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Pulisic’s comments overshadow another Matt Turner, USMNT shutout

The US dominated a very solid Morocco side in their first game since the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign. But off-field remarks stole the headlines away from great play on the field.

El Salvador v USMNT Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Alright, we need to talk about something that is very important in US Soccer that I think the fans understand and the people that actual make decisions for the federation don’t. This is a problem because your team captain seems to be on that same page with the federation which is less than ideal.

I am willing to guess that the vast majority of those 19,000-plus in attendance (well short of the TQL Stadium capacity of 26,000) were Americans, and it would do well on your captaincy Mr. Pulisic to choose your choice of words carefully in the future. It would also be a refreshing change of pace if the powers at be at US Soccer got their proverbial heads out of their you-know-whats regarding their current game day experience.

The United States is one of the best soccer nations in the world. The USWNT is awesome, there’s more leagues and countries on television and streaming services than we know what to do with, and this is arguably the best generation of talent the MNT has ever had.

So US Soccer needs to start getting game days right and come to the realization that the vast majority of soccer fans in this country, don’t root for the USA. Or rather, they don’t only root for the USA. This needs to be a feature and not a bug, especially when it comes to friendlies.

Let’s start with Pulisic’s comments and where the actual problem lies, and how to appropriately speak out against them. I give you Mr. Ben Stokes, captain of the England and Wales Cricket Test team:

Low end tickets in Cincy were $75 for a mid-week friendly in a state (Ohio) that saw three World Cup qualifying matches already played between Cincinnati and Columbus, in the last year. Obviously this is a little ridiculous on a variety of levels because I’m sure US Soccer makes a ton of money well before their absurd ticket prices. But more than the ticket prices is the logic, or rather lack thereof, that goes into where games get played.

Let’s not forget this is a federation that openly decided to play a game in sub-zero temperatures against Honduras in Minnesota that caused their starting goalkeeper to miss months due to injury. The idea that the USA needs a significant weather advantage to beat Honduras is laughable and I said as much months ago. So when you play a friendly in an over-saturated area on a Wednesday set the price too high, it’s not going to be filled by what the federation thinks are average US Soccer and USA rooting fans.

It’s going to be filled by Moroccan-Americans, and Peruvian-Americans, etc., who get a lot more value from that high ticket price for the rare chance to watch both of their teams play against each other and more than likely openly root for the “visiting” team. Honestly, I think that’s great, I went to the USA-Peru friendly at Rentschler Field in East Hartford a few years ago with a Peruvian co-worker of mine and had a blast at a game that had like 25,000 people (capacity 40,000 for a Tuesday night) and easily more than half if not two-thirds were rooting for Peru. Again, this is a feature not a bug, of US Soccer fandom. Also, when tailgating with Peruvians you must drink at least one Inca Cola and I recommend the marinated cow heart (I forget what the translation is for it specifically but it’s really, really good).

What makes the USA great is our diversity, and it’s a shame that the federation seems to be pushing back on this. There’s no variety to where games are played, tickets have been far too expensive for far too long especially for the MNT which, you know, missed a World Cup...and USSF needs to embrace the thinks they say in lip service all the time. The sooner the federation realizes this and starts catering to the needs of the entire US fanbase, not just the ones they want to show up in red, white, and blue, the better the matchday experience will become.

For a team full of dual-nationals, US Soccer seem surprised when a lot of dual nationals show up to enjoy a soccer game.

Anyway, on to three thoughts from yesterday’s match:

MATT TURNER IS STILL GOOD AT GOALKEEPING

Just want to add to Seth’s highlight package that Turner holds on to a lot of these shots outright and I wouldn’t classify all of those as routine. That’s a big plus in goalkeeping when you’re not giving up rebounds. Another thing that Turner does alot after claiming a ball is look to get it back up the field via the long throw and while I think he rightly held back a few times yesterday, those are just two little things that translate well for him with the USMNT.

And, yes, we’ve been talking about this for years:

Matt Turner’s shutout average with the USMNT borders on ridiculous, especially when the majority of those came with a less than full strength Gold Cup team last year. Obviously Matt Turner is likely starting the majority of these games during this window because Zack Steffen asked to be released from camp and we hope that everything is all right with Zack. I think Turner starts this Sunday against Uruguay and the Nations League game at El Salvador next week, with Ethan Horvath deputizing against Grenada in Austin.

One more note on the US goalkeepers as a whole:

This graph is ridiculous and normally you’d see teams converting seven of their last nine penalty attempts. I’m fairly certain that green dot on the low left corner was the PK goal Martinique scored at the Gold Cup last summer against Turner which was a great take. I do wonder how much other teams respect our keepers as a whole and maybe have Tim Howard’s three dozen saves against Belgium replaying in their minds like I do from time to time...because the last thing you should be doing when taking a penalty is thinking.

Run up, no stutter steps (#BanStutterStepPKs), pick your spot, and hit it - if the keeper saves it that’s a credit to him. I’m just as flabbergasted that four of these penalties essentially missed (posts count as a miss, it wasn’t saved) as I am that three got saved. This country is so good at producing keepers.

AARON LONG IS BACK

I’m sure our friends at Once A Metro will have more on Long’s return to the USMNT, where he replaces the injured Miles Robinson who essentially replaced an injured Long last year. Soccer is both rewarding and cruel like that sometimes.

I do not watch Long on a weekly basis with RBNY nor am I going to wade into the mostly negative comments that most US fans had of the defender last night (though the yellow was not a great play), but I thought Long was pretty good and did well for an hour on a yellow. Aside from Walker Zimmerman the rest of the centerback depth chart is up in the air. If John Brooks’ exodus is going to continue, there’s nothing wrong with Berhalter getting a look at Long several months out from the World Cup. But the US coach is going to have to start narrowing down his options in the backline so he can prepare the group that is going to Qatar.

Knowing that the USA has to match up at some point with Harry Kane, I don’t think it’s wrong to bring a defender whose sole purpose will be to start against England and mostly deal with Kane. But right now, I don’t even think Berhalter knows his preferred starting centerback pair yet let alone the backups selected and that is a problem that needs to be solved quickly because I think the USA has to assume Miles Robinson won’t be back in time.

Long has put himself back in the mix and I’m happy for him to get that chance coming off his injury, but let’s see how many minutes he racks up during this window and perhaps how he does against Uruguay before completely writing him off for this winter.

CHRISTIAN PULISIC SHOULD PLAY UP TOP

I am going to keep saying this, but Pulisic is the USMNT’s best option at striker and should be utilized there as a false nine or whatever because playing him out on a wing negates his effectiveness when you limit him to one side of the field.

Exhibit A:

The US does not have another central attacker with Pulisic’s skill set and their production from the striker position would rate to streaky at best and barren at worst. The US tactically doesn’t get their lone striker involved in the game enough but putting Pulisic there would almost certainly solve that issue and open up a wide spot for another talented player to step into.

The odds of the USA bringing more than two true strikers to Qatar is slim and honestly I’m beginning to think that they only need one plus a utility attacker like a Jordan Morris or a Josh Sargent who can play both up top and out wide. The issue would be how best to utilize Pulisic as a false nine early and then perhaps as a #10/8 type to close out games if so desired. A Daryl Dike or Jordan Pefok-type target man to help hold up the ball in late game situations would be nice as well as another target on set pieces and crosses into the box if the US is getting desperate.

But it feels like the US has a black hole in the middle of the attacking third when the start a Jesus Ferreria or Ricardo Pepi up top and that’s not entirely either of their faults. But Pulisic is the best player to start up top in my opinion and yesterday just added to the case file for that.

Here’s another look at that play:

The USMNT plays another friendly this Sunday in Kansas City against Uruguay, followed by CONCACAF Nations League (A Flight / Group D) matches against Grenada in Austin, TX and at El Salvador to wrap up this international window.