State of the Union
In the final installment of our four part season preview, we take stock of the US National Team. The USMNT will look to build on their semifinal run in the Copa America as they prepare for Russia 2018. Despite the successful summer, we have concerns. So many concerns. Click here for PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE.
Jesse: Let’s quickly talk US National Team.
Another US National Team standout, Alejandro Bedoya, just moved from Europe (France) to MLS (Philadelphia). This seems to be the continuation of a troubling trend where the top American players in or approaching their prime are returning to or staying in MLS. I understand the draw, you get to play at home and MLS has been offering US National Team players quite a bit more money to play in MLS than they’d be able to make abroad. That being said, MLS is a substantially weaker league than England/France/Germany/Spain/Italy, and probably a notch below second tier European leagues like Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. This has to stifle player development. Unless US National Team players ply their trade in the top leagues in Europe, it seems unlikely that the US National Team will be able to progress much beyond where we are now.
Though maybe I’m just not being fair. The talent right behind Bradley and Bedoya, who are both 29, and Fabian Johnson, who will be 29 in December, is almost non-existent. Not sure if there is a single US national in the 24-28 range other than Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfort) who is good enough to play in a top-5 league. Chandler, Zardes and Altidore seem like the cream of the crop and that’s not a good thing. It’s about as underwhelming a generation of players that the United States has produced since the late 80s. The longer term future, when you get to the 23 and under crowd which includes players like Yedlin, Brooks, Pulisic, Miazga, Green, Wood, and Zelazem, all of whom are on the books at big European clubs, looks much, much brighter.
But that has me very nervous about this coming world cup cycle. Unless the youngsters develop incredibly fast, this could be the worst team we’ve had in years.
How do you see the US National Team over the next few years?
Matt: The MLS’s inferiority is a problem for the US and has stunted player development to some extent. But I don’t think it matters when players come home when they are 27, 28, 29. They aren’t approaching their prime, they’ve hit it. It was a problem when Landon Donovan got too homesick to ever join a European club. But it was fine when Bradley came back; same with Bedoya. Altidore had stalled out in Europe when he came home. It’s more problematic from a developmental perspective, more important for the promising kids to be abroad. Everyone you mentioned in the “next generation” is plying their trade in a top European league, and yeah, those 24-28 year old’s just might not be good enough. Better for them to be home and happy than struggling in European second and third divisions.
Jesse: I suppose that’s true to some extent. But even players in their prime benefit from playing at a high-level day-in and day-out. A move to MLS when a player is in his prime may not stunt development, but I think it does, to some extent, hamper form. I would rather see Bradley and Bedoya playing in Italy and France than in MLS. But again, for me, the bigger concern is the lack of talent in the 24-28 range. I just don’t know if the younger generation is ready.
Matt: I think it is more likely to help form for a fully developed player to be playing regularly and to have more responsibility than it is to hurt it. Confidence and the experience/ongoing practice of being an important player matters a lot. How is Michael Bradley going to be able to be the hub of the US National Team when he is a bit player at Roma?
And that 24-28 talent gap doesn’t mean the team can’t be decent–I thought the starting 11 the US deployed in the Copa, their best 11, is the best US team I’ve seen. Some of those pieces are old, maybe too old. Specifically, Jones and Dempsey are of some concern. It would be great if a keeper came through that was better than Bald Brad. But if two of the kids break through and the current core doesn’t completely age out by the next World Cup (a big if), it could be the best team the US has ever had. I’m super psyched for Pulisic, I’ve never seen an American move the way he does, have his touch.
Green supposedly has had a good pre-season. Wood looked really fantastic at the Copa, for my money better than Jozy ever has. And the wildcard might be Darlington Nagbe–MLS viewers I talk to are SO high on him, and from what I’ve seen he has the ability to make a difference in midfield for the US and take pressure of Bradley. The very real question is, does he have the assertiveness. And even though he is 26, he is good enough that he’d probably benefit from a move, or even a loan, to Europe, although if assertiveness is his biggest issue staying in the MLS and being top dog might not be such a bad thing.
So jury is out on the next five years–while the future core has the potential to be very strong, they need more players to come up and replace the old guard. But the next two seem to sit on the razor’s edge between disaster and… the opposite of disaster. Will probably fall somewhere in between.
Jesse: Two big World Cup qualifiers coming up in September against St. Vincent and the Grenadines (September 2, away) and Trinidad and Tobago (September 6, home). The USMNT will likely need 4 points from those two games to make it through to the final round of qualifying. These are the kinds of games the United States should dominate with ease, but that’s often not the case. I can’t see St. Vincent’s posing a problem, even with the Yanks playing on the road. But the USMNT struggled in their first game against Trinidad, which ended 0-0. The Yanks are at home and coming off a very successful summer. They should win. But I have concerns. A loss in either game could very well mean missing out on Russia 2018.
Matt: When is Dax gonna get his chance?
Jesse: I see your shameless moustache plug for what it is… awesomeness.
Matt: Actually, I just really like Dax. I think he’s adorable. A smart, ginger, hard-working defensive midfielder who makes good decisions? I think I’m in love.