Previewing USMNT vs. El Salvador, Deila leaves NYCFC, Chiellini to LAFC, and more
June 14, 2022
THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL team will conclude its four-game run on Tuesday night with a visit to El Salvador as part of its Nations League campaign. It has been a successful month for Gregg Berhalter’s team that defeated Morocco, drew Uruguay, and then trounced Grenada to open its Nations League defense. The main story, however, is that this game is the final opportunity players will have to make an impression within the team ahead of the September window – the final window before the 2022 World Cup.
The competition is tight – both among players on the “bubble” to make the team and also among those who are likely to make the team but who are simply pushing for starting jobs or more minutes in Qatar.
In terms of players to watch against El Salvador, here are a few players or positions I will be watching for tonight.
Ethan Horvath: the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper is on the bubble of making the team but is facing the issue of not being a starter at his club. Mostly likely he and Sean Johnson are pushing for that third goalkeeper spot with Johnson having been playing regularly for NYCFC and also having played well for the U.S. team in the 0-0 draw against Uruguay. Horvath will start against El Salvador, and he needs to match Johnson’s performance. The pressure is on.
Cannon vs. Yedlin: This is a tight battle between DeAndre Yedlin and Reggie Cannon for the backup right back spot to Sergino Dest. Given Cannon’s positional switch at the club level to a right central defender in a three-man backline, perhaps he gives Berhalter some versatility. But Yedlin more closely resembles the main starter, Sergino Dest, in terms of style. Maybe both go, but right now this is a tight competition and not much separates the two.
Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown: While the U.S. team has not conceded any goals over its first three games, central defense has been up and down. Goalkeeping and luck bailed out the U.S. team both against Morocco and Uruguay while Grenada simply did not test the U.S. team. Walker Zimmerman has performed well but Berhalter has rotated the other three central defenders. Palmer-Brown struggled against Uruguay, Carter-Vickers was mixed against Morocco, Long has also been mixed. Whoever can play well against El Salvador could be in a good spot heading into September. Zimmerman and Chris Richards are in a good spot right now. After that, it is wide open.
Brenden Aaronson vs. Yunus Musah: Aaronson, the new Leeds United man, is a lock to make the World Cup team but it remains to be seen how Berhalter will use him. While he’s mostly been a winger for the U.S. team, Berhalter tried him as his No. 10 against Morocco and Aaronson played well. He now has his foot in the door in central midfield and that puts him in direct competition with Yunus Musah who had that position throughout qualifying. Musah has played well for the U.S. team and has a big upside, although his final ball and shot are sometimes lacking. For Aaronson, that is his strength. If Aaronson continues to play well and if Musah doesn’t improve on his finishing, Aaronson could shift Musah to the bench in terms of the first choice XI.
Haji Wright: After a strong season in Turkey, Wright has put himself into a great spot to compete for a spot on the World Cup team. The U.S. team needs a No. 9 and over the past year, Berhalter has used Josh Sargent, Matthew Hoppe, Daryl Dike, Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Pefok, and now Wright. Ferreira has done well in a different kind of role that helps open the game up for others. But can Wright build up the case to put distance between him and players like Pepi, Pefok, and Sargent.
Joe Scally vs. George Bello: The backup left back spot behind Antonee Robinson is wide open. Scally another talented young American player, but it remains to be seen if he’s ready or is one for the next cycle. Bello (who was teammates with Scally on the U.S. U-17 team in 2019), is also very much uncertain. Bello has had more opportunities to date than Scally but both Bello and Scally have had a tough run in Germany since the start of the new year. Scally started off the Bundesliga season well for Borussia Monchengladbach and has floated between right and left back. Bello, meanwhile, joined a Arminia Bielefeld team in a bad spot, got relegation, and now has to compete in the 2.Bundesliga. If neither Bello or Scally leave camp without having made a positive impression, Berhalter might look to other options like DeJuan Jones, John Tolkin, or Sam Vines in September.
Tillman out for El Salvador
Malik Tillman struggled in his sub outing for the U.S. team against Grenada but Gregg Berhalter said there was a reason for that.
Berhalter indicated that Tillman suffered an injury after coming on against Grenada and it progressively got worse. The U.S. manager said that is why Tillman looked frustrated. Because of this, Tillman will not be available to play against El Salvador.
Berhalter said Tillman had a good first camp for the United States team, although it remains to be seen how much in contention he will be for Qatar or if he is viewed as a potential player for next cycle.
The answer will probably come down to how he does to start the 2022/23 season where there have been reports that Bayern Munich is looking to loan Tillman out.
Horvath addresses the media
Ethan Horvath is the lone American player on the roster who hasn’t yet appeared for the U.S. team the first three June games. The Colorado native, however, told the press on Monday that he will start against El Salvador for his first start with the U.S. team in over a year. That was shortly after his triumphant moment when he replaced Zack Steffen in the final of the Nations League against Mexico and stopped an Andres Guardado' penalty in the 118th minute to preserve a 3-2 win.
But after that moment, things for Horvath have been mixed. He was the backup keeper to Brice Samaba and despite playing well (aside from one noticeable error in the first half of the season), he rode the bench. Before that, he was the backup for three seasons at Club Brugge behind Simon Mignolet.
With Nottingham Forest having secured promotion to the Premier League, their goalkeeping position is in flux. Brice Samba might be on the move, or might be looking for a pay increase. But there are also reports Forest are looking at bringing in another goalkeeper with Nick Pope’s name having been mentioned.
Horvath, now 27, has played such little soccer over the past four years that he told the media he just wants to play and that the national team is just one reasons why.
“The World Cup is coming around and that is part of the reason why I want to play, but to be honest, I just want to play again to feel that adrenaline and those butterflies and just that game-day feeling day in and day out,” Horvath said. “We'll see what happens. We're in close contact with Nottingham and whatever happens, happens there. The main objective is to play, with Nottingham or somewhere else."
It’s a tight competition to make the World Cup team and the third goalkeeping spot will likely come down to Horvath or Sean Johnson. It’s too early to give an edge to either of the players as it might come down to who is playing this fall and who is playing well.
But Horvath said the competition is making everyone better.
"It's a healthy competition," Horvath said. "If it's one of the other three playing, I want them to do good. It's a team sport. And at the end of the day, we all have the same objectives and the same goals. And in trainings, we have a good time. We have laughs, but at the same time, it's also a healthy competition. We get our work done. We want to make each other better."
Deila leaves NYCFC
As one of the more impressive foreign managers in MLS, Ronny Deila has decided to return to Europe and join Standard Liege after the Belgium club agreed to terms with the Norwegian Deila and agreed to pay a termination fee to New York City FC.
It marks the second time NYCFC has lost a successful head coach midseason after Patrick Viera left in 2018 to take the job at Nice.
Deila has been a successful manager having won a Norwegian title at Stromsgodset in 2013, then in Scotland with Celtic in 2015 and 2016. In 2021, he won MLS Cup with NYCFC.
His time in New York was very successful as he guided the team to a 46-29-15 record across all competitions. In 2022, following its elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League in the semifinals to Seattle, NYCFC has been the best team in MLS. The team has one of the best rosters in the league and is 7-0-1 in its last eight league and has also advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
Former Manchester City women's head coach Nick Cushing will take over as the interim head coach after he joined NYCFC as an assistant coach in 2022.
What to make of this?
This is the business of soccer and the price for success. After he left Stromsgodset in his native Norway to move abroad, Deila has never stuck around with a club for more than three seasons. It is the same with Tata Martino who left Atlanta after winning MLS Cup in 2018 but who rarely stayed at any club for more than two seasons. Some managers move frequently and there is a good chance Deila won’t be at Standard Liege in more than three seasons.
NYCFC knew or should have known that this is what happens when it looks for talented foreign managers who have a history of moving around. There is nothing wrong with it, but it’s the business. You’re not going to get a talented local manager like Brian Schmetzer or Jim Curtin who is going to build up a good team over many years. Instead, it becomes a priority for the front office to set the philosophy and culture while then looking to bring in a manager who fits the culture.
The problem, however, is that it is never easy. Just look at Atlanta United in the years following Martino’s exit. The good news, however, is that NYCFC has done a good job so far with Viera and Deila both having success. NYCFC has a pretty good idea of what works.
Chiellini joins LAFC
While most big-name imports made by MLS teams have been younger in recent years, LAFC made a throw-back signing on Monday when it announced the signing of legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini from Juventus.
Chiellini, 37, is not a designated player but was signed using TAM money.
Such signings were more common in the earlier days of MLS when teams would bring in older players from Europe in the twilight of their careers. That trend ended within the last decade as top targets were younger, often from South America. MLS teams found the younger players were often hungrier and looking to still make their way in the game. Meanwhile, older imports like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Andres Pirlo, Rafa Marquez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and others were struggling.
Chiellini is certainly older but is not far removed from incredible moments. In 2021, he was named European Championship’s best defender as Italy defeated England in the final.
LAFC is also looking to add a player who will complement what the team already has as opposed to hoping that Chiellini can elevate a club by himself.
“Giorgio is a special, one-of-a-kind player and person,” LAFC Co-President & General Manager John Thorrington said. “Signing Giorgio was a unique opportunity to improve our club. He will complement what we believe is already a strong team as every day he will set the right example with his leadership competitiveness, and experience. He is a serial winner at the highest levels, and we are grateful he has chosen LAFC to join in our pursuit of trophies.”
For me, it would not be surprising at all if Chiellini turns out to be a success. LAFC is one of the better teams in the league and Chiellini is not a designated player. The club can bringing him into the fold as its own pace and the fact that he will be surrounded by the better teams in the league will only help him.
While this is a throw-back signing in terms of bringing in an “big-name” older player, there still will be those in that mold who will find success. The question is whether it is a right fit.