Column

Soccer in the States: United States Men’s National Team leaves much to be desired in pre-World Cup friendly

The World Cup is nearly two months away, and the USMNT might not be ready.

Walker Zimmerman is being pulled down by Shuto Machino. Zimmerman is wearing a white jersey with blue shorts and Machino is wearing a blue jersey with white shorts.

“Soccer in the States” is a column by Adam Jasper about U.S. soccer and the World Cup.

My alarm goes off at 5:25 a.m. on a Friday morning. Against the forces of nature, I find my way out of bed and to the TV. The United States is playing soccer again. All is good.

Before you ask, yes, I did wake up early on a Friday to watch the United States Men’s National Team play against Japan. In a non-competitive match. I swear I’m not insane (hard to believe, I know).

I couldn’t help it. The U.S. is preparing for its first World Cup appearance since 2014 and, more notably, since its failure to qualify in 2017. I have to take in any and every bit of film on this team before some of the biggest games in U.S. soccer history.

Remember just two paragraphs ago when I said all is good? Well, that was kind of a lie. The USMNT lost 2-0 Friday morning.

There is an overwhelming amount of loose ends to tie up before November. So, without further ado, here are my most pressing questions as the U.S. prepares to leave for Qatar.

No. 1: Does Gregg really know what he’s doing on the road?

We’ve all been asking this question for a long time. To this day, manager Gregg Berhalter still hasn’t given me concrete proof that he is the right person for the job. He has put together some truly impressive performances in big moments at home while also failing to inspire in equally important fixtures away. It’s a rollercoaster with him.

While I do think this USMNT team will eventually require a truly top-tier manager to unlock its full potential, we’re too close to the World Cup to make any drastic changes. Berhalter is here to stay for at least the next few months. He has an opportunity to silence the doubters (myself included) once and for all. This friendly against Japan in Germany did absolutely no silencing.

I don’t trust Berhalter to tactically organize his squad to utilize all the talent at his disposal when not playing at home. Plain and simple.

In the friendly, it was clear the U.S. was struggling to cope with Japan’s press. Berhalter provided no answer to this and was lucky that Japan decided to sit back in the second half (and the U.S. still conceded).

The USMNT always, and I mean always, looks flat on the road. It’s not the players. It’s not the conditions. It’s the setup. I’m about as faithful to Berhalter heading into the World Cup as Adam Levine is to his partners — not at all.

No. 2: Who’s the striker?

The number nine is the most hotly contested position in this team, without a doubt. There’s one starting spot and four to five guys who have a chance to fill the role.

The most likely candidate to start is forward Jesus Ferreira. He’s got the agility and the positioning to thrive in the USMNT system. His fatal flaw is that he can’t finish. He just can’t. He’s not clinical, and missing big chances is the last thing the U.S. can afford in the World Cup.

Ferreira missed an open header from no more than six yards out in the first half against Japan. And he really didn’t do anything else particularly noteworthy. The problem is, his replacement didn’t make a mark either.

Forward Josh Sargent played in the second half, and while I think he was marginally better than Ferreira, he still didn’t prove to be a difference maker. I’ve always been a Sargent sympathizer, even when he was unjustly cast out of the team for the larger part of this year. That being said, I don’t know if his club form is going to translate to the national team.

No one is really standing out up front, and it’s clear that it’s hurting the attacking product as a whole. Someone needs to step up, and at this point, I could care less who it is.

No. 3: Who on earth designed the jerseys?

It’s more of a rhetorical question. Nike made the World Cup jerseys for the U.S. this year, although I’m convinced you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if a kindergarten class had a go at it. I promise you I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it may be the worst excuse for a jersey I have ever seen at a professional level. See for yourself.

The problem here is pretty simple. Nike believes that jerseys will sell regardless of how they look. But don’t take it from me, take it from Nike’s senior director of soccer apparel Aaron Barnett:

“People always hate the new jerseys at first. Then your team wins its first game, and it’s the best jersey they’ve ever had.”

No, Aaron, that’s not how it works. No amount of success that the USMNT team could have in these kits can change the fact that they look like they took about five minutes to design. That’s also assuming the team wins, which is not a super safe bet to begin with.

Scarily, though, Nike may be right. People are likely to shell out money to get the new jerseys no matter how much of an eye sore they are. We can only hope and pray that the public’s common sense will prevail and that people won’t cave in to buy the kits.

“Soccer in the States” runs every other Friday.