USMNT's October window raises new questions

The U.S. national team wrapped up the October window with a 2-1 win over Costa Rica to finish with six points over the three games and 11 points in total. Gregg Berhalter’s squad now sits second in the Octagonal, three points behind Mexico.

The United States is still in a pretty good spot, despite the ugliness of the Panama loss in the middle of the window. The U.S. squad is still exceptionally young and inconsistent. But the player pool is large, and both the team and players should only continue to improve throughout World cup qualifying with more repetitions to build up chemistry.

The October window offered some lessons and raised some new questions. It will be interesting to revisit them in November.

Here were some of them.

1. Is there a No. 1 goalkeeper?

Zack Steffen got the start against Costa Rica, and it was surprising in that Matt Turner had started each of the six games at the Gold Cup and the first five World Cup qualifiers. Prior to that run, Steffen was the undisputed No. 1 keeper for the team.

Turner has done well. He’s been a fantastic shot-stopper but playing with the ball at his feet has, at times, been shaky. Still, he has not been at fault for any goal and has made some big saves. He continues to be a very important piece of the equation for the New England Revolution, which has been the best team in MLS in 2021.

Steffen looked uneasy on Costa Rica’s early opener – both in coming out and then on the save attempt. After that, he did his job. The problem for Steffen is that he doesn’t play regularly at Manchester City. He is the backup goalkeeper on one of the best teams in the world, behind one of the best keepers in the world. He hasn’t had a consistent starting job since the first half of his season-long loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2019 – two years ago.

Prior to that, however, Steffen was Berhalter’s goalkeeper on the Columbus Crew.

Will Berhalter continue to rotate Turner or Steffen to keep them both ready. Or will he gravitate towards one?

2. Where's the fullback depth?

The U.S team has won three games so far in World Cup qualifying and in each of wins, the team has received multiple big moments from its fullbacks.

Against Honduras, it was Antonee Robinson’s equalizing goal and DeAndre Yedlin’s assist on the goal that put the Americans ahead for good. Against, Jamaica, Sergino Dest delivered the assist on the opening goal and Antonee Robinson played Brenden Aaronson behind the defense for Brenden Aaronson’s assist.  Then against Costa Rica, Dest hit a stunning golazo for the opener and then sent the ball into the box for Tim Weah’s shot that resulted in a goal.

Getting the fullbacks further up the field is so critical to having the team play well from the run of play. World Cup qualifying has made that obvious.

But it raises the question when there is a need for roster turnover or there are injuries – the team needs more fullbacks who can press forward.

There are issues. Yedlin is a seasoned veteran at this stage but is his final ball going to be lethal enough? George Bello has struggled and should not be written off yet given his youth, but he isn’t ready. Shaq Moore doesn’t play for Tenerife and is in jeopardy of being dropped in future call-ups. The recent defection of Julian Araujo and Reggie Cannon’s lack of playing time have affected the pool.

There could be an opening in the next few windows for players to emerge in backup roles. Joe Scally at Borussia Moenchengladbach will likely get integrated very soon and a November call-up seems very plausible. Sam Vines is returning to training at Royal Antwerp and he provides a very good left foot. John Tolkin is still way off but has shown a lot of promise at left back with the Red Bulls.

3. Can USA win without Tyler Adams?

Tyler Adams is so critical for the U.S. team to play the way it wants to play. When he’s settled into his deeper midfield position, he gets a ton of touches, shields the backline, chases down opponents, passes well, and makes very few mistakes.

There are very few players like him anywhere, and the U.S. team has to change the way it plays when he’s not on the field. The entire “next man up” philosophy is harder in the case of Adams.

4. What's the hierarchy at central defense?

It’s hard right now to make a definitive judgment as to what the order of central defense pairings is for the U.S. team. This past window made things more competitive, which is good, but also more unsettled, which isn’t good.

Walker Zimmerman had a strong camp where he moved from the outside of the team (he only was called in for the October window as a replacement for Tim Ream and was the only field player to not play in the September window) to a more inside role. He might not get called up in November, but his chances are greater. He started the first two games and wasn’t at fault for Panama’s goal. He also provides an aerial ability that is tough to replicate and offering something unique is important.

Miles Robinson wasn’t quite at the level he was at in the Gold Cup and the first three qualifiers, but he was still a net positive. His athleticism helps. Chris Richards was finally given the chance in big game and looked the part. His regular starting role at Hoffenheim will only keep him in the mix.

Mark McKenzie is tough to read. He’s been with the team most of the past year after his move to KRC Genk but seemed to be behind the other three defenders this window.

There are also others not with the team in October who have strong cases for call-ups. John Brooks is arguably the most talented player but pulled out of this camp with a back injury and has had a poor start to the season at Wolfsburg. Matt Miazga has played well at Deportivo Alaves early in the LaLiga season and while that team could get relegated, Miazga has been the heart of the team’s defense. Berhalter has seen value in Ream but with Zimmerman also providing veteran leadership, it remains to be seen if Ream will fade.

Central defense is both competitive and uncertain. The October window only highlighted this while offering no real answers.

5. Which players will stabilize their club situations?

When looking at the rosters for the U.S. team in both September and October as well as the summer tournaments, many of the players are still in situations where the playing time at club levels is uncertain.

Some players will emerge within or fall from the player pool depending on playing time. We have seen many players make very positive statements.

Gianluca Busio, for one, has cemented his starting XI job at Venezia after his move.

Tim Weah looked sharp against Costa Rica but struggled against Panama and his inconsistency can be attributed for due to the fact that he’s yet to ever regularly start at the club level (Paris St. Germain, Celtic and Lille). This season, he's finally getting lots of playing time at Lille and this would be very important to him and the U.S. team given his talent level.

The same could be said for Yunus Musah, who is beginning to start regularly again for Valencia but still out in a wide position – as opposed to his preferred central position.

Matthew Hoppe is still adjusting to Mallorca and La Liga but the consistent minutes aren’t there. McKenzie isn’t quite a regular starter yet at Genk. Then, of course, Steffen never plays (except for domestic cup games).

The bigger question marks, however, are from those not on this October roster but who are looking to get back into the mix.

Nicholas Gioacchini is still looking for a starting job at Montpellier but it is within reach. The same for Erik Palmer-Brown at Troyes. Miazga has the starting job at Alaves locked down, but can he overtake the others in front of him? Josh Sargent has been playing for Norwich but hasn’t stood out on club that is struggling mightily in the Premier League. Julian Green has faded at Greuther Fuerth. Konrad de la Fuente has also cooled off after a fast start at Marseille. Jesus Ferreira might get back into the team if he continues to play well for FC Dallas. Can Vines return once he is healthy and playing again at Royal Antwerp?

There is so much uncertainty at the club level with players, and there are a lot of variables.

The U.S. rosters in 2022 might look quite a bit different than they do right now.

24 comments about "USMNT's October window raises new questions".
  1. James Madison, October 15, 2021 at 6:09 p.m.

    John Brooks should be dropped as too slow and ungainly, and Josh Sargent needs to get more disciplined to be useful.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, October 15, 2021 at 11:08 p.m.

    James, I'm sort of scratching my 65 year old striker head wondering what you mean regarding Sargent and discipline. 

  3. John Sabala replied, October 16, 2021 at 4:20 a.m.

      I don't agree about Brooks being too slow. There may be something to possible injuries slowing him down.  He has the passing ability needed to play out of the back and has been solid most of his playing history.  Don't give up on him yet.  Sargeant's biggest issue is mostly beyond his control.  Bremen and Norwich are subpar teams that are struggling with relegation battles constantly and don't field the quality teams needed to stand out.  If you play Sargeant with European players from the Ocotber window he gets goals and helps create more goals.  Tricky thing comparing playing time at clubs as a guage for readiness as there is such a huge gap between MLS and European quality, even in training.  If you are referring to Sargeant dropping deep to get touches he has been doing that to try and get the ball past the midfield in Norwich, which they cannot do.  Hence he looks undisciplined, but not really the case.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, October 16, 2021 at 6:53 a.m.

    My assumption is that James is refering to speed of play. Brooks plays slow on the ball. When he is on the field, he is the slowest on the ball and he slows down the teams speed of play. I can't remember him ever taking less than 3 touches.

    As far as speed of movement, long legs are not as quick as short legs. That is a consequence of body type. Successful players anticipate so that they don't have to run at last moment to get to the right place.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, October 16, 2021 at 6:55 a.m.

    WS: I am puzzled too.

  6. frank schoon replied, October 16, 2021 at 8:40 a.m.

    James, what do you mean by discipline ?

    I've always had my doubt about Brooks, and Bob you're right it is his manner of play. It is not his running speed which in a way is slower in the beginning for he's  tall with long legs. You know in soccer all you need is one step on a player thereby making a tall player seem slow for in the first couple steps he's  slow and that is where the crucial part of the game lies, 'the first step'

  7. Kent James replied, October 16, 2021 at 1:43 p.m.

    John, I agree on both Brooks and Sargent. Brooks looks slower than he is because of his height. It's tough for a striker to do much on a weak team that can't get him the ball.  

  8. R2 Dad, October 15, 2021 at 9:33 p.m.

    Aside from Tyler, what about the midfield? Musah has so much vision and awareness--light years beyond a Michael Bradley. We have come so far skill-wise,but can GB get the most from the attacking players we have? I would love to qualify without CP and Gio, then sprinkle them in even as subs because of their availability/fragility cannot be depended upon. No slight on them, but PL/Bundesliga wear down these players.

  9. John Sabala replied, October 16, 2021 at 4:27 a.m.

    R2, we need to have Reyna and CP play with the group for chemistry and cohesion. However, if we play more like against Costa Rica where we are passing, moving and creating. The injury chances go way down. Remember both of these guys were hurt in Concacaf.  CP figured his body out and was playing consistently with Chelsea, same for Reyna.  The problem is Concacaf teams' known strategies are to foul the crap out of our elite players to get them off the pitch.  The US is much deeper with attacking players and despite some comments from other CP and Reyna should play in wide areas, they are most dangerous here creating more 1v1s. Just need to correct midfielders like Musah, McKennie, Adams, Aaronson to combine play with in the attacking third.  You are correct the seasona are much more grueling in Europe with league play, domestic cups and UEFA than anything MLS has to offer.

  10. John Sabala, October 16, 2021 at 4:40 a.m.

    The thing that really stand out about this article relates to the same thing I have been saying about our HUGE problems with fullbacks.  We just don't have them.  I think it is worst than our depth at #6 as I think Busio has the skills and brains to play the #6 role.  That being said, our fullbacks are the weakest part of the team hands down.  There is no one even near Dest's ability.  Given our enormous depth at CB, how is it our GB cannot see the need to go to a three CB formation?  Had another conversation about this in another post......once the team full transitions to defense when we lose possession the defensive shape looks like a 4-4-2 doubling players on near the touchlines to regain possession.  Our backline 4 just does not hold shape with two CBs.  Since we only have one real attacking FB (Dest) any other fullback is a liability on offense and leaves the two CBs exposed which we have seen time and again.  The 3 CBs in the attack will greatly decrease our exposure in the counterattack game on defense until we can regain a 4-4-2 shape to defend.  The player pool is better equipped to use traditional midfielders as wingbacks (Musah, Scally, Luca, Busio)......much better passing, moving on and off the ball than our current fullbacks.  Overall it puts more better quality players on the pitch together.  

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, October 16, 2021 at 6:58 a.m.

    Adams is a right back, but there is only one of him :)

  12. Keith Belton replied, October 16, 2021 at 5:03 p.m.

    Tyler Adams on field allows Jedi and Dest to play as wingbacks as he plays the destroyer role.  Without Adams - our only true #6 on the squad - the defense is exposed when Jedi or Dest play in advanced positions.  

    Busio isn't a #6 - he's not physical enough, he's a midfield playmaker.  Loved his playmaking and distribution against Costa Rica - he was the right sub at the right time and helped keep position and slowly kill the game.

    Agree with you depth is an issue - mostly at the #6. 

    With Dest, Jedi, Yedlin and eventually Scally, the USMNT for the first time in my memory will have the skills and adequate depth at FB to impact the game.

  13. Sam Bellin replied, October 16, 2021 at 9:53 p.m.

    Good analysis Keith.  Just one question:  Who is "Jedi?"

  14. Seth Vieux replied, October 17, 2021 at 2:39 a.m.

    With Sam, gotta know who the hell is Jedi? You said it several times so don't think it's an autocorrect issue. The hell you talking about????

  15. Wooden Ships replied, October 17, 2021 at 10:22 a.m.

    I think Keith is referring to Antonee as Jedi. 

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, October 17, 2021 at 10:31 p.m.

    Keith it is the US style of play and conventional wisdom that a "6" has to be a physically big player and not a playmaker. It is the same prejudice that kept trying to make an attacking midfielder out of Jose Torres. A holding midfielder is a playmaker. A CAM needs penetration dribbling skills, i.e., quick feet. Long legs are the wrong body type for that, great for passing though. Lots of leverage. It is just high school physics.

  17. Santiago 1314, October 16, 2021 at 8:48 a.m.

    DON'T TRUST ANYONE OVER 25.!!!(Except at GK)... I'm ready to "Weed Out" the Older Players... None of them have PROVEN to be Indispensable, or Irreplaceable...(imagine a Squad of 3 World Cup Cycles)... Only Player that has NO Back-Up is Adams... Busio/LucaDLT can do the Offensive Part of #6, But NOT the Real "Grinder" part of the Job.

  18. Keith Belton replied, October 16, 2021 at 5:15 p.m.

    @Santiago, yes, that's going to be an interesting call as the year to Qatar counts down.  

    I think most of us posters tear that their hair out at some of Berhalter's individual game rosters (read: Panama), but taking the longer view...42 players were capped in 2020 alone...and he's given the young-uns a real shot to show their abilities. 

    Dest, Reyna, Jedi, Musah, Pepi, Pefok, Turner, Aaronson, MRobinson, CRichards, KDLF, LDLT, Busio and Zimmerman were all players who have been added over the last 18 months that are either are or will be the mainstays (along with Pulisic, Steffen, JBrooks, Hoppe, Yedlin, Zardes, possibly Sargent).  He's given Acosta new life as a backup #6. Scally and Vines are also likely to have impact once Vines is back and Scally gets called up, as expected, in October.  These young players have supplanted older players who don't have their skills.  

    I am looking to see what Berhalter will do with Lletget, Roldan, Arriola, Ream and Zardes before Qatar?  Will they have a place, or will they be replaced by then?

  19. Ben Myers, October 16, 2021 at 9:02 a.m.

    Isn't some of the inconsistency on Berhalter, with his choices of widely varied lineups?

  20. Keith Belton replied, October 16, 2021 at 5:18 p.m.

    Absolutely no question...the core needs to play more together to gell.  While Mexico are much older, they are more cohesive and consistent...there's no substitute for being on the field in game situations.  Give this team 18-24 more months and you'll have a true top 10-15 team in FIFA.

  21. frank schoon, October 16, 2021 at 9:02 a.m.

    I think GB has finally figured out that Dest should play right back, not leftback. I can't see Adams playing Right Back for he just doesn't have the creativity and diversity of play and brains of a Dest.
    I would like to Adams play right centerback, for he will ADD more ability to the defensive line. Our centerbacks are too similar in style like all of the centerbacks. l

    Just imagine with Adams in the back, you bring not only more quickness of movement, also he's able to rush quickly toward the midfield with the ball and quickly pass. In other words, instead of having two stiffs as centerbacks we now have to care of things back there as far as high balls. You don't need two tall stiffs as centerbacks but one. One is shorter quicker for to counter attacks on the ground and the other taller can take care of high balls.....This would be a perfect balance. Furthermore ,Adams can become the catalizer for numerical superiority at midfield, through his quick movement of going forwards.
    Three aspects as a result  will improve  our team. One, we will have a quicker build out from the back. Two, the ability to create numerical superiority at midfield. Three there will quicker movement of the ball in our backfield for build up.
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  22. Bob Ashpole replied, October 17, 2021 at 10:37 p.m.

    The problem I see is that I don't think our centerbacks are very good at defending high balls into the box. If they don't have a height advantage or are up against a world class finisher, they will get beat. That's with two tall CBs.

  23. frank schoon replied, October 18, 2021 at 8:48 a.m.

    Bob, at world class level it has nothing to do with height but street smarts, but jumping ability, timing and 'street smarts', an aspect I prefer not elucidate.

    First of all defense does not begin with the centerbacks guarding their men. It begins further upfield. Here are some of the steps to follow if the striker up is tall.

    ONE, Play as far away from the goal as possible, in other words move up your backline. Ajax in '95 when they won the CL had the shortest backline in Europe. What they did was to move up as far as possible and try to never give away corners.
    TWO, look for the particular player who tends to cross or give airballs to the tall striker, then prevent him from attempting to make this particular pass.

    THREE, Where do you see 2tall strikers up front? Then why have 2 tall centerbacks?

     FOUR,If you have a tall opponent then don't guard or follow him from behind but in front to stop a ball coming to his feet and to stop the air ball to which has then has to be the most perfect pass ever. In other words you sandwich him with the shorter defender behind. This also applies to having a shorter fast striker. Barcelona's "Dream Team" applied this particular strategy to Sampdoria ,in the CL championship in the early 90's, against Gianluca Vialli,at that time the world striker. Barcelona, prevented passes to Vialli from Roberto Mancini who played right wing, and the Brazilian midfielder Toninho Cerezo.

    I don't know why we need to tall centerbacks...for they are basically stoppers, the important aspect is to stop the supply to the strikers that BEST suits their abilities. Besides we a tall goalie that is also an aid to our defense. Tall striker(s) are not necessarily great headers or for that matter a tall striker like Kane of Spurs scores more goals with his feet......l

    All I'm saying is that we don't 2 similar tall players together for they don't balance each other, especially when you have a shorter player who is quicker on the ground a la Messi who doesnt' seem to be bothered by tall defenders.

    As far as poor defensive qualities of our centerback in the air. Well, a good cross has nothing to do with height but with good positioning and accurate cross.

  24. frank schoon, October 16, 2021 at 9:30 a.m.

    Dest is what we in Holland call a 'play determiner'(for the US team) not a 'playmaker' for he lacks that ability, just like Adams. A play determiner is for example a tall centerforward who due to his size and ability needs, to be effective, supply from the sides for crosses that means we flank attack and not so much through the middle. This one player determines how most of the type of attack will be played up front.

    Dest for the US team is a 'play determiner'. His abilities calls for player around him to able to handle a ball and play combinational soccer with him, all the way down the flank if needed. Guys, like A. Robinson, or a McKennie would make Dest less productive, for reasons anyone with half a brain can understand... Dest ,in other words controls and dictates on that flank and therefore we need players that work for him. Whereas with a tall centerforward, the run of play is more horizontal by Dest it is more vertical.

    With Dest, you can't have brainless twits, running around like headless, turbo, chickens  who don't think. As I stated before our right side due to Dest is forced to play more control and combinational in order to make Dest as most effective as possible. This why I want Adams playing right centerback, to cover any space Dest leaves behind. Our leftside is a totally different animal, where we have 'Turbo city'. One side is more cerebral the other side more muscle. Notice the balance and difference..

    This is how you begin to build a team according to players abilities and HOW to make them most effective. This is the beginning of what you call instituting the concepts necessary to play more effective according to the players you have. For to say we will play system, 5-3-2, 9-1 , 4 scoobie do 6 or whatever stupid system you think the team is best in playing, all this is garbage without first taking into account each specific players strengths and weaknesses, followed by the various concepts instituted to play which can make certain key players better... And that is never talked about.  We just talked systems to play like we're with Legos. There is so much more involved in the structure of setting up a system....

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