Concacaf Gold Cup

The USMNT Team Needs What The USWNT Has In Abundance: Sauce

The USMNT Team Needs What The USWNT Has In Abundance: Sauce

The U.S. men's national team and the U.S. women's national team are in pretty different places right now.

Jun 14, 2019 by Hunter Sharpless
The USMNT Team Needs What The USWNT Has In Abundance: Sauce

The U.S. men's national team and the U.S. women's national team are in pretty different places right now. 

The men failed to qualify for the last World Cup; the women opened their own World Cup with a No. 1 ranking and a 13-0 romp of Thailand. The men are struggling to compensate for a "lost generation" in the talent pool, a palpable lack of contributing talent from players in their mid-20s; the women are an essentially flawless composition of talent and contribution across experience and youth, from 33-year-old Megan Rapinoe to 21-year-old Mallory Pugh. In recent friendlies the men have played stale soccer, rote to the point of true horror; in their game against Thailand the women played with a freedom difficult to come by.

Of course, men's soccer and women's soccer are different. There's no use in ignoring that fact. The circumstances are wildly different for the U.S. men's national team and the U.S. women's national team, but that's not what I want to explore here, nor is the weird gap in talent on the men's side of things, interesting and perplexing as that subject is. 

Instead, I want to talk about sauce.

If there's one thing the men's national team is missing almost completely — praise the American soccer deities for their one tiny mercy in Christian Pulisic — it's creativity. And if there's one thing the women's national team has in abundance, it's creativity (some, maybe would say they have a little bit too much creativity and sauciness after the fuss surrounding the Thailand game).

There are two ingredients to sauce:

  1. The technical component — the physical ability to create sauce, whether that's the vision to pick a perfect through-pass or uncanny control in possession to attack a defender one on one. 
  2. The arrogance component — the mental and spiritual fortitude to try something that may not work out, the hunger of attempt.

The men, certainly in the Gold Cup roster currently at Gregg Berhalter's disposal, are severely lacking in the first department, and that's sort of nobody's fault. Injuries are keeping out a number of sure-fire starters (John Brooks, Tyler Adams, DeAndre Yedlin) and a number of other players who may have featured. But what's much, much worse is the apparent lack of No. 2 — the hunger, the tenacity just hasn't been there for the men's national team.

Ingredient No. 1: The technical component of sauce

Berhalter's system is attempting to be a heavier possession-based game, playing more methodically out of the back, overloading spaces to create mismatches, and moving the opposition around with spacing. You just can't play this way if you have players stuck in their ruts like they're foosball dudes stuck on metal bars. 

But against Jamaica just a few days ago, that's pretty much how this team looked. The U.S. controlled 55 percent of the ball, and to be honest it seemed like more than that, such was the snail-like pace with which Berhalter's team donked the ball from side to side. The play seemed almost exclusively set in the middle of the field, and the passing stayed almost exclusively within the lines. 

There was very little of this going on:

(Sidebar: Why would Adams ever, ever, ever play right back on the men's national team?)

The team was content moving the ball up the flank and then crossing into the middle, which happened 19 times against Jamaica and 33 (!) against Venezuela. Maybe this would be a more viable strategy if Romelu Lukaku or Mario Mandzukic were wreaking havoc in the middle, but that obviously is not the case . . . and probably still it wouldn't be the absolute best strategy. 

Ingredient No. 2: The arrogance component of sauce

The thing about the Jamaica and Venezuela friendlies wasn't that the players tried a bunch of things and failed a bunch of things; it was that nearly every pass was an abdication, the easiest way out of the immediate situation. Now maybe — if we're putting on the rose-tinted glasses — this is all building to something, and Berhalter is just laying the foundation before the next steps, but if you're a bit more cynical you're probably in shock of how timid, one-dimensional, and thoughtless the play appeared. 

There was no ambition, or very little of it. 

One part of that "very little" was Derby County's Duane Holmes, especially in his appearance in the Jamaica game. In an appearance off the bench, Holmes showed a willingness to carry the ball forward and confront defenders with the ball at his feet that nobody else really did. 

The U.S. need players like Holmes in the lineup, especially with a few guys out of the roster with injuries. Getting someone like Holmes minutes won't come without sacrifice, but at this point I find it really, really hard to fathom fielding Wil Trapp ahead of Holmes. But right now, the roster is the roster, and this is the sauciest (and most realistic) lineup I can come up with for the Gold Cup.

My Gold Cup XI:


Zack Steffen; Reggie Cannon, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, Daniel Lovitz; Duane Holmes**, Michael Bradley, Weston McKennie; Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Paul Arriola / Tyler Boyd*

*Whoever acts saucier at breakfast gets the nod

**Unfortunately, Holmes had to leave the U.S. Gold Cup squad because of injury

But this is what I'd like to see if every American were healthy and available, with a particular shout-out to Matthew Doyle's piece breaking down the players from the U-20 pool. 

My Everybody-Is-Available-And-Healthy XI:


Zack Steffen; Deandre Yedlin, Chris Richards, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson; Paxton Pomykal, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie; Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Timothy Weah

I don't' care what you think! This would be fun. A lot of fun.

The men's national team needs players who can break down defenders on the dribble, players who can crack lines with a pass, and players brave enough to fail spectacularly. You need sauce to make chicken parm, and right now the men have one of those extra-small cans that you get just in case you need a tiny bit more, but like obviously it's only meant to be a marginal addition and not the main source of sauce. 

Christian Pulisic can't do it alone, especially in Berhalter's system. The U.S. may indeed have a talent gap, but there are guys who have some flair, and (more importantly) guys who are willing to try. 

Get them on the field.