USMNT Roundtable: Berhalter, Dest, and the future
A passionate, perhaps even fiery bit of conference call USMNT small talk prior to a Wednesday’s staff meeting inspired us to bring the conversation to the ProSoccerTalk space.
It started with a hot USMNT topic: Whether there’s real danger of Ajax starting right back Sergino Dest throwing his years of history with the USMNT youth development program away to focus on earning a place with the celebrated Dutch national team, so we’ll start there.
Sergino Dest has two caps for the United States and a longstanding history with the youth national team set-up. He is not 19 until March and starting at right back for Ajax.
On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being no danger of his leaving for the Netherlands and 10 being he’s going to reject USMNT for the Oranje before Gregg Berhalter can cap-tie him next month, what do your rate his chances of being a USMNT player well into the future and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: 5/10. He starts for Ajax at right back and he should be the USMNT’s long-term full back in that area. No questions about it. But the fact the Netherlands are already sniffing around says a lot about his talent, plus Dest probably wasn’t best pleased with being chucked in at left back by Berhalter.
The Dutch national team needs some cover in full back areas and Ronald Koeman isn’t scared to promote young players quickly. I think we’ve seen Dest in a USMNT jersey for the final time, and that is why I’m giving this a 5/10. If there wasn’t the possibility of losing him to the Netherlands, it would be a 9/10.
Nick Mendola: 6/10. We have to hope that Dest is a bit myopic and excited about the prospect of latching onto a starting spot for a half-decade or more. While the 18-year-old is still a bundle of potential, he’s also played in six matches between the Eredivisie and UEFA Champions League for the biggest club in the Eredivisie. Put into perspective: He turns 19 in November, and is a regular contributor to a Starting XI with national team starters for the Netherlands, Argentina, Mexico, Serbia, Morocco, and Cameroon. Also, they haven’t lost a match he’s played this season.
If I’m Dest and have interest in the Netherlands, am I willing to bet on myself at the expense of not playing in the CONCACAF Nations League? Really it comes down to how often he’s envisioned himself a USMNT player, and how long he’s willing to wait out Holland, because Ajax isn’t a place where careers go to die. Rather, it’s often the platform that launches them to even bigger places. The Dutch team’s starters this break were Denzel Dumfries wide in a 3-5-2 and Joel Veltman, a CB a Ajax, in the 4-4-2. It’s not a long jump to Dest.
Kyle Bonn: 3/10. He’s simply not good enough to play regularly for the Netherlands right now, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll develop the defensive consistency to ever be an option for them. He starts now for the United States because full-back remains, along with DM, a position of horrid depth for the national team, but he has a long way to go for a spot with the Netherlands. He has lots of promise, and that may cause the Dutch federation to try and turn his head, but I think he sticks with the U.S.
Dan Karell: 3/10. Obviously this is similar to the Jonathan Gonzalez situation, except the main difference is Dest has actually been capped. Yes, Nick, he’s been played on the wrong side of the field for him, but the U.S. coaching staff clearly values him and wants him to know they’ll find a way to get him in the lineup one way or another. The Netherlands, though they do often cap a lot of young players, can’t do that. Plus, as of today, is Dest ahead of Denzel Dumfries or Hans Hoteboer, another recent Netherlands call-up? Probably not.
Which player in the pool is the most difficult to replace? You cannot say Christian Pulisic.
Joe Prince-Wright: Tyler Adams. He is so solid and reliable that he is the kind of player you don’t realize how good he is until he’s gone. For Gregg Berhalter, Adams’ intelligence on and off the ball is particularly important. He plugs gaps defensively and is good enough on the ball to get attacks going. The USMNT need Adams to be fit over the next few years if they’re going to make the 2022 World Cup.
Nick Mendola: I want to say John Brooks, but his recent injury history means they’ve been “replacing” him for so long that he barely qualifies as an answer to the question. As the architect of this question, I’ll cheat in response and say there is not one player outside of Pulisic who answers this question well (yet. Let’s hope Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, or Dest change my mind).
Kyle Bonn: Michael Bradley. Yep, I said it. As we’ve seen with Wil Trapp, the United States player pool has struggled mightily to produce a holding midfielder that can cover the back line and also distribute forward. While Bradley isn’t at his best defending, he’s far better than teacher’s pet Trapp, and he can distribute with the best of them, something the US sorely misses with Bradley off the pitch. He’s indispensable for this squad, partly because he can still ball - despite what people say about him - and partly because the player pool is so absurdly thin at maybe the most important position in the modern game.
Dan Karell: It’s gotta be Tyler Adams or really, Michael Bradley. Many USMNT fans have wanted Bradley and Jozy Altidore to be banished from the national team after playing a role in the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but in the case of both, and really with Bradley, there hasn’t been a better player stepping up. From 2013-2015, it was hoped that Trapp could be that player, but in 2019, after a few years of stagnation with the Columbus Crew, it’s clear Trapp isn’t good enough to push Bradley out the door.
Which USMNT player is getting too much abuse from the fans and why?
Joe Prince-Wright: Probably Gyasi Zardes. Has he got the best first touch? No. Is he the best finisher on the planet? No. But he works hard, in my opinion he is better suited out wide and then cutting in to impact the play and he is a handful when on form. Zardes isn’t as bad as he’s being made out to be.
Nick Mendola: It’s Zardes. He’s a place holder as we wait for Josh Sargent to climb up to Jozy Altidore’s level, and fans can’t help but judge him. Honestly, he should be getting these call-ups right now and his status as a former Crew star under Berhalter makes it a bit too easy to claim he should be further down the depth chart. Put plainly, the USMNT center forward pool has no one else beyond Altidore, Sargent, and Tim Weah. Bobby Wood and Andrija Novakovich have stalled, and Aron Johannsson hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Kyle Bonn: Jozy Altidore. Michael Bradley gets a close second here (see above) but Jozy quite frankly receives a TON of abuse for the leading goalscorer in U.S. history. For a player who has given so much to this national team and been a consistent provider of not just goalscoring but also a team-first attitude, the crowd who slights him is vast. It’s simply not fair. While Josh Sargent is the future of the striker spot with the national team, Jozy Altidore is still the best option when healthy and fit.
Dan Karell: Is there any one player? Will it ever end? It’s probably Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp. At this point, both players hit their ceiling a while ago and there’s no point in complaining about them, we know what they can, and can’t, do. Perhaps Jordan Morris has gotten a little too much stick too. The man is coming off a torn ACL and when a lot of his game was predicated on speed, it’s not easy to find that old speed/form back again after a major surgery like that. Fans just assume you return to 100% and it just never works like that.
Which player currently outside the USMNT picture should be getting a look?
Joe Prince-Wright: Danny Williams is an interesting character and seems to have that nasty streak the USMNT are missing in midfield. With his experience in the Bundesliga, English Championship and Premier League, I’d say he’s worth a shot in central midfield. If his injuries calm down, the likes of McKennie and Adams could have a true destructive force alongside them who they can work off.
Nick Mendola: Hmmmm. We’re another few weeks of solid Julian Green performances from his being the answer, and there’s an argument to be made he’s already the answer. Johnson is a good shout, but is he like Nagbe and not interested in playing under Berhalter? I’m going to stick with Green. He’s 24, a top player in the 2.Bundesliga, and has goals against Belgium and France on his resume. How is he not one of the 40-some players to get a call from GB?
[ RELATED: Julian Green thriving at CM ]
Kyle Bonn: Fabian Johnson. A regular starter for a top-half Bundesliga side isn’t even in the mix. That’s absurd. He hasn’t really produced the consistent career many expected from him about 6 years ago, but given Berhalter’s struggles to find consistency in the lineup, it’s maddening that Johnson has all but been forgotten. And Josh Sargent needs to become a regular in this squad. Now. Not just for friendlies.
Dan Karell: It’s kind of hard to say, because the players that are constantly missing but would normally make it are always injured. John Brooks. Matt Miazga, Tyler Adams, Tim Weah, McKennie/Pulisic in the past. Perhaps one player who deserves another look - for me - is Jonathan Lewis. He’s always injected some energy and pace late into matches and I really think he can be a game-changer. He just has to leave the smoldering crater that is the Colorado Rapids.
Mix Diskerud, just for his flowing locks of hair...kidding! He’s been injured since the summer, but I’d love to see Duane Holmes get a run out there from the start. Another player I’m excited that is finally back is Sebastian “Da Boy” Lletget. He’s dynamic, great under pressure, and a talented 8 that should help the U.S. out. It will be interesting to see whether he tries moving abroad this offseason or signs a new deal in MLS.
Is the USMNT on the right path? Why or why not?
Joe Prince-Wright: Not yet, and they are a long way from getting to a point where I’m saying ‘you know what, I can see the light and I like it.’ Berhalter’s philosophy is clear and it is worrying these group of players haven’t picked it up. And that is the main problem. He isn’t getting the chance to drill these tactics into the same group of players day in, day out. The US are trying to possess the ball but a lot of the players being selected don’t seem to be as comfortable on it as they should be. At what point does Berhalter say: ‘my fundamentals aren’t working with the squad I have at my disposal?’ Probably never. And that’s the biggest issue facing the USMNT in the months ahead.
Nick Mendola: The program is moving in the right direction, from the youth levels upward, but whether Berhalter’s program is on the up will lead you to the antacid aisle. I’m leaning toward no. It’s only been nine months, but the signs of progress are only when compared to his first month on the job. Saying the side is better than it was under Bruce Arena or Jurgen Klinsmann would be an unfair comparison (Their best players, like Pulisic, are simply maturing).
I think it’s probable the Yanks will not fail to qualify for another World Cup in our lifetimes unless CONCACAF is combined with CONMEBOL. It’s really, truly difficult to put together our population, resources, and confederation and be left with failure in Couva (Something that, still, needed a ghost goal for Panama to knock the Yanks out of the running). But if you put this team in a “Group of Death” right now, I’d mark them down for a first round exit and at least one extremely ugly loss.
My hope is health and a general manager. Berhalter needs counsel in who he calls up, and someone willing to tell him when he’s letting his ego override reality (Out-of-form MLS players probably shouldn’t get the call over in-form ones from any league, for example). And we’d like Berhalter a whole lot more if Tyler Adams and John Brooks had been available to him for more than a handful of combined matches.
Kyle Bonn: That’s probably not a question that can be answered in one or even two parts. The USMNT is on the right track given there is still time before World Cup qualifying, and Berhalter is looking to find what players fit not only his vision, but also fit together as more than a sum of the parts. In addition, the youth talent is probably at a higher level than we’ve seen with this federation in a LONG time, there is little debating that.
The performances, however, paint a picture that the process is likely to take longer than the U.S. has time for. Berhalter at this point needs to take what’s in front of him and transition quickly from a performance-based coach to a results-based coach. The experimentation period is almost over. Time to start acting like it.
Dan Karell: Yes. Fans are fickle and have short memories. Remember when Mexico almost didn’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup? Mexico in 2013 was AWFUL. Meanwhile, the U.S. were in a really good spot. We had Michael Bradley, Tim Howard (and Brad Guzan), Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron in their prime, and there was also Clint Dempsey, Herc Gomez, and Jermaine Jones. While Dempsey and Jones were on the way down, they were still star players who you could count on for goals or securing a result.
Could Matt Miazga, Aaron Long, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and Josh Sargent develop into those stars? Sure. But they’re not there now, and it may take 2-3 years. For Mexico, it’s taken a few years for Raul Jimenez and Hector Herrera to grow into World Class stars, and they have more players than ever playing and testing themselves in Europe, with others right on their tails in Liga MX. It’s cyclical in nature. The U.S. is at the bottom of the roller coaster. Only one way to go. Up!