USA 2022: Defense, Goalie, Guess

USA 2022: Defense, Goalie, Guess

Submitted by Brian on July 19th, 2018 at 3:45 PM

Previously: Attackers, Midfielders.

CENTER BACK

The top end here is slightly wobbly with Brooks's injuries and Miazga's club situation but there are a lot of bullets in the chamber here and thing should be more or less fine.

John Brooks (29), Wolfsburg. Injury-prone but still a first choice starter at a large-ish Bundesliga club and worthy of a big transfer fee. Brooks missed a large majority of last season with a knee injury; even when on the field he is in the mode of a promising defender in almost any sport where he looks spectacular for a while and then turns into a puddle of recriminations. To wit: a rusty Brooks's first appearance post-injury ended just 29 minutes in after one of those games where you're already on a yellow and the ref makes the "no more!" hand signal at you.

Brooks is big and fast and usually good and will hopefully spend the next few years healthy so he can refine the rough spots out of his game.

Matt Miazga (26), Chelsea. Technically still on Chelsea's books but Chelsea does the "I'm playing Football Manager" thing where you buy half the young talent in the world and loan it out annually. Despite his status as a mainstay for a middling club in the Dutch top flight he's unlikely to break through in London just yet, if ever. He's not amongst the 25 players heading to Australia for a friendly. Chelsea's weird coaching limbo doesn't help.

Hopefully he gets a loan to that gets him into one of the top four leagues in Europe. He seems to have earned it, and his time in the Dutch league has made him sort of Dutch:

If the US is going to be a possession team ever they need that ability on their back line.

This year's goal is to get a loan with an option to buy to a team in a good league and GTFO of Chelsea. He's already done enough with Vitesse to be a default starter with the USMNT.

[After THE JUMP: palpbable-ish outside backs]

USA 2022: Midfield

USA 2022: Midfield

Submitted by Brian on July 18th, 2018 at 12:43 PM

Previously: Attackers.

NUMBER TEN: HOPE YOU LIKE KIDS WAIT THAT CAME OUT WRONG

Defining different central midfield slots is slightly silly since most players suited for the center of the field are at least somewhat flexible, but in an effort to organize our thoughts we'll do it anyway. So: the USA hasn't had a Central Attacking Midfielder or Number Ten or Trequartista or Guy Who Tries To Be Messi of much note pretty much ever. (Clint Dempsey was always a striker.) There were some promising folks over the last two cycles but for whatever reason Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan existed on the fringes of the national team.

American 10s in MLS include those rapidly aging guys, a couple more even fringier members of the pool, and File Not Found. Inserting Pulisic here is an obvious option and may be the way it ends up, or the US could just roll out a couple box to box types like they did when Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were freed to run by the insertion of Kyle Beckerman behind them. I bet one dollar that's this cycle's solution, with a really fast right back who overlaps and frees Pulisic to tuck inside.

But a speculative name or five here anyway, all of whom are absurdly young. Maybe one of these guys will get good enough fast enough to be relevant. All ages are as of 2022, so... yeah.

Andrew Carleton (22), Atlanta United. Carleton has been a next big thing for a couple years now but he's stuck behind a boatload of expensive South Americans in Atlanta and only gets scattered matches for them. Intra-MLS loans aren't really a thing so Carleton's in a bit of a tough spot.

Richie Ledezma (21), RSL. Ledezma is trialing with Dutch powerhouse PSV and turns 18 in September so wouldn't have a full limbo year if he does go. Ledezma is getting semi-regular minutes in the USL already.

Josh Pynadath (20), Ajax. Pynadath had a couple of years with Real Madrid's academy and is now at Ajax—his mom's job got moved to Holland. He plays on both wings for Ajax but a dual-footed guy with the kind of ball skills Pynadath has is a natural candidate to move inside. He could realistically play anywhere across the attacking midfield level of a 4-2-3-1, but he's 16 so he could also be a potato you never hear about again.

Giovanni Reyna (19), NYCFC. Yes, that Reyna. He'll hook up with a European club as soon as his EU passport goes through and from there will hope to bust into a starting lineup. Realistic best case scenario is another Pulisic type rise where he plays a bunch for a big team and gets integrated the year before the WC.

Gianluca Busio (19), Sporting KC. Youngest MLS signing since Freddy Adu, and it's appropriate to mention Adu in a section in which the oldest guy is 18. Can get an Italian passport so could be another quick move across the Atlantic.

By 2021 everyone except Carleton should be pushing to break through at a high(ish) profile Euro club. There's no better example of the academy effect than the next gen of potential 10s; previously American 10s have been limited in numbers and opportunity since MLS tends to target foreign players at that spot. USL opportunities for teenagers have the potential to break out a number of skilled attackers both here and abroad.

This has been the most crootin' section of this post.

[After the JUMP: still fairly crootin sections.]

USA 2022: Attackers

USA 2022: Attackers

Submitted by Brian on July 16th, 2018 at 12:47 PM

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]

Hello I Am Hung Over Let's Yell About US Soccer

Hello I Am Hung Over Let's Yell About US Soccer

Submitted by Brian on October 11th, 2017 at 12:17 PM

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DESOLATION

Hungover? Whatever. Hello, folks. Instead of doing my job last night I had some alcohol and devised a series of mostly-humane traps that can be used against Sunil Gulati and everyone else associated with US Soccer. I plan on 3-D printing these traps and leaving them wherever incompetent executives gather: airline lounges, Sur La Table, the White House, Toys R Us, Starbucks, that kind of thing.

If you will permit me a moment: US soccer is the only sporting thing outside of Michigan I care about these days and it's right up there. Many of my friends I know because of it. A World Cup every four years is a cornerstone of the sporting experience for me, and now it's gone. I expect someone will yell at me for not having an MSU UFR today, and I would like to pre-emptively tell this person to go to hell. Go to hell, jerk. Your silver lining is that I won't be writing about soccer for a month next summer. Instead I will be telling myself that strong men also cry.

Anyway. Defeat has a thousand mothers and everyone is flogging their pet theory. I accept all persons as targets of blame. Yes, Arena. Yes, Klinsmann. Yes, Gulati. Gulati, finally and most of all.

Have we stopped to ask why president of US Soccer, an enterprise that has a nine-digit pile of cash it's sitting on, is a side hustle for an economics professor who looks like a melted pez dispenser?

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Or why that guy hasn't been challenged in the last two elections? The most recent came well after it was clear Klinsmann was a bit of a dunce, and nobody even stepped up to the plate. Like all national federations, US Soccer is insulated from consequences and mostly set up to gather cash and dispense it to Chuck Blazer's cats.

Any self-respecting melted pez dispenser would have a wakizashi in his chest this morning, but this guy is talking about "two inches" like not even making the playoff over ten games in a group featuring Honduras, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama was a matter of some rotten luck.

It's not. Obviously. In addition to failing to make the World Cup, Gulati's ham-handed management has seen US soccer sued by its own players. Stadium selection has been focused exclusively on cash, with many many matches played on substandard turf. The women refused to play one match in Hawaii because it was so dangerous. The US has missed three of the last four Olympics, and hired a very special boy in Klinsmann. That dumbass left Landon Donovan, the all-time USA GOAT, off a World Cup roster in the same year he was MLS MVP in favor of a kid who can't get on the field in the Bundesliga 2 and an insurance salesman named Brad.

Klinsmann got dominated in three out of four matches, got out of the group because Portugal blew it, was saved the embarrassment of a 10-0 game against Belgium by Tim Howard, and kept his damn job. The US got outshot 15-6 by Haiti in a Gold Cup in which they got badly outplayed by everyone except Cuba, and Klinsmann kept his damn job. Only after Klinsmann had started the US down the path to destruction did Gulati pull the trigger on his very special boy. Klinsmann remains unemployed. It is unlikely he will ever manage another soccer team.

On its face replacing him with Arena was fine, but you can't make a soccer team or an offensive line in one year, and then Arena made a stunningly insane tactical decision to play the same 11 last night. That may be the only thing Gulati can't be blamed for. Finally, a thing Gulati didn't do wrong.

Unfortunately Gulati is accountable to almost nobody, as is usual. The only thing that will get him out is a decrease in the bottom line, and so I beg anyone inclined to go to a US game or buy merch to not do so until a total housecleaning takes place.

I guess now I get to go finish reviewing the MSU game. This week is fun!

Preview: Argentina

Preview: Argentina

Submitted by Brian on June 21st, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Last time out. Facing the suspension of Deandre Yedlin, Klinsmann flipped Fabian Johnson to the right and brought in Matt Besler as a left-back-type-substance. This looked weird on the surface. When soccer folk attempt to describe an overall tactical approach with a formation those formations are invariably symmetrical and identical in attack and on defense; neither of these things are true in practice. Besler barely ventured forward when the US had the ball; Fabian Johnson bombed up the right sideline all game. Both of these decisions were suited to their play, and the US played their best first half of the tournament. It was predictable but it put people in roles they were good at.

Things went nuts in the second half after red cards to each team. Jermaine Jones put a fist in the vicinity of an Ecuador player to even things up after Antonio Valencia got a second yellow card, turning what should have been a comfortable exercise in seeing out a game a man and a goal up into a frenetic finish. Klinsmann left Clint Dempsey on the field an inordinately long time, leaving the US with just seven guys trying to defend. This paid off with a goal, and then bit the US when Dempsey continued afterwards. Klinsmann also left on a number of US players on yellow cards and got his just desserts for doing so when an exhausted Alejandro Bedoya pulled an opponent back after getting beaten. He was issued a yellow that suspends him for this game. Steve Birnbaum would come on in the 93rd minute as a middle finger to common sense.

But they're here, in a semi-final against Argentina. This is an opportunity for history.

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This dude 1) scores 2/3rds of a goal per game in the EPL, 2) comes off Argentina's bench

So… Argentina. The problem is that they're not just Messi. Throw a rock at the attacking players on Argentina's team and you will hit a cornerstone of one of the elite clubs in the world. A dude with 102 goals in 150 appearances for Manchester City comes off their bench. FIFA rankings blah blah blah; #1 does mean something.

After years of frustration they've finally figured out how to deploy Messi in the context of the national team: they tell him to do whatever he wants and try to run into useful places. Messi roams from sideline to sideline, from front to back, and is extremely difficult to mark out of a game as a result.

Their defense looks elite but is part a creation of their possession; they had a shaky period against Venezuela where the Rio Tinto outside backs were bombing forward and unsettling the D's organization. Venezuela hit a post, missed a penalty, and forced a couple excellent saves out of the Argentina keeper.

Argentina's back four is not to the standard of the rest of the team. They start Gabriel Mercado, a 29-year-old Liga MX player with just six caps, at one outside back spot. The other outside back spot is a Man U player who has trouble getting league appearances; Everton center back Ramio Funes Mori has been a bit iffy in this tournament. This is still Argentina we're talking about here but they're not overwhelming back to front like a Germany is. Those center backs are generally regarded as the weak links of the team, and a quick counter attack or successful overload could stake the US to a lead. Argentina is vulnerable to the kind of goals the US scored against Ecuador. The US can have a period of similar productivity, and maybe they have better luck.

Just one problem.

Wood is the man, and he's on the bench. Wood is a brutal loss since he's been maybe the USA's best player in this tournament not named John Brooks—he is capable of runs behind the defense and hold-up play, a complete forward the US hasn't seen since the brief moment when Charlie Davies was reaching his peak. While it came to little, Wood's tenacity and speed were most apparent on a run early in the Ecuador game that had no business turning into a shot but did nonetheless:

That is a guy who puts the fear of God into center backs.

Woods had two hockey assists in that game as his runs drove the opposition back to the mouth of their own goal and opened up space for crosses against a defense that had already spent a center back chasing him.* Davies was the last US forward to threaten like this. His activity became so integral to the USA's gameplan under Bob Bradley that Bradley not only brought but started Robbie Findley during the 2010 World Cup. Since Findley was a version of Davies with cement blocks for feet this was a mistake; it demonstrates just how dangerous and difficult to find a guy like Wood is for the US. (Except they've got another one playing in Seattle, but that's another post.)

Everyone assumes that the US will slide Zardes up top and try to get the same production. Zardes does match Wood's speed and endurance but Wood is super productive at finding space, something Zardes is erratic at. His first touch has been discussed to death for good reason; he's not likely to replicate Wood's production. The US is hoping he has a moment or two where it works out and he can apply his physical gifts. The other option is Chris Wondolowski, which: no.

*[Fancy talk for this is "running the channels." To execute this a center forward runs diagonally to the edge of the field, usually when the outside back is up the field. A center back generally gets pulled into an uncomfortable spot and the defense has to rotate to cover. Just like in basketball, a rotating defense is a vulnerable one. The second goal is a quintessential example of that activity.]

What now? Wood, Jones, and Bedoya are suspended for the semifinal.  Losing the two central midfielders at the same time is rough but survivable since there are reasonable replacements; losing Wood is probably fatal for the USA's chances in a game where they don't figure to have much of the ball.

I'm operating under the following assumptions:

  • The US will continue using Dempsey as a second forward under a true #9
  • They will not be averse to asymmetry in the formation
  • Darlington Nagbe made fun of Klinsmann's hair

Klinsmann has gone with all the old guys for his substitutions so far, frustratingly. Continuing that would be a major mistake. The Argentina back line had a lot of trouble with Venezuela's outside speed. Beckerman has just about reached his expiration date. I'd rather roll with a more athletic player there.

I would stick with the unbalanced formation the US used against Ecuador and slide Fabian Johnson up. You're going to need a moment of brilliance or two and Johnson is one of the likeliest candidates to provide that if he's allowed to play on the wing. It could look like this:

You could flip Pusilic in for Zusi but the chances of that seem very low.

FWIW, this is the formation most of the USA internet has arrived at. It lets Yedlin fly up the wing like Fabian Johnson did in the previous game and puts Johnson back at the spot that he excelled in this season for Gladbach. With Argentina down Angel Di Maria and Nicholas Gaitan they don't have a ton of width. Their outside backs don't get forward much; they don't do a whole lot of crossing. They had only 12 in the Venezuela game, and one of those was the ridiculous Messi assist from 40 yards out. All this means the US would do well to replicate their gameplan against Spain in the Confederations Cup: load up the middle and clear the crosses.

The gameplan with Beckerman looks something like this:

Nagbe has been more effective in the center of midfield in the last couple years of MLS play but this would be more or less fine. Other exotic options include dumping Dempsey for a 100% bunker, bringing in DM Perry Kitchen, and deploying Pusilic. None of these seem at all likely, but Klinsmann might Klinsmann.

Nagbe is critical because he is the USA's best bet to relieve pressure and get more of the ball. His exclusion has been somewhat reasonable to date; leaving him out in this game means both Zusi and Beckerman are playing and means the US is playing to survive a 90 minute onslaught and hope for the best in penalties. Given the situation Nagbe is a better defensive player than Beckerman. He would not fare as well in a defensive mid role but he doesn't have to play it, and Nagbe is a huge upgrade in both athleticism and ability to possess the ball.

This tournament is already a success. It's hard to imagine that the continual changes in both personnel and formation will persist going forward. The back five are just about set. Wood and Dempsey are your first choice forward pairing. Jones, Bedoya, Zardes, and Nagbe will battle for midfield spots. There's one slot in the first-choice 11 that is up for grabs based on performance (Zardes) and two that may have to be revisited due to age or continued problems with red mist (Dempsey and Jones). For a team that didn't start the same center back pairing since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand until the run up to this tournament that's a quantum leap forward.

Most of the questions concern backup spots now and even a couple of those (Jordan Morris, for one) have reasonable answers going forward. Outside back, as always, is the main area of concern.

Klinsmann still behaves like a man who's petrified people will see through the emperor's new clothes and is replacement-level at best, but… hey, replacement level! I can dig that!

Piping Hot And Not At All Dated Copa America Takes

Piping Hot And Not At All Dated Copa America Takes

Submitted by Brian on June 13th, 2016 at 4:19 PM

The US came out of a reasonably difficult group at the Copa America and now faces Ecuador, a team they just beat 1-0 in a pre-Copa friendly, in the quarterfinal. Assorted items. Nobody cares if you don't like soccer, sports talk radio enthusiast.

Klinsmann wasn't entirely wrong after Colombia… The opener against Colombia was a 2-0 loss but far less dispiriting than a lot of victories over the past couple years, and because everyone's on edge about how Klinsmann is a bad coach there was a ton of pushback/panic/etc. Klinsmann in the aftermath:

Despite the loss, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann declared himself generally pleased with how his team performed in what he termed “a totally even game.”

“We were absolutely OK with the team performance,” Klinsmann told reporters in his postgame press conference. “Obviously we got punished for two set pieces in the first half, and then against such a quality team [it’s] very, very difficult if you don’t force one goal to get back into the game and equalize it. But overall, we were completely even. We didn’t give them anything.”

This was sort of correct and sort of the same product Klinsmann's self-serving excuse factory has been dumping into the river for a couple years now. (Please do not try to compare the above statements to anything Klinsmann said during or after the 2015 Gold Cup. If they touch each other they will explode.) Colombia generated little from the run of play. The fancystat Expected Goals more or less thought the game was a wash:

That more or less corresponds to what I saw, except the one big Colombia chance it sees is overrated by the formula because it doesn't take the difficulty of Bacca's attempt into account. I'll take that against the #3 team in the world. One missed mark on a corner and a fluke PK were about it for Rodriguez, Cuadrado, Bacca, and company. That's the bit where Klinsmann was right. The bit where he was wrong was a game state thing. Colombia scored within ten minutes and were happy to sit back and see what happened, especially once it seemed like the US was no threat. It wasn't a threat, and a large part of that goes back to the manager.

[After THE JUMP: soccer content that will probably revoke your man card or something]

Copa America Preview: Thousand-Foot View

Copa America Preview: Thousand-Foot View

Submitted by Brian on June 2nd, 2016 at 12:46 PM

FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T PAID ATTENTION IN A YEAR OR TWO

If you're just joining us after the World Cup, hoo boy. The US has alternated impressive friendly victories over world powers with dismal performances against the likes of Jamaica and Guatemala in competitive matchups. The US had its worst-ever Gold Cup, limping through the group stage and getting bashed out of the competition by the Reggae Boys in the semi, then losing in the third-place match. Since then the USA has careened wildly from one thing to another; they're now in slight danger of missing out on the World Cup after a first-ever loss to the aforementioned Guatemalans.

Even Aussies writing for the Guardian have noticed:

image

Also everyone else at the Guardian:

Jurgen Klinsmann is …

… an average coach whose motivational abilities can’t disguise his tactical shortcomings. JW

… stretched too thin. The technical director of US soccer keeps interfering with the head coach in trying out new personnel to bring through, with a perpetual eye on a distant event horizon. The coach is unable to settle on a side with all this going on, and should maybe take that up with the technical director, but the technical director … etc etc. GP

… still unsure of his best team and tactics and surely ripe for replacement if the Copa is a catastrophe. TD

… relying on new blood. Pulisic, Brooks, Nagbe and Wood have excited in recent matches. Will they finally fulfill Klinsmann’s promise of proactive soccer? DM

… always a motivator, never a tactician. Klinsmann’s Achilles heel is that he doesn’t have a plan B. LME

For Michigan fans the parallels to Brady Hoke are many. Good recruiter; tactically deficient, in over his head, tends to clap a lot.

Some good things have occurred. Klinsmann was ahead of the curve on both Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood, and did call up Darlington Nagbe the instant he was eligible. (Starting him seems to be a bridge too far at the moment.) Along with the aforementioned three, the emergence of Deandre Yedlin as a legit EPL right back and John Brooks's continued development give the USA a player pool that is at least on par with the best they've ever had—even without Jozy Altidore, who will miss the tournament with another hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a light at the end of a long dark tactical tunnel. But first…

A BRIEF RANT ABOUT AVAILABLE TALENT

If any eurosnob you come across attempts to defend Klinsmann by trashing the USA's current talent level, please stab them. The USA got out of a World Cup group in 2010 with a striker corps of Altidore, Robbie Findlay, Edson Bubble, and Herculez Gomez. Fringe EPL defender Jay DeMerit, Belgian-league star Oguchi Onyewu, and either Jonathan Bornstein or an out-of-position Carlos Bocanegra were most of the defense. Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu split time in the midfield; neither of those guys ever made it in a top league. (Edu did have a good run at Rangers.)

This USA team figures to feature:

  • More or less the same goalies, Bradley, and Dempsey
  • Two regular Bundesliga starters (Johnson, Brooks) and a guy just signed by Hamburg after scoring 17 in the German second flight(Wood)
  • Two regular EPL starters (Cameron, Yedlin)
  • A regular for Nantes (Bedoya)
  • A former Schalke captain (Jones)
  • aaaand Gyasi Zardes

Off the bench they'll bring Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe instead of one the aforementioned strikers and Edu/Clark. Maybe the talent isn't better, but for it not to be the dropoff from Landon Donovan to Not Landon Donovan would have to be stunning.

Anyone who tries to tell you the USA doesn't have the talent to get out of this group or not get massively outshot at the Gold Cup last summer is the kind of soccer hipster who should be deported.

AT LONG LAST, A PLAN

The USMNT's long-standing lack of commitment to any approach, lineup, or even center-back pairing finally appeared to resolve itself into a formation and even a starting 11 over the past few friendlies. It looks like the US is set to deploy a 4-3-3 close to this:

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This more or less makes sense. Without Altidore the US does not have a traditional burly center forward. They do have a couple of fast buggers and one ornery Texan with a nose for goal and sweet moves. The 4-3-3 accommodates these gents.

A lot of commenters hate Dempsey as a "lone forward" up top, including MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle. His desired formation inserts Wood up top and has Dempsey as a highly nominal right winger.* Doyle is an excellent analyst who I agree with most of the time, but not here. While Dempsey is without question the USA's most skilled and dangerous attacker, he's never been an industrious player. Now that he's into his 30s, expecting him to cover on defense is foolhardy. Putting him (again, nominally) up top allows him to marshal his energy reserves and allows a much more spry player to provide cover when the game demands it. Zardes, for all his flaws, runs his ass off to support on D.

Dempsey's best as a striker when the US is out of possession. When the US gets the ball his natural tendency to drop deep provides center backs with a dilemma: allow Dempsey time and space to turn in or near the final third, or challenge him and hope the space you're leaving doesn't bite your ass. Bolivia chose the latter and gave up chance after chance, including the opening goal:

In fancy talk this is Dempsey operating as a "false nine." (Fancy people will refer to the lead striker as the 9.) Dempsey facilitated several dangerous opportunities by playing like this; in addition to the goal you  can catch him playing Wood in at around 1:30 on US Soccer's highlights of the game.

Dempsey is well suited to this kind of play. He's crafty, he's skilled with the ball at his feet, opponents are generally wary about getting too close because he has the ability to smoke 'em. This makes sense. Maybe. Probably.

We don't know it makes sense because Klinsmann has spent every friendly he's had on something that is not this. Whether the US can sustain this in a competitive match against a good opponent is unknown. Whether Klinsmann will even stick with this setup is unknown. He has rumbled about going with Beckerman when opponents deploy an attacking midfielder, ominously.

But still, I'll take something that looks like it makes sense, and might remain the same for a few danged games consecutively.

*[You may have heard me describe a 4-3 under in football as a defense halfway between the 3-4 and the under's 4-3 predecessor, the 4-3 even. Positional designations in soccer are far less rigid but the same principle applies here: a 4-3-3 often turns into a system that is a hybrid between one- and two-striker systems. If Dempsey is deployed on the "right wing" he is going to function like a slightly right-biased underneath striker.]

Mailbag: Brandon Job Security, Basketball Redshirts, Residual Soccer Stuff

Mailbag: Brandon Job Security, Basketball Redshirts, Residual Soccer Stuff

Submitted by Brian on July 9th, 2014 at 4:47 PM

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possible future employment?

Brian,

The message boards have a good deal of speculation about Hoke's job security.  At what point will Dave Brandon's job security come into question?  A while back you outlined a number of failures during Brandon's tenure.  To me, the fact that ticket sales are so slow, that even the students seem to have had enough of this BS, has to raise some eyebrows with people in power.  Or is Brandon firmly entrenched as long as wants to be here?

As Brady said, "This is Michigan, fergodsakes."  It's not feeling much like Michigan lately.

Thanks,
James
Class of '93

I don't think Brandon is particularly entrenched.

I've heard chatter that certain people in positions of power would be happy to see a change… a lot of chatter. But I've heard that chatter for over a year now, and predictions that Brandon would be replaced have come and gone. At this point I'm skeptical that the people are inclined to do much, or have the power to do so.

That said, Brandon's now in the same situation Rich Rodriguez (and big swathes of the department he replaced) was: his boss did not hire him, and his performance is in the range where replacing him wouldn't raise eyebrows. It's quite a trick to get the entire student body to hate you.

Gents of MGoBlog -

In these recent times of hardship for the football program, Dave Brandon has taken a lot of heat for his cardboard cutout marketing/branding efforts when it comes to the team and other University athletic programs. There seems to be a large and growing consensus of fans (at least on the MGoBoard) that point out every misstep they believe he makes - there have been quite a few dud ploys he and the AD have rolled out.

However, i'm curious to know if there are any decisions or moves he's made as AD that the MGoPolitburo or wider UofM community have received positively. Have any of the AD's ideas under his leadership had a direct positive impact on any or even one of the school's athletic programs? Whatever the case may be, who are some Athletic Directors who "get it" at their respective institution who you would like to see in charge at Michigan?

LB

The main thing people point to in Brandon's favor is the pile of cash. I'm not that impressed, because you or I could have been appointed AD and sat there wibble-wobbling our lips and Michigan would have seen an enormous uptick in revenue. Brandon's first official day on the job was the UConn game when the luxury boxes opened. The Big Ten Network and the expiration of the Big Ten rights deal provided another large bump.

What revenue that is attributable to Brandon comes from piling a bunch of rights together and selling them in a pile to IMG and testing the outer limits of what people will pay for Michigan football tickets. That's good if you're running a public company and your stock options are about to vest, but there are indicators everywhere that the fanbase has finally been worn down. Brandon is chipping away at fan goodwill constantly, and I worry about the long term impact of the clear divide between big chunks of the fanbase (and all of the students) and Brandon.

Meanwhile, what do I care about the amount of money flowing into Michigan's pockets? It does me no good. It doesn't seem to do anyone any good. The Big Ten has been the nation's best money extraction device for some years now and they still end up hiring Tim Beckmann. Meanwhile, every athletic department in the Big Ten is trying to find ways to launder their piles of cash by plowing it into minor sports that hold the same interest for me no matter how well they're supported.

I do like the legends patches (if only they'd stop screwing with people's numbers), but the rest of the changes he's made to the Michigan gameday experience have been negative.

As for potential replacements, there are a couple of Michigan alums at prominent schools: Jeff Long is at Arkansas and Warde Manuel at UConn. Long got handed a poop sandwich when Bobby Petrino had his motorcycle sexytime accident, but recovered impressively by pirating Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. Whatever your personal opinion of Bielema, that is a coup of a hire for a school like Arkansas. He was just named the chair of the CoFoPoff's selection committee, as well, so he's respected within the AD community.

Manuel hired Turner Gill at Buffalo, who briefly made Buffalo not the worst team in D-I, and then ended up hiring Kevin Ollie at UConn, though that was not much of a decision. Paul Pasqualoni was already in place when he was hired at UConn; he fired him and replaced him with ND DC Bob Diaco after taking a swing at MSU DC Pat Narduzzi. That may or may not work out but that process seems pretty sensible to me.

Importantly, both of these guys have experience in the job they'd have at Michigan.

Basketball redshirts

Could you give odds/estimates on the likelihood of all six freshmen redshirting next year?  At the end of the regular season we expected Doyle and probably Wilson to redshirt.  Now they're both potentially heavy rotation players while two unheralded wing players signed up that may play key roles or may redshirt.  Help us sort out the situation.

Doyle, Wilson, and Chatman are all going to play. I don't expect Hatch to. MAAR/Dawkins is where it gets interesting. Michigan has tried to redshirt guys who are young and need some polishing, but both MAAR and Dawkins are older than average freshmen. For MAAR that's just because he's older; for Dawkins it's because he took a prep year.

It would make sense for one to redshirt with Michigan looking at a small (one member?) 2015 class, but with the NBA attrition these days you might want to play both in an effort to see which guy can help you more down the stretch and prepare both to take over for LeVert and possibly Irvin. I'm guessing everyone plays.

Bagmen conspiracy

There have been three high level recruits who have decommitted this recruiting season.  My question relates to the bagman article mgoblog referred to a couple months back: is there a possibility that there are Michigan bagmen who disapprove Brady Hoke and have pulled their resources from high level recruits in an effort to more quickly dump Hoke?  I realize there are many factors that play in, I just can't help but wonder after reading the bagman article.

-mp2

No. While I imagine bagmen play into the recruitment of one of the guys who has decommitted, the situation there was more local guys getting involved with family members than anything Michigan did or did not do.

I don't know if Michigan actually has bagmen per se. It doesn't seem like their style, and it doesn't really seem like their style to remove support even if they do exist.

Occam's Razor suggests that the guys who have decommitted have done so because they saw last season's football team and are a little leery of signing on with a program that might be seeing a coaching change in the near future.

[After the JUMP: some soccer stuff.]

USA 2018: Defense

USA 2018: Defense

Submitted by Brian on July 7th, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Previously: Forwards and attacking mids; wings and defensive mids.

LEFT BACK

The Beas is finally at ease. Probably. I don't think the USA will have to resort to Beasley in 2018, but 1) left back is a difficult spot to fill for anyone and 2) if anyone is going to have a Frankie Hedjuk zombie USA career it is the Beas.

Demonstrating this: there's not a lot in the pipeline here.

FABIAN JOHNSON – Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany) – 30 in 2018 -

1401654153000-2014-6-1-FABIAN-JOHNSON-CELEBRATION-US[1]

Yedlin's emergence should kick Johnson back over to left back, where he was just as much of a dynamic attacking force for the Nats during qualification and the like. Hopefully he retains his speed at 30; hopefully another four years at outside back will let him work on some of the mental errors that saw players get in behind him late in games—his guy scored in both the Ghana and Portugal games after the 80th minute.

If things are going very well at outside back you could see Johnson slide up into a wing midfield spot. What are the chances of that? Not great. But I'm saying there's a chance because of…

CHRIS KLUTE – Colorado Rapids – 28 in 2018 – 0 caps

Klute appeared from nowhere in 2012 after his career had seemingly fizzled out. He lasted just one year at Furman and was idling in the reserves of the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks; a year later he was Colorado's defensive player of the year.

He's a lightning bolt like Yedlin and is capable of playing either side, a versatility that will help him get on the roster. He is in fact more natural on the left—his crosses from there have generated a number of Rapids goals—and is thus a treasure. Already called into a USA training camp with his teammate Shane O'Neill. He is the most likely uncapped player to make the 2018 23. Because left back, yes. But also guy has talent.

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GREG GARZA – Tijuana (Mexico) – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps

soundtrack is rad, totally tubular, bitchin' yo

Garza is an on and off starter for Tijuana, having seemingly pushed Edgar Castillo out of favor there. It's been difficult to figure out just how much he's playing for the Xolos; it appears he's made 34 appearances since his 2012 arrival. So not exactly first name on the team sheet. Since I can't say I've seen him I'm going by what's out there on the internet and it's a bit confused as to whether he is a clear first choice riser or not.

But as a guy seeing time at left back for a good Mexican side you can be sure the USMNT takes a look.

JUAN PABLO OCEGUEDA – UANL Tigres (Mexio) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps

Ocegueda was a hotly contested recruitment battle between the US and Mexico that the US won. Unfortunately for Ocegueda, he made this decision at the same time he went on a loan to Chivas. Chivas only plays Mexican nationals, so he was frozen out. Why they didn't just terminate the loan is unknown.

Ocegueda's stuck behind Jorge Torres Nilo, a Mexico international, at Tigres and will have to find a loan or move to get the playing time necessary to become a part of the full national team picture. He should be first choice for the U23 2016 Olympics, for a start.

ERIC LICHAJ – Nottingham Forest (England 2nd) – 29 in 2018 – 10 caps

Lichaj is a natural right back who's been trying to diversify his game and become, like Johnson, comfortable with both feet. He played fairly regularly for EPL side Aston Villa after coming through their academy; last year he signed with Forest on a two-year deal and saw plenty of playing time before a hip issue knocked him out of the lineup and any potential consideration for a World Cup spot. (Not that Klinsmann seemed to give him any notice when he was healthy.)

Lichaj has not appeared under Klinsmann when even Edgar Castillo was given multiple chances, so it's a bit grim for him. If he can add that versatility, though, and play regularly for a solid team he'll be in the picture.

LONGSHOTS: Edgar Castillo has 16 caps to his name but has looked like a defensive disaster in almost all of them; he'd be 31 and on the downside in Russia. Also, Garza forced his way into the starting lineup past Castillo. It's almost certainly curtains for him.

And don't ever count out DaMarcus Beasley.

RIGHT BACK

Meep meep, y'all.

DEANDRE YEDLIN – (probably) Roma (Italy) – 24 in 2018 – 7 caps

Yedlin's breakout World Cup demonstrated he was one of the fastest players in the world, and his crossing was consistently dangerous. It took under a week for AS Roma to swoop in on him and complete a transfer that will see him finish the year with Seattle, then move to Italy midseason. From there he'll be loaned out to a mid-table Seria A team (Italy allows only one non-EU player to come in per year, and Roma's used theirs) and then attempt to replace Maicon, the 32-year-old Brazilian international. So… yeah. Big shoes.

He's supposedly a little deficient when it comes to reading the game, but I mean, nits. He is 20. If he continues improving he's a holy lock… and probably even if he doesn't. But let's hope for the former.

ANDREW FARRELL – New England Revolution – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps

Ferrell%20beard[1]

BEARD

Farrell was the first pick in the 2013 draft after a formative period in Peru(!)—his parents were missionaries there for ten years—and three years at Louisville and has established himself one of the top young outside backs in MLS already. Bonus points for growing a beard until he scores.

Also bonus: depending on how he develops, Farrell may add enough positional flexibility to only bring seven defenders, as he was a center-back in college and has seen time there in MLS when injury has forced him to. He is technical:

"When he has the ball at his feet, he’s willing to do things in the back that defenders like me never did," Heaps said.  "He’s so strong, good in the air, but for me the thing that makes Andrew as good as he is, his feet are so quick. I've never seen it before on a player his size. He’ll dribble. He can get himself out of a tough situation by passing out of the back. That’s just his nature. ‘I can do this. I can get by this guy, make a move here, get by one player and open it up for a [teammate]."

That'll help him, broken record about technical defenders being a must, etc., etc.

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TIM CHANDLER – Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) - 28 in 2018 – 13 caps

Chandler's indifferent-to-miserable form after a promising start and wavering dedication to the US cause puts his place in question. At 24 he's probably not going to make a great leap forward, either. Nonetheless, he is a regular Bundesliga starter at a spot where the US doesn't currently have a lot of options.

Chandler will have plenty of opportunities to confirm or dis-confirm his ability and desire before 2018, and if he's into it he does have the most impressive career to date. I just don't know if Klinsmann's going to play ball here—he cut Donovan ruthlessly over dedication issues.

KELLYN ACOSTA – FC Dallas – 22 in 2018 – 0 caps

Acosta skipped college entirely to become a homegrown signing for Dallas and ended up moving to right back for the bulk of this season. He's having some troubles staying on the field and picked up an injury recently, as will happen to 18-year-old pros. Dallas fans seem to think his long-term future is in the midfield; we'll see. At an international level the opportunity is greater at outside back. Like it always is.

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Never count out DaMarcus Beasley, I guess? It's tough to find other reasonable options. This list already has a converted CB and converted mid. Plus Tim Chandler.

CENTER BACK

Besler and Cameron will be 31 and 32, respectively, when 2018 rolls around. Gonzalez will be 28, Brooks 25. It is a possibility the US rolls with the same four central defenders they did in 2018.

MATT BESLER – Sporting KC – 31 in 2018 – 21 caps

chich-besler[1]

Besler is not likely to be in MLS for much longer after a terrific World Cup. Yeah, Romelu Lukaku ran through him. That'll happen in the 93rd minute against one of the most athletic strikers in the world fresh off the bench. In just about every other situation Besler found himself in, he was terrific. Dude's going to get paid, and any theories about the USA back line for the next cycle should start with Besler.

Now, if we could just incorporate his long throws

JOHN BROOKS – Hertha Berlin (Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 5 caps

140616202334-38-wc-best-0616-horizontal-gallery[1]

Corner hero and celebration expert. As of early June a pile of EPL teams were readying runs at him after a standout final half-season with Hertha, one that came after he infuriated his manager by getting a back tattoo so large he had to miss time because of inflammation. Getting back in the manager's good graces after that is perhaps the best sign of his talent yet.

Brooks was stuck behind Besler this World Cup as Klinsmann stuck to a strict left/right CB pairing. Odds are by 2018 they will make a serious attempt to use Brooks, a Bundesliga starter at 21, and Besler together.

GEOFF CAMERON – Stoke (England) – 32 in 2018 – 30 caps

Cameron's lack of Beckerman-ness was ruthlessly exposed by Belgium. However: other than a couple of scuffed clearances, one of which fell directly to Nani, he was otherwise excellent as a centerback. (I don't put much blame on him for the Portugal equalizer, as Varela was Johnson's man and Cameron slowed up in anticipation of having to check one of two runners coming from his zone.) I know that is a bit "but how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" but if Cameron's mishit clearance goes two yards further in any direction, we're talking about him as one of the revelations of the tournament, along with Besler.

Can he maintain through 32? I don't see why not. Centerbacks generally endure longer than other outfield players because positioning and anticipation are ever-burgeoning attributes.

Cameron's positional flexibility has to be considered hypothetical after Belgium, and Brooks is going to come after his job hard. Even so it's unlikely he gets bashed off the roster.

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OMAR GONZALEZ – LA Galaxy – 29 in 2018 – 23 caps

gonzalez_usmnt_chicharito[1]

everybody checks Chicharito

Gonzalez was surprisingly able when called upon for the USA's last two games, and that counts for quite a bit. The "surprising" part is something built upon a good six months of Gonzalez making goofy decisions and being obviously culpable for goals, though, and he's still the guy under the most threat for the next cycle.

One major reason: compare him to cultured CBs like Kompany and David Luiz and the difference is obvious. Hell, compare him to Cameron. Gonzalez has his uses. Unfortunately for him, they do not extend to his feet, and a US team that desires to possess the ball against elite teams may look elsewhere.

TIM REAM – Bolton (England 2nd) – 30 in 2018 – 8 caps

Ream was horrible when provided the opportunity to start at the beginning of the 2011 Gold Cup. He ceded a penalty to Blaz Perez in a 2-1 loss to Panama and was benched for the remainder. A few months later he came on as a substitute against Ecuador and was beaten for the winner in a 1-0 loss*. He faded from the national team picture, then surprisingly transferred to then-EPL side Bolton.

Bolton got relegated, with Ream a peripheral player. But Ream hung on to become a first-choice defender and occasional midfielder, appearing in 41 of Bolton's 42 league matches in 2013-14. He was named the player of the year by the club and the fans after.

Ream's best asset as a central defender is his technical ability on the ball, something that the US can really use if they're going to survive high pressing and have more of the ball. Ream's also spent some time as a defensive midfielder, a spot that's going to open up for the next cycle. He should get another look. I won't be surprised if he ends up on the roster somewhere.

*[Should be noted that this may have been the weirdest USA lineup of the past four years, as the US played a diamond with Maurice Edu in front of Kyle Beckerman, flanked by Danny Williams and Brek Shea. Okay! The D that day was the last-gasp crew: Chandler, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo.]

WILL PACKWOOD – Birmingham City (England 2nd) - 25 in 2018 – 0 caps

Packwood debuted with Championship side Birmingham City at just 19, whereupon he almost immediately suffered a severe leg injury. He made his recovery and resumed playing on loan in the fourth tier of English football late last season; after injuries struck Birmingham he was recalled, immediately securing a place in Birmingham's starting lineup. He was named the Football League Young Player of The Month in February.

Packwood got called up for the weird game against the Ukraine that had to be played in Cyprus, though he didn't get in.

ERIK PALMER-BROWN – Sporting Kansas City – 21 in 2018 – 0 caps

At just 17, Palmer-Brown is probably one for 2022, not 2018, but he is starting in MLS right now thanks to Kansas City's injury misfortune and Besler's World Cup absence—an absence that figures to become permanent soon. Before that, Juventus came in with a 1 million dollar offer that SKC rejected. He should be a key figure in the Olympic campaign, with all eyes on him as he attempts to be the first bonafide OMG center-back prospect the USA's had.

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Should be noted that while I included Shane O'Neill as a defensive mid, he is a center back for Colorado and may figure in on the back line.

Traffic Sports is finally done wrecking Gale Agbossoumonde's career, so if he can latch onto the right MLS team and see the field he could start living up to his potential, once considered vast. After 14 appearances in MLS last year, he has yet to play in 2014.

German-American Alfredo Morales has a cap to his name and will be 28 in 2018. He's playing in the German second division.

GOALIE

brad-guzan1[1]

No need to belabor it: it'll be Brad Guzan unless Tim Howard wants to hang on until 39, and probably even if he does. The third option is unclear right now, but also irrelevant.

ONE MAN'S 23

Note that this doesn't exactly match up with the lines above, as my thinking has changed, man.

Goalie: Guzan, Howard, Hamid

Howard passes the crown to Guzan for this cycle but remains available for tournaments and as a backup; DCU's Hamid is your current leader for ceremonial third keeper.

Central D: Besler, Brooks, Cameron

Dropping down to three because three other guys on the roster can play CB. Top challengers here: Gonzalez, Ream.

Outside back: Johnson, Yedlin, Farrell, Klute

I actually feel confident about this. Disaster is around the corner, then. Top challengers: Chandler, Garza.

Defensive mid: Bradley, Trapp, O'Neill, Stanko

Bradley is obvious, and then it might depend on matchups. Trapp might have a slight edge now. Challengers: Edu, Williams.

Wing: Green, Gatt, Gyau

Speed and attacking verve here is an absolute must. The USA was playing quad-A players here this cycle and that was viciously exposed by the World Cup. I'm only including two guys here because Agudelo, Yedlin, and Johnson are good backup options. Challengers: Pelosi.

Attacking mid:  Nagbe, Diskerud, Dempsey

Forgot to even mention Dempsey in the attackers category, which was an oversight. Even at 35 he should be worth dragging along to put on the field at 70'. Main competitors here: Gil, Zelalem if he does go with the US.

Striker: Altidore, Boyd, Agudelo

A like for like with Altidore and here's a dollar that says Agudelo finds a home in the Bundesliga and plays like he belongs. Competitors: Johannsson, Zardes.

Bye

This concludes the three weeks every four years where I flip out and soccer blog. Normal service resumes currently.