USMNT

Where Will We Find the American Messi? by Chris Marciniak

“Maybe we can find someone kicking a ball around the streets. Maybe there’s a Messi hiding somewhere here in the States. Who knows?" 

In this quote given to FIFA.com in 2014, U.S. Men’s national team coach and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann revealed three things about U.S. Soccer. The ambition to be the best and produce elite talent, the sense in which we are overlooking top players in our midst, and lastly we have no idea if these players exist or not. He explained his intention to “look under every rock, in every dusty corner.” He added that there is “definitely talent in the U.S. that’s not being tapped” and that the federation is trying to get their “heads and hands around that.”

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An Analytical All-American MLS Youngster Starting Eleven by Joseph Lowery

The Major League Soccer season is almost over, which means that it is time to dish out some awards. Today, we are going to put together the official “Analytical All-American MLS Youngster Starting Eleven”. There are only three criteria that a player must fulfill to be in contention for the “AAAMLSYSE” (the trademarks for the name and abbreviation are pending):  

  • All players must be American

  • All players must have played at least 500 minutes in MLS this season

  • All players must be 22-years-old or younger

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A Statistical USMNT Youngster Deep-Dive by Joseph Lowery

In Major League Soccer, young players don’t always get a chance to show their stuff. When they do get a chance, only a very small percentage of players under 21 actually add value to a team over more experienced options - that’s why it is such a big deal when youngsters play and make an impact in MLS. Because of the relative rarity of young players getting minutes in MLS, we are going to look at and appreciate some of the top U-21 talent that has burst onto the scene and produced this season.

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USMNT World Cup Qualifying Review: Klinsmann Stays Afloat by Jared Young

World Cup qualifying review: USMNT rebounds in opening weekend
The USMNT opened World Cup qualification for Russia with two solid, if unspectacular performances. They started with their easiest match of this round with a 6-1 home win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The second match was the most challenging, a road game against Trinidad and Tobago, and resulted in a 0-0 draw. The goalless result in a non-friendly was the first for the United States since their World Cup game against Germany last summer, a run of nine games. It was their seventh clean sheet overall in that same time.

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Time For A Change by Drew Olsen

Warning: This is an atypical piece from us. It's purely an opinion piece. There are no numbers or graphs below. If you're looking for unbiased and hot-take free writing, skip this one. We'll be back to our normal analytics stuff shortly.

Inspired by this piece over at LA Galaxy Confidential from our own Sean Steffen, and surprised at how easy it was to find his email address online, I set out to write a short email to the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, on why it's time for Jurgen Klinsmann to be fired as head coach.

It soon turned into something of an existential personal release and awakening on the state of the USMNT, and more for me than for him. At the encouragement of my fellow ASA writers, I'm posting it here. Feel free to send me your own thoughts (or tell me how wrong I am) on twitter.

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USMNT 1 - Brazil 4: USA GetS Waxed by Harrison Crow

If you were to read through the headlines this morning, though I'm not sure I'd advise doing that, you'll likely find a good share of articles that talk about the United States' inability to keep the ball or build possession to penetrate Brazil's defense and create goal scoring chances. Others will mention a lack a terse focus for a back four that surrendered multiple goals that should probably have never happened. The rest will consist of sharp lashings that end with the inevitable and deserved questioning of leadership within the hierarchy of US soccer.

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USMNT 1-2 Jamaica: The Reggae Boyz clear the dance floor by Jared Young

Hey U.S. fans, look on the bright side. We get an extra soccer game this fall! The USMNT will be in a one game playoff against either Mexico or Jamaica for the privilege of representing CONCACAF in the 2017 Confederations Cup. That bit of fun was brought to you by a loss of stunning proportion to Jamaica. The U.S. gave up two goals in five minutes off of set pieces in the first half and couldn’t mount a useful attack against a determined Jamaican defense. The 2-1 loss, the first to a Caribbean side on U.S. soil since 1968, will sting for a long time, especially for yours truly who was looking forward to going to the Gold Cup Final to watch the U.S. with his son. Not all stories have Hollywood endings. And certainly sports wouldn’t be sports without the heartbreak.

This game was a perfect example of why soccer statistics can sometimes lie. If you didn’t watch the game and just looked at the box score you might think that the U.S. was simply unlucky. They held 60% of the possession and completed 82% of their passes. They outshot the Jamaicans 20-10 and put 7 more shots on goal (10-3). The U.S. won the expected goal battle by a score of 2.3.-1.0, but looked up at the scoreboard at the end and saw the final score was actually reversed.

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USMNT at Denmark: Beyond the score by Matthias Kullowatz

By Jared Young (@jaredeyoung)

These three statistics help tell the story behind the latest USMNT result, and look beyond for big trends.

+7, -10. Those numbers represent the USMNT’s goal differential since the World Cup, split up by the first half and second half, respectively. A dominant first half has typically been followed by a more tragic second half coming out of the locker room. It’s well noted that the USMNT second-half defense is being criticized, but did you know that Johannsson’s second half goal against Denmark was the first goal the US team has scored in the second half since the World Cup? The late slump is not just a defensive concern.

Part of the issue could be that Klinsmann is playing less experienced players in the second half. That is somewhat true. Players who were on the World Cup roster have played 75 percent of all of the first half minutes. That number drops to 62 percent in the second half. But that overall percentage isn’t as experimental as it seems. The World Cup players have a strong presence, regardless of the half.

20.4%. The USMNT only squeezed off four shots against Denmark but managed to score on two of them. That extreme efficiency has been the trend more recently, and the World Cup players specifically have been blistering since July. Led by Jozy Altidore and his 44-percent finishing rate, the players on the World Cup roster have scored on 20.4 percent of the shots taken since the big tournament. Compare that to the 4.3 percent finishing rate of the new players on the team.

60%. (We’ll get to what this number stands for in a bit) I’m sorta kinda from New Jersey, and so is Alejandro Bedoya, so I’m probably supposed to root for him. But his persistent presence on the pitch for the USMNT continues to bother me. First, let’s talk about what I appreciate from Bedoya, and it’s well documented. His work rate is exceptional and his positioning is first rate. He’s a defensive minded midfielder that will do the dirty work and doesn’t look for the limelight. His defensive work against Denmark was critical in the first half as he sat deep enough to assist an otherwise sloppy back four. My trouble with him is that, from a playmaking point of view, he offers very little. And the US can’t afford to have players like Alejandro Bedoya play in the World Cup. For me, Bedoya is a stark reminder of the limitations of the team. As long as he is playing, I worry the US is not progressing as much as they need to during this cycle. The US struggled mightily to generate offense on the wings in the World Cup, and they simply have to upgrade that area to be a global force.

Bedoya is third on the team in minutes played since the World Cup with 409 minutes, behind only Mix Diskerud and Jozy Altidore. In the recent match against Denmark he was moved to the center of the midfield, where he typically plays at Nantes and where his lack of playmaking can be better hidden. So where does the 60 percent number come from?  That was the percent of Bedoya’s passes that were backward in the match. A typical team will pass 20-25 percent of their passes backward over the course of the game, and for a deep lying player 60 percent is way too much. Tack on the fact that the US was ceding possession and would have benefited from a more direct approach, and Bedoya’s backwards passing tendency becomes more of a glaring issue. Sorry my Jersey breathren, I’m looking for more in Russia.

To sum it up: The USMNT comes out extremely red hot in the first half, and somehow flips to an even more extreme cold in the second half, and that is what has everyone concerned. Experimentation is part of the problem, but protecting leads should be the key focus until it gets fixed. The players who played in the World Cup are very efficient right now in scoring goals, converting over 20 percent of their shots, while the newcomers are struggling in front of the net. I’ve also got my eye on Bedoya and I’m looking to see who is going to pass him on the depth chart, either on the wing or now at central midfield.

 

Herculez Gomez: What 52 Goals Look Like by Drew Olsen

By Drew Olsen (@DrewJOlsen)

In August and September we collected data on the last few years of Herculez Gomez's incredible career, and Harrison wrote a great article about it. As a follow up to all that work, we wanted to show our readers what 52 goals actually look like.*

Herc is one of the best pure American strikers of all time, and we hope this infographic does a little to drive that point home. You won't see any xGoals or advanced statistics, but we think these numbers speak for themselves.

*Harrison's article only shows 48 goals. This is because for a few international games we were able to find Herc's goals, but not every shot he took in the game. We excluded the incomplete games from that dataset used to calculate xGoals.

HercInfographic

US Autopsy - World Cup 2014 by Matt Hartley

By Matt Hartley (@Libero_Or_Death)

Well the transfer rumors coming off the back of the United States’ World Cup are ending in a depressingly familiar half-exciting, half-exasperating muddle. A steady flow of rumors about foreign suitors for Matt Besler ended with the revelation that he could choose between the damned (Fulham) and barely spared (Sunderland). Little wonder that being a one-club legend in Kansas City was more appealing.

We can still salivate over where DeAndre Yedlin might end up, and while that is a totally valid use of your day, he will be more of a project for clubs like Roma or Lyon than an immediate contender for playing time. Just because the US went further than England doesn’t make Yedlin better than Glen Johnson, does it? Anyways, a few interesting statistical tidbits:

Goalkeeper

Howard - sure, he made a record-setting 16 saves against Belgium, but his best was the recovery to save from Eder after he misjudged Nani’s shot. That kept the score at 1-0, allowing the US to take advantage of their best 90 minutes of soccer and get the result that would see the US out of the group.

The most incongruous stat for Howard was his distribution distance of 30 meters. This was the second shortest among teams that made it out of the group stages, but was that part of the US game plan? While Jozy Altidore’s absence affected the ability to play long, if Klinsmann had instructed his players to build from the back, it didn’t quite come off, as the United States was 8th out of the 16 second round teams in passes completed per game. Things broke down too quickly when the US had the ball, leading to a rather high amount of chances for the opposition.

Center Backs

Thankfully, the US centerbacks were pretty adept at protecting the castle. In examining how the centerbacks did, CBI (Clearances+Blocks+Interceptions) nicely conveys how busy our defenders were, and we’ll look at that stat in its per90 form.

Besler - I wrote a World Cup preview piece for Paste in which I posited that due to having the most secure spot on the backline, Besler would have to be the rock for the US. He finished with a very respectable 13.83 CBIp90, good for fourth in the tournament. In fact, finishing ahead of him was…

Omar Gonzalez, emerging from what seemed to be a long-term demotion to rack up a  15.07 CBIp90 rating, coming from an outstanding 12.14 clearances per 90. The US was certainly relying on Omar to dominate as they conceded the flanks and allowed crosses to rain in.

The third primary center back for the US, Geoff Cameron, was 11th overall for CBIp90 with 12.60. Spending time in midfield as well, Cameron is well on his way to using that versatility to become the American Phil Neville.

Main thing to touch on:

Looking at the top 20 defenders by the CBI metric, there aren’t a lot of big names there. Medel has a good background, Vlaar at Villa, Cameron at Stoke, Nigeria’s Omueruo is on the books at Chelsea, and a couple of guys in Ligue 1. Hell, there are four current MLSers in the top 20 CBIper90 rankings. If the US really wants players to move to “big” clubs, then the national team will need to start producing more performances that aren’t backs-to-the-wall, man-the-pumps nonsense. Matt Besler had a really damn solid World Cup, and his options were the 14-20 slots from the Premier League. It’s certainly a chicken and egg situation, but it makes you hope that Juventus will come in for Erik Palmer Brown so that we can see some US players grow into regular slots at teams that seriously compete for the Champions League.

Fullbacks

This can be the hardest position to judge in the game, I think. You’ve got to be all things to all people at fullback, and that can make the position difficult to analyze. For the US there seemed to be a fairly clear hierarchy going into the tournament:

    1. Fabian Johnson, the best player for all 10 outfield positions

    2. DaMarcus Beasley, well, we like him better than Chandler

    3. Timothy Chandler, the source for a million overstated concerns about   German-Americans’ Americaness

    4. DeAndre Yedlin, there for the experience.

Of course, Beasley played solid two-way ball, Johnson was a useful offensive tool while on the field, and Yedlin became one of the breakout players of the tourney. Since the United States played a very narrow midfield for large swaths of the tournament, offensive contributions from the fullbacks were always going to be vital to our success. Looking at key passes, Fabian Johnson ended up with a .90 KPp90, which was 36th among defenders, placing him behind such noted playmakers at Vincent Kompany, and oh holy crap, DeAndre Yedlin.

That’s right, our little roadrunner, with his limited minutes, contributed a very nice 2.27 KPp90, good for fourth among Squawka’s defenders, and that’s right, one place ahead of Glen Johnson. Sign him up, Brendan!

Midfield

This was the part of the field where the United States’ struggles seemed rather stark. The US ended up with 326.5 completed passes per game, which put them smack in the middle of the 32 team field, and above Brazil, Costa Rica, and Colombia. But looking at things a little more closely, the United States played in its own half 34% of the time, more than any other country, and 22% in the opposition’s half, fourth worst in the entire tournament.

Looking at individuals, Michael Bradley came in for a lot of criticism, but despite playing mostly in a new role further up the field, he managed to complete more passes per 90 (47.77) than Luka Modric (46.00), Sami Khedira (45.36), and Steven Gerrard (44.09). Sadly, this involvement didn’t translate into chance creation, as Bradley finished with 0.67 KPp90, somewhere in the 139-160 range overall. Sure, there’s where Ronaldo finished, but so did Gary Cahill.

Jermaine Jones did everything, winning 65% of his aerial duels, 54% of his take ons, and running a very competitive race for the USMNT’s “Holy crap, I can’t believe that went in” award.  Alejandro Bedoya and Brad Davis weren’t statistically significant, while Kyle Beckerman finished 14th among midfielders in the CBIp90 metric. Graham Zusi provided two assists, but otherwise seemed very forgettable. There just wasn’t a lot to hang our hat on offensively.

In Closing

The United States failed to make the transition to a more progressive style of play this World Cup, but the US did show that they can defend fairly well. Klinsmann’s challenge will be to integrate more players comfortable with keeping and moving the ball through midfield to ally with a decent defense and a serviceable striker corps. There’s a lot of potential in the pool to meld into a strong corps for Russia 2018. I’d expect Fabian Johnson to become a full-time midfielder in the future, and see extended run-outs given to players like Julian Green, Joe Gyau, and Will Trapp. Future columns will look at the players who are making a strong case for the national team, starting with September’s friendly in Prague against the Czech Republic