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Steffen’s status and Bradley’s return headline key USMNT’s talking points – football news

There is something that feels a little desperate about looking for bright spots from a 4-2 loss, but when you’re talking about a young team being put through a gauntlet of difficult opponents, silver linings can become standard procedure.

Such is the case of the U.S. national team, which suffered a 4-2 loss to Colombia on Thursday in a match that was — save for one 10-minute stretch — thoroughly lopsided. Colombia showed its class and ruthlessness in identifying the fault lines in the U.S. defense and attacking them like a colony of fire ants.

The result was a one-sided loss that wasn’t all that surprising but was still painful to endure. Not just for the young Americans who were reminded once again how far they still have to go to reach the level of the world’s top teams, but also for U.S. fans, many of whom had to know deep down that a beatdown was more likely than an upset.

There were silver linings though, sprinkled among the charred remains of what passed for a U.S. defense. There was a goalkeeper who managed to impress even among the deluge of Colombian goals. There was the young winger who flashed the magic we are all waiting to see become a regular occurrence. There was also the inspired 10 minutes to start the second half that gave U.S. fans something to feel good about, even if it ended almost as quickly as it began.

There were those silver linings, but there were far more issues that went unresolved and uncomfortable realities exposed about the current USMNT.

Here is a closer look at five key takeaways from Thursday’s loss to Colombia:

Steffen solidifies starter status

Zack Steffen USA Colombia 10122018

When Miguel Borja’s bicycle kick skimmed off his fingertips and into the USA net for Colombia’s fourth goal, Zack Steffen couldn’t hide his disgust. He opened his mouth wide, stuck out his tongue and let out a desperate breath at a night that he would probably rather forget.

The reality is the match against Colombia was a good one for Steffen, who kept the starting role even with the arrival of veteran Brad Guzan in camp. Steffen has been the first-choice U.S. goalkeeper for most of the year and he only solidified his standing by making several top-quality saves to keep the match from becoming a blowout even earlier.

Does that mean he will start against Peru? Not necessarily. Sarachan could decide he wants to have a look at Guzan with what should be an even younger defense than the one that faced Colombia. But if Steffen keeps the starting job it will be well deserved and another sign that he has pulled away from the pack in the race to be the top U.S. goalkeeper in the next World Cup qualifying cycle.

Robinson was roasted, but is still a prospect to invest in

Antonee Robinson USMNT Colombia 10122018

Antonee Robinson probably had nightmares last night of Santiago Arias racing past him and James Rodriguez invading his space on the field.

Who could blame him? Colombia went after Robinson’s side of the U.S. defense for much of the night and far too often Robinson was beaten badly. In the first half, we saw the U.S. defense struggle to provide Robinson with ample support to deal with the onslaught, but in the second half Robinson simply made mistake after mistake, overwhelmed by Arias.

The natural reaction to Robinson’s awful performance was to toss him onto the scrap heep of failed left back experiments, but to do so would ignore a few things. First, he was tortured by an attack led by Bayern Munich star Rodriguez and Arias, who plies his trade at Atletico Madrid. We’re talking two veterans of top leagues with World Cup experience taking turns abusing a 21-year-old fullback who is in just his second full season as a professional starter (and it should be noted that Arias also torched Ben Sweat, who replaced Robinson, on the sequence leading to Colombia’s fourth goal).

Unlike the Brazil friendly, where Robinson rebounded from a rough first half to play very well in the second half, the Wigan defender never did find his footing and wound up enduring a second half that was among the worst ever turned in by a U.S. defender.

The bright side? Robinson is only 21, with the tools to still develop into a very good defender. Let’s not forget that DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive instincts weren’t the best when he broke into the pro ranks, but now he is a regular starter in the English Premier League and Colombia didn’t seem to want to test his side of the field very often on Thursday. Robinson also helped set up the first U.S. goal with a good cross for Kelyn Acosta. It was the third match in which one of his crosses helped set up a U.S. goal, showing that he does bring good attacking qualities to the position.

Attacking midfielders still wanted

Julian Green USA Mexico 09112018

When Christian Pulisic was forced out of the October friendlies due to injury, there were immediate questions about who would pick up the attacking midfielder duties. The initial answer seemed to be Julian Green, who plays the role for his German second-division club and who showed some promise playing centrally in the second half against Mexico in September.

If Thursday’s match against Colombia did anything, it reminded us that Green is more of a second striker than attacking midfielder and the true options in the number 10 role continue to be extremely limited once you get past Pulisic.

Green is and always will be a striker at heart, be it as a second striker or even lead striker, where Carlo Ancelotti memorably tried him out with Bayern Munich. Green can work on the wings and, at a certain level, he can probably make do centrally, but he doesn’t have the key ingredients to be an effective number 10. He lacks the vision, passing touch and ability to keep the ball in tight space and make the quick decisions that unlock a defense.

It was telling that Sarachan called his setup a two-forward system on Thursday, designating Green as a forward even though he spent much of the night clearly set up in midfield spaces. Aside from one promising shot he took from distance in the first half and a crucial tackle on Rodriguez to start the build-up to Bobby Wood’s goal, Green had a pretty quiet night.

If Green isn’t the answer to the question of who can fill the void when Pulisic is out, then who is? Kenny Saief looked like a player who wanted to be in the number 10 role, but was instead deployed on the wing where he offered little defensive support after the first 15 minutes. Nothing we saw suggests he is the answer in that role either, which raises the question of whether we simply have to accept the reality that there isn’t another option besides Pulisic at the moment.  

Building midfield groups that lean on the team’s depth on the wings and in defensive midfield will be necessary any time Pulisic isn’t available. It will be the case least until a few years from now, when prospects like Nick Taitague, Emerson Hyndman, Andrew Carleton and Giovanni Reyna might one day give the team some good additional options in the number 10 role.

Bradley has value, but also limitations

Michael Bradley USMNT Colombia 10112018

The contingent of U.S. fans who went into Thursday’s match unhappy that Michael Bradley was on the team, much less as a starter and captain, were waiting for the moment they could hang their disdain on to support the notion that he has no place on the team. That moment came, according to many of them, when Radamel Falcao raced past a jogging Bradley on the way to scoring Colombia’s third goal. It mattered little that four other players in the picture could have done better to help stop that Colombia goal from happening, to say nothing of the two U.S. central defenders who were caught napping upfield and out of position. The image of a slow-moving Bradley being dusted by Falcao was all the evidence the Bradley haters needed. Case closed.

Only not really. The blame on the Falcao goal was down to multiple players, including two who weren’t in the picture. Matt Miazga and John Brooks went upfield for a USA corner kick, but after Colombia cleared the initial corner, 20 seconds went by with the USMNT in possession before Rodriguez sparked Colombia’s counter with an intelligent and hopeful long ball upfield. Though 20 seconds had gone by, Miazga and Brooks had not managed to leave the attacking third of the field, leaving the U.S. to try and defend the Colombia counter with Robinson and Yedlin, with the U.S. midfield trio of Kellyn Acosta, Bradley and Marky Delgado too slow in their recovery to keep up with Falcao and Juan Quintero, who raced past the slow-reacting U.S. defense.

The Falcao goal wasn’t Bradley’s fault, but the sequence served as a reminder of the reality that Bradley doesn’t move like he used to. He was never known for having top speed, but it is clear he has slowed down from his best years. Falcao wouldn’t have been able to run away from Tyler Adams that way, or Weston McKennie, but those trying to pin that goal on Bradley while ignoring the clear reality that Robinson, Acosta, Delgado, Brooks and Miazga all needed to do better on the sequence were either not paying attention, or were simply trying to find something to roast Bradley over.

Perhaps Sarachan gave Bradley too much credit when he deployed a midfield that would see Acosta spending more time in attacking spaces, leaving the TFC man as the lone defensive midfielder to deal with Colombia’s multiple speedy threats, including Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Quintero. Bradley in his prime would have struggled to cope with that trio on his own. Bradley at 31, with serious mileage on his legs over a 15-year career of hard running and relentless midfield work, wasn’t going to be the one to shut Colombia down. And here’s a newsflash, even the tireless Adams and tenacious McKennie would have had trouble covering that much midfield ground against that many Colombian attackers in that U.S. midfield setup.

Bradley can still play a role in the USMNT lineup, but not as a solo defensive midfielder. He can still help bring some composure in possession, give the defense a consistent passing outlet and feed the ball to the playmakers, but at this point in his career he would be best served playing next to a player with the engine and speed to cover for his limitations, like an Adams or McKennie. Of course, the next U.S. coach could very well decide that his midfield going forward will be built around a base of Adams and McKennie, with Pulisic in front of them, which makes total sense, but as we have learned this month, injuries can sometimes require alternatives. As much as Bradley haters won’t want to admit it, Bradley could still be an effective option as part of a double-six tandem next to an Adams or McKennie.

Is Bradley still a starter when all options are available? That will be up to the new USMNT coach to decide, but with some real talents continuing to develop, and age creeping up on Bradley, his window to contribute is closing quickly.

Weah and Sargent should see bigger roles in rest of 2018

Tim Weah USA Colombia 10112018

Weah’s assist on Wood’s goal was a thing of beauty, one of the best moments of the match for the United States and a shining example of why it’s worth investing minutes in the PSG youngster. Sargent didn’t have quite the same moment, but he did have a promising run at goal during his eight-minute cameo that showed a player who is physically capable of handling the international level. Now he just needs the experience, both for club and country.

Sarachan said after Thursday’s match that there will be several changes to the squad that faces Peru on Tuesday. As impressive as Wood’s latest goal was, the Peru friendly would be an excellent opportunity to give Sargent an extended look against a better class of competition than the Bolivia squad Sargent debuted — and scored — against in May. Sargent has matured a good amount, both physically and mentally, in the five months since that Bolivia match, as his goal-scoring exploits with the Werder Bremen U-23 team have showed. If he doesn’t play at least 45 minutes against Peru it will feel like a wasted opportunity, especially if it means starting Wood again.

We shouldn’t expect Sarachan to trot out as young a team as possible against Peru, but Weah, Sargent and Jonathan Amon are all teenagers with serious ability and potential, and the sooner they can earn some real national team minutes the better.

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England-born Robinson is fully committed to USMNT, and looks like left back of the future – football news

Antonee Robinson sat on a plane heading to the United States three years ago, doing his best to learn the words to a song he probably hadn’t spent much time thinking about before that trip.

Born and raised in England, Robinson was heading to U.S. Under-18 national team camp, his first call-up for a country he was eligible to play for, but had never lived in. As soon as the surprise call-up came, Robinson’s father let him know what he needed to do.

“My dad was the first one who said, ‘you’ll have to learn it,'” Robinson told Goal. “It was one of the first things he said. When I got called up he said, ‘you’ll need to learn the national anthem.’”

Robinson learned the words on that trip, and still knows them by heart. But after that one U-18 camp he hadn’t had a reason to use them, until a March call-up to the U.S. national team that he didn’t see coming.

It was an opportunity he has now capitalized on fully.

The 21-year-old defender has emerged as the leading candidate to fill the left back position for the United States in the next World Cup qualifying cycle. He has just two caps under his belt, but the early impression he has made has catapulted him from being relative unknown in U.S. Soccer circles, to a player seen as one of the team’s fastest-rising prospects.

How did Robinson come to be eligible for the United States? His England-born father Marlon moved to the United States during his childhood, living there nine years and going on to play college soccer at Duke University.

He secured his U.S. citizenship during that time, and several years later he took the proactive step to secure U.S. citizenship for his young son and daughter. As far as Antonee knew, the new passport his father got for him was going to help him have an easier time traveling stateside for family vacations.

Little did he know that passport would also clear a path for him to play international soccer.

The USMNT program came calling in March, around the same time that England’s Under-21 team reached out to him to attend a camp. It was the first time Robinson had ever been contacted by an England team on any level. 

“It just wasn’t even a decision,” Robinson said. “I was just like, ‘it’s clear to me which country showed more faith in me.’ Not only picking me at the youth level, but picking me for the first team, so I had to show that commitment right back.”

Robinson made his USMNT debut against Bolivia in May, earning a start despite admitting to letting nerves get the better of him in that training camp. The U.S. coaches saw through the nerves and still gave him his opportunity, and he responded with a strong performance in a 3-0 USA victory.

“When I found out I was starting the game it was pretty surreal,” Robinson said. “I remember at the start of camp I was quite nervous. I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted to be in training. Then the manager called in players into individual meetings and they called me in and they told me, ‘look, we’ve seen you’re quite nervous but you’re starting this game. We want you to be confident. You’re here for a reason so seize it.’”

Robinson did that with an outstanding performance that earned him another start against mighty France.

Antonee Robinson Antoin Griezmann 06082018

“It was like a movie,” Robinson said of the France friendly. “It was like being stood in the tunnel of a FIFA game and looking at every single star about to come out. It was surreal.”

Robinson didn’t let a sold-out crowd in Lyon, or France’s star-studded lineup overwhelm him as he held his own in another good showing that reinforced the growing sentiment that he was the future of the U.S. left back position.

A product of the Everton youth academy, Robinson has spent nine years at the Liverpool-based club, making the move up from the academy to the first team. He has yet to break into Everton’s first team, but a successful loan stint at Bolton last season was enough to convince the Toffees to sign him to a new deal as a potential future long-term replacement for Leighton Baines. Robinson could have made the decision to play out his contract and become a free agent next summer, but decided staying with his childhood club was the best move.

“It just showed to me that they give me a lot of faith with a three-year deal,” Robinson said. “They clearly have it in their mind that I should be starting or at least competing to be their left back. When a team shows you that sort of faith that’s a team you want to stay with.”

Everton sent him out on loan again this summer, to a Wigan club that is off to a flying start in the Championship. Robinson has played a key part in that early success, and is looking very much like a prospect moving closer to being ready to start for Everton.

“As long as I keep consistently getting better, not only for my club but for the U.S. as well, I’ll be in a good position,” Robinson said. “if I can keep showing that I can play well and keep developing areas of my game, who knows, then next year that could be the next step for me.”

“Fortunately I’ve gone to a club that plays really good football,” Robinson said of Wigan. “They’ve just come up and they’re really ambitious so we’ve gotten off to a great start at the minute.”

Antonee Robinson Wigan 08252018

Robinson will be hoping to carry that good club form into the USA’s upcoming friendlies against Brazil on Friday, and Mexico on Tuesday. As the latest dual-national to don the U.S. colors, Robinson acknowledges that there may be some doubts among fans about how committed he is, and just what playing for the United States means to him. 

He plans to keep letting his play show how committed he is.

“Every time I step onto the field for the U.S. it means something to me,” Robinson said. “I’m representing what I say is my country now. The fans have been really great towards me. I can understand where they come from in terms of some players wanting to choose which country they want to play for.”

Robinson also admitted that he’s looking forward to the USMNT’s upcoming friendly in November against England. He isn’t taking for granted that he will be called in but knows that if he is, there will be dozens of friends and family members ready to make the trip to London to watch him.

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And what will he do when the national anthems play that day? Robinson definitely won’t be singing “God Save the Queen.”

“No chance,” Robinson said. “I’ll watch respectfully, but I won’t sing it.”

Robinson is only singing one national anthem these days, and he knows the words by heart.

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