2018 was a year of transition for the United States Men’s National Team. With a new U.S. Soccer president, a new USMNT general manager, and finally a new head coach, change was all over the map during the year. Back at the beginning of the year, we made some bold predictions on what would happen to the men’s program in 2018. So, let’s discuss whether any of them happened or, conversely, how wrong the predictions may have been.
Christian Pulisic will emerge as the captain of the team for CONCACAF Nations League.
Well, while the USMNT did not participate in CONCACAF Nations League (it was announced in May that the League would not begin until 2019 after a qualifying round began this fall), Christian Pulisic did serve as the captain of the team...for one match. That match was the final one of the year against Italy. For the majority of 2018, the captain’s armband was on the arm of midfielder Wil Trapp. That seems like a trend that will hold into 2019, but most fans are hoping that Pulisic can continue to develop as a leader of this young team and eventually take the armband from Trapp.
Peter Vermes will be the next USMNT head coach.
After a 14-month search, U.S. Soccer finally hired a head coach on December 2nd. That coach was not Peter Vermes. Gregg Berhalter, who served as coach of Columbus Crew SC, was the hire by USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart. Vermes, who many thought would get some consideration, was never interviewed for the position. He joined a list of...every coach in the world except Oscar Pareja and Berhalter that were coaches that were not interviewed by U.S. Soccer for the head coach position.
Bill Hamid will beat out Zack Steffen for the #1 goalkeeper spot.
At the beginning of the year, it looked that then-interim head coach Dave Sarachan preferred Bill Hamid over Zack Steffen for the starting goalkeeper job. He had been the lone goalkeeper to be on the roster for the USMNT throughout the entirety of the 2017 Gold Cup (with him getting a clean sheet in the last, vital, group stage match), and he appeared in games against Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Still, with Hamid’s status at FC Midtjylland in Denmark being a backup who only received a few appearances, his rust showed in a 2-1 loss to Ireland. The next match, against France, Zack Steffen got the start and was incredible in a 1-1 draw to the eventual World Cup champions. Even with Hamid’s loan back to D.C. United and having a remarkable run down the stretch, he did not receive another call up the rest of the year, and Zack Steffen emerged as Sarachan’s #1 the rest of the way. Steffen appears to be the guy who will continue as the #1, with Hamid not even being called in for January Camp in a head-scratching move. We will see how the dust settles in the goalkeeper race, but with Berhalter in charge, Steffen will likely get the opportunity to wear the #1 shirt full time.
Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will have a testimonial final match for the USMNT.
Neither player appeared for the USMNT in 2018, with Tim Howard struggling for the Colorado Rapids and Clint Dempsey abruptly retiring from soccer in August. Dempsey, who left the international game tied with Landon Donovan for the most goals in USMNT history, had many fans calling for a testimonial match for the legend. Neither player received one, however. It’s unclear if one will ever be arranged for either player, Dempsey especially, but the window to have it may have already closed.
Weston McKennie will be the new engine for the USMNT.
You know what? We may have a winner here. Weston McKennie became one of the young guys that emerged as one of the main pieces of a young midfield core this year, alongside Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, and Tim Weah. Fans clearly want to see McKennie in the lineup, and Sarachan relied on him heavily in 2018. Weston McKennie was a bull for the USMNT in the middle, and will be one of the main pieces of the midfield engine in 2019 as well. Whew, glad we got something right!
The USMNT will not lose a game after May.
So...yeah...what we meant here is that the USMNT will not lose a game through May. After May...well, it was a bloodbath. After a draw against Bosnia and wins against Paraguay and Bolivia, the USMNT went 1-5-2 the rest of the way, their only win being against Mexico on September 11th. Glad we got that McKennie prediction right, because this one was way off.
We drew France! That’s right, we drew them in Lyon, a match that sparked their team to just go out and win the 2018 World Cup. We did that! We didn’t do anything else though. We never played Germany, and the match against England, in Wembley Stadium in November, was probably the team’s worst showing of the year. England destroyed the USMNT 3-0, and it really wasn’t even as close as that final score would indicate.
The USMNT will end 2018 ranked in the Top 15.
The USMNT finished the year at 25th in the FIFA World Rankings, and even though they moved to a ELO-based system in August, they were pretty consistent in the rankings throughout the year. They were as high as 22nd in August, and 25th is the lowest they were the entire year. They didn’t approach breaking into the Top 20, much less the Top 15. 25th might be right about where they should be, and 2019 will be about getting the results necessary to move them up the list into the Top 20.
That was 2018, ladies and gentlemen. It was a year of transition and once that almost everyone will want to forget. Nothing went to plan, and looking back, it seems appropriate in a way. Hit the comments to highlight if you predicted anything that came true or what you thought of 2018 as a whole. May all of you have a safe New Year’s Eve, and we’ll see you in 2019!