Earnie_stewart_and_gregg_berhalter_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_together_on_usmnt_bench_-_january_2019_-_john_dorton John Dorton/ISI Photos
USMNT preview

USMNT preview: 5 questions ahead of Ecuador friendly

The USMNT will finally have its full slate of players under a new coach tonight in Orlando against Ecuador. ASN's Brian Sciaretta previews the team's next step under Gregg Berhalter. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 21, 2019
10:55 AM
THE GREGG BERHALTER-ERA of the United States national team will take another big step forward tonight when the team hosts Ecuador in Orlando and for the first time since the coaching change, a full-contingent of players will be available to take part.

Berhalter has already indicated that here will be positional switches at had as Tyler Adams will take the “inverted” right back role to cut inside during possession and that DeAndre Yedlin will be used as a right wing.

While it will take time for Berhalter’s plan to take root within the U.S. team, the new manager also stressed that that he is flexible and if things do not work out, he will shift to a different approach. So at the moment, the situation seems very fluid within the team. It’s important to note that this is just the beginning of a long process that will make the most of a talented new core of players.

But every area off the field right now has questions and with that in mind, here is what to watch for tonight.

Does the team look happy and eager to buy into a system?

Before getting into the specifics of the lineup regarding tactics and player selections, the most important question by far will be the team’s mindset and eagerness to begin the process of building a team.

In the fallout of the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup we read reports from players such as Geoff Cameron who highlighted rifts among the players. The team rarely played up to the sum of its parts and did not look happy to be on the field. It began under Jurgen Klinsmann and continued under Bruce Arena.

Under Dave Sarachan in 2018, the rosters were young and talented but often lacked a set game plan and things changed from camp to camp as the team was not building towards anything.

It has been a long time since the national team had a fresh slate, consisted of many younger players, and was under a new manager with time to implement a long-term vision. Will the players buy into it? Will they become visibly frustrated if it doesn’t work out right away? Will they be visibly excited about the approach?

If the team and players are eager to buy into the vision and approach, then the most important hurdle is cleared and the potential can be maximized? If not, then many of the problems in recent years could continue.

Can central midfield disrupt?

It is easy to see why Berhalter is intrigued about having Tyler Adams play right back in his system. Adams has the engine to get involved in central midfield with the ball while also getting back on the right flank to cover defensively. For Leipzig and previously the Red Bulls, he slanted to the right offensively and could get forward. Also, while he is very efficient with his passing, he might not have the passing range to hit long passes as well as others in the pool.

But there is a huge drawback, Adams is a special player when it comes to forcing turnovers and being a disruptive force. The number don’t lie as Leipzig has conceded just one goal over 747 minutes with Adams on the field. By taking him out of the midfield when his team doesn’t have the ball, other players will need to step up defensively in that area of the field.

It is understandable why Berhalter will want players like Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp (or in the future, someone else) in central midfield who have a deep passing range to be able to connect with anyone in the front five from a variety of areas on the field, but can those players step up defensively as well and win back possession once lost.

Adams is truly gifted in that area and if the right back experiment doesn’t work, then perhaps Behalter moves in the direction of moving Adams into a dual No. 6 role alongside someone with a big passing range.

Who will provide the width?

As with last cycle, the team still needs more players who are comfortable attacking from wide positions. Between wingers and fullbacks, the options are not many.

The left backs on the roster, Daniel Lovitz and Tim Ream, seem to be inclined to stay back and not press forward. Tyler Adams at right back will cut inside (as will Nick Lima if he plays the position).

In terms of wingers, how will DeAndre Yedlin fill that role in getting forward? He has the speed to do so and has been playing a wingback role at Newcastle, but the winger role on the U.S. team will be different. He’s tried it the past with limited success but he will have different players surrounding him, perhaps it will yield a different result.

Paul Arriola played very well in January camp and seemed to be a good fit for Berhalter. His final ball improved a lot with DC United in 2018 but can he continue that against harder opponents? The strength of Arriola is also that his defensive instincts as winger are also much stronger than others in the pool. If his final ball can match that, he’s got potential to do really well with the U.S. team this cycle.

The left side wing is harder to figure out. Will Pulisic drift out wide as one of the dual No. 10 players? That is certainly possible. Will Jordan Morris play that role and cut inside? Has his left-foot improved enough to be a threat from that area of the field?

Can forwards reliably finish?

Gyasi Zardes was inconsistent with his finishing during January camp and that has often let him down with the U.S. team in the past. But he is shaking off his preseason form and has been pretty decent to start the 2019 season with Columbus. His best attributes have often been with his aerial ability and it will be telling if he can carry that over to the national team under a coach who is very familiar with him as a player. But Zardes could have a short leash if he continues to waste opportunities.

Christian Ramirez looked very promising in January camp – not only with his finishing but also with his movement and ability to combine well with the wingers and dual No. 10 players. He starts for one of the best teams in MLS in Los Angeles FC where he combines with very talented players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rubio. It would not be surprising if he is a better fit for the U.S. team moving forward than Zardes.

Can Brooks establish consistency?

John Brooks is one of the most naturally talented American central defenders to come through the ranks. But in his history with the U.S. team, he has often been inconsistent and unreliable. This has also been the case at times for him with Hertha BSC and Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.

While Brooks has had some up and down moments this season for Wolfsburg, the season has been a huge improvement from 2017/18 when the club narrowly avoided relegation. In 2018/19 it within striking distance of earning a spot in the Europa League next year.

Getting reliable and consistently good performances out of Brooks is one of the biggest and most important challenges for Berhalter at the start of his tenure. Brooks has so many strengths that can help the team. His passing out of the back can relieve a lot of pressure and help with the midfield with possession. He can win a lot of balls in the air while also being a threat on set pieces. The potential is there for him to be an enormous asset but can Berhalter maximize that potential?

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