator with the ball at his feet.
Midfielders: James Maddison, Kevin de Bruyne, Mo Salah
- Kevin de Bruyne: KdB is the no-brainer of no-brainers on this list. With Eden Hazard out-of-shape and in Spain, a healthy de Bruyne is looking like the best player in the EPL this season. He’s just absurd. He has a goal and 5 assists. He’s making 4 key passes a game (which almost feels low if you’ve watched City). He’s firing crosses, long passes, short passes (36.5 per game), all at a high percentage (82%).
- Mo Salah: Salah gets slotted into a midfield role here to make proper room for City’s prolific strikers. Salah looks in much finer form to start this season than last year. He’ll continue to climb the Golden Boot standings all season (he’s got 3 goals and 2 assists so far). He’s the center of gravity for Liverpool. His presence draws defenders away, creating space for Fimino and Mane to be brilliant. His work rate continues to improve as well.
- James Maddison: The Foxes’ midfielder was the toughest and final addition. Leicester deserves lots of credit around the pitch for their start. Maddison has been the engine propelling the offense though. He’s like KdB-light, always on or around the ball when good things happen. Expect all of the usual suspects to come calling for Maddison this summer with $100M+ offers.
Forwards: Raheem Sterling, Roberto Firmino, Sergio Aguero
- Roberto Firmino: This will be the best season of Roberto Firmino’s career. Enjoy it as much as he does. While Bobby is not the *best* player on Liverpool, but he’s their most important this season. Two goals, two assists, and creative flair unmatched on the squad. Has sometimes been their best offensive and defensive player at the same time. He’s also got the Liverpool fan’s belt as “favorite player” this year (it’s gone from Mo Salah to Robbo to Bobby).
- Raheem Sterling: Operating at a new level. He’s been clinical with 5 goals. While he could still improve his defensive contributions, he’s just lethal in the final third.
- Sergio Aguero: Still terrifying. Six goals and an assist. 86% successful pass rate. At 31, is this actually his best season?