1) However the midfield looks, make sure Tyler Adams is a six
A new cycle for the US began with a 2-0 loss to an obviously superior Brazil, a 1-0 victory over Mexico side just as youthful as the opposition, and a new set of questions regarding the midfield. Against Brazil, interim coach Dave Sarachan set up defensively, giving Wil Trapp, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams the start. The results were mixed and likely the product of playing a side boasting impressive depth and quality, as the US frequently conceded possession and did little with it once they got it back. Matters were not much better when Sarachan added Kellyn Acosta, another central midfielder, to the group against Mexico, as they hardly found a rhythm despite playing a more evenly-match opponent. Yet, one bright spot was Adams, who had a tough time against Brazil but still managed to do the defensive work and play smart passes to advance the ball. He excelled in the final 20 minutes against a 10-man Mexico, and also managed an intelligent 35-yard run to score his first international goal. While he can do a job on the right side, it is clear that the US may have figured out at least one part of the midfield puzzle after this pair of friendlies.
2) Miazga and Brooks emerge at top of center-back pecking order
It seems as if Sarachan has established a ranking of his available center-backs, with Miazga playing both matches during the international break. Brooks left camp early, but not before putting in a man-of-the-match display against Brazil. The two seemed to connect well despite conceding twice to the five-time world champions, doing well to limit the opponent as much as they could. Brooks, having already played in a World Cup, is one of the more experienced members of the new look USMNT, and was always expected to be a starter in this cycle. However, Miazga has established himself as the current favorite to join him in the backline, doing well in the air and positionally solid against both Brazil and Mexico. Cameron Carter-Vickers played in Brooks’s absence against Mexico and looks to be third in line, though that spot may be up for grabs considering he has yet to fully establish himself at international level.
3) Figure out what to do with too few wingers in the pool
The latest USMNT squad boasted many central midfielders, but few wingers. Julian Green was really the only midfielder able to play wide, though he has spent much of the last year in the center for Greuther Fürth and played there against Mexico. Adams and Acosta got minutes out wide, but neither are at their best in that position, while the missing Christian Pulisic might be in the same scenario despite being capable on the wing. The solution may be to give DeAndre Yedlin and Antonee Robinson attacking responsibilities while slotting in at right- and left-back, respectively. Yedlin in particular has the speed that is crucial in that role. That could lead to the US playing a back three, allowing Brooks, Miazga, and Carter-Vickers to play together.
4) Assess whether some of the more experienced players still have a role to play
Somewhat forgotten in the last ten months have been the leaders from the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. Since then, the team has quickly ushered in a younger generation of players that may comprise one of the better US rosters in recent history. Yet, there are some obvious holes in that pool. In addition to the lack of depth in wide positions, the US is lacking options at forward. Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes split starts against Brazil and Mexico, but neither truly impressed, while Andrija Novakovich got too few minutes to prove his worth one way or another. In that case, Jozy Altidore is arguably the player best suited to play up front. With spots relatively full at goalkeeper, center-back, and central midfield, those that are older, like Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron, may miss out if the US make it to the 2022 World Cup.
5) The USMNT needs a vision, delivered by a permanent head coach
While Sarachan’s work as an interim coach has bee useful – he has expanded the player pool and given young players opportunities – but he may have overstayed his welcome. The team lacks genuine personality under him, which is fine for a short period. However, it gives his successor less time to work with the players before the team returns to competitive action in next year’s Gold Cup. Sarachan’s conservative set-up leads to matches where the US looks aimless, making it very difficult to beat teams with more concrete philosophies. Additionally, any emerging issues on the pitch can only be solved by someone with a long-term plan in mind, which is a difficult ask of an interim manager. Only then can the US take advantage of its most exciting pool in recent memory, and perhaps realize the potential many have been discussing over the last year.