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The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

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U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team Season Preview

U.S. Mens National Soccer Team Season Preview
Reading Time: 7 minutes

With the sport of soccer growing in the U.S. and the 2024 Copa America fast approaching in June, many look to see what the United States’ men’s national soccer team can achieve in these years prior to hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

To showcase this, we’ll look at some of the individual players on the team, the team as a whole, and their upcoming matches. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

The USMNT is a very young squad, resulting from the complete reset of the team in 2020, after they failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

This poses both strengths and challenges for the players, as many of them are determined to right their team’s wrongs, as shown by the three continental trophies (Nations League 2021, Gold Cup 2021, Nations League 2023) they’ve won in the last 2 years, and a Round of 16 finish at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. 

The team even drew against England, where we renamed the sport from football to soccer and gave the Redcoats a run for their money.

Despite it being most players’ first World Cup, they performed quite well, truly highlighting the fresh batch of talent on the team.

Many of the team’s starters play for top tier European teams such as Italian teams Juventus and AC Milan, and Dutch team PSV Eindhoven.

Nonetheless, with age comes experience, and due to their young player base, is something the team truly lacks. Many of the players have only been on the team for about 3 years.

The team has decent amounts of quality in each position of the field, but were “completed” this summer when American-born but English-raised striker Folarin Balogun chose to represent the USMNT, having come off of a 22-goal season at French club Reims.

He chose the U.S. despite being eligible to play for England as well as Nigeria, breaking English hearts.

Adversely, one of the team’s perceived weaknesses is their coach, Gregg Berhalter. 

While this is very controversial, with many fans in favor of his style, and many against it, the point stands that Berhalter doesn’t use great tactics. He attempts to stick to a rigid system instead of building around the players that we have. 

From my personal experience watching the USMNT, I believe that Berhalter makes very questionable substitutions and subpar starting team sheets. 

One issue I’ve noticed is that at times, Berhalter substitutes players who had a great impact on the match, replacing them with lower-quality players that diffuse our momentum, even in times of dire need for a goal.

Many also feel that Berhalter is not great when it comes to offense, and his tactics don’t necessarily lend themselves well to high goalscoring.

“The team has grown faster than Berhalter has,” said junior Marley Hobbs.

One of the most obvious problems is the team’s complacency, which is most likely an effect of Gregg Berhalter. The team tends to sit back on a lead when they’re barely ahead, and often just accept a loss even when there’s still time remaining. 

This could be seen in the USMNT’s 3-0 win over Uzbekistan, where despite the one-sided scoreline, the team led by only one goal for most of the match and scored 2 at the end, letting the Uzbeks get most of the better chances. 

I feel like this could be due to a high ego when playing lesser opponents, but the situation is beginning to improve with the new generation of players.

The USMNT used an almost C-team for the 2023 Gold Cup; essentially gifting rivals Mexico the win after we lost to Panama, giving them something to smile about despite us thrashing them 3-0 in June.

Berhalter has also been embroiled in team-related controversy, centering on Giovanni Reyna, a player from Borussia Dortmund. Personal conflicts arose between them, leading Berhalter to limit Reyna’s game time at the 2022 World Cup. 

After the tournament, Reyna’s parents, Claudio and Danielle, both former USMNT and USWNT players themselves, informed the U.S. Soccer Federation of the cause of the dramaan argument between Berhalter and his wife in 1991—10 years before Gio Reyna was even born.

Berhalter was investigated by the USSF and consequently was removed from the head coach position in January, but made his return in June, despite interim head coach B.J. Callaghan not losing a single match during that time.

Some believe a prime opportunity to get rid of the coach was squandered.

 “Gregg Berhalter was really good for us for a while, but should’ve been replaced when we had the chance,” said Hobbs.

Nevertheless, under Berhalter, the team has flourished since 2020 and look to enter their golden generation within the coming years.

Upcoming Schedule

With both a 3-0 and 4-0 victory against Asian teams Uzbekistan and Oman in September, the USMNT looks to get similar results against tougher teams in October, playing against 4-time World Cup winners Germany on October 14th and African powerhouses Ghana on October 17th. 

Earlier this month, the USMNT picked their 23-man squad for the matches, with former captain and midfielder Tyler Adams missing out due to a hamstring injury.

Adams hasn’t been called up to a single USMNT squad since the World Cup last year, as his hamstring injury has been reaggrevated every time he’s played, with the inital injury occuring in March.

You’d think that after 7 straight months of this, they’d finally give him some darn rest.

Victories in these matches would prove vital for the team’s morale heading into November, where they will face an unseeded North American team in home and away fixtures, acting as qualifying for the 2024 Copa America in June.

This tournament will be hosted in the United States, where they will face the likes of South American giants Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay.

In 2016, the last time the Copa America was held in the U.S, the national team finished 4th after losing to Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the semi-finals.

The USMNT hope to defy the odds and record an even better result this time around, which would prove as a great checkpoint on their road to the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Christian Pulisic

As the USMNT captain, Christian Pulisic is often seen as one of the brightest talents the U.S. has to offer. He’s played 62 matches and scored 26 goals with the national team, the most of any current player. For his club teams, however, he’s fallen short of these expectations in recent years, with a lack of game time and frequent injuries at English club Chelsea FC.

A transfer of over 23 million dollars to AC Milan was seen as a potential solution, with a common belief that the Italian league would be a better fit for Pulisic’s style as a fast and technically skilled player, aiming to rejuvenate his career.

So far, he’s had a great start to the season, currently attributing 4 goal contributions for the team, with 4 goals and 1 assist in 10 matches.

Despite his transfer to a “smaller” side, he is still playing in the UEFA Champions League.

Pulisic consistently performs well for the USMNT as seen in recent matches against Mexico and Iran, and we can only hope that his revitalized form at his club team will help him continue to improve as both a player and leader for the United States.

Folarin Balogun

Folarin Balogun decided to represent the U.S. national team in May 2023, and has scored twice in 4 matches, winning the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League Final against Canada in his second match for the team.

He’s a highly regarded striker who can use his pace, good positioning, and ball control to make the most of any opportunity available to him.

His decision has sparked lots of attention, as many fans from the United States, England, and Nigeria alike were all trying to convince him to represent their national team. In the end, he chose the USMNT because he felt it was only right to represent his birth nation, and where he considered home.

One of the reasons Balogun was so sought after was due to his terrific club form in the French Ligue 1, the fourth highest scorer in the league, above the likes of then-PSG midfielder Lionel Messi.

These performances earned him a $42 million move to AS Monaco, a team who compete in the same league, but are currently tied for first.

Overall, Balogun has performed decently well, with 3 goals in 5 games and averaging a rating of 6.8/10 on the soccer news app FotMob, which is quite good for a striker who has joined a bigger team with more competition for game time.

Matt Turner

Matt Turner has been the USMNT’s starting goalkeeper since 2021, winning the Gold Cup in his first year with the team.

His good showings for the New England Revolution earned him both a spot on the national team and a move to English club Arsenal FC, the club that he’s supported his whole life. 

However, due to the prominence of English goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, he didn’t earn much playing time, despite playing well for both club and country, playing particularly well in the 2022 World Cup.

Due to his lack of game time, he was signed by historic club Nottingham Forest, a team who play alongside Arsenal in the Premier League. So far, he’s started in every game of the season, recording a clean sheet against Chelsea.

Some believe that he has been one of the most significant North American goalkeepers in recent years.

“He’s one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League,” said Hobbs, who is also an Arsenal fan. “He’s been great for Arsenal despite his short tenure with the club.”

It’s expected that as he begins to get more playing time, his consistency for the USMNT will continue to improve. 

Weston McKennie

Weston McKennie is one of the more seasoned players alongside Pulisic, having played for the team since 2017. He’s made 46 appearances and scored 11 goals for the United States.

He’s a highly versatile midfielder, showcasing both his offensive and defensive abilities. His unwavering commitment to the USMNT and his leadership within the team set a precedent for all to follow. 

McKennie has played for Juventus for the last 3 years, winning 2 trophies in the process. He’s grown to become a consistent starter for the team, which is something that not a lot of American players can attest to. 

Despite not always being the star player for the United States, he makes up the team’s backbone, and without him, they wouldn’t function the same.

Throughout his 6 years with the team, he’s become an important asset to the team, striving to help others be the same.

For the Future

The USMNT has been able to foster lots of young American talent lately, which will do them loads of good when these young players enter their prime years. As the popularity and accessibility of the sport grows here in the United States, the production of talent will increase. 

The USMNT has a very bright future and can do wonders at both the 2024 Copa America and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

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