"We are 53 days away from the U.S.’s opening World Cup match against Wales, and I have to warn you, we are not in a good place. And by we, I mean me. But I know it's not just me. On our Do It Live! Post Game show, we talked with American fans about their feelings and their questions as we hurtle into this World Cup. We are feeling it profoundly, because — after the failure in 2017 — we have dreamed and yearned and ached for this World Cup – just as we know the USMNT players have ached for this World Cup."
But in these last two friendlies – the insipid, impotent, idealess slumber of a defeat to Japan, who played a simple, basic press that made us buckle, followed by a shaky, scoreless draw with a second-string Saudi Arabia team (who did not even start Allan Saint-Maximin, Alexander Isak, and other first-teamers) we depart having summoned... two shots on goal for the whole window? The U.S. men have picked a terrible time to learn about the concept of Quiet Quitting,
We are in danger of being capsized by an approach in which we have allowed the manager to persuade us his system is more important than his players' form, or their ability to influence games as individuals. When he took over the team, Gregg said, "We want to change how the world views American soccer." We always just assumed he meant for the better. If we do not use the time between now and the Wales game carefully, it might turn out to be for the worse.
We leave this window with so many variables. Many of them self-inflicted. Why is there no single captain on a team that cries out for leadership? Our striker depth chart is no clearer. Gregg’s favorites Jesus Ferreira, and the cruelly freefalling Ricardo Pepi failed to make an impact. Despite being in the club form of his life, Josh Sargent was not able to take his Ginger curls onto the field against the Saudis which must have killed him. The mystery of Pefok’s absence only thickens as the Union Berlin twitter feed has essentially become a USMNT troll.
Another major area of concern is center back. Aaron Long would not be my first choice. Not even just of Center Backs with the surname Long. Huey. Howie. Even Shelley would arguably be better with the ball at their feet. Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers cannot get fit quick enough.
As for goalkeeper, Gregg continues to mention Zack Stefen every time he is asked about Matt Turner. If that is the case, then our backup goalkeeper was Man of the Match for two straight games, and Gregg is simply playing favorites. Or lost in the maze of his own system.
In his post-match Saudi Arabia press conference, Gregg admitted the execution had been poor. A journalist asked if the games had given him clarity on anything to which he applied it had. When asked in follow-up for more specifics, he said
Watching that, I just knew, if an English manager tried to treat the British media that way, they would be destroyed. Especially if these “things” included behind-the-back bounce passes moments before the US coughed up possession in the middle of the pitch? Or as Stu Holden insinuated in broadcast: signaling what set-piece play to run by the number of times a player bounces a ball during a corner kick. Peak Gregg. Obsessing about the flourishes and the micro details, but on the big-picture, meat-and-potatoes footballing basics in this window? Not so much.
On a personal level, I will admit that I watched this US window in horror, because it reminded me of watching the English teams of my youth. And not in a good way. Great players — really good players who shone for their clubs — all combining to underwhelm as a collective when playing for the national team. The pressure they felt. The fear. The lack of an idea of what was expected of them. The very weight of the shirts, which seemed to weigh them down as if they were made of chainmail. I feel like we’re seeing the weight of the shirt for these American kids. For our Baby Eagles.
There are 53 days to kick off as I type. What can we change? First of all, we need to get real.
When I speak to people at US Soccer — and I love many of the people that have worked there — but occasionally they will compare the current US squad to France 2018, or Spain 2010. And I am always like, My God, I love the US team. And I believe in it. But can we are not Spain 2010. We are not France 2018. We are a middling football power with deep aspirations. And a belief – which I share –that we are building… and we will get there.
But we are not there yet.
There is part of American fandom that is so different to English support. The English love to mock their players almost as much as they love to see them win. But American football fans, in time of panic, have an amazing ability to drop back and draw on moments of wonder. I have had so many letters and tweets telling me to remember that the Miracle on Ice team lost their last warm-up game before the Olympics. Please don't "at" me any more with the Herb Brooks comparisons. The only thing we have in common with 1980 USA Hockey is that it feels like we need a miracle right now.
The line that pisses me off the most is this. When we are told "This team is so young, we are not focused on this cycle; we are focused on 2026." That is BS. First of all. You get no medals for fielding a young team. Not when Tim Ream is available. But above all, the World Cup is such a wonder, because it is so rare, coming every four years. meaning you can NEVER squander them. This is not the NFL where you can tank a season, and then get a great draft pick and go again.
You just don't tank a World Cup. You go with the best squad you've got, and play with EVERYTHING you have. And there are no medals for being so young. Not when there is the aforementioned Tim Ream having the season of his life, aged 34. John Brooks. He has been through this before. It is currently unknown why he is not part of the squad. If he was difficult for Gregg to manage, then Gregg should say so. Because ignoring it? Or just mentioning it in passing, Gregg is undermining himself. This is the same with Pefok. If there is a reason for leaving them out, then tell us more. Explain it. Because there is only so long you can protect the player, and try and protect yourself, without it soiling you. And that is where Gregg is right now. That is the quandary. Being honest with us is better that saying vague things about "systems," and "personality,” and "things."
I retain belief that this is a squad filled with so much potential and talent. We have 53 days to work out why, right now, it seems less, far less, than the sum of its parts.