What’s going on American Outlaws we still feel the energy from last nights win how do you feel?
The USMNT returned to winning ways on Tuesday night with a win against bitter CONCACAF rivals Mexico in a narrow 1-0 victory. The victory was the Americans’ first against El Tri since 2015, when Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo notched in a goal each to record a comfortable 2-0 win. Fast forward 3 years and new youngsters have taken the field in a much different look from that 2015 victory and even the 2017 World Cup Qualifiers. In what saw the United States end the International Break on a high note after the loss to Brazil, here are the 3 major takeaways from the match.
- THE KIDS CAN PLAY
It may be the beyond early stages of the new era of United States soccer but even a blind man could see how promising this new crop of players are in comparison to the generations of American players of other years. This new generation has more young stars playing abroad in the top 5 leagues in Europe than ever before. Even American legend Landon Donovan struggled as a young player in Europe when his time with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany was cut short as he moved domestically to San Jose. Sure, there has been incredibly influential figures in American soccer who have shown brightly in Europe, with Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Clint Dempsey and Brad Friedel all enjoying stellar careers in the Premier League. Damarcus Beasley even managed to reach the Champions League semifinals back in the 2004-2005 season.
But there is much more to this roster of young stars. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen showed why he is the one to take the reins from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan after another solid showing that may have not turned heads but got the job done effectively. Center-back tandem of Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers, always dubbed “the future CB pairing of the USMNT” is finally coming to fruition as the two of them held their biggest rivals at bay in what was another solid showing from the two Europe based players. Miazga’s “mental warfare” with Lainez showed that not only do these young players have the confidence to be the new faces of the national team but they also have the mental toughness needed in the game despite their limited experience. Teenage sensation and goalscorer Tyler Adams along with Kellyn Acosta showed why they have such European speculation surrounding their names after tireless, engine-like performances in a brand new 4-1-4-1 midfield system being experimented by Dave Sarachan.
The only slightly worrying part of the team is the not-so-dynamic attack. The young yanks have only secured victory against Bolivia, Paraguay and Mexico out of 7 matches since that dark day against Trinidad and Tobago. Despite our inability to finish off chances at times and difficulty connecting the forward with the run of play, the forward line possibly seems the most promising of any position. The forward depth chart now features promising young stars Tim Weah, Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes, Andrija Novakovich; all along with Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore whose window with the national team is still very open. With Weah playing alongside Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani at PSG, Sargent breaking through at Werder Bremen, Novakovich lighting up the Eredivisie and Zardes rediscovering his form with the Columbus Crew, the USMNT can breathe easy and ease the pressure off of Jordan Morris who suffered an early season ending injury and Julian Green whose “prodigy” career label in 2014 has been a massive flop given his expectations during his time at Bayern Munich.
- STEFFEN IS THE MAN FOR THE JOB
Americans have always consistently produced top talent in one area on the pitch, and that is goalkeepers. From Tony Meola to most recently Brad Guzan and everybody in between, the United States has always had a top notch goalkeeper in goal and one waiting in the wings. Tim Howard has established himself as one of the greatest national team players of all time after his amazing career in Europe with Manchester United and Everton and a 100+ cap career that featured the 16 save performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. Brad Friedel, the American goalkeeping record holder with the most consecutive appearances in the Premier League even managed to seal a move to Tottenham Hotspur as the starting goalkeeper in his 40s after featuring for Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa of England previously. Brad Guzan, the former Aston Villa man was a constant for the England side, with that even not being enough to usurp Howard from his starting position for the national team. Even Nick Rimando who rarely featured for the team was a more than capable 3rd choice after his heroic career he has had in the MLS with Real Salt Lake.
These aged goalkeepers dominated recent history, and with a new generation to turn to, things got a little worrisome. Bill Hamid’s move to Denmark backfired terribly after being sat on the bench in a time that would have probably seen him starting against Mexico. Ethan Horvath’s ill-advised move to club Brugge and costly mistake against Portugal made him fall off the radar after being tipped to be Howard’s successor. And then came Steffen, the man on the back of a failed move to German club Freiburg right out of college and sitting bench duty behind Steve Clark at Columbus Crew. Fast forward 2 years and Steffen’s heroics at the MLS playoffs against Atlanta and steady performances that got the recognition of English Championship side Bristol City, Steffen seems to be the man for the job after yet another cap as the starting goalkeeper against big opposition. Against Mexico he had one shaky moment when he handled the ball outside the box, but besides that he showed good and came up with solid stops and overall managed to record a shutout against the USMNT’s biggest rivals. The most important thing for the USMNT and Steffen’s career is to continue to play him as the starting goalkeeper if he performances are keeping up, to establish his confidence and position as the No. 1 then he can potentially live up to his expectations at youth level and become the next Tim Howard and even earn himself a move to the Premier League to join a long line of American goalkeepers to do so.
- TIME TO TEST PLAYERS IN THEIR NATURAL POSITION
It seems like common sense right? Players should play in their natural positions, or at least be able to have the opportunity to try it out. Against Mexico, the USMNT played with 4 natural holding midfield players on the pitch; however, in the 4-1-4-1 system implemented by caretaker coach Dave Sarachan, there was only room for 1 in captain Will Trapp. In the 4-1-4-1 system, Trapp acts as the lone CDM as he sits in front of the center back pairing of Miazga and Carter-Vickers to disrupt play by clogging up the middle, making tackles and distributing the ball to either keep possession or spark an attack. The 4 advanced midfielders included Tyler Adams and Weston Mckennie, 2 natural defensive midfielders who were placed above Trapp while Tim Weah played out left and Kellyn Acosta was alongside Adams on the right. In Acosta, Adams and Mckennie, the USMNT has 3 holding midfielders playing relatively out of position as they were forced in a more advanced position and in Acosta’s case, out wide. Adam’s made it clear to the media that he sees himself as a CDM, and despite his game-winning goal, it should be seen what he can do from his preferred position in a team of young stars that he has yet to feature in that position with. That does not necessarily rule out Trapp from the equation, who has made solid showings for himself as the lone CDM.
Sarachan in the next friendlies against Columbia, England and Italy should experiment with new formations, ones that accomodate for the preferred positions of players that he sees having huge contributions to the team, like 19 year old Adams who has been linked with a move to RB Leipzig in what should be unsurprising to anyone who follows the NY Red Bulls or the MLS at all. Acosta, who holds much more versatility has been experimented at LB, CDM and now RM. In no way is versatility a negative quality in a young player; however, it is important that Acosta’s best and most influential position is found in order for him to nail down a starting spot in the national team and reignite that European interest that surrounded his name last summer. With Mckennie, the newly turned 20 year old who has burst onto the scene with Schalke 04 last season, he has shown to have the quality to start for a top Bundesliga side. A CDM at heart, Mckennie is also comfortable and familiar with playing as a CM in a flat 4 and even featured as the RCB in a 3 back in Schalke’s last league match. While it is not a dire or end all situation about being played ever so slightly out of position than what he is typically used to playing, it is still important that more defensive minded players are placed in more defensive minded positions. No disrespect to interim coach Sarachan who has done a fantastic job developing this new crop of players, the problem of the national team for a long time has been the absence of a creative attacking midfield presence, something previous coach Bruce Arena made public when he took over for his second reign as USMNT coach. Klinsmann, Arena and Sarachan have experimented with the likes of Lee Nyguen, Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan to act as an attacking minded midfield player but for whatever reason despite strong performances from some of these players, their careers with the national team did not exactly work out the way they all had hoped it would after being very promising at some points.
With a win against Mexico now freshly on the minds of fans, coaches and players alike, the young yanks can look forward to a much more difficult challenge against Columbia, England and Italy in the coming months.