Friday’s soccer news begins with a preview of Switzerland against USMNT on Sunday (2pm ET – ESPN). The game comes as USMNT technical staff seeks to mimic what the squad expects during the compact World Cup qualifying schedule this fall. The distance between Switzerland and Denver may stretch, but the next stop is the Concacaf Nations League semi-finals and the first game to count this year.
With the remainder of 2021 over the Nations League, Gold Cup and Qualification, now is the time for the players to lock their roles. There will be plenty of options, with USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter making it clear he’ll have to switch players. That becomes clear when he calls a group that he has already identified as a noticeably changed group for the Gold Cup.
Switzerland is not a substitute for a team in Concacaf. They occupy 13th place in the FIFA rankings from May 2021 and are preparing for next month’s EURO 2020. In the group stage they play against Wales, Italy and Turkey. At the opening of the World Cup qualification in March, Switzerland won 3-1 in Bulgaria and 1-0 in Lithuania at home.
The USMNT Defense
Zack Steffen has a bigger game with Manchester City the day before and leaves Berhalter without his regular starter. In his place are Ethan Horvath, Chituru Odunze and David Ochoa. Horvath is the veteran who plays through another season as a backup at Club Bruges. Horvath lost his starting job when his club hired one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. To play behind Simon Mignolet means not to play, a situation similar to that of Steffen in City. Horvath is a proven talent at the club level and offers an insurance policy for Club Bruges at the expense of the season. Steffen changes to the list of the Nations League for Odunze. The friendly game on Sunday seems like a chance for Horvath.
Before him, DeAndre Yedlin is available after recovering from an injury at new club Galatasaray. With John Brooks having had an extremely strong season for Wolfsburg and everyone knows exactly what Sergino Dest did in his first season in Barcelona, Berhalter has too many first choice options. Reggie Cannon is also in this group and draws a lot of attention with his play at Boavista.
What this group of defenders represents is something new to the USMNT. Options on the back with quality players who can perform multiple roles. If Berhalter needs a lockdown backline or defenders able to push forward, he has it.
This is the current question at the USMNT. Berhalter tinkered with his duty roster and setup. It remains an open question what kind of game he will choose from game to game, especially considering how much he emphasizes the rotation of the team. In theory, a USMNT must bring together listed midfielders on the field at the same time. That’s more than finally seeing Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie in the same line-up. There is room for Gio Reyna and Tyler Adams along with options in Yunus Musah and Jackson Yueill.
A 4-3-3 will likely push Pulisic and Reyna wide, but a free flowing attack that sacrifices defense isn’t usually what happens on the street in Concacaf. How Berhalter uses his first-choice squad has to match what we see during the Gold Cup. Otherwise, it would create two different groups that may or may not merge well as needed. A 4-2-3-1 answers some of that, emphasizing the defensive midfield and that connection to move the ball forward. It’s also closer to what most MLS teams prefer.
Regardless, Berhalter is not only concerned with tactics. This is a moment of expectation management. The coach has to show that he knows how to get the most out of groups of players. With the talk of the quality in this group, Sunday is the beginning of a proof-of-concept, which has to end with a trophy next week. This will show that Berhalter is in control of a particular version of the USMNT. The expectation for the fall should be in control of qualifying, and Berhalter’s decisions can now begin to send that message across.
The USMNT’s options on the wing include some of the biggest names on the roster. Pulisic and Reyna can both play far. They are used to creating opportunities for some of the best strikers in the game. Either of them can also get behind the strikers and play a different version of the game while others can push positions forward. The result is usually getting the ball forward to turn those movements into goals.
Berhalter has options here. His group of real strikers has excelled at European clubs this season. Matthew Hoppe is only in the squad for this game with Pulisic listed among the Nations League strikers. Brenden Aaronson is also one of the strikers but usually plays behind them. That leaves Josh Sargent, Jordan Siebatcheu and Timothy Weah at the forefront of the attack as the most likely pick.
Weah is in an interesting position after a season limited by Achilles tendon problems. There is no doubt about his sense of destination, something he loaned to Celtic before his final move to Lille. Ligue 1 isn’t as physical as Concacaf, but he has demonstrated the ability to stop in traffic and wait for the ball to turn on. That means punitive movements, shots from a distance and a willingness to change a game.
Also on the football news, Weston McKennie has a new coach at Juventus who continues to work under Andrea Pirlo after a season. Massimiliano Allegri is returning as a coach trying to bring the club back to its most recent era of success. That means winning Serie A as a matter of course and taking the next step in the Champions League.
Juventus’ statement, which announced the move, drifted into the poetic. “And now we are ready to start again with Allegri in order to build our future together,” it says. “With his tremendous professionalism, his moral strength and the brilliant ideas of a coach who is able to shuffle the cards both on and off the field. With his smile a kind of “signature”. With his way of simply understanding football and life, with his desire to downplay things and with the obligation to enjoy every wonderful moment that Juventus can and will give. “
NY Times’ Tariq Panja reports that UEFA is considering a single location for the semi-finals and the Champions League final. Guardian Sid Lowe on Zinedine Zidane is no longer Real Madrid’s coach. MLSsoccer’s Charles Boehm updates Charlotte’s foray into her MLS debut.
All links are provided with permission. US Soccer Players and its authors are responsible for the content of any links or websites of third parties. For comments, questions, and concerns, please contact us at email@example.com
Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com