Let us pause and give the USMNT entire organization a well deserved round of applause for recognizing the failures of 2018 and boldly changing courses and then executing this turnaround almost flawlessly to this point! We went from old and slow and tired to the youngest team in the worlds top 100 (by a wide margin - over 1 full year younger!). We have given many different players chances to prove themselves in an effort to create depth, competition, and give ourselves the best chance to find the best combination players. And the best part is we have found ways to win more than any team in our region WHILE developing young players. Many of these very young players have not spent much time on the pitch together. This continues to present a major challenge as we try to coalesce into a world power. It also presents us with a great opportunity to improve more quickly than our peers over the next twelve months.
We stand a great chance to qualify for our first world cup in 8 years and that alone should be reason for great excitement. (Two say nothing of hoisting two trophies along the way!)
The real question moving forward is how to go from very good to great? We are a very good team right now already - despite what many in our fan base wants to say. As young as we are, as inexperienced as we are, we have accomplished a great deal in the last 12 months! So how do we get better faster than any team in the world from here until we kickoff for the first time in the 2022 WC?
As we all know it starts with getting the right players on the pitch at the same time AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. But before that we need to identify who the very best 11 plus the top back ups/ subs are. And we have quite a ways to go in this department. The sooner we accomplish this the better because they need to log minutes together on the pitch.
What do we know for sure in terms of lineup? If healthy: Adams will man the 6. Pulisic will be in the line up - almost assuredly at wing - probably on the left side. Mckennie will start in the midfield in front of Adams. Dest will play right back. Reyna will be on the pitch, probably at the opposite wing as Christian but not assuredly as he could see time at AM or #9. From there we have almost no guarantees. We figure Musah, Weah, and Aaronson are 3 guys fighting for somewhere between 1, 2, and even 3 spots. Pepi looked beyond average this window and lacks suddenness, top speed, and brute strength. He also doesn't process incredible technicality. None of that is to say he isn't the best we have but so far what we know we have isn't up to international snuff at the #9. We need to identify the best person to utilize this position in our chosen line up of 4-4-3. Could it be Weah? Or Reyna? Getting both of them on the pitch at the same time will still having room for Musah to play midfield. Or could it be Pefok, or Dike, or Sargent, or even Morris? Identifying the absolute best use of this position will go along ways at determining our ceiling as a WC contender. Currently this is our weakest position with right back in that mix as well.
Next we need to identify who our best goal keeper is. Many will argue that it is a done deal with Steffen but I believe his shot stopping and lack of consistent minutes during his club season will hinder us in the long run. I love Turner and would be willing to let him go through some growing pains in terms of distribution over the next year so that he can be ready to do what we ask of him by the time we kick off in Qatar.
Left back is an area of weakness as it currently stands. A. Robinson checks many boxes physically but his touch is suspect at the international level and it is possible that Scally provides us with a better option down the road. We need to find this out - sooner rather than later. A. Robinson just doesn't have enough skill on the ball to pair with Pulisic to create a deadly leftside.
Centerback is a position that is still up in the air. It looks like it is a four horse race for 2 spots. I don't think anyone on the planet has a great read on how this is going to turn out. And to be frank no matter how it turns out I don't think we are going to be calling this a strength of the team anytime soon. The best we can hope for is that it isn't a weakness against top competition. And it would be huge to get some timely aerial goals from this group on set pieces.
As far as style of play goes - Pepi doesn't really scream "high press" and neither does that seem the best use of the gas in Pulisic's tank. Not to mention if we aren't going to be playing CB's with blazing speed do we really want to dare keep a high back line against the England's of the world? Another issue is our over reliance of using wide space in the final 3rd especially as we get down near the penalty box. We don't seem to encourage Musah to bring the ball down the middle the pitch. Where is our "attacking" mid-fielder / false 9? And last game especially we were asking Musah and Busio to gather the ball way too deep in our own half.
In summary: who is our 9? And do we have anyone capable playing at the level necessary to compete with the best 10 teams in the world? How are we going to get Musah, Weah, Reyna, and Pulisic on the pitch at the same time? One of those guys is going to have to show some position flex. Is Aaronson going to be the second odd man out? Is there someone better than A Robinson to get forward and help the offense from the LB spot?
I would love to hear from what some of you think about those questions. Also are there better or different questions that need to be answered?