US Men’s Soccer – A step in the right direction?
Its safe to say that after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, US Men’s soccer was at a low point. The US won their group, although they made it look difficult with both Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago within touching distance in the race to finish top. Qualification proved to be more difficult from this point onwards, in the group to determine CONCACAF places the United States were unable to even secure a play-off place against Australia as they were pipped to 4th place by a Honduras side made up of predominantly part-timers.
Even tiny Panama proved too strong as they automatically qualified for their first ever World Cup over The States, their inexperience showing in a 6-1 thumping by England during the World Cup. The United States are usually a staple nation to qualify for the World Cup owing to a relatively straightforward qualifying campaign, so to fail to qualify suggests there needs to be a revolutionary change in the way United States play soccer. Enter Earnest Stewart.
Earnest Stewart may not be the most recognisable name to those who don’t particularly follow MLS but was appointed in June 2018 to shake up a US Men’s Soccer Team off the back of what some analysts described as the worst performance in the history of the national team. Earnie, himself a decorated US Soccer player with over 100 national caps, had the unenviable task of lifting a nation after the World Cup disaster.
The appointment on paper makes sense as he clearly has a hunger for the game and good contacts in MLS circles alongside having experience of the game abroad. The MLS is an improving league and many US Soccer players are choosing to ply their trade domestically as opposed to joining big European sides while they are still young and this shift in mentality can only be good in creating an identity for the national side.
Top European nations typically see the majority of the squad playing soccer in their own countries, most notably Spain, Germany and England. The only real exception to this rule is the Belgium national side, but one could argue that they are in the midst of the finest squad in their history, so this is cannot be seen as something for the US team to mimic.
Out With The Old, In With The New
There is also the small matter of replacing the old guard who failed so spectacularly with new talent emerging through the youth squads. Players such as Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan and Jozy Altidore have never really performed to the potential that was promised, and the talismanic Clint Dempsey retired after the shameful defeat to Trinidad and Tobago.
Earnie will surely though be putting his faith in German side Dortmund’s playmaking maestro Christian Pulisic. Hailing from Pennsylvania before moving to Germany as a 16-year-old, Pulisic has already made over 70 appearances in the Bundesliga, scoring 9 goals including becoming the youngest foreigner to score a goal in the competition. He clearly has a bright future and any USMNT future successes will be dependent on himself hitting his potential unlike other young hopes before him (Freddy Adu anyone?). He’s the star of an otherwise promising array of players coming through the ranks, the squad called up for the friendlies of Brazil and Mexico showcasing this talent that’s available.
Despite losing 2-0 to a strong Brazil side, the USMNT put up a good fight and a promising display with Brazil starting with Neymar, Coutinho and Robert Firmino. The back four of Yedlin, Miazga, Brooks and Robinson in particular performed admirably although it was clear that the team was lacking firepower but that can be attributed to missing the aforementioned Pulisic.
Step up Mexico, yesterdays opponents and a long time rivalry. It was a good opportunity for this young US side as matches against Mexico are rarely the friendly in which they’re advertised as. Mexico, to their credit, also fielded a young side and were missing several key players who played at the World Cup. It was a worthy 1-0 win for the Stars and Stripes with the only goal of the game coming from New York Redbull’s promising teenager Tyler Adams. He burst into Mexico’s penalty area to tuck away full-back Antonee Robinson’s cross in the 71st minute to settle the tie shortly after tempers threatened to boil over after Angel’s Zaldivar’s senseless red in the 67th minute.
Earnie would have been delighted that it was two of the youngest starters that combined for the goal, proving that there may be potential in this new focus on the American youngsters. Tyler Adams, in particular, had an eye-catching display, but the game was scrappy and not a full reflection on this sides potential.
So after two friendlies down and a whole host of young, hungry soccer players starting to make a breakthrough its safe to say that after the disaster of 2018 World Cup qualifying things are starting to turn around for US Soccer. It wasn’t a vintage display against Mexico by any means but with the youngsters starting to make the breakthrough, and an ambitious manager who clearly knows the game inside out its a good time to start the rebuilding process for US Soccer.
The US has two more friendlies coming up in mid-October against two more sides who qualified for the World Cup in Columbia and Peru. These are two winnable games, and will at the very least show if the step in the right direction is a stride or merely a tiptoe. It’s safe to say that after the Trinidad and Tobago debacle, things can only improve from there.