As the United States Women's Team prepares to defend its title in the Women's World Cup in France, the men's team, last seen in competitive play failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a shambolic performance in Couva, Trinidad & Tobago, is once more rudderless and abject.
After an embarrassing 1-0 home loss to Jamaica in a friendly earlier in the week, the USMNT today was absolutely destroyed 3-0 by a Venezuela team that isn't without its merits, but most recently lost 3-1 to a Mexican C-team. The USMNT looks to defend its Gold Cup title this summer, but performances like the last two friendlies aren't going to do much to instill confidence in the fans.
"How did we get here?" you might ask. "Didn't we hire a new coach with a good resume who was going to implement a tactical system?"
Gregg Berhalter, erstwhile head coach of Columbus's own Crew SC, is said new coach, but if he truly has a tactical system, I haven't seen it in action.
Now, to be fair, I should acknowledge a few caveats to my griping.
First, these games were only friendlies and don't really matter in the long run. Second, we didn't have our entire A-team on the field (notable absences include defender John Brooks, fullback (more on that later) Tyler Adams, and midfielder and star Christian Pulisic). Third, the scoreline wouldn't have looked so bad if goalkeeper Zach Steffen didn't have the worst game of his career.
Now that those are out of the way, however, I can't really allow much more in the way of excuses. Flat out: Gregg Berhalter was never a great pick for a manager of the national team. His resume was unimpressive compared to many other coaches who were available during the interminable 11+ months that USMNT was taking the scenic route to hiring him. He never achieved anything at Columbus other than making the MLS Cup final and losing to the Timbers. His career in Europe was similarly unimpressive, and should have been a indication he wasn't of the caliber to take the USMNT to the next level.
As for his vaunted "system," what I saw today was a team of 11 players who were so confused about their roles that no one took responsibility for anything. The attack was dysfunctional in the final third, the defense was frequently out of position, and the midfield didn't exist for stretches of the game. At the center of the "system's" failure is a player by the name of Wil Trapp, who inexplicably keeps getting named captain despite having never played a great game in a US shirt. Trapp and Berhalter (along with Gyasi Zardes and Zach Steffen) go back to their Columbus Crew days, and while Trapp is fine in his role against MLS opposition, he has been shown to be incapable of rising to the level of international opponents, even the likes of Jamaica. His one decent USMNT shift came against a C-team Panama side that probably would have lost to a team of NCAA players.
What I'm pointing to is not a case of Berhalter not knowing who's best for the lineup or even going with "his guys," what I believe Trapp's consistent inclusions show is something more sinister. The MLS controls Berhalter's selections, and the MLS was behind Berhalter being hired in the first place when more qualified options existed. Why? Because he's an MLS guy, and MLS wants MLS players to be the backbone of the USMNT, regardless of how mediocre a lot of them are. If you think this sounds tinfoil hat-like, I invite you to take a gander at who's in MLS's management and then look at who runs the US Soccer Federation. You'll see a lot of the same names; you'll also see that Gregg Berhalter's brother is in a high position in the USSF.
I mentioned earlier that I would get to the subject of Tyler Adams being a fullback. For those who don't know, Adams is a 20 year old *midfielder* who plies his trade with RB Leipzig, a top-3 club in the German Bundesliga. Adams, both at Leipzig and during his time with its sister MLS club, New York Red Bulls, played his best football in a defensive midfield position, the same position Wil Trapp occupies in Berhalter's starting XI. Adams, even at his young age, is a better and more dynamic midfielder than Trapp will ever be, the sort of midfielder who like Chelsea's N'golo Kante can completely raise the level of his team's play and frustrate the opposition with his workrate, strength, and intelligence. Logic tells us that it's better to play Adams at his best position rather than play him somewhere else (like rightback), and yet, even when a player like DeAndre Yedlin (who plays rightback in the Premier League) is available, Berhalter has shown he'd rather bench Yedlin to play Adams at rightback just so that he can fit Trapp (the MLS poster child) into the lineup and watch Trapp get treated like a midfield scarecrow by any team with an iota of pace.
Look, this is not good. The USMNT should never be losing to Jamaica and Venezuela at home, less still by a combined scoreline of 4-0. The USMNT isn't doing this poorly because a few of their stars are out, it's doing this poorly because the coach isn't doing his job, or isn't the right man for the job period. Mexico, our archrivals, just hired the man we should have gone after, former Barcelona/Argentina manager and recent MLS cup winning manager Tata Martino. With Martino in charge of El Tri and someone like Berhalter in charge of the USMNT, Mexico is going to dominate the rivalry for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, that's my rant.