Discover a striker, construct depth behind stars and decide way forward for veterans

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Find a striker, build depth behind stars and determine future of veterans

In a year interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic around the world, the U.S. men's national team played just four games in 2020. With so few opportunities for manager Gregg Berhalter to bring his squad together, this is a lost year in the development of US football prepares to correct the injustice of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia by playing one Place confirmed in Qatar in 2022.

At the beginning of the new year, Jeff Carlisle, Austin Lindberg and Gus Elvin from ESPN are creating a to-do list for Berhalter & Co. for 2021. In 12 months the US will focus on the World Cup. and a lot has to be achieved before then.

Jump to: strikers and central defenders | Construction depth | Manage the pool for busy & # 39; 21 | Determine the future of veterinarians

Point 1: Stabilize the positions of the striker and the center-back

A year ago, Berhalter didn't seem to be lacking in line-up problems. Outside of Christian Pulisic there wasn't a lot of creativity, at least not against quality opposition. The shape of the midfield also seemed unclear as it seemed unclear where Tyler Adams would be deployed: right-back or defensive midfield?

– Lowe: Musah's USMNT call is no coincidence

Despite a shortage of games in 2020, some of these problems in the player pool caused some of these problems to start resolving on their own. Giovanni Reyna's breakthrough with Borussia Dortmund increased the team's potential in the attacking third. There's Yunus Musah to consider too, though the dual national has yet to decide whether he'll be fully committed to the US after his impressive performance against Wales and Panama in November.

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The smile on Adams & # 39; face after the 0-0 draw with Wales in November spoke of his well-being as he faced the defense. Meanwhile, Weston McKennie's impressive debut season with Juventus suggests greater consistency with the national team. There were even positive signs of the historically troubled left-back with Antonee Robinson's maturation, though even more consistency – at least in a US jersey – is needed.

But at both ends of the field the wheels in Berhalter's head keep moving – the striker and one of the central defenders.

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The role of the starting striker remains open despite Gyasi Zardes & # 39; impressive 12-goal season in which Columbus Crew SC won the MLS Cup in 2020. His earlier stint with Berhalter with the crew means he still remains one of the manager's favorites, but that impulse remains to look elsewhere. Werder Bremen youngster Josh Sargent is praised for his willingness to do dirty work, but has only scored once in 14 Bundesliga games this year. There are also young players Sebastian Soto (Norwich) and Nicholas Gioacchini (Caen) and 18-year-old Matthew Hoppe, who scored a hat trick for Schalke against Hoffenheim last weekend.

"I think we have some high profile strikers with different qualities, but they can all be effective at our job," Berhalter told ESPN. "For us, it's about keeping watching them, watching them score goals. And when the timing comes, pick the right people who can do what we ask. It's really nice to have this group of see guys (perform) and just imagine the possibilities. "

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Jürgen Klinsmann praises Matthew Hoppe after the American teenager's heroic hat trick for Schalke.

Then there is Jozy Altidore. The 31-year-old Toronto forward still has the means to be devastating. Even so, his general fitness is still hurt, and Berhalter doesn't seem convinced. "I think for Jozy it's just about staying healthy, being healthy, and then everyone knows what they can do when they're there. Consistency (of their fitness) will be important."

Altidore was invited to the scaled-down January camp to show the US manager he can be trusted when World Cup qualifiers begin later this year. Who knows whether he – or one of the candidates – will take the chance in front of him.

The center of defense has some questions as well, but not regarding John Brooks, who is supposed to anchor the left. The veteran has been consistently present for Wolfsburg and seems to have eliminated the injury bug that plagued him in the past.

Who will play alongside Brooks is a different story. Aaron Long has been dealing with ups and downs in 2020 but still seems to have Berhalter's favor, making it harder for reigning MLS Defender of the Year, Walker Zimmerman, to break through. Matt Miazga's move to Anderlecht has served him some well in terms of regular minutes and he is firmly under consideration.

"We need central defenders who can perform our game model and play with space behind the backline, who can win duels that can come out of the back," said Berhalter. "There are a lot of expectations of our center-backs and what we do. I think the final decisions (about who starts) again depend on how they are with the clubs, how they continue to do it." evolve in some cases and then based on what kind of opponent we are playing. "

While it seems a bit early for Mark McKenzie, his recent move to Belgian club Genk could accelerate his development in a similar way to some of his better-known team-mates. Chris Richards is another talent who wants to make a name for himself both in the US squad and at Bayern Munich. There is no shortage of candidates and the competition for Brooks' preferred partner in central defense will be intense. – Jeff Carlisle

The USMNT has made significant strides in recent years, but 2021 is the biggest year for the program since failing to qualify for the 2017 World Cup. Photo by John Dorton / ISI Photos / Getty Images

Point 2: Build depth behind top-class starters

The future is bright as Pulisic (Chelsea), Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Sergino Dest (Barcelona), McKennie (Juventus) and many others have broken through to top European clubs. While Berhalter appears to have a strong core for both the present and the future, the next challenge for the US will be to build depth and competition within the player pool. In other words, it is of the utmost importance that the US further rounds off the roster behind the expected usual suspects: Pulisic, Reyna, Dest, McKennie, Adams, Zack Steffen and Brooks.

Right now the US has roughly seven or eight surefire starters, with strikers and right-side center-backs being the biggest remaining questions for Berhalter when it comes to his starting XI. After things got mixed up, like with just four international friendlies in 2020, Berhalter didn't have much of a chance to dive into his player pool, judge role players, or build a two- or three-way hierarchy in each position. There is no shortage of options for strikers and center-backs in the US (see above), while Jordan Morris, Tim Weah, Tyler Boyd, Paul Arriola, Konrad de la Fuente and Chris Mueller will battle for broad roles.

Musah (if he stays with the US), Sebastian Lletget and Brenden Aaronson are all flexible enough to play as either No. 8 or No. 10 in midfield, while the US is in good hands also from a deep perspective on the right with the capable Reggie cannon, the Dest.

"For me, this group is a pinnacle of the development system in America," said Berhalter. "And I think it reflects the investment (MLS) put into youth development as (a lot) other academies have put into development. Development academy had a lot to do with it, and now you're starting to see it systematic development of the player is. "

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Still, the US is thin in defensive midfield and left-back. Adams is number 6 in the US while Fulhams Robinson continues to improve and appears to have made the starting job as a left-back his own. The problems at these two positions, however, are deep, as the US does not currently have a clear backup.

We start with Adams, one of the most indispensable players because he can play as a lone defensive midfielder and because he can cover so much ground. The RB Leipzig midfielder's role cannot be overstated as he reports so many deficiencies in the team, but his troubling history of muscle injuries is worrying. With the future of 33-year-old Michael Bradley uncertain internationally, Berhalter has to find alternatives.

The US will look forward to an answer from Owen Otasowie (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes), James Sands (NYCFC) or even recently flipped double national player Andres Perea (Orlando City) to their puzzle # 6. The US is in good hands with Adams, but if he went down in a jam-packed year in 2021, would the US be able to handle it?

The picture is even less clear on the left as there isn't a natural fit behind Robinson that Berhalter's trust has earned. MLS youngsters Sam Vines and Chase Gasper are two to be seen here, but if something happened to Robinson, Dest would switch to left-back and Reggie Cannon or DeAndre Yedlin would start to right-back in the most likely scenario.

The USMNT might be on the verge of something special, but finding the right RPG players at the start of a crucial calendar year and creating depth where it is most needed is imperative. – Gus Elvin

Michael Bradley hasn't played for the US since 2019 – does he still play a role under Gregg Berhalter? Photo by John Dorton / ISI Photos / Getty Images

Point 3: manage the player pool to compete on four fronts

The list of competitions for 2021 is long, assuming the COVID-19 pandemic cooperates, which has had no clue in the past 10 months. There is an Olympic qualifying at the end of March, the final of the CONCACAF Nations League in June, the Gold Cup in July, the Olympic Games themselves (fingers crossed) and the biggest of all, the World Cup qualifying from September.

"It's pretty easy when you think of Nations League and Gold Cup," said Berhalter. "We want to be in two finals and hopefully win two finals. We haven't won a trophy since I coached (the national team) … that is certainly one of our goals and I think no matter what happens on the group Feld, we still want to fight for a championship, I think that's an important message.

"With the World Cup qualification we want to put ourselves in a good position after the first eight games (from September to November 2021)."

The problem Berhalter faces is that he has to balance his starting XI as often as possible – even when the pandemic is raging – while remaining in the good hands of the players' clubs. With unprecedented overloaded schedules, overseas players will have to take a break at some point. It is a thought that Berhalter is never far away from.

US men's soccer key dates

Olympic qualifying March 18 to 31
Nations League June (data TBD)
Gold cup July (data TBD)
Olympia July 21-Aug. 7th
World Cup qualification Sept-March & # 39; 22
World Cup 2022 Nov. 21-Dec. 18 & # 39; 22

"We always think about, 'Who are the best (fringe) guys and who is in shape?' And we'd love to have this guy, but he has a little injury. There are always circumstances So it's really difficult to plan that far in advance and say, "OK, this is the group we're 100 percent confident in," because until they're on the plane, you don't know There's a weekend game and then they fly off and you have no idea what's going to happen in that game.

"We believe the (USMNT talent pool) has a reasonable depth. I would say the team's lack of experience in most areas, but talent makes up for that. Now the point is to get that talent some experience procure. "

For this reason, the most sensible approach is one that uses the best weapons for the CONCACAF Nations League final. In March there will be an international window trying to build on the few camps in 2020. The team selected for the Olympic qualifying tournament is made difficult by the fact that not only is it an U23 tournament, but clubs are required to release players, which strongly suggests a squad that, as opposed to players based in Europe was heavily selected by MLS.

The Gold Cup will likely be drawn by MLS too, but the roster could be completely different if the US qualifies for the Olympics as the two tournaments will overlap somewhat. While it is easy to dismiss both tournaments as unimportant to the level of competition, it is still a valuable international experience, and depth will be crucial as Berhalter finds its way through the World Cup qualifying slogan. That will start in September and the more players Berhalter has to excel in these tournaments, the better the team will be. – Jeff Carlisle

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Kasey Keller commends USMNT Player of the Year Weston McKennie for how quickly he has adapted at Juventus.

Point 4: determine which veterans have a future

The youth movement within the national team is well documented and too buzzing, but Berhalter has four players with sizeable international pedigree whose careers are nearing the end. Bradley, Altidore, Brad Guzan and Tim Ream could all play roles when the Stars and Stripes look to Qatar in 2022. or as good as possible.

Altidore is the only one of this quartet who has been called to Berhalter's January camp. Given the inconsistent play of the Americans in 9th place and the relative lack of depth, he could be the best in this group for a place in the future. Ream is in a similar situation: the second center-back is wide open and has hit a full 90 points in six of the last seven U.S. competitions before the shutdown forced by the pandemic.

However, everyone has significant hurdles to overcome if they are to play a recurring role in 2021. It remains healthy for Altidore as it was fit enough to start only 11 of Toronto FC's 20 games during a shortened 2020 season. Ream, on the other hand, has found it hard to get minutes in Fulham over the past few months. At 33, its usefulness for a national team that wants to cause a sensation at the World Cup in just under two years could diminish.

For Bradley and Guzan, the chances of further participation are longer. Neither of them had played for the US for more than a year, and Guzan had been usurped by Steffen as America's number one long before his last appearance. Similarly, Adams has established himself as number 6, but he's also been prone to injury and the squad lacks another option that has the tools to operate in midfield. Does this keep the door a little open for Bradley? We'll find out soon enough.

"I think I've stuck to my messages since my first takeover," Berhalter told ESPN. "First of all, we really value veterans. We value what they bring, we value their experience, we value how they can help the group. And all these guys are just about playing and being in shape. It can absolutely a role for them and that is what we are looking for.

"That's the benchmark for these guys: do they play and are they in good shape?"

By the end of 2021, the US will be less than a year away from the 2022 World Cup, a tournament where expectations will be high given the flurry of young talent available to the team. Experience is a nebulous value, but when the calendar turns and Qatar grows bigger on the horizon, Berhalter will soon have to determine which vets are available to him – if any. – Austin Lindberg