US Soccer is politely referring to USMNT’s 2018 as a “transitional phase”, which is certainly more diplomatic than “infuriating, rudderless waste of everyone’s time and attention”.
The US Men’s National Team played 11 games in 2018: all friendlies, all under the guidance of interim head coach Dave Sarachan. The team won three, tied three, and lost five in a year that saw the trajectory of results follow the general trajectory of fans’ patience for US Soccer’s interminable “search” for a new permanent head coach.
Concerned that US Soccer doesn’t know the meaning of the word “search” https://t.co/cauZ0t7SdQ— JasonRBNY (@JasonRBNY) November 20, 2018
In its first three games of the year - all at home - the USA tied Bosnia and Herzegovina, and beat Paraguay and Bolivia, all without conceding a goal. In its next eight games in 2018, there would only be one more win and clean sheet (1-0 over Mexico in September).
Sarachan’s brief for 2018 - and since being appointed interim USMNT head coach - has been to expose as many younger players as feasible to the national team set-up. He’s given 20 players a USMNT debut in the 11 games of 2018, and wrapped up the year with the youngest starting XI in modern USMNT history.
But whatever benefits might be reaped from Sarachan’s stint as head coach, they won’t be reaped by Sarachan. It’s expected US Soccer will announce Gregg Berhalter as the new USMNT head coach in time for the team’s January training camp and opening friendlies of 2019. Berhalter will decide which of the many, many players Sarachan introduced to the national team are going stick around and help the USA toward qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
Regardless of the circumstances of the team, however, selection for USMNT is a defining element of a player’s career, and selection as US Soccer’s Male Player of the Year further marks out a player as significant to the game in this country.
So little as there might be to celebrate about USMNT’s 2018, there is equally little reason not to celebrate US Soccer’s Male Player of the Year. The award will be handed out in early December, but the nominees have been revealed: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, Zack Steffen, and Wil Trapp.
Collectively, the players provide a pretty good snapshot of USMNT’s 2018. They are a young group - Trapp is the oldest at 25; Adams is youngest at 19. They are hardly seasoned internationals: only Trapp and Miazga have more than 10 caps (11 each); Steffen made his national team debut this year, while McKennie and Adams had their first appearances for USMNT at the back-end of 2017. And, in a season of constant tinkering with lineups and rosters, none of them played every game for the USA: Adams and Trapp topped the 2018 USMNT appearances chart with eight for the year; Steffen and McKennie played six times for the USA in 2018 - just over half the team’s games.
In many ways, this is closer to a Young Player of the Year shortlist than what might be expected of a Player of the Year award that got passed around between five USMNT stalwarts for most of the last decade: between 2007 and 2016, Clint Dempsey won US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year three times; Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, and Landon Donovan each won it twice; Michael Bradley won it in 2015.
The USMNT’s present “transition phase” started last year, and was marked by Christian Pulisic becoming the youngest-ever recipient of the US Soccer Player of the Year award. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that another teenager might win it this year: RBNY’s Tyler Adams has had as good a year as anyone in a USMNT shirt, played more games for the national team than most in 2018, and is expected to cap a very good year for his club (he was a key contributor for the team that logged the best-ever regular season in MLS history) with a winter move to RB Leipzig.
In most years, that’s a pretty good candidacy for Young Player of the Year. In 2018, it might just make Tyler Adams the US Soccer Male Player of the Year.
Rooting for you, Tyler.