One vestige of World Cup coverage remains.

THE THOUSAND FOOT VIEW

Welp. The World Cup proceeded without the United States. Sunil Gulati finally got the message and is gone; in his place is Carlos Cordiero, who was nominally Gulati's right-hand man but not the chosen successor. That was Kathy Carter, who does something or other for SUM, the shadowy money machine that's attached to MLS, US Soccer, and the Mexican Federation.

Cordiero and Gulati reportedly had a falling out. I choose to believe that was over Gulati's insane dedication to Klinsmann, for sanity's sake.

The federation hasn't done much since except play some friendlies and hire Earnie Stewart as a "general manager," a vague job title with vague responsibilities and no ability to hire and fire the national team coach. Stewart, at least at first blush, is exactly the right guy for the job. A Dutch dual national with 101 caps, Stewart had a couple years of MLS experience at the tail end of his career and then transitioned into front office roles with a couple of Dutch clubs before becoming the sporting director of the Philadelphia Union. Now just hire a coach who is vaguely competent and things will start moving in the right direction.

Actually: they already have. The MLS 3.0 era has been going on long enough that it's starting to pay off. MLS 1.0 was about survival. MLS 2.0 was about expansion. MLS 3.0 is about development. Most MLS teams now have fully-fledged academies and reserve/youth sides playing in the USL, which is a quantum leap from even five years ago. When MLS first started up, it piggy-backed on the existing soccer infrastructure. The "Super Draft" was really important and most Americans in the league had significant college soccer experience. While college soccer still has a role to play, these days virtually all of the country's top-end prospects skip college in favor of going direct to the pros. MLS is now creating an alternate path that's closer to the way soccer prospects develop worldwide.

The result is an unprecedented wave of young Americans both at home and abroad at major clubs, striving to break through and in an increasing number of cases actually doing so. The US had two teenagers playing major minutes for top-end Bundesliga sides last year and is poised to have a couple more breakthroughs this year. There's now a steady stream of US prospects getting signed by German clubs, in part because they're free—a hole the USSF really has to patch—but in part because the academy structure has created a class of legitimate teenage prospects.

As a result this cycle has far too many young prospects at major Euro clubs to name, and the rate of signings seems to be going up annually. Projecting these guys has a bunch of wild-ass guessing involved, obviously. The edition of this post four years highlighted a certain Dortmund attacker... Junior Flores. In my defense, Christian Pulisic was 15. May there be another 15 year old out there I have no knowledge of.

Anyway, one man's guess at the main contenders for the roster in Qatar. Or, for cynics, the last match in the hex when we run out a 4-1-3-2 in a game we need one point in. All ages are as of the 2022 World Cup. Players are roughly ordered by beautiful perfect son-ness. 

STRIKER

Josh Sargent (22), Werder Bremen. Sargent is the real deal, the only player to score for the U17s, U20s, and main national team in the same calendar year. Sargent's on-field awareness is leagues better than any 18 year old's should be; he seemingly always knows the position of his teammates and how to unbalance a defense. He's not big-huge but he's comfortable with hold-up play and puts himself in excellent positions on the regular. His ability to pull off the line and find pockets of space leapt out at the U20 World Cup, which he played in despite also being eligible for (and playing in) the U17 World Cup:

Sargent signed with Bremen, a mid-table Bundesliga side, afterwards and moved to Germany despite being ineligible to play with the main team—FIFA rules state you have to be 18 to leave your country of origin and Sargent just turned 18 in February. If he does make the breakthrough people expect him to he could end up at the top of the US depth chart almost immediately. Bremen's coach is outright saying they will not bring in a striker because of Sargent and another young player.

[After THE JUMP: less beautiful, less perfect sons]

[Photo: Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Conventional wisdom in many basketball circles is that the old-school center is a dying breed. Gone are the days in which teams are willing to spend any significant amount of time dumping the ball in the paint and allowing players to maneuver their way into low-percentage looks.

Today, spacing is king.

The notion that a more traditional big man cannot provide significant value, however, is unfounded. One need only look at the NBA level to see the value in non-shooters like Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela. A reliable three-point shot is a valuable asset for anyone, but centers can help elevate their teams’ offenses in a number ways that can positively impact spacing.

For Michigan, Jon Teske is going to have to find ways to help the offense without a three-point ball. The trick for Teske is that he doesn’t have the athleticism of the rim runners that benefit an offense without a perimeter game.

Previously, we looked at maximizing Zavier Simpson in next year’s offense, focusing primarily on how he operated within the pick-and-roll game. As the screener, Teske is a critical component to what could be the primary schematic theme for the team in the fall.

As the season progressed, Teske showed that he can benefit his teammates offensively, particularly in the screen game. Understanding angles and where to move to promote optimal spacing is a skill, and it’s one that Teske developed nicely this past year. There was clear inflection point as February came about where the game slowed down for the sophomore center. Michigan’s numbers with Teske on the court reflected that improvement (on/off stats vs. KenPom top-100 via Hoop Lens):

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Despite lacking both ideal athleticism and a deep ball, Teske found a way to be a productive part of Michigan’s run to the Championship Game. Perhaps more importantly, John Beilein and the coaching staff took advantage of Teske’s size, screening ability, and generally intelligent play to benefit not just Teske but his teammates as well.

In typical Beilein fashion, Michigan ran a successful offense even when they had three relative non-shooters on the floor at once:

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Per Hooplens, Michigan’s offense was actually better with the trio of Teske, Simpson, and Charles Matthews, despite the fact that none could be confused for a sharp shooter. That success over a decently-sized sample is a good reminder that there isn’t just one way to score efficiently, even in today’s game. 

With that entire trio returning next season, we can look to what Jon Teske did well to gain some insight into what next year’s offense may look like.

[Hit THE JUMP for an extensive breakdown of Teske's offensive growth and potential.]

This was not the agreement, Steve

If you listened to our latest podcast you no doubt heard my impassioned plea for 24/7 to set a hard ceiling on CA RB commit Zach Charbonnet's ranking. You see, Rudy, five star tailbacks at Michigan generally fall over when whispered upon and fumble explosively a nanosecond from the ground. "Let's stay away from that," I begged, pleading for Charbonnet to top out at #51, a back-half-of-the-top-100 ranking that is in the feasibly productive range.

Instead:

image

Nuts to you, 24/7, for threatening the career of one of Michigan's running back commits before it even starts. Please find exactly 11 players you like more than him before Signing Day, or the dog gets it! I certainly have a dog! That I am threatening! With "it"!

The other back

TN RB commit Eric Gray had an abrupt left turn in his recruitment that started when someone got sidelined:

“After the camp, I didn’t really hear from Michigan because their offensive coordinator (Tim Drevno) was going a different route with running backs,” Gray said, calling his early interaction with Michigan weird. “Once he left (for USC), they started coming back.

“I didn’t think I wanted to go to Michigan because they used to not talk to me. I almost didn’t take the official, but taking it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It really opened my eyes.”

Once Drevno was gone Michigan picked up the pace and secured a commitment. Gray remains the top back on 24/7 after their re-rank and actually slid up 11 spots, because his Opening was impressive:

“He’s the ideal all-purpose back,” 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons said, “with great pass-catching ability out of the backfield, really good burst and change-of-direction and big-play potential, and he was one of the top backs in attendance in Texas.”

I'm all for having a guy like Evans or Gray on the roster at all times; if Michigan does run up against a team that is good at shutting down the straight-ahead stuff the scatback provides another avenue of attack.

[After THE JUMP: even more re-rank positives.]

stargazing

Tracking the changes in star ratings of the 2019 commitments

njas 1.7

It really shows that some franchises are well run and some just aren’t, and teams that are in the lottery are there for a reason.

Aidan Hutchinson was bitten by a radioactive wolverine or defensive coordinator two years ago and is currently hulking up 

The winningest coach in program history is sticking around for a while.

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