Commentary

What USA needs to do to be ready for Hexagonal, starting sooner than you think

The USA completed its first year under new head coach Gregg Berhalter on Tuesday night with a 4-0 win over Cuba.

That followed 14 months under interim coach Dave Sarachan.

Time sure flies since Couva.

And a year from now, the USA will have played six of the 10 games in the 2020-21 Hexagonal, and we should have a very good idea if it will be going to Qatar.

Is the USA ready for the Hex?

In the last two years, the USA has played 29 games, and other than wins over "B" teams from Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica it has yet to beat a team that played in the 2018 World Cup.

The USA's performances have been far from convincing, but Berhalter won't have much more time to work with the team.

USA has only two more FIFA windows -- two friendlies in March and the Concacaf Nations League semifinals against Honduras and final or third-place game against Mexico or Costa Rica in June -- before the Hexagonal starts in September 2020. That's two windows earlier than when the Hexagonal started four years earlier.

There's been a lot of attention placed on Berhalter's player selections and the style of play he has tried to impose, but the USA's chances will likely depend on things beyond his control -- namely, the progress the young players in the U.S. pool make in Europe in the next year. That includes the club form of his current players and how others do in the Concacaf under-23 tournament in March and at the Tokyo Olympics next summer if they qualify.

The USA has a lot of ground to make up in terms of rebuilding the national team after having not qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

Lesson from 2002. Probably, the greatest catch-up a national team had to make in the modern era came in 2002 when Bruce Arena took the USA to the quarterfinals at the Japan/Korea World Cup four years after it finished last in France.

In getting through qualifying and into the finals, Arena's team had a veteran core of players who'd been around the program dating back to the Bora years, players like Brad Friedel, Jeff Agoos, Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart, now U.S. Soccer's sporting director.

What the difference was for the USA in 2002 was the emergence of players like Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, the Golden Ball and Silver Ball winners at the 1999 Under-17 World Cup, and John O'Brien and Tony Sanneh.

Donovan didn't play his first pro season until 2001 when he helped the San Jose Earthquakes win their first MLS title and didn't start on the national team until the last stages of the 2001 Hexagonal. Beasley came out of nowhere to win a starting spot on the 2002 World Cup team after a strong showing at the Gold Cup, played earlier in the year. In Korea, O'Brien and Sanneh were both coming off the best years of their careers at Ajax and Nuremberg, respectively.

Focus on youth. Berhalter lacks the veteran group that Arena relied up, often in supporting roles. No one who played against Canada and Cuba in the last two games ever started at the World Cup. (John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin were subs in 2014.)

That will put even greater attention on how young players on the national team do in the next year at their clubs.

For however concerning the USA's performance was against Canada in Toronto, the national team got good news in the month after that when Christian Pulisic broke through with a string of excellent matches for Chelsea, and 19-year-old Ajax right back Sergino Dest committed to the USA over the Netherlands, to the astonishment of many observers.

But the USA needs more players than just Pulisic and Dest performing at a high level in Europe. Josh Sargent is showing signs that he might be ready to be a consistent contributor at Werder Bremen. It needs Tyler Adams playing again at RB Leipzig, Tim Weah, the USA's top player in the 2019 U-20 World Cup, also returning from injury -- and breaking through -- at Lille. A successful European move by Aaron Long could be a lift.



The good news is that USA has quite a number of young prospects in Europe, far more than in 2001-02. The bad news it that they are young prospects, so too much shouldn't be expected of them in the next year or perhaps ever.

Still, the USA would get a big boost if one or more of the likes of Richie Ledezma, Alex Mendez and Uly Llanez from the 2019 U-20s or Gio Reyna from the U-17s break into their respective first teams in Europe. On their own, they might not be the difference in the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign, but they'd give Berhalter more attacking weapons than he has now.

23 comments about "What USA needs to do to be ready for Hexagonal, starting sooner than you think".
  1. Wooden Ships, November 20, 2019 at 11:08 a.m.

    I'll tell you what will hurt our chances, bringing back Michael Bradley. And, I'm not just referring to his skill level.

  2. Peter Bechtold replied, November 20, 2019 at 12:07 p.m.

    Agreed.

  3. Kevin Leahy, November 20, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    Bradley, Altidore are or should be done and Zardes eliminated. This team will struggle against the Hex unless the coaching level improves. One of the reason coaches do well @ the international level is by making things as simple as possible. Give players what they need to excel. Anything else is a waste. If there are enough true professionals on the team they, should qualify with the right leadership.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, November 20, 2019 at 2:46 p.m.

    I see it the same Kevin.

  5. beautiful game replied, November 21, 2019 at 5:22 p.m.

    Agree with K.L; coaching staff needs to step it up. Keep the young players that can make things happen and jettison those that make poor decisions and just hang on because of loyalty.

  6. Kent James, November 20, 2019 at 1:37 p.m.

    I am surprised and saddened by the vitriol that is constantly aimed at Bradley, Altidore, and Zardes.  These guys (esp the first two) have been consistently our best performers for the last number of years.  Of course they're not perfect, and maybe they're not as good as we'd like them to be, but they do have talent, and work hard to succeed (Altidore and Zardes greatly improved their touches and game savvy).   For that, they deserve our respect.  


    One of the hardest decisions coaches (and players) have to make is when to stop playing (for the national team, or as a pro).  Certainly, as players get older sometimes they lose speed or endurance, but they often (to a point) make up for that in increased soccer intelligence and savvy.  Unless these players are toxic in the locker room (and I've never seen anything to suggest that) I think these players should be in the mix.  It's up to the younger players to demonstrate that they are better, and until they do so, that's not the fault of the older players.  GB has given the younger players chances, but that transtition will take some time.  I am hopeful that Pulisic (already there), Adams (probably already there, but haven't seen him in a while), and Sargent (great promise, needs more playing time) will be the heart of the team in the coming years.  But blaming US failures on the three aforementioned veterans is misplaced anger.  They deserve better.

  7. Wooden Ships replied, November 20, 2019 at 2:35 p.m.

    Kent, it's not misplaced anger with my view. I do and always have had respect for those that have worn the Nats jersey and had a career playing professionally. It's no small feat, as many of my former teammates have accomplished both. With MB, who never really was Captain material, returned from Italy is when things started going south. JK's position and inclusion of duals, player pool expansion, was met timidly by Michael and Tim Howard. There has been an unspoken rift prior to Brazil. This has not gone away. An us versus them climate. Hell, Arena said as much and he was put back in, Arena 2.0. Regarding MB, players won't state publically their sentiment. He's been anointed for a decade now. Regarding Jozy, while having many goals scored for Country, he had the most playing time and opportunity and rarely was it against quality defense, additionally he's not going to break you down 1v1. He's too moody, pouty and doesn't work hard enough (Drogba could get away with that. I dig Jozy as a person, but I also played with as I'm sure you have, guys that have a propensity for injury (you can't take his availability to the bank). Brooks is on the verge of that with me. Zardes doesn't have the instinct or the level needed beyond CONCACAF, so why give him more minutes. All that being said, I'd have a beer and shoot the shit with any of them because their in the soccer family. But, from a former player, coach and GM perspective I've seen their impact and see that it's past time to move on. There are a couple send off friendlies in the near horizon, I'd use them so everyone can get that warm fuzzy feeling. 

  8. Seth Vieux replied, November 20, 2019 at 2:56 p.m.

    Extremely well said Ships. I've definitely been guilty of bagging on Zardes more than the other two, but I also have seen years of a player with a great work rate and attitude but a technical level (and to lesser extent tactical understanding) that is simply unsatisfactory for a professional player beyond MLS yeoman.

    I've been far more reserved in my criticism of Bradley and Altidore because until recently I've get that despite some warts they were still the best in the pool for their positions. I honestly think there's still a spot in the player pool for them, but they will be too far over the hill by the time the next Cup rolls around and I don't think they bring enough over other options to justify giving them significant minutes that the boys on their heels need. 

  9. beautiful game replied, November 21, 2019 at 5:29 p.m.

    Bradley, Altidore and Zardes et al are a weight on this team. They are inconsistent and their level of play has eroded. If the coaching staff can't face the facts about these players, it needs to resign or be replaced.

  10. John Soares, November 20, 2019 at 2:27 p.m.

    I am both surprised and disappointed that there is no mention of Morris. He put in two excellent performances in the last week and was the only bright spot in Toronto.
    All out effort the whole time he is on the field, often covering on defense.
    What else does he need to do to get attention?
    Do back flips?



  11. Wooden Ships replied, November 20, 2019 at 2:45 p.m.

    John, I'll agree Jordan is optimizing what he can offer. And, his left foot is a little better. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. He can be effective in a direct-counter style, but can he go against quality defenders that have quicker feet? I hope the best for him but this was Canada and Cuba. 

  12. Seth Vieux replied, November 20, 2019 at 3:02 p.m.

    John your point is taken from a recognition stand point, but I also think it's clear that Morris has entrenched himself as a first choice starter on either wing with his recent good form. But I'm also not remotely close to seeing him as a rising star. He's clearly ahead of Arriola to me, but will definitely be interested to see if / how long he can hold off a healthy Weah. I certainly don't see Morris as a player likely to get the attention of any first division european team, do you?

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, November 20, 2019 at 3:20 p.m.

    WS, I realize there was and is still problems.  After you last two replies, at least I understand why you complain about Bradley (not saying I agree). What I am aware of most, is that I don't have a clue about the locker room and who stood up and whould kept quiet, but I suspect you do. 

    I do, however, have a lot of experience dealing with groups of people. I can usually repair relations where there are common goals related to the job, but a personal betrayal of trust, like sleeping with a teammate's wife, I don't think anyone can repair. 

    Getting rid of people is the easist way to remove resentments in a group, but sometimes it is just an easy way out rather than the best course of action.

    For the US national teams to significantly improve their play will take a revolution, not in the way that players play, but in the way that coaches and USSF see the game. Very few US coaches understand "positional play". Amend that. Very few USSF coaches understand "positional play" or at least play it. (I think calling it "possession style" confuses.) One thing that is rarely talked about publicly is game plans, which is why there is not a lot of explanations of team tactics in general and "positional play" in particular. As Cruyff said, "If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better." 

  14. frank schoon replied, November 20, 2019 at 3:26 p.m.

    John, with all due respect, but Jordan Morris doesn't cut it. He is a hard worker, never complains, can't fault him for ever being lazy, he gives his all but he is simply not good enough. He has to rely on hustle, fight, and therefore he would need to able to do backflips to get him noticed. He lacks skills ,unable to function in small spaces and needs lots of space to run like he did in the Canadian game where there was no opposing right back. He lacks games savvy, something they all lack, he's strictly meat and potatoes.  

  15. Wooden Ships replied, November 20, 2019 at 8:32 p.m.

    I agree with you on all counts Bob. This has been my position with MB for several years now, if I was the manager. True of Jozy and Zardes as well. I put a team together, then evaluate. We have got to move forward. 

  16. schultz rockne, November 20, 2019 at 3:39 p.m.

    I hate the be the bearer...but just down 18th--at the perpetually empty and cavernous and multi-multi-million dollar--'soccer' mansion, the bureaucrats are throwing a party. Hallelujah--the USMNT has qualified for the semi-finals of a 'major' tournament! Little do you know: they are packing it in and binding it up. Solidifying the stagnant player pool, reveling in the status quo of our suburban player development...this has been the ultimate success. And Don Carlos Cordeiro is giving 'em all raises.

    I'm joking, of course. Except the empty, multi-multi-million dollar fortress part looking pretty on 18th.

  17. Wooden Ships replied, November 20, 2019 at 3:53 p.m.

    Damn, Schultz that's awesome with evidently decades of insight. Touché!

  18. schultz rockne replied, November 20, 2019 at 6:09 p.m.

    But hey, they're bringing us (Shy-cog-ee) back a good ol' MOSL (Major Outdoor Soccer League) franchise reeel soon (so they say)...ya know, one or two trips down to Bridgeview (nowhere) ILL could swear one off football (and I mean the good kind) for life. And if Sol-jer Field ain't but a Dr. Bob Contiguglia-stone's throw from Big HQ on 18th, so ya know Don Carlos will be keeping a close eye on things. Wait, did I say Don Carlos or Don Garber...well, one in the similar, no?

    Heck, it'll be jes like 1998 all over agin [sic]. And once LAXFC gets off to a slow start next year, Señor Bob Bradley will be removed and then he'll be all ours agin [sic]!
    Mauricio Pochettino, of course, will land the LA job.

  19. John Soares, November 20, 2019 at 3:57 p.m.

    Gentlemen, I did not mean to imply Morris is the next Ronaldo..:)
    But for the moment, he is doing well, even better than most. Give him credit for that!

  20. Wooden Ships replied, November 21, 2019 at 11:34 p.m.

    He is doing well and having fun. For the time being he should factor in the 23. I still wish he would have gone abroad. As a former striker and a perspective of a smooth confident finisher, did you notice how much extra effort (getting his body situated) before he passed it into the back post area. Additionally he went to ground to assist in his completing the shot. Not that kind of time available with good defenders. Quality finishers would have only needed the receiving touch then the finish and done so comfortably upright. Good guy but not a Smooth Operator "Sade."

  21. Kevin Leahy, November 20, 2019 at 4:41 p.m.

    Bradley has served this team well. He is just too slow any more for international play. Use to be ok with Jozy until seeing him play in DC and give the worst national team performance ever. Zardes is not @ the international level skill wise and doesn't bring much when it comes to contributing to the playing field dynamic. I salute all of them for their contributions! Right now this is a team with an identity crisis and I believe it's up to the coaches to frame a new one. Beating Canada & Cuba is not how they will be measured. Can they win on the road in the Hex? Can they beat Mexico or Costa Rica anywhere? If not we will spend another 6 years in the wilderness.

  22. Philip Carragher, November 20, 2019 at 5:14 p.m.

    Hmmm. So few US players at this level to assess and critique. Don't we have more somewhere?

  23. Seth Vieux replied, November 21, 2019 at 1:49 p.m.

    Probably the most disappointing thing about GB's tenure for me is his apparent refusal to expand the player pool he'll consider beyond his first camp - and the results of how that pool is doing implementing his style is screaming for more faces. Holmes is at the absolute top of that list for me.

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