Monday Musings

Ranking the World Cup final, US Soccer's awards, Yanks return to clubs, and more

It's Monday morning and ASN's Brian Sciaretta gives his thoughts on Argentina's epic win and the news stories in U.S. Soccer
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 19, 2022
2:00 AM

THE SOCCER WORLD has a new champion as the World Cup trophy will return to South America for the first time since 2002 and to Argentina for the first time since 1986. The final will go down as one of the most memorable games of all time for both the quality and the storylines that surrounded the meeting between France and Argentina.

For American Soccer, it was a quieter weekend ahead of what promises to be a very eventful period to end December and continue through January. The January transfer window could be a very busy time, and possibly see movement of top national team players. The men’s national team will reconvene for January camp – but who will be the coach? That will be a critical decision for the federation. MLS preseason is set to begin shortly after the new year and then on January 19, the U.S. U-20 team will hold its first camp of 2023 ahead of May’s U-20 World Cup opener.

So there is a lot going on. But let’s get right into it.


The Great World Cup final


The World Cup final was one of the best games in the history of the fabled tournament and Argentina was crowned the champion after a shootout win following a 3-3 draw.

Argentina stormed out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Lionel Messi (from the spot) in the 23rd minute and then Angel DiMaria in the 36th minute.

When it seemed France was done, they stormed back with two goals in 90 seconds, both from Kylian Mbappe. In extratime, Messi scored again in the 108th minute when VAR ruled that he was onside and that the ball crossed the line. Mbappe then equalized dramatically from the spot in the 118th minute to send the game to a shootout.


Some thoughts on the game:

Greatest World Cup final ever: Many people are heralding this game as the best World Cup final ever. They’re not wrong. This game had it all - the talent, the drama, the incredible playmaking. Too many times, there are great tournaments only to be seen with a final that’s a dud. The three finals in the 90s and the 2002 final were among the weaker games in the tournament. It wasn’t until the 2006 final when Italy defeated France where people were rewarded with a good final game.

Argentina’s intensity: for the first 80 minutes, Argentina simply had more intensity and France struggled to connect passes together. Argentina played with far more of a purpose than France into the second half and were winning duel after duel while forcing turnovers. But France, like all great teams, was able to find another level.

Didier Deschamps: the French manager had a ton of guts. It’s not easy to decide to remove Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud before halftime. But he was not content with how the team was playing and knew when to make a spark. In the end, his team rallied from a two-goal deficit to force extratime and then again to force penalties. But Deschamps had to make some very tough decisions along the way in the biggest of games. Not a lot of managers would have made these calls.

Kylian Mbappe: While he didn’t win his second World Cup, Mbappe played like one of the best players in the world. Three goals and a converted shootout attempt in a final is a massive effort. This was Messi’s game but Mbappe is only 23 and already has an incredible legacy. He’s already scored four goals in two World Cup finals.


Alexis Mac Allister was the unsung hero: Everyone talks about Messi – and they should. Everyone knows Angel Di Maria. But Alexis Mac Allister was the unsung hero of this game for Argentina. Not only did he pick up an assist, he was so tenacious with his defense in the midfield that he did a lot to keep France quiet for the first 80 minutes of the game. The Brighton & Hove midfielder was instrumental in helping to deliver the World Cup trophy.

Messi is the greatest: Did Messi need to win the World Cup to be considered the greatest player ever? No. Before this tournament, his club legacy was superior, and he’s done all that he can with Argentina. Now that he’s won a World Cup and has carried Argentina to the top, the legacy is his. Here are just a few of his achievements:

  • 10 La Liga titles,
  • 1 Ligue 1 title
  • 4 Champions League titles
  • 7 Copa del Rey titles
  • 3 FIFA Club World Cups
  • 1 Olympic Gold Medal
  • 1 World Cup
  • 1 Copa America
  • 7 Ballon d'Or trophies
  • 6 La Liga Best Players

But what happened on Sunday was the career moment of the game’s greatest player.


Yanks in the Championship


While not many Americans have been playing club games during the World Cup, there have been a few in the Championship. This weekend saw four Americans get into games – mostly uneventful.

Zack Steffen started for 10th place Middlesbrough in an ugly 3-1 loss to Burnley. The Pennsylvania native did not get great reviews for his performance, and you can see why.

On another note, Matthew Hoppe was not in the squad for Middlesbrough has his move to the Championship has not gone well. He did not factor into the teams plans under the first manager, Chris Wilder, and is now also struggling under Michael Carrick.

Lynden Gooch started and did nothing of note for 12th place Sunderland in a 1-1 away draw with relegation battling Hull City.

United States World Cup forward Josh Sargent played all 90 minutes for Norwich City in a tough 2-0 home loss to Blackburn.

Daryl Dike made his first start for West Bromwich Albion since returning from injury. The Oklahoma native played 57 minutes in a 3-0 win over Rotherham United but did not factor into either of the goals while he was on the field. Dike was coming off a marvelous appearance off the bench in a 2-1 win over Sunderland when he assisted and scored to turn a 1-0 deficit into a late win. In this game, he was not as sharp. This was still his first start and he will likely continue to be eased back into a big role within the club.


Duane Holmes was dropped from last-place Huddersfield's squad for Saturday’s 2-0 loss at home to Watford. With the January window approaching and Holmes in the midst of a tough season, perhaps he will be closing in on a move?


US Soccer Awards


U.S. Soccer announced the candidates for its year-end awards.

For the Male Player of the Year in 2022: Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Matt Turner were nominated.

While Tyler Adams should be the favorite to win the award for captaining the U.S. team in Qatar and playing well for Leeds United so far in the Premier League season, Tim Ream has probably the strongest case. In 2022 Tim Ream:

  • Captained most of Fulham's games
  • Led Fulham to promotion into the Premier League
  • Led Fulham to end 2022 in the top 10 of the Premier League
  • Played over 99% of Fulham’s minutes
  • Had an outstanding 2022 World Cup in Qatar.


On a side note, with Tim Ream, it will be very interesting to see what he does after this season. Will St. Louis make a push to sign him to join their inaugural season this summer? Will Fulham offer to bring him back for another year in 2023/24?

For the Young Male Player of the Year in 2022: Paxten Aaronson, Yunus Musah, Chris Brady, Diego Kochen, and Josh Wynder were nominated.

This one shouldn’t be close as Musah was a starter at Valencia and a starter for the U.S. team in Qatar. The rest are youth national team players with a mixed level of first-team experience (Wynder was the only first-team starter outside of Musah, but his was with Louisville in USL).

Paxten Aaronson will likely finish second after helping to guide the U.S. U-20 team to the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. That saw them qualifying for the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.


Other notes


The Scottish Premiership resumed with Rangers defeating Hibernian 3-2 on Thursday and then Celtic defeating Aberdeen 1-0. Malik Tillman assisted twice for Rangers in the win and Cameron Carter-Vickers stood out for Celtic in the cleansheet. The result saw both players names to the SPL Team of the Week.

Rokas Pukstas assisted for Hadjuk Split in a 4-3 friendly win over Schalke on Saturday. The U.S. U-20 midfielder has been taking big steps within Hadjuk Split’s first team the past two months. He has been building his case to make the U.S. U-20 team despite a rough September camp where he played out of position as a No. 6.

Ricardo Pepi scored for Groningen in a 3-2 friendly win over Metz. The Texan opened the scoring with a very nice header.

With Pepi, so much of the debate will be with him returning to the full national team in 2023 as it seems unlikely he will feature at the U-20 World Cup.

The FIFA Club World Cup will take place February 1-11 in Morocco. The Seattle Sounders will take part and the timing of the tournament could not be any worse given that Seattle will be just two weeks into their preseason and will not have played a game since September.

  • Flamengo (BRA) CONMEBOL
  • Real Madrid (ESP) UEFA
  • Al Hilal (KSA) AFC
  • Al Ahly (EGY) CAF
  • Seattle Sounders (USA) CONCACAF
  • Auckland City(NZL)OFC
  • Wydad AC (MAR) CAF

Also noted from a recent FIFA announcement:


All of this is good news from U.S. Soccer perspective.

The U-17 becoming annual helps to include all birth years since it was rare for players of the younger birth-years of a two-year U-17 cycle to be included. This will help keep more young players involved in a development system.

There will now be more opportunities for the national team to schedule non-CONCACAF games. That has been very challenging in recent years but this will open up more opportunities.

The fact that the Club World Cup is expanding will also open doors for MLS teams to take part but hopefully it will be in midseason (or at least not as deep into preseason as 2023).

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