Editor’s Note: With the recent success of USMNT players in Europe (and struggles within Gregg Berhalter’s squad), High Press Soccer will be taking a look each week at how our Internationals are fairing abroad.
With a pair of surprisingly important CONCACAF Nations League matches coming up during the international break, we check in on USMNT eligible players making their way in soccer leagues around the world.
Current USMNT players in Europe
As you may have heard, Christian Pulisic is in form at Chelsea. He scored again this weekend, giving him five goals for the season. That’s his best domestic tally ever. And it’s only been 12 matches so far.
Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin is also coming back into form, netting a goal for the Magpies as well.
|USMNT Player||League||Club||This Week||Season Stats||Next Up|
|Christian Pulisic||Premier League||Chelsea||vs Crystal Palace: |
Scored one goal, played 80’/ rated 8.61 (Who scored)
Pulisic also started in Chelsea’s wild 4-4 comeback draw at the Bridge on Tuesday. The USMNT winger did not figure in the scoring charts but he was fouled for a penalty that Jorginho converted, his cross led to Ceasar Azpilicueta’s goal and he was involved in the wild sequence that saw two Ajax center backs red carded and Jorginho pot a second pk.
|5 goals, 2 assists on the PL season (7.43 WhoScored)|
1 assist in 2 UCL appearances.
|Pulisic picked up a hip injury when he slid into the post following his goal versus Crystal Palace. Chelsea boss Frank Lampard had this to say about Pulisic’s injury. "He's got a bit of a hip issue but I'm hoping it's not too bad because the way he's in full flow at the minute is great to see." Pulisic will miss USMNT games vs Canada and Cuba.|
|DeAndre Yedlin||Premier League||Newcastle||vs Bournemouth: |
Scored one goal/played 90' (7.38 WhoScored)
After starting the season on the sidelines with a lingering injury Yedlin has become a regular starter under new Magpies coach Steve Bruce.
|1 goal on the season (6.66 WhoScored)||Will likely start for the USMNT vs Canada on November 15th
In EPL, faces Aston Villa on 11/25
|Zack Steffen||Bundesliga||Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from the Premier League's 4th place team, Manchester City)||vs Schalke: 90 minutes/ conceded 3 goals / 5.51 WhoScored||Was once highest rated gk in Europe, now 6.87 WhoScored with 2 clean sheets||Sitting out USMNT friendlies, likely back on November 23rd vs Bayern Munich|
|Weston McKennie||Bundesliga||Schalke 04||vs Fortuna Dusseldork: 90 minutes/ yellow card/ 6.0 WhoScored||0 goals and 1 assist on season (6.54 WhoScored)||Will likely start for USMNT vs Canada on November 15th, then November 23rd vs Werder Bremen|
|Alfredo Morales||Bundesliga||Fortuna Dusseldorf||vs Schalke: 89 minutes/ yellow card/ 6.6 WhoScored||1 goal, 1 assist on season (6.90 WhoScored)||USMNT games vs Canada / Cuba then November 23rd vs Bayern Munich|
|Josh Sargent||Bundesliga||Werder Bremen||vs Borussia Monchengladbach: |
19 minutes/ 6.1 WhoScored
|2 goals, 2 assists on season (6.61 WhoScored)||Likely starting for USMNT vs Canada, then November 23rd vs Schalke|
|John Brooks||Bundesliga||Wofsburg||Did not play||6.86 WhoScored in 5 appearances||Likely USMNT starter vs Canada if fit|
|Tyler Adams||Bundesliga||RB Leipzig||Did not play||N/A||Still nursing injury|
|Sergino Dest||Eredivisie||Ajax||Did not play in Eredivisie, was a second half sub in Ajax's crazy 4-4 draw vs Chelsea||0 goals, 3 assists and 7.04 WhoScored||Will likely start for USMNT vs Canada|
|Tim Ream||Championship||Fulham||vs Birmingham City: 90 minutes / 7.08 WhoScored which was his best showing of season||6.68 WhoScored||USMNT matches vs Canada and Cuba, Friday November 22nd vs QPR|
|Tyler Boyd||Turkey Superliga||Besiktas||vs Denizlipspor: subbed on with 14 minutes to play; however did score in Europa League loss vs Braga||6.14 WhoScored with no goals or assists domestically||USMNT matches vs Canada and Cuba|
Other US players abroad
In the English Championship (second division), there are several players in and around the USMNT and the U23 U.S. nationals plying their trade. We won’t spend too much time tracking Geoff Cameron (Queens Park Rangers) or Eric Lichaj (Hull City) because neither defender seems to be on Gregg Berhalter’s radar.
However, Reading’s Matt Miazga (on loan from Chelsea) was a surprise omission from Berhalter’s call-ups. He’s been solid and steady for Reading all season.
Antonee Robinson (Wigan) is a speedy fullback with 7 full national team caps to his credit. Berhalter has left Robinson to the U23/Olympic team that is playing a tournament in preparation for upcoming qualification matches in the Canary Islands versus Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (on loan from Tottenham) has managed 10 Championship appearances this season. The 21 year-old will join Robinson in Tenerife.
Duane Holmes of Derby County is a 25 year-old attacking midfielder with two previous U.S. caps. He’s logged an assist in 11 total Championship appearances.
Over in Germany, World Cup goalscorer Julian Green netted a lovely free kick for Bundesliga 2 club Greuther Furth in a 3-2 loss to Sanhausen.
Green has never fulfilled the hype that made his capture for the USMNT the Sergino Dest of 2014. However, he is having a good season with 5 goals so far.
And U23 watchers were disappointed not to see Uly Llanez in Jason Kreis’ team, and with good reason. Although he is just 18 years old, Llanez has toyed with the competition at the Bundesliga U19 level, scoring 10 goals for the Wolfsburg youth side. That success has led to speculation of a post-winter camp call-up to Die Wölfe.
It was just under two weeks ago that New York City FC’s season ended with a whimper in Queens. The NYCFC Blue fell 2-1 to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a disappointing end to the season for the Conference Champions.
That disappointment and frustration were on full view when NYCFC coach Dome Torrent addressed the media postgame to such a degree that this was how High Press Soccer framed it that evening.
Torrent’s remarks in the Citifield press room made it clear that Pep Guardiola’s long time assistant was unhappy with more than just the night’s result. The manager surprised the assembled press when he brought into question his return for the 2020 season.
Why did Dome Torrent leave NYCFC?
“I don’t know” Torrent said that night when asked if he would return next season. “I have to go to Manchester,” Torrent explained, “because for me it is normal after the season to talk about what happened.”
Torrent then added somewhat cryptically, that “many things happened, many, many things. Maybe you don’t know but I know.”
Those “things” Torrent would later comment to Spanish language podcast Se Llama Soccer involved the coach’s dissatisfaction with how long it took the club to finally sign Heber, who Torrent called the team’s “ninth option” to take over for the departed club icon David Villa at striker.
High Press Soccer reported then that Torrent said, “don’t worry, (because) if Dome is not here. the most important thing is the club.” Torrent went on to praise his team, saying NYCFC had “amazing players.” “The most important thing is not the coach,” Pep Guardiola’s longtime assistant noted, “it’s the players.”
Torrent added that “They are ready for another coach because they are a group, a big group. They are ready. But don’t worry. If Patrick is not here, it’s Dome. If Dome is not here, it’s another coach.”
Torrent took the reigns from Patrick Viera when the Frenchman moved onto Ligue 1 side Nice. NYCFC initially played well for the new boss before stumbling into the postseason where they rallied to top Philadelphia before they were eliminated by Atlanta (4-1 aggregate) in the Conference semifinals.
A 4-0 defeat to Toronto in late March after New York had struggled to a slow start featuring a raft of draws caused High Press Soccer to wonder if the step from assistant to the top job was too big for Torrent.
Heber’s arrival helped to trigger a revival and NYCFC finished with the best regular season in the young franchise’s history before a pair of crucial mistakes sent NYC crashing out of the playoffs.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst replace Torrent at NYCFC?
When looking at the possible list of possible replacements for Torrent, it may not be necessary to look any further than City Football Group employee Giovanni van Bronckhorst. After a successful stint with Feyenoord, highlighted by winning the 2017 Eredivisie, “Gio” stepped down.
Rather than take on another managerial job, the 44 year-old former Dutch international signed on with City Football Group and appears poised to step in at CFG club New York City Football Club.
New York, NY – Monday was a good day for U.S. Soccer. In the morning, news broke that exciting 18 year-old Ajax fullback Sergino Dest had chosen to represent the U.S. and not the Netherlands, the country of his birth.
Central to all of the day’s good news was Earnie Stewart, U.S. Soccer’s Sporting Director, who played a significant role in both pieces of positivity for an organization badly in need of some.
WNT General Manager Kate Markgraf name-checked Stewart at Andonovski’s introductory press conference, saying of the final interview process, “It involved Earnie Stewart, the Sporting Director, and Earnie had already gone through the process once and was valuable support throughout the entire hiring search process.”
Earnie Stewart interview on Sergino Dest
After Andonovski had been welcomed into the U.S. Soccer fold, High Press Soccer grabbed Stewart for a few private words. Stewart and USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter had been pictured over the weekend at Dest’s match for Ajax. So I asked Stewart whether he and Berhalter had known when they flew over to the Netherlands that they had won the Dest sweepstakes?
“No,” Stewart said, adding “we had a certain feeling that was going to be the case.” Stewart admitted that the process to land Dest had not been easy but was happy to share the credit. “Yeah but not so much only by Gregg and myself, there’s a lot of hard work that’s gone on over the years.”
“When you have dual nationals,” Stewart, himself a Netherlands/U.S. dual national, explained “a lot of times we talk about moments, but it is not only the moments. In this case, he played for our U17s, he played for our U20s, so there’s a lot of coaches that have put him in positions that made him happy of a culture that there is within U.S. Soccer. And then obviously that trends towards a men’s national team for someone who has that talent level.”
Stewart also acknowledged the role played by Dest’s father. “Sitting down and having the conversation with him and his father, who has his heritage here in the United States, and is a very proud person and was very proud of Sergino making this choice, is something that helps.”
Earnie Stewart on filling US youth soccer roles
With Tab Ramos leaving the U.S. U20 coaching job to take over the MLS Houston Dynamo, a number of youth coaching jobs are currently unfilled we asked Stewart about filling those posts.
“There are a couple of positions that are underway.” Stewart began, “We have some legal issues to do when it comes to visas,” the Sporting Director said, continuing to say, “there are some conversations with some other coaches, some American coaches because we want to have a lot of American coaches.”
With so much recent talk of building an integrated U.S. “style of play,” High Press Soccer asked Stewart if MNT coach Berhalter would be involved with the upcoming U.S. Youth National Team coaching hires?
Stewart did not say, precisely, but the Sporting Director made it clear that he and Behalter are on the same page when it comes to “the system” and that system is not going anywhere.
“I know there are a lot of conversations going on about a rigid style of play and all that,” Stewart began,”but in the end consistency and continuity, I don’t care where you work, that can be in soccer, that can be in basketball, but that can also be from an operational level within an organization. Consistency and continuity is the most important thing. When things go wrong, you have to have something to fall back on and if you’ve never trained or developed a style or a system then you’re going to have big problems.”
“That’s not something that I believe in,” Stewart underlined, “that’s not something that we believe in and obviously there’s nuances, left and right. And then,” Stewart noted, “there is the difference between the men and the women, where a lot of times the women are the best in the world and the men are trying to get there and those are two different places that you come from. So with one you’ll see that style, that system come out a little bit easier than you will with another team.”
Earnie Stewart on Berhalter’s system
So, about that system? High Press Soccer asked Stewart if- in a must win game, like say the CONCACAF Nations League rematch with Canada in Orlando on November 15- the U.S. would consider tweaking that style and playing a bit more direct, for example?
“No,” Stewart said, “because you’re building for the future. It’s not that Gregg or myself or that anybody is saying we accept losing, but changing systems, like playing direct? I don’t know what that’s going to do.”
“It has everything to do with the players that you have in front of you,’” Stewart went on. “We’ve played several games in the year that I’ve been here where we were dominant in games and then you have the fact that playing within CONCACAF that the U.S National Team hasn’t won on foreign ground, in what is it three years now?”
“So all of a sudden, because of the coaching change, that doesn’t change the dynamic of the team, where it is right now. Building on the same principals that you have will lead to success, once again consistency and continuity is going to be the key in everything we do.”
“Yes,” Stewart conceded, “you’ll tweak it left and right, but to change total styles from one game to another? I don’t think that’s ever going to work at all. Sure it might work for one game or a period of time but if we do that over and over again I don’t that will work.”
“I hear everything,” Stewart said regarding reaction to the loss to Canada, “I went through it at the Philadelphia Union when we didn’t win a couple of games in a row. The exact same thing. It’s part of our job. You listen to it, you understand it from a perspective that you want to win, so that makes it really simple, that’s what you do.”
New York, NY – The worst kept secret in U.S. sports was revealed today when U.S.Soccer President Carlos Cordiero and United States Women’s Soccer General Manager Kate Markgraf officially unveiled 2019 NWSL Coach of the Year Vlatko Andonovski as the successor to Jill Ellis.
Markgraf, who left the broadcast booth to take on the responsibility of running the U.S. women’s program, including replacing Ellis, had this to say, “From the moment I came aboard, the main focus has been on hiring a new U.S. Women’s National Team coach.”
“We identified the qualities we thought were most important for this unique position, we talked to quite a few people in the women’s soccer community domestically and around the world, and in the end, Vlatko was the best fit with his experience with elite players, how he sees the game, how he coaches the game and manages players, and his overall personality and ability to take on a job of this magnitude.”
USWNT coaching selection process
High Press Soccer was curious about the process and who was in the room during the final interviews, so we asked. “It involved Earnie Stewart, the Sporting Director,” Markgraf began, “and Earnie had already gone through the process once, and was valuable support throughout the entire hiring search process. Cindy Parlow Cone, who was the technical expert and then Barry Paulos from coaching education, who has worked with many coaches both here and in Belgium.”
Markgraf described a process that involved, “looking and quizzing him (Andonovski) and quizzing the other candidate. Putting different scenarios in front of them to see how they can think on their feet in a stressful situation when they know they are going to be evaluated and also the quality behind their answers.”
Andonovski won a pair of NWSL Championships with now defunct FC Kansas City in 2014 and 2015. He has been named Coach of the Year twice, this season with Reign FC, and in 2013 with FCKC.
Andonovski had been widely tipped to win the position but he clearly understands the history behind his new job, noting, “All of the talented coaches and players that have come before have built a legendary tradition of excellence and I’m committed to working very hard to continue to move this program forward.”
NWSL success helped secure the job
Andonovski is the first coach to come to the USWNT job directly from the NWSL. The Yugoslavia born Macedonian-American was sure to give a tip of the cap to the league.
“The NWSL has been tremendous in my development,” Andonovski said. “They have done such a great job creating a platform, not just for players but for coaches to develop and improve their knowledge and understanding of the game.”
Andonovski emphasized the tight bond between the league and the national team, saying, “ I have already had numerous conversations with the coaches in the markets and we are all in agreement that we are going to collaborate as much as possible and ultimately we are all going to fight and struggle with the same goal.”
Andonovich explained, “obviously they have the first goal for them is to win games and to win championships in the league but we are all going to fight towards the ultimate goal, which is winning World Cups and Olympics.”
Andonovski does not have all that much time to build towards that Olympics in Tokyo next July and he will take his first steps towards that test very soon, with a pair of friendlies in Columbus, Ohio versus Sweden on November 7 and three days later in Jacksonville, Florida against Costa Rica.
About Vlatko Andonovski
Vlatko Andonovski is a 43 year-old originally from Yugoslavia.
He came to the US in 2000 to play for the Wichita Wings in the now defunct NPSL. He’s been a full-time manager since 2013, first with the Kansas City Comets (indoor) and then with the NWSL’s FC Kansas City. He won titles with FC Kansas City in 2014 and 2015. After that club folded, he took over Reign FC in Seattle in 2018.
Reign finished 2019 in fourth place in the NWSL with a 10-8-6 record. They were third last year with an 11-8-5 record.
With Andonovski has a USSF Pro License, he has no international coaching experience.
Who: North Carolina Courage vs Chicago Red Stars
When: Sunday, October 27th, 3:30pm ET
Line: North Carolina Courage -200 | Draw +320 | Chicago Red Stars +400
Two star-studded rosters
Reading the North Carolina roster is liable to produce double takes with a who’s who of the women’s international game leaping off the page, starting with Canada’s number one Stephanie Labbe in goal for the Courage.
From there each line of the Courage team features a 2019 World Cup winner, from Abby Dahlkemper at center-back to Sam Mewis and Crystal Dunn in the midfield, and onto striker Jessica Mc Donald.
McDonald is partnered at the top of the North Carolina formation by former and perhaps future USWNT attacker Lynn Williams. The pair is ably backed up by North Carolina’s leading goal scorer and 2nd team NWSL Best 11, Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton finished tied for second in the league with nine goals, trailing only Chicago ace Sam Kerr, who notched a single season league record with 18.
North Carolina coach Paul Reilly also has legendary USWNT winger Heather O’Reilly playing at fullback. She is opposite former U.S. international Jalene Hinkle, Brazil’s Debinha, and Irish international Denise O’Sullivan.
So, a star studded crew.
Not that a Chicago side led by Kerr and USWNT firebrand Julie Ertz will be backing down. In fact, the Red Stars starting lineup features five USWNT World Cup winners, one more than the Courage. Alyssa Naeher backstopped the U.S. to the World Cup title. She is joined by rising star Tierna Davidson, fullback Casey Short, and midfielder Morgan Brian.
Chicago depends on Japan’s Yuri Nagasto to make the attack go. Nagasto is a 2011 World Cup winner, when Japan defeated the U.S.. She led the league in assists this season with eight. Coach Rory Dames can also count on top flight professionals like Savannah McKaskill (6 USWNT caps) and Denise Colaprico (2 USWNT caps).
Fans who decry playoffs for the reason that a lesser team can make a playoff run to the title will be happy to see a Championship match that features the two best performers, over a 24 game season in the league, battle for the NWSL hardware.
North Carolina Courage vs Chicago Red Stars match preview
The statistics say that the Courage should win. North Carolina topped the table with 49 points, five more than the Red Stars amassed. NC set a league record for goals scored in a single season with 54. They did so while only surrendering 23, the fewest in the league.
Chicago was the second most lethal side in the nine team league, although well behind with 41 goals. The Red Stars finished in fourth place in goals against, conceding 28. However, with Naeher and Ertz back from representing the U.S. in France, the Chicago defense figures to be a tougher nut to crack.
Chicago can take comfort in a solid away record of 7 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. That peace is likely to be destroyed when North Carolina’s home mark of 8 wins, 0 defeats, ad 4 ties is factored in.
This matchup should only help the league build on the “World Cup” bounce that saw attendance and attention rise as fans tuned in to see their World Cup heroes in club action.
The game comes at the end of a busy week for the league and the women’s game in the United States. News spread that Louisville will be coming on board in 2021 expansion and it has been reported that one team is likely to be added for next season. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that either or Sacramento or Atlanta are the most likely new entrants for 2020.
Where to bet NWSL in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
It may not be the answer that the fans who serenaded Red Bull Arena with “Armas Must Go” and “Fire Armas” chants earlier in the season wanted to hear, but it is the one delivered by Hamlett at Wednesday morning’s season ending press conference/media availability at the Red Bulls home.
It wasn’t a bad year, just an off year
It is easy to imagine those same hardliners reacting with something less than glee as well to Armas’s refusal to label the just concluded campaign as a “bad” season. Instead Armas noted that “half of the teams in the league don’t make the playoffs, they don’t make the cut, they’re not in it to win it. They have no chance, they’re not on the road scoring three goals. Those guys,” Armas contends, “have a bad year.”
“We didn’t have a bad year, we had an off year.”
It is a distinction not likely to thrill Red Bulls faithful, coming as it does just one season after the Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield under Armas.
The coach explained. “We didn’t achieve the goal,” Armas said before he citing several stats that “supported us sticking to who we are.” So why didn’t those favorable analytics lead to better results?
Armas conceded that, “maybe we just didn’t execute enough, all of us. Myself, the staff, the players. We put ourselves in games to win, had a lot of leads but we just didn’t execute enough.”
Perhaps it is just semantics but many a Red Bull fan will be scratching his or her head that Armas’s wouldn’t give in. “I would say it wasn’t a bad year,” the coach said. “Bad is harsh, we’re not happy with it, we’re not happy with mediocrity 14 and 14 (plus 6 ties).”
Conor Lade retiring and other changes
The day began with the surprise news that career long Red Bull Conor Lade was retiring. Both Hamlett and Armas opened their remarks by praising the 29 year-old defender, as did his teammates in subsequent remarks but perhaps Armas summed up the diminutive, hard working defender best of all when he said, “he set the example of what a Red Bulls player is.”
Every off-season in every sport brings change and the Red Bulls will surely be a different team next season. Team icon Bradley Wright-Phillips struggled through an injury plagued year this season and so the 34 year-old striker was asked – would he be back?
“I don’t know who it is that thinks I’m done,” BWP stated “but it isn’t me. I had an injury.”
Captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles played well despite surrendering four goals to Philadelphia in Sunday’s season ending defeat. However, the 35 year-old has been around long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed in professional sports.
“I understand that it could go either way,” Robles began when asked about his future with the Red Bulls. “I’m hoping that this organization sees that I still have a lot to contribute, not only as a player but as a person, and it’s my dream to finish out my days here as a player with the New York Red Bulls.”
The Red Bulls season was disrupted at least in part by rumors that some key players did not share Robles’ dream and were looking to greener pastures.
Midfielder Kaku was linked with Mexico’s Club America, and defenders Aaron Long and Kemar Lawrence also appeared to be headed for the door at various points in the year.
Is Aaron Long off to Europe?
U.S international Aaron Long described himself as “still grieving a little bit” when High Press Soccer inquired if the center-back was still thinking of a European move, adding that he had, “no real comment on that.”
So, will Long be back in Harrison next year? “Playing in the Premier League, of course, is a dream,” Long admitted, “and I think it is a dream for a lot of players. So, we will see.”
Jamaican international fullback Lawrence told High Press Soccer that exit rumors “shouldn’t be something that distracts us.” Echoing Long, Lawrence said, “it’s always a dream for any player to play in the best leagues in the world.”
The Reggae Boyz star had an interesting take on those rumors, saying “you always have to bring your best, so those rumors don’t only stay rumors, that they become reality. And the only way that it becomes reality is if you perform.”
“If you perform,” Lawrence notes sagely, “it wouldn’t be rumors, people would actually go out there and spend their money.”
In what may have been Dome Torrent’s final game in charge of New York City FC, Toronto FC stunned NYCFC on a last minute penalty converted by Alejandro Pozuelo, advancing to the MLS Eastern Conference final on a 2-1 win.
It was a moment of foolishness from New York City fullback Ronald Matarrita gifted Toronto FC a penalty kick in the 89th minute when the fullback needlessly chopped down Richie Laryea. Moments later Alejandro Pozuelo fooled Sean Johnson with a softly chipped panenka and New York was all but done for.
Oh, NYCFC kept working, pushing for a late equalizer in the remaining minute of normal time plus five in added time and the home team nearly got that moment of magic only to see TFC keeper Questin Westberg pull off the fingertip save on a perfectly placed header from Vincent Castellanos.
Afterward, New York keeper Sean Johnson offered no excuses. “Simply,” Johnson began, “We just weren’t good enough today.” Johnson rued his team’s poor first half, noting, “we were lucky to escape 0-0 at halftime.”
It was a game rife with side stories, would CitiField be a true home field advantage for New York City FC? Was NYC’s long layoff better preparation than Toronto’s overtime win over DC United?
Given the opportunity, Johnson wasn’t prepared to use New York’s layoff as an excuse for their poor start versus Toronto. “To be honest,” Johnson said, “I don’t think we can make any excuse. The amount of time we had, not playing any meaningful games in that time period, you can write the narrative any way you want,” “but,” said New York’s number one, “at the end of the day, you have to take responsibility.”
In the early returns, neither question was answered in the affirmative for the New Yorkers, who had goalkeeper Johnson to thank for the 0-0 halftime score after being dominated for 45 minutes by the visitors.
Johnson was called upon to bail out his porous defense on several occasions in the first half and came up big, unfortunately, Johnson could do nothing to prevent Alejandro Pozuelo from opening the scoring in the 48th minute after an ill-conceived and poorly executed back header from Maxine Chanot.
It was an awful way for New York to start off the second half and it put NYCFC’s hopes of a deep playoff run in jeopardy. The home team responded well to that adversity by picking up their intensity, it seemed as if NY suddenly realized what was at stake.
Johnson concurred with that notion saying, “it really took us going down a goal to have some type of energy injected into our team, and it should never be that way.”
Just shy of the hour mark New York nearly got on the board from a delightful looking curler from Castellanos that went barely wide of the Toronto goal. Moments later a loose ball fell to Maxi Moralez but the Argentine’s shot was right at Westberg.
Coach Dome Torrent finally sprung striker Heber from the bench with 30 minutes to play. New York’s goal scoring leader has been recovering from an injury and Torrent had indicated that the Brazilian would likely be used in a sub’s role.
New York finally made the breakthrough in the 69th minute when Ismael Tojouri-Shradi alertly powered home a Maxi Moralez cross that was a touch too high for intended target Castellanos, bringing the already loud CitiField crowd loudly to life.
Then with time running out and extra time looking likely, Matarrita’s rash tackle silenced the crowd, ending New York’s Queens adventure and their season with it.
As for Torrent’s return, the genial Spaniard answered “I don’t know” when asked if he would return next season. “I have to go to Manchester,” Torrent explained, “because for me it is normal after the season to talk about what happened.”
Torrent then added somewhat cryptically, that “many things happened, many, many things. maybe you don’t know but I know.” Torrent said he would have to talk the owners of City Group and I don’t know what will happen.”
Torrent went on to tell the assembled media, “don’t worry, (because) if Dome is not here. the most important thing is the club.” Torrent went on to praise his team, saying NYCFC had “amazing players.” “The most important thing is not the coach,” Pep Guardiola’s longtime assistant noted, “it’s the players.”
So, on a day when the New York Red Bulls confirmed that its coach, Chris Armas, will be back, NYCFC supremo Dome Torrent has put his status for 2020 in doubt.
Who: NYCFC vs Toronto FC
When: Wednesday, October 23rd @ 7:20pm ET
Line: NYCFC +100 | Draw +260 | Toronto +255
Like a subletting New Yorker, NYCFC has been forced to vacate their “home” – Yankee Stadium – because their landlord needed the place. So back across the RFK/Triboro Bridge to CitiField it is for the Eastern Conference Champions.
New York came to Queens Tuesday morning, one day ahead of Wednesday night’s single elimination playoff match versus Toronto FC, to re-familiarize themselves with the pitch and stadium. They haven’t called this “home” since Decision Day 2016.
For New York manager Dome Torrent, who was not yet with NYCFC when the franchise first played at the home of the New York Mets, the change in venue was a non-issue. Although Torrent noted the “the grass is perfect, it is really good,” Pep Guardiola’s long time lieutenant quickly switched gears, saying “I don’t want to waste time about the stadium because it is what it is.”
Similarly, the New York boss expressed a lack of concern with the pitch dimensions, often a contentious issue at Yankee Stadium. “I think it’s the same size,” Torrent noted when asked about the size of the CitiField surface, before underlining his previous point.
“Believe me, it’s not important for me,” the coach said. “I don’t want to talk about the size because we have to play here, no excuse.” As airplanes roared overhead on their way to LaGuardia Airport, Torrent continued, “we have to be able to win the game, if not, it is not about the stadium.”
NYCFC vs Toronto FC match preview
Although New York finished atop the Eastern Conference, Torrent’s side picked up just one point from Toronto during the season, drawing 1-1 on September 11 in the Bronx and losing 4-0 in the fourth match of the season.
In fact, Toronto could be said to have to NYC’s number. The Canadian club drubbed NYCFC in 2016 by a 7-0 aggregate that included a 5-0 beating at Yankee Stadium.
Toronto’s home win this season is particularly memorable for the stunning MLS debut performance that game by TFC Designated Player Alejandro Pozuelo. The Spaniard scored a brace against NYCFC, although Torrent already knew all about his countryman.
Torrent noted that midfielder Pozuelo played as a “false nine” in the 1-1 draw, when he scored one penalty kick and missed another. He could play there again if striker Jozy Altidore is unavailable.
Regardless of position, “Pozuelo is a good, good player,” Torrent said. “I know this player in Spain, when he played at (Real) Betis and Rayo Vallecano and he is good, good player, everybody knows.” “But,” Torrent said confidently, “we have good players as well.”
Midfield battle will be key
A couple of those players were made available to talk after stretching their legs on the green grass of CitiField including team captain Alex Ring. The versatile midfielder will be on the spot against a TFC midfield led by Pozuelo and former USMNT captain Michael Bradley.
Ever forthright, Ring believes “that the team that wins the midfield has a big chance to win the game.” When asked about playing at CitiField, Ring echoed his manager, stating, “same thing, it’s grass, it’s not artificial, we don’t need to talk about the pitch.”
NYCFC rested and ready
New York is the better rested of the two sides. They’ve been off since the end of the season while Toronto topped DC United 5-1 in extra time, having completed regulation play level at 1-1.
TFC advanced minus striker Jozy Altidore and center back Omar Gonzalez. Both players are listed as questionable while New York has no players on the injury list.
Striker Heber is coming back from a layoff and looked well during training. So are Keaton Parks and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Torrent feels all three are ready to go. However, the coach hedged a bit on Heber, who did not play in his sides’ postseason closed door scrimmage versus Chicago Fire.
“Heber is ready to play,” Torrent began before adding, “I don’t know if he starts, maybe he plays, 30 or 40 minutes, I don’t know, but he is ready to play, he’s not injured.”
So, will Toronto add another win over New York to its collection? For Torrent regular season results mean little. Torrent pointed out that in the most recent contest, New York was missing six players, including Heber and Maxi Moralez.
Now in his second year in the league, Torrent sounded like a seasoned MLS coach when he said, “ When you play the playoffs it is a different competition. It is not the same as the league because if you make one mistake, you are out.”
Chester, Pa. – It was a game that had to be seen to be believed, and even then…
It was a game of three halves with the visiting New York Red Bulls winning the first before a Philadelphia Union team chasing its first ever playoff win dominated the second half and the extra time to win 4-3. Union advance to the MLS Eastern Conference Finals and a match with Atlanta United, thrilling the sellout crowd of 18,530.
An up and down game…
It took a moment of pure class from Philadelphia Union substitute Marco Fabian beating Luis Robles with an elegant chip in the first period of extra time to bring Philadelphia all the way back from a 3-1 deficit after 45 minutes.
Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake had put his team in what appeared to be insurmountable hole with a series of first half errors that staked visiting New York to a 3-1 halftime lead.
An aggressive start by the New York Red Bulls was rewarded when Josh Sims sent a rocket past a helpless Blake in the Philadelphia goal after receiving a fine set up pass from New York playmaker Kaku for a sixth minute New York lead.
But with Philadelphia doing their part in a back and forth contest New York was gifted a second goal in the 24th minute when Blake wandered off of his line and whiffed on a Red Bulls corner kick, a mistake that was punished as New York center back Tim Parker fired New York to a 2-0 lead.
Red Bulls attacker Josh Sims went down in a collision with Blake during that scoring play and after being treated on the pitch for an extended period Sims was helped off, replaced by Alex Muyl.
Philadelphia looked set for a thumping by their neighbors but mere moments after play resumed Philly captain Alejandro Bedoya, who played a captain’s part before his late injury substitution, stunned Red Bulls with a beautifully struck goal to halve the home team’s deficit.
Bedoya nearly had a hand in leveling this playoff thriller moments later when his perfect cross set up Sergio Santos for a header that was ticketed for the New York net only for Luis Robles to get a hand to it, keeping the score at 2-1 New York.
Both squads overcoming injuries
Both teams were compromised by the injury bug for this single elimination first round playoff match with the striker position an area of concern for both teams. Philadelphia was perhaps at the bigger disadvantage with goals leader Kacper Przybylko unavailable.
Bradley Wright-Phillips and Brian White both started on the bench, with Tom Barlow getting the start, although both would be called on before the day was out.
In one of the biggest talking points of the match, New York caught a huge break in the 45th minute when the ball looked to have to banged off of Tim Parker’s arm when the defender slid to block a Philadelphia shot.
Matters only got worse for Philadelphia and its fans when Barlow finished into an empty net after Blake, unbelievably, failed to catch or clear a Marc Rzatkowski free kick in the final action of the half.
Union make their comeback
Seeking to avoid becoming the first home team to be eliminated in these 2019 MLS playoffs Philadelphia came roaring out of the blocks on the resumption and quickly cut New York’s lead to the minimum with center back Jack Elliot providing the goal when he headed home after Santos’ header came back off the crossbar from a Union corner kick.
Seeking to explain the shift in fortunes New York coach Chris Armas said afterward that “it becomes a game of randomness and field position,” Armas said. “The wind is blowing hard, it’s raining hard, they’re just dumping it in our end and if they can pin us in there they have guys that come in and bring energy, and bring quality.”
New York sought to hold on under the Union’s unrelenting pressure but the dam inevitably broke when substitute Fa Fa Picault slipped inside Parker and headed past Robles, evening the score at 3-3 in the 79th minute.
Picault would have another chance moments later when a corner kick fell to him about seven or eight yards from goal but Red Bulls Luis Robles keeper came up massive save on Picault’s point blank blast.
Philadelphia kept the heat on and New York was delighted to survive to see extra time.
Any thought that Red Bulls would change the narrative on the restart of extras was quickly debunked when Philadelphia nearly scored off of a corner kick one minute into the first period of extra time only to Robles to deny Kai Wagner.
The Union kept coming and had a penalty shout minutes later when Picault out jumped Robles in the Red Bulls goalmouth and Robles grabbed the speedy winger around his midsection but the referee kept his whistle holstered.
Then came Fabian’s moment of magic and Philadelphia was moving on.
Philadelphia will play Atlanta United on Thursday.
Who: Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls
When: Sunday, October 20th @ 3:00pm ET
Line: Philadelphia Union +104 | Draw +250 | New York Red Bulls +250
Whippany, NJ – Each New York Red Bulls season of the Luis Robles era, which began in 2012 and shows no imminent sign of wrapping up, has ended in the same fashion. The goalkeeper sits, looking up from a low stool in front of his locker into a phalanx of recording devices. He painstakingly searches for the correct words to explain yet another disappointing end to one more unfulfilling season for the title free MLS originals.
Following training Wednesday afternoon, in preparation for Sunday’s first round playoff showdown against Philadelphia Union, High Press Soccer asked the 35 year-old Red Bulls captain, “What’s going to be different this year? Why will it be different?”
“It’s a really good question,” Robles began, “and I don’t know the answer. But maybe all the other years when I felt like man, this is our year, this is our year and it wasn’t our year; this year could be the outlier.”
Perhaps mindful of providing the Union with bulletin board material, Robles immediately sought to clarify.
“I’m not saying that. Please don’t misinterpret this. (But) I think this team can make a run and can do something special this year.”
Is this year finally the year?
So, why this year? Why not 2013, 2015, or 2018, seasons that the Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield? “Maybe,” Robles considered, “the expectations the last four or five years have been so lofty and so high. We’ve been the favorites going in. Whereas this year, we’re not on anyone’s radar. We’re not the favorites. So I think we’re going to make some noise.”
Robles is right, of course. No one is counting on the Red Bulls to go to the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the MLS Cup Final. In fact, three out of four High Press Soccer pundits – this one included – have selected Philadelphia to end New York’s season on Sunday.
The Union finished the campaign in 3rd place with 55 points, having chased the top spot for most of the season, while New York finished with 48 points, one season after garnering a then league record 71 points, a record LAFC eclipsed by a single point this year.
Armas is looking for consistency
Consistency was a big issue for the Red Bulls this season, as exemplified by the 3-0 beating hung on New York by also-rans Montreal in the club’s Decision Day season finale. High Press Soccer noted to Red Bulls coach Chris Armas that the loss to the Impact, coming as it did after some good recent results, was part of a pattern of play that saw his side stumble following a couple of good results more than once this season, and inquired whether that inconsistency concerned him entering the playoffs?
“Yeah,” Armas conceded. “I mean, I think you don’t want to stumble too often.” Armas continued: “You want to be able to rebound back quickly. And the team has mostly been able to come back quickly, I would say. But yeah,” Armas went on, searching, “I mean when we’ve talked about trying to put back to back performances, 90 minute performances, and when you can’t do that consistently yet, you have to ask questions. Why is that happening? Right? So I think it’s a good question.”
A question the Red Bulls coach is still trying to figure out.
“There’s been lots of reasons, sometimes it’s there’s no one answer.” “But it’s it’s something,” Armas continued, “that, there’s been lots of reasons why and we come to the conclusion at times, sometimes it’s there’s no one answer but we’ve had to look hard and in that Montreal game specifically. Yes, it comes off with three straight games shutouts, two massive wins – one on the road – and then a stalemate with DC United.”
Armas, though, expressed confidence in his team’s ability to put the Montreal match behind them. “We call it a bump in the road, that one because we feel pretty good right now.”
Will past failures fuel success this year?
So, will this year be different? HPS asked Armas what he would tell Red Bulls loyalists.
“Yeah, there’s a trophy, there’s always a goal in mind and that means if you look at it one way, it’s one team or one person happy, individual sports, tennis, whatever, and then everyone’s disappointed. I mean, then, yeah, you play a whole career just disappointed.”
Armas explained that “oftentimes, you want to feel proud of the work that you do and know that excellence and trophies is the goal. And oftentimes you fall short.”
For Armas that falling short informs his approach. “It has made us hungrier, it makes you show up every day to work the right way and think about the right things and care about the people you work with.”
Speaking of the Red Bulls faithful, Armas said, “they’ve been with us and I know that there has to be disappointment.” “Because,” the coach acknowledged, “They want what we want and we want what they want and when you don’t have it, yeah, it comes out with frustration and being critical. I understand it.”
Then Armas returns to the question. “What makes it different this year? I’d say that we’ve come at it from different angles, and I’d say we’re hungrier, hungrier than we’ve ever been.” But it is not just hunger that Armas is banking on. “I think we are tactically better than we’ve been, ever, in terms of how we’ve prepared and what we’ve been up against.”
Armas points to, “an entire year of facing teams that want to play direct and long balls and trying to be disruptive. We’ve had to face adversity, injuries or whatever you want to say. We’re still standing. We haven’t got it. We’re still standing.”
Will the Red Bulls still be standing Sunday night? Robles thinks so.
“I’m the eternal optimist. I just feel good about our guys. I feel good about our coaching situation. That’s who I am, is an optimistic person, and I’m hoping that manifests, permeates throughout the locker room and when you have optimism and you have talent, and everyone is playing the way that we want to play that may manifest into an MLS Cup.”
Former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann called the CONCACAF Nations League “a waste of time.” However, with Gold Cup qualification in the balance, current boss Gregg Berhalter cannot afford to be so cavalier regarding the nascent regional tournament.
So, what exactly is the CONCACAF Nations League and should we care about?
What is the CONCACAF Nations League
The CONCACAF Nations League determines which countries qualify to compete in the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup is the regional championship that determines who qualifies from CONCACAF for the FIFA World Cup.
Regardless, like with the UEFA Nations League, there is confusion over the purpose of this competition. So let’s take a crack at easing some of that confusion.
All 41 CONCACAF countries are taking part in the inaugural Nations League. CONCACAF is the official governing body of soccer for North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The League is divided into three groups with a champion to be crowned in each.
The tournament will also determine which national teams qualify for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and will feature promotion and relegation between the leagues.
A total of 12 countries will make up the top tier, Group A, led by the Gold Cup Final six, the Hexagonal, or Hex. The US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras are joined by qualifiers Haiti, Canada, Curacao, Martinique, Bermuda, and Cuba.
The 12 teams in the top tier (League A) have been broken into 4 groups of 3. There are lower ranked teams in tiers as well (League B and League C).
|A||United States, Canada, Cuba|
|B||Mexico, Panama, Bermuda|
|C||Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, Honduras|
|D||Costa Rica, Haiti Curacao|
What is the CONCACAF Nations League match schedule?
Group A Schedule (home teams listed first)
Trinidad and Tobago vs Honduras
7pm – Halsey Crawford Stadium
Haiti vs Costa Rica
9pm – Thomas Robinson Stadium
USA vs Cuba
7pm – Audi Field, Washington D.C.
Bermuda vs Mexico
9pm – National Sports Center
Costa Rica vs Curacao
8pm – Alejandro Moreno Soto
Honduras vs Martinique
10pm – Olimpico Metropolitan
Canada vs USA
7:30 pm – BMO Field, Toronto.
Mexico vs Panama
9:30 – Azteca, Mexico City
Where Can I Watch the CONCACAF Nations League?
The upcoming U.S. games can be seen on FoxSports 1, TUDN, and Univision.
Mexico’s matches available on Univision or TUDN.
Concacaf has signed a deal with FloSports to stream over 200 CONCACAF Nations League matches on FloFC.com.
Who are top players to follow at the CONCACAF Nations League?
So, will top players be on display for this months games? The US is sending a first choice side, although striker Jozy Altidore will miss out due to yet another injury. But Gregg Berhalter will have most of his regulars, led by Christian Pulisic, who finally saw time again for Chelsea this past weekend, producing a nice assist last week against Southampton.
USA opponent Canada augments its MLS heavy lineup with a foreign-based contingent led by Bayern Munich prospect Alfonso Davies. Before Sergino Dest there was Jonathan Gonzalez, and the former U.S. youth international will be part of Mexico’s Nations League effort. Mexico will be counting on Atletico Madrid’s Hector Herrera, Napoli star Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, and Porto’s Jesus Corona for inspiration.
Costa Rica will be difficult to beat with PSG’s Keylor Navas between the sticks. Navas is joined by a familiar group featuring the likes of former Arsenal man Joel Cambell and Brian Oviedo, late of Everton, now lining out for Copenhagen.
Where to Bet CONCACAF Nations League
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
While no CONCACAF Nations League lines have been posted yet, check back tomorrow (October 10th) as the US game should be made available by then.
Who: Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC
When: Sunday, October 6th @ 4:00pm ET
Line: Philadelphia -127 | Draw +310 | NYCFC +285
Philadelphia has more to play for in this division matchup, with the Union coming into Decision Day level on points with Atlanta United for second place but trailing on the tiebreakers for both wins and goal difference.
In other words, Philly needs help from New England if they are to overtake Atlanta and claim second place behind NYC in the East.
There are no such playoff implications on the line for New York, although no team wants to go into the postseason on a down note.
Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC Preview
Despite finishing on top of the eastern heap for the first time since the club’s MLS debut in 2015, New York comes into this season finale in lukewarm form having followed up an impressive 4-1 Yankee Stadium demolition of Atlanta with a less than sparkling effort in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at New England.
Injuries and yellow card suspensions played a part in New York’s somewhat tepid performance, although coach Dome Torrent will have been pleased to see striker Heber clock a full 90 minutes in his return from injury.
Torrent and NYCFC will welcome 19-year-old James Sands back for the season finale as the defender/midfielder is finally recovered from a dislocated shoulder. Sands should see some time on Sunday with the plan to have the Homegrown talent ready for the playoffs.
Heber didn’t get on the scoresheet (obviously) against New England but 15 goals in 22 games, just 18 starts, tells coach Jim Cutin and his Union players that they will have to be aware of the Brazilian on Sunday.
And while we are on the positives for the Bronx Boys, NYCFC head into the playoffs news that its best player, midfielder Maxi Moralez has extended his contract for seasons, tying the 20 assist man to NYC through 2021.
While Curtin’s troops will be on high alert whenever Heber is in sight of goal, Torrent’s men will have to pay special attention to Philadelphia’s 15 goal man Kacper Przybylko. A former Polish youth international, German born Przybylko will be looking to add New York to his list of recent high profile victims, having rung the bell versus LAFC and Atlanta. He also added a goal against San Jose in a 2-1 Union win on September 25th.
Where to Bet MLS in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Who: Montreal Impact vs New York Red Bull
When: Sunday, October 6th @ 4:00pm ET
Line: Montreal +155 | Draw +280 | New York Red Bulls +143
Playoff position and the chance to host a first round playoff match will be in the balance for the New York Red Bulls when they face an already eliminated Montreal Impact side this Decision Day at Stade Saputo Stadium.
Fifth place New York wasted an opportunity to move up to the fourth spot (which comes with hosting rights) in last Sunday’s goalless home draw versus old rivals DC United. With United wrapping up its regular season at home to league worst FC Cincinnati, it is likely that those two dropped points will end up costing the Red Bulls a realistic chance at a home re-match versus DC in the single elimination opening round.
Sunday will put a lid on what was a disappointing regular season for the 2018 MLS Supporters Shield winners. RBNY were expected to challenge defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United and cross river rivals New York City Football Club for the Eastern Conference in 2019.
Then again, perhaps this is the year that New York flips the playoff switch and makes a run at the MLS Cup, the ultimate prize that has so far eluded the league’s original New York franchise.
Montreal Impact vs New York Red Bulls Match Preview
Montreal does not figure to put up much of a fight after last week’s meek capitulation at home to Atlanta, unless Impact owner Joey Saputo’s postgame, shape up or ship out, diatribe awakens his underperforming charges.
With a victory on Sunday essential, if the Red Bulls are to have any hope of hosting, New York’s attack will have to take advantage of Montreal’s defense, second most generous in the East this year only to record setting Cincinnati.
Prior to that 0-0 draw versus DC, the Red Bulls had run off a three match streak of scoring two goals per game following a 2-0 loss in Colorado back on August 31. No longer able to rely on Bradley Wright-Phillips to filling the score sheet, coach Chris Armas’ side has done a good job of spreading the wealth in recent weeks. Only Daniel Royer, with two, has scored multiple goals over the Red Bulls previous four matches.
Royer has done it all year long for New York and with striker Brian White, who picked up some of the slack in BWP’s absence still unavailable, Royer will be in the spotlight once more.
Defensively the Red Bulls have improved as well, carrying a streak of three consecutive shutouts into Sunday’s Decision Day showdown in Montreal. Central defense pair Aaron Long and Tim Parker finally seem to be on the same page. Kemar Lawrence is reminding us all just how good he can be while Kyle Duncan has provided solid defense and an athletic outlet on the wing and seems to have displaced Panamanian international Michael Murillo on Armas’ team sheet.
A loss to the Impact Sunday in Montreal could see the Red Bulls fall farther down the table, with Toronto FC just a single point behind the Red Bulls and facing Columbus, out of the playoff race, at home on Decision Day.
For Montreal, adding former “next Messi” Bojan Krkić alongside perennial star Ignacio Piatti did not prove to be the secret to getting the Impact back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016, a turn of events that resulted in Saputo dressing down his team ad is likely to lead into a turbulent off-season for the franchise.
Gregg Berhalter has named his roster for the USMNT Nations League debut, a competition former U.S. boss Jurgen Klinsmann recently derided as “a waste of time,” in conversation with ESPN’s Herculez Gomez.
With the Americans facing opposition like Cuba and Canada, Klinsmann’s central point, that the U.S. – as well as Mexico and Costa Rica– will find it hard to raise their level of play against teams of this level, is hard to argue.
Still, that is not Berhalter’s fault. However, it could become his problem if the U.S. does not impress this month, with young and improving Canada a potential banana peel.
No Sergino Dest
The big news emanating from this roster reveal is the absence of rising Dutch/U.S. international fullback Sergino Dest just days after Dest met with Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman. Dest featured in both of the recent U.S. friendlies in September and Berhalter has made it clear that he wants the 18-year-old to pledge his future to the Stars and Stripes.
Berhalter has recalled a couple of trusted players just back from injury layoffs in DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Miazga, and wisely reinstated Toronto pair Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, having left them out to concentrate on Toronto FC duties in September.
Is Berhalter’s roster construction too conservative?
Those were easy calls for the coach but some of his moves raise the question, is Berhalter too loyal and too conservative with his roster callups?
All coaches need to display a certain amount of loyalty, otherwise, how can any manager expect that same loyalty in return. That said, that admirable trait can descend into its less desirable offshoot – stubbornness.
We’ve all seen a coach that makes otherwise sound tactical decisions, yet continually selects one particular player that causes everyone to throw their arms up and cry, “oh no, not again.”
By now you know where we are headed, Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. Yep, Berhalter has selected the favored duo from his Columbus days even as their inclusion becomes more and more difficult to justify.
Now, it may not matter all that much because Trapp remains behind Michael Bradley while Berhalter has included both Jozy Altidore and Josh Sargent in the forward line, and both should be preferred over Zardes.
And it is Cuba and Canada.
Still, what message does it send if Berhalter sends out Trapp and/or Zardes versus Cuba, simply because he trusts them in his system?
That loyalty/stubbornness can be read as timidity when we look at the inclusion of defenders Daniel Lovitz and Walker Zimmerman. Zimmerman has shown flashes against lower-ranked CONCACAF teams but has not been excelling for FC Dallas. A pair of more intriguing options might have been Cameron Carter-Vickers who is playing for Championship strugglers Stoke and Erik Palmer-Brown, on loan to Austria Wien from mighty Manchester City and surely worth a look.
More egregious is the omission of fullback Antonee Robinson with Montreal Impact defender Daniel Lovitz receiving the call in his stead.
Having struggled defensively in previous U.S. outings, Robinson was rightly bypassed in recent U.S. camps but the dynamic flanker is currently in good form for Wigan in the English Championship and has a considerably higher ceiling than Lovitz.
Berhalter has shown some inclination to roll the dice as the selection of 18- year-old Philadelphia midfielder Brenden Aaronson suggests but matches against Cuba and Canada would have seemed to be a good opportunity for Berhalter to boldly kick off the post-Trapp/Zardes era.
USMNT ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 61/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 8/0), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf/GER; 16/0)
DEFENDERS (8): Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 8/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 8/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 13/2), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 10/0), Matt Miazga (Reading/ENG; 17/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 36/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 59/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 11/2)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 150/17), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 11/2), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 15/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 32/13), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 16/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 20/0), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes; 3/0)
FORWARDS (7): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 115/42), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 28/5), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 4/0), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas/TUR; 7/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 35/6), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 9/2), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 53/10)
Who: Portland Timbers vs New York Red Bulls
When: Wednesday, September 18th @ 10:30 pm ET
Line: Portland Timbers -110 | Draw +270 | New York Red Bull +265
Losers of three in a row, the New York Red Bulls find themselves battling to hold onto a playoff spot, when not so long ago the 2018 Supporter’s Shield winners were in with a chance to secure a top-four Eastern Conference finish.
After appearing in the 2018 MLS Cup Final, the Portland Timbers have had a somewhat similar season to the Red Bulls. The Timbers find themselves in a battle for a playoff position in the tightly bunched Western Conference.
The one big caveat in Portland’s 2019 campaign is that the Timbers opened the season with an astounding 12 game road trip while Providence Park underwent the finishing touches of an extreme makeover.
Gio Savarese’s team did not do too badly under those difficult circumstances, compiling 4 wins, 6 losses, and 2 ties on that season-opening walkabout.
Both of these teams are coming off of disappointing losses. New York’s 4-2 defeat at Seattle came after the Bulls had erased a 2-0 deficit. Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to DC United ended a brief two-match win streak for Portland.
Portland Timbers vs New York Red Bulls Match Preview
Wednesday night’s match is the Timbers game in hand on most of their Western Conference playoff rivals, with the exception of FC Dallas and the Sounders, who meet in Seattle (also a 10:30 ET kickoff).
Of course, games in hand mean nothing if you do not win them.
Portland boss Savarese is hopeful that key men Brian Fernandez and Sebastian Blanco will be available. The return of his top striker, Fernandez (stomach bug) and influential midfielder Banco would surely be a boon to the playoff-chasing Timbers.
The Red Bulls list center back Amro Tarek as doubtful, with Bran White and Cristian Casseres down as questionable. Tarek has been playing a larger role than expected after being acquired for depth by the Red Bulls from Orlando in the offseason. Aaron Long’s frequent international absences (expected) and injuries and poor play from Tim Parker (unexpected) have seen Tarek pressed into service. Parker relieved Tarek at Seattle and will be ready to go Wednesday night.
Casseres can be replaced in the center of the park by a couple of different teammates but White will continue to be missed until (if) Bradley Wright-Phillips regains his goal-scoring touch.
Both teams have a lot to play for at Providence Park tonight and with the usual 25,000 plus on hand, the atmosphere should be intense. Thanks to that epic opening road trip, the Timers have 11 of their final 12 matches at home, and four of the final five from here on out. So far the Timbers are 4-3 on the run-in. If they can improve that home winning percentage in their final five games, Savarese and co. will be safely in the playoffs.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas has come under fire from the Red Bulls faithful and his predecessor Jesse Marsch’s Champions League success with Red Bull Salzburg hasn’t doused the flames. Armas’ charges will split its final four matches evenly, beginning tonight in Portland. Four points above the playoff line and the same amount out of fourth place the Red Bulls are perched between hosting a home playoff match and missing out on the postseason altogether.
After the up and down season, the New York originals have endured the former would signify progress, the latter could see the Red Bulls front office contemplating a change behind the bench.
Who: NYCFC vs San Jose Earthquakes
When: Saturday, September 14th @ 12:30 pm ET
Line: NYCFC -107 | Draw +275 | San Jose+255
Two teams and two coaches on a redemption arc meet Saturday evening in the Bronx when Dome Torrent’s New York City FC play host to Matias Almeyda’s San Jose Earthquakes.
With NYC sitting atop the Eastern Conference and San Jose in fifth place, just two points behind second-place Real Salt Lake in the West, it may be difficult to remember the doubts surrounding both coaches when their respective team’s struggled early in the season.
Almeyda arrived in San Jose as one of the big off-season catches in all of MLS. Arriving directly from Chivas de Guadalajara, where he collected five trophies in his three seasons, landing the Argentine was seen as raising the bar on MLS coaching hires.
Then the season began with the Quakes losing five in a row out of the gate by a combined score of 14-2. The run included a 4-1 road loss to the New York Red Bulls and a 5-0 home humbling at the hands of LAFC.
Observers wondered if his new team would ever master Almeyda’s unique man to man marking system and the old doubts about foreign coaches succeeding in MLS (Tata Martino excepted) began to emerge.
Meanwhile, on the league’s opposite coast, NYCFC began the season with a spate of draws, sharing the points an astounding eight times against four wins and just one loss in its first 13 outings.
The NYC head coach confirmed the notion when he told NYCFC radio man Glenn Crooks that, “Right now I am in trouble as a head coach – I know and I have to accept that.”
Two programs on the rise
Both men would turn it around. They come into Saturday’s match with much to play for.
As mentioned, The Quakes are in the thick of it in a Western Conference that is packed tightly behind runaway league-leading LAFC. Any of the teams from second to eighth are still capable of a top-four finish (securing a home playoff game), while missing out on the postseason is still a possibility.
For the home team, the playoffs are a certainty. Positioning, a little less so. Torrent would love to lead NYC to its first Eastern crown, which comes with home-field advantage for as long as they go before possibly facing Bob Bradley’s juggernaut.
San Jose will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing midweek loss to division rivals Real Salt Lake. NYC will try to get back in the win column after a 1-1 draw with Toronto snapped the Cityzens five-game winning streak.
NYCFC vs San Jose Preview
New York will have to contain a San Jose attack that is led by a rejuvenated ChrisWondolowski. Wondo passed Landon Donovan as the all-time MLS leader in goals scored earlier in the campaign and has racked up 13 on the season.
Wondo is surrounded by some useful players like team assist leader Christan Espinoza (13 helpers), Vako (8 goals), Magnus Eriksson (6 goals and 8 assists) and U.S. international Jackson Yueill.
The 22-year-old Yueill is one player who has clearly benefited from Almeyda’s tutelage. The young midfielder was an afterthought in previous seasons before blossoming under Almeyda to the point that he has earned a look with the U.S. National Team.
Tommy Thomson is another young American that has flourished under new San Jose boss, earning regular time at fullback after struggling for minutes as a winger under previous coaches.
With the International break out of the way, NYC should be prepared for what San Jose has to throw at them. It was a makeshift side that Torrent sent out against Toronto and the 1-1 draw was a decent result, preserved by a fine Sean Johnson penalty save, Johnson having been released early by the USMNT.
NYC is still without striker Heber, the Brazilian that turned NYC’s season around after his April arrival but talisman Maxi Moralez will be back after missing out against TFC due to yellow card accumulation and his return should be enough to spark NYCFC to a home victory.
Where to Bet NYCFC in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Who: Portland Timbers vs New York Red Bulls
When: Sunday, September 15th @ 09:30 pm ET
Line: Portland Timbers -110 | Draw +270 | New York Red Bull +265
Sunday, September 15.
The New York Red Bulls got a break from the MLS schedule maker, playing no games during the international break. Thereby, RBNY has a full squad at its disposal during its most recent game, an advantage they squandered by losing 2-0 at home to Colorado.
Seattle was not as fortunate and it likely cost them a victory when they lost to Colorado 2-0 on September 7, with several key players away on international duty. That listed included U.S. players Jordan Morris and Christian Roldan, as well as dangerous Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz.
Both teams are coming off of 2-0 shutout losses to Tim Howard and the Colorado Rapids. However, Seattle had won two in a row prior to running into Howard’s ride into the sunset, while the Red Bulls loss to the one-time MetroStar was their second on the trot.
With five games remaining each of these teams is in the midst of a playoff push with neither side especially hot. The Sounders have amassed 2 wins, 2 losses, and 1 tie over their past five matches, slightly better than New York’s five-match mark of 1 win, 3 losses, and one draw.
Despite those similar records and with Seattle just five points superior to New York over the long season, the Sounders are in a much better place, right in the heart of the West’s battle for second place, while the Red Bulls have slid down the Eastern Conference table in a season of disappointment for the 2018 Supporters Shield winners.
3,000 miles is a long road trip but the Red Bulls may be just as happy to play in front of Seattle’s boisterous crowd, given their unsatisfactory home mark of 8-5-2 at Red Bull Arena, a fortress no more.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas was showered with chants of “Fire Armas” and “Armas Must Go” in the team’s most recent home game, that 2-0 loss to a Rapids side with no hope of making the playoffs. It leads one to wonder if the Red Bulls front office will reconsider Armas’ position this winter.
All-time leading Red Bulls goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips hasn’t been his usual lethal self since his return from injury, will the 34-year-old ever will be? The upshot is that New York has missed 2018 SuperDraft selection Brian White more than anyone could ever have expected prior to the season.
Further complicating matters for Armas is the play of Aaron Long whose uneven club form with has carried over to the national team. Long’s season-long struggles have seemed to be contagious with Tim Parker and Michael Murillo similarly plagued.
Seattle’s attack has received a boost from Jordan Morris’ improved play since his switch from right-wing to left, where the USMNT man has been far more effective. Morris would still be more effective as a striker but his path is blocked by Ruidiaz. The two working in tandem can be a tough night for any defense and the Red Bulls, and indeed the league will need to be on their toes.
Seattle has still not quite adjusted to the sudden early-season retirement of defensive stalwart Chad Marshall, considered by many the league’s best-ever defender.
Per MLSsoccer.com Seattle has racked up a 5-0-3 mark with eight goals conceded in Marshall’s eight games before his May farewell while the Sounders have slumped to 8-9-4 with 37 goals allowed in their remaining 21 matches.
With so much at stake for both sides, it figures to be a tense affair. Ruidiaz and Morris operating up top against a suspect Red Bulls defense and with New York’s attack not firing on all cylinders, Seattle would seem to have the advantage.
Throw in Seattle’s home record of 9-2-3 and New York’s 4-7-3 away mark of 4-7-3 and it is hard to see anything but a Seattle win Sunday night at the Link.
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
Florham Park, NJ – USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter’s Sergino Dest Appreciation Tour continued with Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the Dutch-born U.S. dual national will start tonight’s rivalry match at MetLife Stadium versus Mexico.
Berhalter’s reveal was the biggest news to emerge from his press conference. It continues the USMNT’s wooing of Dest, whose impressive play for Ajax has prompted concerns of a Dutch swoop.
Communication is key in keeping Dest
Asked about Dest and about dual nationals in general, Berhalter said on Thursday, “It’s about communicating with these players and then creating an environment that they want to be in. I think that’s important.”
Berhalter was wise to stress communication, given the criticism U.S. Soccer has faced over losing the likes of Jonathan Gonzalez, who faulted U.S. coaches and staffers for not keeping in contact with him before switching his international allegiance to Mexico.
Berhalter then narrowed his focus to Dest. “Sergino is here, he’s doing great in camp, he’s going to play, he’s going to start the game tomorrow.” The revelation came as a surprise and it was notable that the coach gave no other hints regarding the U.S. lineup.
Berhalter continued, emphasizing Dest’s U.S. connections:
“It’s a great opportunity for us to forget about the dual national part of it just to, you know, to give a player who’s been in our youth national team program, who’s played strong in the under 20 World Cup, who’s now broken in with the first team of Ajax, to give him an opportunity with the first team.”
Getting Dest cap-tied
From there, Berhalter continued to play down his and U.S. Soccer’s pursuit of Dest. The upcoming Ajax star can be cap tied at next month’s CONCACAF Nations League. Berhalter said, “I think that’s what, that’s what’s nice about this story, you know, it’s not about, to me the dual nationalism of him. It’s about, he’s come from our programming, and he’s performed well, and he’s really achieved something in this short period of this short month at Ajax, and it’s nice to be able to reward that.”
Berhalter’s remarks on Thursday are consistent with his evaluation of Dest in a conference call with U.S. Soccer media just eight days ago. Then the U.S. coach made his enthusiasm for the Ajax man clear.
“Sergino is a guy we’ve been tracking, we’ve been watching his progress with Ajax, making his way up to the first team. We’re excited about him. We’re excited he can play both wing-back positions, he has a good offensive skill set. He fits into the profile we’re looking for in our fullbacks. We’ve been really intrigued with how he’s been playing in Ajax.”
Berhalter also praised the 18-year old’s cerebral ability saying, “I really like how he interprets it (the game).”
Dest fits a glaring need for the USMNT squad
Part of what Berhalter likes so much about Dest is that ability to play on either flank. Dest made little of the difference at Wednesday’s round table press meetings saying with a shrug, “for me it doesn’t matter.” Asked which he preferred, Dest again replied simply, “it doesn’t matter.”
Given the problem that the USMNT has had in filling the left fullback role over the years, it is no surprise that Berhalter is excited about Dest. However, Dest seems better suited to the right side in Berhalter’s system, which often features a stay at home fullback on the left paired with a right-sided fullback that tucks in and plays centrally in an attacking role when the U.S. is in possession.
Wherever Dest lines out at MetLife Stadium, the prospect of facing Mexico is unlikely to phase him.
And there is this, Dest’s reaction on Wednesday to facing the USMNT’s biggest rival. “Yeah, I’m looking forward because it’s a rival for the U.S. And at the CONCACAF (U20) that was like, my first time against Mexico. And yeah, so as soon as I’ve heard it’s the rival of the U.S., I always want to be there. So yeah, I hope I can play.”
Tonight Dest will get that chance. Will it be enough to sway the dynamic fullback to choose the U.S. over the Netherlands?
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.”