The Sounder at Heart crew got together and discussed the United States national team’s upcoming friendlies. This is an edited version of that conversation.
Jeremiah Oshan: The USA is getting ready to take on Ecuador tonight in the first of two friendlies during the international window. There are three players with ties to the Sounders — Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and DeAndre Yedlin. We’re a pretty self-obsessed fanbase so let’s just get rid of the pretense and focus entirely on those three players.
Right now, it looks like the most intriguing battle of this camp might be Morris vs. Yedlin as the right wing in Gregg Berhalter’s 4-3-3. I’ll start with this broad question: How do we feel about that?
Dave Clark: I think it would be a mistake to play the best forward on the roster out right.
Mark Kastner: Well, I don’t think Yedlin is a winger. He’s a starting RB on a mid-table PL team (Newcastle). All of this is to shoehorn Tyler Adams into a made-up position. But, it is what it is. Morris should probably start over Gyasi Zardes at striker, but that’s also not going to happen.
Tim Foss: I feel pretty weird about it. I understand trying to find a way to get your best players on the field, and I get that the role is not entirely dissimilar from what Jordan is asked to do with the Sounders, but it’s taking two players and putting them in what is likely not their best positions. Morris playing wide for Seattle is easier to stomach because it’s accommodating Raul Ruidiaz. Putting him wide to accommodate Zardes seems actually dumb to me, but Berhalter knows what he wants, presumably.
Kastner: It should be said that Yedlin is a top 5 player in the talent pool (and the second most capped among this group), and moving him out of position to accommodate a weird position is crazy — no matter how many times you explain it.
Foss: I think Yedlin should be starting at RB, but I also realize that he’s probably not suited for what is being asked of the RB role specifically designed for Adams. I sadly think he may just be a guy who doesn’t fit in the system, and trying to play him elsewhere is dumb.
Oshan: I wanted to dig into Morris a bit first. Dave points out that he’s probably the best forward in camp and Tim talked about how he’s at least potentially being asked to play the same position he is at the club level — in contrast to Yedlin. Would we rather Morris just be on the field or is there something to the idea of him continuing to play a position where he’s going to be most often used?
Personally, I think I’d want him at RW over any other position just because it continues his development at that position.
Foss: I agree. There’s obvious value to him being asked to take what he’s learned playing RW for Seattle and then trying to do that at a possibly higher level of competition.
Kastner: I think he’d be asked to play RW in a similar way for the national team that he does for the Sounders, so I’m OK with him playing there. Zardes is going to start. I’m not interested in arguing the inevitable.
Foss; I also think that enough of what he’s being asked to do as a RW is basically striker stuff, so playing wide isn’t hindering his development as a forward/striker.
Kastner: Berhalter doesn’t seem interested in a meritocracy — at least not at this point. So, if that means Morris plays on the wing, that’s fine with me.
Oshan: Dave, give us your strongest case for playing Morris at forward for these friendlies
Clark: He has a better goal-scoring rate with the USMNT than his competition. Morris is hotter in club play, as well. He can play holding up or with speed. This year his passing has greatly improved as well, something no other forward in the system can do.
If you want someone who can run onto Pulisic feeds there’s none better. If you want someone who can give and go with Pulisic, there’s still none better.
Oshan: This dovetails nicely into the conversation about Yedlin. Is it better for Berhalter to try to implement a system and use the parts he has in the way that most suits it or would you rather him devise a system based on whoever his best personnel might be?
Foss: I’m generally a personnel-based system person, and especially for national teams, since you can’t go out and sign the perfect fits for your system. I would much rather play a system that lets the best people play in their best positions, even if it means that Michael Bradley, Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Cristian Roldan all fight for two spots because none of them are being shoehorned into a weird RB/CM hybrid role.
Kastner: He should devise a system based on the talent he has at his disposal. The Twitter Tacticians have been really impressed with Berhalter because he wants to emulate Pep Guardiola’s tactics. I’m skeptical that’s the best way to go about things, to say the least. Pep Guardiola manages Manchester City, a team that can spend billions on elite soccer players devised for the system he wants. Secondly, Berhalter is the manger of a national team with some serious talent deficiencies in other areas of the pitch while right back happens to be one where he has a seasoned player capable of competing every week in a top flight league. If Greg was having this chat with us, I’d like to ask him this, “I totally get why you want to use this system, especially regarding Tyler Adams. But why not have him play on the left side, where it doesn’t move one of your best players out of position?”
Clark: I stipulate that Berhalter is wedded to this system because he thinks it is best for the personnel at his disposal. He isn’t bringing his past systems with him, but instead has switched to something new and the only possible cause is his new job.
Foss: I believe he’s a name on the wind of the great white north.
Kastner: If a system moves Yedlin to the wing and/or bench, it’s not the best system for personnel.
Foss: I actually do agree with you, Dave, I think this seems to him like the best way to get all of Adams, McKennie, Pulisic, and Bradley on the field and in the middle areas, playing roles that highlight their talents. I just think it’s an over-thought solution.
Kastner: Perhaps a side conversation to be had at another time, but I don’t think Michael Bradley is untouchable — especially if you use Berhalter’s own rationale regarding age at other positions on the field.
Foss: I think he deserves a chance to start, but I’d rather he be forced to win that role through competition with some of the guys in the pool who are not Wil Trapp. I’m not convinced that Roldan or Adams couldn’t be successful in that role.
Oshan: I’m intrigued by what Berhalter is trying to do with the central midfielders and kinda want to see how Yedlin looks on the wing. I don’t think he’s necessarily out of position if he’s being asked to do things he’s normally doing.
Whether we call him a RB or a RW, if his job is to get up and down the line and put in some crosses … that’s fine.
Kastner: Sure. At the end of the day, numerical formations are a construct of the mind. They really don’t mean anything, ultimately.
Clark: Yedlin’s greatest strength is the ability to break two lines with a single run. Playing as a right wing removes that.
Foss: Really I just want to see our guys get to play with the national team, and if they look good all the better, and if the team looks good when they look good, that’s another layer of goodness. I just think that, while Yedlin could look good as a nominally RW, he would look better as RB.
Kastner: I could have a Jurgen Klinsmann-sized hangover, but I was hoping Berhalter would keep things simple but effective, like he did in Columbus. He has departed from the simplicity aspect so far.
Clark: We’ve almost forgotten about Cristian. Without Christian Pulisic or Weston McKennie he played as a dual 10, but with this roster he’s either a benchie in that role OR he’s a starting quality 6.
Foss: I’m of the same mind as Dave, I think. I’d really like to see him get to play as the 6 with McKennie and Pulisic in front of him, but I don’t know that it’ll happen.
Kastner: I think Cristian has a huge opportunity with this camp. His versatility makes him a massive asset to a national team. He could play one of the “dual-10s” like he did in the last camp. He can provide cover at the 6. But most intriguing, at least for me, is he seems like the only player on the roster that can deputize in this inverted fullback role invented for Tyler Adams. I’m an official member of the Cristian Roldan Stan Club, but I see it tough for him to start in this camp unless something strange happens.
Foss: I’m willing to start some rumors about Bradley and Trapp saying rude things about Berhalter in an effort to clear a path for Roldan.
Clark: I’d start him over Bradley as he’s a better tackler, has better range, his passing tree is stronger and his style of play is more suited for what Greggggg wants now, as opposed to when he was with the Crew.
Kastner: Bradley made fun of Berhalter’s hair.
Hey, if Berhalter wants to “invert” both of his fullbacks ala Pep, then Roldan could start at left back.
Foss: Shhhhhhh, if you speak that into existence, it’ll happen, and then City are going to come and buy him. Then they’ll loan him indefinitely to a Dutch team whose name is just motorcycle noises spelled phonetically.
Kastner: Go Ahead Eagles til i die.