Two years ago yesterday, the United States men were eliminated from World Cup contention with a devastating loss to Trinidad & Tobago, missing out on the big dance for the first time in eight cycles.
It was a disaster of epic proportions, a miss so colossal it promised to bring with it sweeping changes and overhauls in order to prevent it from ever happening again.
And yet, two years on, has anything significant really changed?
The feeling of uncertainty, pessimism, and confusion still reigns strong with the USMNT setup, and despite the cataclysmic event in Couva two years ago, little has actually changed for the program. The talent pool is subject to endless experimentation with little established consistency in the starting lineup, the youth setup is struggling to recruit talented dual nationals, and results are still below the expected level of competition and growth.
Gregg Berhalter, as far as we know, has not fundamentally changed much with his hire. Billed as a new era of the USMNT, the same players are still called in, the same mistakes plague the team on the field, and there is little improvement to give fans hope for the future.
Inspecting the other high-profile teams that missed the 2018 World Cup – the Netherlands and Italy – both have made sweeping changes and ushered in a youth movement that has brought marketable changes to the squad. The Netherlands immediately progressed to the Nations League final behind a youth backbone that took Ajax to the Champions League semifinals, while Italy is perfect through six matches of Euro 2020 qualification under Roberto Mancini after making sweeping changes to the youth setup.
In fact, the USMNT is poised to potentially lose a key dual national to the Netherlands in Sergino Dest, who is still deciding on his future despite having played for the United States youth setup.
Meanwhile, the United States’ youth movement has sputtered. Weston McKennie’s development has stalled amid his inability to reign in his wild and erratic tendencies. Tyler Adams, John Brooks, and Timothy Weah have contracted the injury bug, while Christian Pulisic is stuck on the bench while he integrates into the Chelsea squad. Jonathan Gonzalez was wooed by Mexico and now they could lose Dest too as some accuse U.S. Soccer of failing to remain in constant contact with potential prospects. Just last week Berhalter naively said, “it’s not U.S. Soccer’s job to develop players.”
Despite a promise to turn over a new leaf, the U.S. is still light years behind where it should be expected to be. They were beaten by Mexico in the Gold Cup final by Tata Martino, who wasn’t even contacted about the U.S. vacancy and subsequently hired by their arch rivals. They were thumped 3-0 by the same squad weeks later in a friendly on home soil. An unconvincing draw against a Uruguay B side didn’t do much to alleviate the pessimism days later.
While the U.S. still sorts through its numerous litany of struggles, fans are wondering when the promised changes will come. Questions remain for Berhalter as he continues the rebuild, with an over-reliance on players from his old stomping grounds Major League Soccer often casting doubt onto his ability to select a squad.
CONCACAF Nations League play looms tonight, with a matchup against Cuba before a game against Canada on Tuesday. This is a chance for the U.S. men to slowly rebuild trust within the fan base. It will take a significant finish in the competition to sway those with doubts, but it is possible to start somewhere. Still, the signs point to continued frustration and uncertainty in the future, and there is much work ahead to undo that.
Ultimately, two years from D Day, would one be surprised if another Couva repeat took place again? Is this squad past the devastating loss to a point where it’s avoidable? If fans waffle on answering those questions affirmatively, has the group really moved on? There is still a long way to go, and World Cup qualifying begins in less than a year’s time.
Red Star Belgrade is going to be happy to see the back of Tottenham Hotspur after the North London side clobbered the Serbian side for the second-straight UCL match.
This time it was a 4-0 score line in Serbia, as a brace from Heung-Min Son led Tottenham to keep hold of second place in the group with two matches to play.
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Three things we learned
1. Closer to their best: Make no mistake about Red Star Belgrade’s team this season — it’s not great — but two complete performances have cemented Spurs’ favorite status to emerge as the second team from Group B. Perfect Bayern Munich has already advanced and is a point away from winning the group, but Spurs could join them with a defeat of Olympiacos at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Nov. 26.
2. Humbled Son at the double: If Son’s two goals following Sunday’s dispiriting (and overturned) red card tackle of Andre Gomes gave him any relief, he didn’t show up. The South Korean nearly twice came close to scoring on Spurs’ first goal, but delivered twice in the second half as the North London side took control of the match. There was only a minor prayer celebrating after the first goal, and perhaps even less of a reaction after the second one.
3. New boys have their moments: Making his first Spurs start, Lo Celso scored his goal and had a Man of the Match style performance with three shots, five tackles, and 90 percent passing while also being a master of possession as Spurs held close to 67 percent of the ball. The 19-year-old Sessegnon came off the bench three days after making a 1-minute cameo versus Everton, and set up Eriksen’s goal. Not bad!
Man of the Match: It’s Son. It just has to be.
An injury and red card meant Manchester City defender Kyle Walker finished the day in goal for the 10-man visitors in a 1-1 UEFA Champions League draw with Atalanta at Atleti Azzurri d’Italia on Wednesday.
Raheem Sterling scored in the 7th minute of Wednesday’s match in Bergamo, the sort of dispiriting perfect team goal which can make an opposition close up shop.
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But Atalanta did not do that, drawing level through Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic and having a huge opportunity to take all three points when Claudio Bravo, on the pitch because Ederson was injured, was sent off for a DOGSO foul.
City is still sitting pretty with a five-point lead on both Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donestk, but will rue not killing off both sides’ chances of winning the group.
Three things we learned
1. First mission accomplished of season delayed: A win in Atalanta would have clinched a seeded place in the knockout rounds, but City just didn’t have their A or B game in Bergamo. Give plenty of credit to Atalanta, who started the group stage 0-3 and was humiliated by City in Manchester, but Guardiola won’t be happy with the knowledge that a 3-3 draw between 10-man sides Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk opened the door to the possibility of not needing to pay any attention to the final two group stage matches.
2. Kyle Walker can catch: Guardiola took off Ederson at halftime, and Man City almost immediately handed an equalizer to the hosts when Pasalic beat Bravo.
City was not good on the day, and their poor day was further dramatized when Ilkay Gundogan‘s bad giveaway allowed Ilicic 1v1 with Bravo. The referee had little choice but to give the Chilean a red card for a sliding challenge on Ilicic, and Walker entered the fray after a long delay.
Wearing a C. Bravo 1 jersey, Walker bobbled but saved the ensuing free kick and caught the only other shot put in his direction over the final few minutes.
3. Sterling continues Serie A mastery: Sterling played a role in all five of Manchester City’s goals when Atalanta visited the Etihad Stadium the last UEFA Champions League match day, so it’s no surprise he’s brought that form to Italy.
Man of the Match: The answer is Pasalic, who was very good, but you’re nuts if you think we’re not putting this award directly into the hands of Kyle “C. Bravo 1” Walker.
Coming on the heels of his 3-goal, 2-assist performance in Manchester against the Serie A side, Atalanta will be seeing ghosts after Sterling stayed patient with a run into the 18 to fire home.
Sterling knew Gabriel Jesus‘ clever back heel was coming after Bernardo Silva’s incisive pass into the 18, and City will have a commanding five-point lead atop the group is the day’s results hold firm.
And more importantly, a couple more early goals could allow Guardiola to pull Sterling and a few other stars ahead of Sunday’s big match at Liverpool.
That certainly did not happen. Man City’s Gabriel Jesus missed a penalty kick before halftime, and Atalanta tightened up and was probably unfortunate not to find a winner.
Full credit to City for dealing with Walker’s absence, keeping the ball in the corner for most of the final moments of the match.
A poor back pass from Ilkay Gundogan sent Josip Ilicic 1v1 with Bravo, who raced out to meet him with the score 1-1 in Bergamo.
Ilicic pushed the ball past the Chilean and leapt over him, hitting the turf when his trail leg was caught by the sliding keeper.
Kyle Walker entered the match in a “C. Bravo 1” jersey, and would have to face a free kick from 10 yards outside the box.
Walker bobbled but rescued the ensuing free kick, plenty successful given the scenario.
Manchester City fans will be rightfully worried after the club’s star goalkeeper left Wednesday’s match in Italy with an apparent injury.
BT reports that Ederson has a “minor injury” and his removal was a precaution.
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A 1-0 halftime lead has since turned to 1-1, as Bravo allowed a Mario Pasalic goal to level things up in Berhamo.
An injury would loom large over the backdrop of a monumental Sunday match at Liverpool, who itself missed a star goalkeeper for much of its successful early season.
Some will definitely point to gamesmanship due to the mystery of a halftime injury.
We’ll keep you updated when Pep Guardiola speaks after the match. He’s likely to be displeased; As it stands, a draw would stop City from clinching the group.