Scuffed, Vol. 3 ∞ April 4, 2017

The central midfield problems for the U.S. were once again exposed last week in Panama City. Extended highlights here. We were lucky not to lose the match, and only a moment of individual brilliance from Pulisic (and a mistake by Panama center back Felipe Baloy) gave us the goal that salvaged the draw. It was a Panamanian romp through the middle all night long, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones unable to protect our makeshift back line or find the feet of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey in attack when we had the ball. It was hard to watch. The choppy field didn’t help and neither did the 85 degree weather, but the dismal central play got hands to wringing across the U.S. soccer commentariat. Matt Doyle called for the end of the Jermaine Jones era. Jones has since fired back at his critics: “Bring me the guy who is better in that position and shows that week to week in the league,” he said. Kellyn Acosta replaced Jones for the last 15 minutes but didn’t have much of a chance to impress in a match that was already a shambles for the U.S. It seems we are stuck with Bradley. Very hard to imagine he won’t be our captain and full-time #6 through qualifying and in Russia. Turning to a replacement for Jones (if we are to play with two defensive midfielders), I’m not persuaded that Acosta, or Alejandro Bedoya or Sacha Kljestan or Benny Feilhaber is the guy. It’s time to give Emerson Hyndman a shot with the first team. The 20-year-old, as I mentioned two weeks ago, has been a revelation for Glasgow’s Rangers FC. If you don’t believe me, look at the team’s Reddit (no joke, for honest assessments of young Americans abroad, nothing is better than the brutal candor of club subreddits). Someone asked how Hyndman is doing and here is a sampling from a fanbase that doesn’t dish out compliments lightly:

  • “Handled the Old Firm game like a hardened and seasoned pro. Which is great praise for a lad his age.”
  • “He’s been fantastic. Clearly a cut above anything else we have and very possibly the best central midfielder in the league.”
  • “Can’t say much kinder than that we would very much like to buy him. He is intelligent on the ball, with a killer pass and a great scoring touch. He should gain a bit of that additional toughness that will round his game out even more up here with us…”
  • “I think what has impressed me most is that he could easily have just hidden amidst our poor form and upheaval. Wouldn’t be the first loan player to blame a poor loan on the club being in a bad state. But he didn’t. He took a lot of responsibility and dragged the team to a few points. He’s a very intelligent player but this showed a mental toughness that should serve him well.”
  • And then, the ultimate compliment, tongue in cheek: “He has not been very good honestly Bournemouth should just cut their losses and let him join us on a free.”

Hyndman has succeeded in Glasgow (where Gedion Zelalem failed, I’ll add) with quality and hard work. He knows how to fake a faint Scottish brogue. Seems like a good kid. More important, he can connect the defense to the offense in a way that nobody else in the U.S. pool has proven capable of. I feel pretty good saying that. And even though he missed two decent chances over the weekend, it’s time for Bruce to call him up and give him a chance. Camp before the qualifiers in June against T&T and Mexico would be a good place to start.

I thought Darlington Nagbe again looked decent against Panama. Wish he was more of an attacking threat, but his assurance on the ball is a much-needed calming influence. Another good performance for Jorge Villafana at left back. Altidore and Dempsey looked bad, which could be pinned on the midfield, but also reminded me that we missed Bobby Wood’s tenacity and fitness on a night when both were needed. Wood was again a disruptive force over the weekend for a resurgent Hamburg, who won and have lifted themselves out of the relegation zone.

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Pulisic. Two big rivalry battles happened over the weekend and I have some glancing Christian Pulisic thoughts from them. One was Dortmund-Schalke, Germany’s biggest derby, which ended in a 1–1 draw. It was a sloppy match and Pulisic, who’d come off two 90-minute performances in the international break, didn’t see the field until the 87th minute. I expect he will start today against Hamburg. (Also, Weston McKennie wasn’t in the squad for Schalke, so reports of his arrival as a first-teamer are still premature. But watch this interview and I dare you to say he doesn’t look like a future USMNT captain.) The other big derby was Liverpool-Everton, and it was another display of wonderful Jurgen Klopp football. Liverpool, who won 3–1, is absolutely scintillating with the high press and quick counterattack, and watching them brings to mind for me the constant rumors that Klopp (who managed Dortmund when Pulisic arrived there) is still trying to lure the American teenager to Liverpool. I’m in agreement with conventional wisdom that Pulisic should stay at Dortmund for the time being, but if he can earn his way to Liverpool eventually, wow, what a brand of football they play, and what a stage that would be, next to Coutinho (maybe the best player in the world right now?!), Emre Can and Sadio Mane. The young American is not there yet but I hope he is in two years.

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MLS notes. Watched some of the scoreless draw between Atlanta-Seattle on Friday. Three things: 1) Jordan Morris’s stock is falling. He’s just not there yet, folks. 2) Christian Roldan is the hardest working man in American soccer. His final ball is ragged, but I hope he gets another look from Bruce Arena. 3) Clint Dempsey is a tale of two stories. On one hand he brings a huge spark, on the other he can be awfully wasteful. Both were on display Friday.

Tyler Adams got another start for New York Red Bulls, though they lost 4–1. They have big problems as a team, not sure he can solve them.

Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived in Chicago this past week, and a reporter asked him if he thinks the Chicago Fire can win the World Cup. Then Schweinsteiger scored 17 minutes into his debut.

FC Dallas is in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals tonight against Mexican side Pachuca. It’ll be tough for them to get an away result. I’ll be checking in to see how Kellyn Acosta looks.

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Minnesota. I went to my first MLS match Saturday — Minnesota United vs Real Salt Lake. It was two of the worst teams in the league, in a football stadium painted with Golden Gophers colors, on artificial turf thick with crumb rubber, but I was absolutely struck by how good these guys are when you see them in person. Love the way the crowd rises to its feet whenever either team is threatening near the goal. Several nice passages of play from the Loons, and they were rewarded with the first MLS victory in franchise history. Highlights here. I’ll be back for more matches this summer.

Scuffed is an experimental weekly soccer newsletter focused on the U.S. Men’s National Team, and the players who could one day make it better. Please share it with anyone you think might want to sign up. Address disagreements and criticism to adambelz@gmail.com

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