By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 11, 2018) US Soccer Players – With the United States missing out on the World Cup, the focus shifts to a new coach, the Fall friendlies, and games that count in 2019. The next stop on the road to rebuilding is next summer’s Gold Cup. This is a tournament that has traditionally allowed the USMNT to assert itself as a regional power, test players, and create a competitive environment.
The next 12 months will be key for the long-term development of the National Team. We'll know if North America is hosting the 2026 World Cup on Wednesday. We'll have some idea of what qualifying will look like for 2022. The 2019 Gold Cup kicks off June 18 and will feature 16 teams – up from 12 compared to the 2017 edition won by the US. Whether or not there will still be a Confederations Cup to qualify for is another open question with FIFA reconsidering its calendar.
The United States is coming off friendlies against Bolivia, Ireland, and France this past Saturday that have been a great test for interim coach Dave Sarachan’s players. It’s these challenges, particularly against France, that will help strengthen the team. Had the US been in a World Cup group with this trio, it would have amassed four points and reached the knockout stage.
“The whole idea of programming games like this is to offer young players the opportunities to understand what it's like to play away… against what I think is a team that can legitimately win this World Cup,” Sarachan told reporters after the US’s 1-1 draw in Lyon.
Here are three things the US need to focus on in the coming year:
Blend youth and veterans
This is where any National Team has trouble. How many players from the old regime do you keep? How many young players to you call up? Italy and the Netherlands, nations who also missed out on Russia ’18, are also dealing with this. For the US, these are questions that the 2019 Gold Cup will try to answer.
It’s striking the right balance that will make for the perfect blend. The Gold Cup is not a do-or-die competition. The aim is always to win it, but the USMNT can also do its fair of experimenting depending on who is available as the tournament approaches.
What needs to happen is consistency. Lineup changes make this difficult at this stage, but over time it will get clearer. Once you know there are players who are reliable, the manager’s job gets a lot easier. How the US get to that point will take patience and time. If the three recent friendlies illustrated is that the US needs to play more games so it can better compete in CONCACAF and around the world.
Embark on a rigorous schedule
That means scheduling competitive friendlies. The next USMNT coach will need to see what his players can do against elite teams. The whole purpose of friendlies is testing players, and that should be the goal here.
Whatever teams US Soccer announces to fill out the Fall international windows, we already know that the USMNT will play Mexico. That game on September 11 in Nashville is as important as it gets for this program. It's an early measuring stick should this be the transition from an interim to the next full-time coach.
Since the Gold Cup happens at the same time as the Copa America next summer, Mexico and the USMNT won't go to South America. Instead, CONMEBOL invited Japan and Qatar. This might feel like a missed opportunity, but it's also one that the Americans have little control over.
Encourage a diverse playing style
The tactics of the past – get a win at home and a point on the road during World Cup Qualifiers – had worked until last year, but traditionally left little room for error. The USMNT needs to do more. Be more adventurous, more flexible and more confident. This is a team that’s on the road to doing this. How does this premise play out in practice?
The back four needs to be solid. This wasn’t the case against Ireland. No matter what formation the US goes with (let’s say it ends up with a 4-2-3-1 for the purposes of this example), this remains an important ingredient for any future success. In midfield, there’s Christian Pulisic who can push the ball forward and track back when needed. He’s the fulcrum of this team. He’s a playmaker with pizzazz and great ball control. He makes those around him better. What needs to happen now is find replacements for Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
In attack, Julian Green and Bobby Wood have both been strong. Being consistent is the key for any striker. There is also a crop of other youngsters like Andrija Novakovich, Tim Weah, and Josh Sargent who can also emerge as time progresses. The success of all these players will largely depend on whether they get minutes on the club level, something the US coach has no control over.
The key tactically in the long-term is to be able to easily move around pieces as well as find depth in various positions. A lot of this will depend on the amount of playing time these players get at club level. The last two weeks have shown that this is a team hungry to get better with experience.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Soccer History: The 1993 US Cup
- Soccer History: New York Greek Americans
- MLS attendance is still complicated
- US soccer players in the Championship
Photo by John Todd - ISIPhotos.com