Happy 4th of July

Looking at Berhalter's situation, Philly's collapse, LAFC's rise, and Olympic roster notes

ASN's Brian Sciaretta takes a break from the holiday weekend with a column on Gregg Berhalter's future, MLS notes, and the puzzle that is the Olympic team roster
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 05, 2024
9:10 AM

HERE’S TO hoping that everyone had a great 4th of July and that it is the start of a fun-filled long weekend. This week is certainly not without a lot of news, debate, and speculation with all of the recent events. The USMNT fallout after a disastrous Copa America is front and center, but we also have a near full-slate of MLS games, Olympic team news, and European preseason to breakdown.

With all that said, let’s get right into it.


Berhalter speculation


Right now, Gregg Berhalter is in limbo and we don’t yet know if he will retain his job as the USMNT head coach. My guess is that he won’t make it. Federation Sporting Director Matt Crocker was hired and it was a risk for him to retain the previous head coach. This came at the expense of him not putting his own stamp on the program – as is common for most people who enter into top level of positions.

As everyone knows, it is a result-oriented business and the results are not there. The results and performances in friendlies were lackluster. The team won the Nations League but not without a loss to Trinidad and Tobago away from home and a win over Jamaica that required a miracle equalizing goal in stoppage time. Then you had the worst loss in recent memory to a Colombia in a friendly and then a group stage exit in a Copa America on home soil.

Berhalter took a very young team to the World Cup in 2022 and there was the expectation this group would improve throughout this cycle and be a force in 2026. But that hasn’t happened. Right now, my guess would be that the 2022 World Cup team would defeat this team, despite having most of the same players.

But there is also the problem that Berhalter hasn’t built a deep team. The 2022 World Cup team did not have much squad rotation and this Copa America team didn’t either. This has left Berhalter with his Plan A, but no real Plan B.

One of the reasons why Berhalter came back was the support of his players. But another issue is that the opinion of these players is overweighted. What starting player wouldn’t want to support a manager who rarely goes to his bench and changes his XI? The players might just be too comfortable. 

There is a lot of piling on Berhalter right now, but it’s certainly not all on him. He’s not squandering a “Golden Generation.” Berhalter is not what is separating the USMNT from being a a world power. There are a lot of players who are not in great spots right now. Gio Reyna hasn’t played more than 650 minutes in a club season in three years. Weston McKennie had a woeful Copa America tournament. Tyler Adams has had a disastrous run of injuries and didn’t even play 150 minutes this past season for Bournemouth. Yunus Musah was in and out of AC Milan’s lineup (which is fine) but he still rarely produces goals or assists for club or country. Luca de la Torre gradually fell out of favor at Celta Vigo this past season.

That’s the core of the USMNT midfield, and that’s not on Berhalter.

There are also tons of other holes on this USMNT. Matt Turner doesn’t play at the club level. Joe Scally actually had a nice Copa, but his season at Monchengladbach was wildly mixed. Tim Ream is almost 37 years old, but is still important to the USMNT. Josh Sargent has struggled with his ankle injury since returning to the field from surgery last fall.

Berhalter established his core last cycle and he decided to let it ride into his second cycle. Newer players haven’t gelled.

Anything can still happen, but my prediction is that the federation will make a change with the priority to bring a fresh set of eyes on the player pool. Someone who can see the problems in the player pool, try to make changes, put the existing players on edge that things aren’t good enough, see if other players are being over-looked.

Berhalter’s first cycle wasn’t bad. History will remember it well. He didn’t break any boundaries, but he inherited a team that was broken. He had to build a team that had almost no World Cup experience, or big games experience together. It wasn’t easy. The Reyna debacle after the World Cup was ugly.

But things have gotten stale. That happens. But it’s easy to see Crocker not wanting to let it happen on his watch.

Then the question becomes who is next? If Berhalter is removed, or leaves, U.S. Soccer is going to have to move quickly. They cannot have another search that takes several months. Crocker is connected and will look at coaches he knows in Europe. But there will be some domestic options as well. Steve Cherundolo would be my guess at the top of that list.


MLS midweek thoughts


Here are my thoughts on the MLS midweek games.

First, the three 4th of July games were excellent. They were the best games of the midweek compared with the 10 games that were on July 3rd.

The El Traffico Derby at the Rose Bowl drew 70,076 fans – which is a great number but down about from the 80,000+ that came last year, also on the 4th of July. After an entertaining 90 minutes, LAFC defeated the Galaxy 2-1. The crowd was pro-Galaxy but not by a huge margin.

Kei Kamara continues to be one of the best stories of the season as he has found a fountain of youth since joining LAFC. He scored the opener, while Denis Bouanga converted just before halftime. Grabriel Pec, who has been great for the Galaxy, pulled one back for the Galaxy in the 56th minute.

As Steve Cherundolo explained after the match:

“Possession is one of many statistics that the Galaxy is traditionally very good in; we are not. I think we've proven in the past couple years, and other teams around the world have proven, that that's not the only statistic that matters.

“We take pride in not letting teams in behind our back line and not really letting teams inside our box. That's something we work on, we talk on, and if you can’t get the ball in the box, then you’re not going to score. If you take a deep dive into statistics, defensively we've been fantastic over the past eight weeks.”

LAFC is now undefeated in 10 games.

One of the most surprising stories to me has been how well Inter Miami have played without Lionel Messi. I did not expect them to be this good without the Argentine great. But they continue to win and that is why Tata Martino will be a contender for the Coach of the Year. Tuesday’s 2-1 away win over Charlotte was the team’s fourth win in a row, all without Messi.

FC Dallas are trying to salvage their disappointing season and a 3-2 win over Portland was a good step. Petar Musa is raising his game and is the No. 9 the team needs. But his teammates are gradually getting on the same page as him. Thrilling win that saw a late own-goal win it for Dallas.

Benja Cremaschi opened the scoring when he received a wonderful ball from Julian Gressel. For the top American teenage prospect, Cremaschi now as three goals and an assist in 757 minutes this season.

Colorado needed a late, stoppage time penalty from Djordje Mihailovic to down Sporting Kansas City 2-1 on Wednesday. For Mihailovic, he now has 10 goals and six assists this season. He has kept Colorado in playoff contention as they sit fourth. But defeating Sporting KC is, sadly, no major accomplishment these days. It has been a dreadful first half of the season for Peter Vermes’ team.

On Tuesday, the big story was the Chicago Fire’s 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Union where the disappointing Union had a 3-1 lead into the 82nd minute. Desperately needing a win, the Union simply collapsed. The big problem for Jim Curtin’s squad has been how Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliot have fallen apart in central defense.

There are always a lot of struggling teams, but the Union’s poor season is one of the saddest. They’re only out of last place by goal differential with DC United in the basement. In all honesty, a -3 goal-differential should not have a team in the basement, but it accurately reflects how the Union are losing one goal games.

What is so disappointing about the Union team is that it is a slow and painful death of what has been one of the most likeable an fun teams in the league over the past decade. Jim Curtain had a great formula of finding value in under the radar players and developing young players from within. Right now, it looks like that version of the team is crawling into the grave and needs another start with a new group of players.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Fire are crawling towards the playoff line with three wins out of five. Talk about a turnaround. And also, Brian Gutierrez continues to make big strides with his goal contributions.

One of the reasons why teams have hope in the East is that Toronto is collapsing. Their 2-1 loss at home to Orlando was their fifth loss in a row. Toronto still sits in eighth place, but they’re fading and they are overly reliant on the Italian duo.

Real Salt Lake was impressive in a 3-2 win over Houston Dynamo. RSL is in strong contention in the West and while they’re in second, they’re behind the LA teams at the moment. But RSL is really likable and they have a nice blend of young players and top veterans. Colombian Andres Gomez and American Diego Luna both had important goals in this win.

Meanwhile, Houston will be fine. Ben Olsen continues to do a good job after the team had a tough start to the season with injuries.

Cincinnati won its seventh road game in a row with a 3-2 win over last-place DC United. Kevin Kelsy continues to be a great acquisition for Cincy and the Venezuelan teen should find his way onto their national team sooner than later.

For Cincy, the issue is defense and keeping the backline functioning with the season-ending injuries to Nick Hagglund and Matt Miazga. Miles Robinson made a quick return from national team duty but will Cincy let Robinson go to the Olympics? That was the initial plan, but the injuries on Cincy might have changed the plans.

St. Louis defeated San Jose 2-0 in a matchup between teams without coaches and who are out of the playoff zone. San Jose needs a complete rebuild. They are the worst team in the league, by far.

Columbus might be the best and their 2-0 win over Nashville was convincing. They haven’t missed a beat with the departure of Aidan Morris.

Finally, Minnesota was predicted to be bad this year. They surprised at the start of the season, but their 3-1 loss to Vancouver was the fifth loss in a row.


Olympic squad drama


The Olympic squad is in but it won’t be announced until Monday. One of the big stories in recent weeks is how well players from outside the bubble of the team have played. This is going to create a ton of second guessing once the roster comes out.

Diego Luna was not involved in the team’s final camp in June and this has naturally led people to assume he’s on the outside of the roster. That’s probably correct. But Luna has only continued to raise his game over the past month.

Brian Gutierrez was only involved in the first U-23 camp of the cycle and he has continued to impress for the Chicago Fire.

Cam Harper was probably a miss as he never received a single call-up to the U-23 team but his play for the Red Bulls this season has been very good, especially as of late. What helps him also his versatility.

Benja Cremaschi is on the bubble of t he team, and could also play with the U.S. U-20 team this year and the U-23 team next cycle, but he has continued to raise his game for Miami with Messi out.

Unsurprisingly, Mitrovic has been having to scramble to put together a team and release issues are difficult.

As for players who were on the Copa roster, it is asking a lot for players to do double duty with the Olympics. The age eligible candidates would be Johnny Cardoso, Ricardo Pepi, Joe Scally, Krisoffer Lund, Yunus Musah, and Gio Reyna (Folarin Balogun and Malik Tillman are age-eligible but there are eligibility questions for both given their involvement in Olympic qualifiers for other nations).

The ones worth talking about would be Scally and Reyna. The rest are off the table. Reyna is in club limbo and it could make sense there. Scally would play a position of need if it is true that Bryan Reynolds will not be released by Westerlo. The Olympic team is much more thin at right back than left back and the decision never to have the versatile Cam Harper involved stands out. It’s not unrealistic to think M’Glad back would allow Scally to go (probably less than 50-50 but still possible.

The overage positions are always the most interesting. Central defense is a big sense of weakness for this team, and it was just a question of how many of the three overage positions they used on central defenders. Walker Zimmerman is obviously in.  Miles Robinson was going to be an overage pick but that is in doubt with the injuries to Miazga and Hagglund in Cincinnati. Perhaps with his early return, Cincy is more flexible. If Robinson can’t go, Marko Mitrovic might have to roll with Jalen Neal, who is age-eligible.

But if we’re looking at where things stand now. We can make some reasonable assumptions:

Players who are likely in (11): Patrick Schulte, Gaga Slonina, Walker Zimmerman, Nathan Harriel, John Tolkin, Tanner Tessmann, Gianluca Busio, Djordje Mihailovic, Paxten Aaronson, Taylor Booth, Duncan McGuire

Players with Release issues: Miles Robinson, Bryan Reynolds, Aidan Morris, Kevin Paredes

Players on the Bubble: Griffin Yow, Caleb Wiley, Cade Cowell, Johan Gomez, Cole Bassett, Damion Downs, Benja Cremaschi, Diego Luna, Brian Gutierrez

Wild Cards: Brandon Vazquez, Joe Scally, Gio Reyna

The bottom line is that we are bound to hear more news about the team over the weekend. Clubs and players will make it known.

There will be complaining about the roster but we’ve always known that there were going to be a lot of rejections for players given that all player releases were voluntary from the clubs. In some cases Mitrovic will get his first choice players. There will be times he has to go to Plan B, Plan C, or Plan D.

That is the same for every other team. It doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to field a team that can compete.

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