USMNT Stock Watch: What the Canada loss says about the U.S. player pool

Doug McIntyre
Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris was all smiles after his hat trick helped beat FC Dallas in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. (Joe Nicholson/USA Today)
Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris was all smiles after his hat trick helped beat FC Dallas in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. (Joe Nicholson/USA Today)

For any national team coach, the process of assessing players happens in two distinct environments. There are the rare occasions when he or she actually has a squad in camp, where they can see how the pieces fit together up close in training sessions and in games. Then there’s the vast majority of the time, when players are scattered around the globe toiling away with their clubs, and coaching staffs mostly have to check in on their most important contributors from afar.

Sometimes it’s hard to say which environment provides more information, given the inequitable distribution of hours. But surely U.S. boss Gregg Berhalter learned more about his players in last week’s historic 2-0 loss to Canada than in any previous 90-minute interval since taking the U.S. reigns 10 months ago. Berhalter was far from blameless in the defeat, to be sure. Yet it was the players who were outworked and out-willed by the hosts in Toronto.

Combined with their forever-evolving club situations, where does the lackluster performance leave some of the Americans hoping to be in Berhalter’s lineup when the U.S. welcomes Canada for next month’s suddenly massive rematch in Orlando? Lets take a look in the latest USMNT Stock Watch.

USMNT players trending up

M Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

Perhaps the most consistent U.S. attacker over the recent international break (which began with a 7-0 drubbing of Cuba in which he had a goal and three assists), Morris returned to the Sounders and scored a hat trick in Saturday’s playoff-opening 4-3 win over FC Dallas:

Takeaway: The pacy and powerful Seattle native was probably the Americans’ top performer during the September window, too. Morris, 24, has come into his own as a winger for both club and country this season. He also boasts a cool head and significant international experience for his age on a green squad. He has deservedly nailed down a starting role for the U.S.

M/F Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (England)

Yes, really. So what if the 21-year-old was substituted 60 ineffective minutes into a then-scoreless match against the Canadians? Pulisic was understandably livid. And knowing what transpired with his best player on the bench, would Berhalter make the same decision again? Plus, Pulisic channelled his national team frustration in the best way possible, with a game-changing late cameo for Chelsea in Saturday’s 1-0 Premier League win over DeAndre Yedlin and Newcastle:

Takeaway: If the embarrassment of getting pulled from the worst U.S. loss since they failed to make the World Cup two years ago lights a fire under Pulisic, that could be the best possible outcome for both the player and the U.S.

F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany)

It’s not that Sargent was great in either U.S. game this month. He scored but squandered at least one other golden chance against Cuba, and while he was left on an island north of the border, he never managed to find the game. But the fact that the 19-year-old started both games is significant.

Takeaway: Unless his showing in Toronto changed Berhalter’s mind, it finally looks like the coach is going to give Sargent the chance as his first-choice striker. After all, Sargent has now established himself as a starter in Bremen. And while he still has a ways to go away from the ball, his nose for the net is undeniable, as evidenced by his goal against Hertha Berlin over the weekend:

G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)

Steffen stood on his head against Canada — if not for him, the Americans could’ve easily lost 4-0 — then returned to Dusseldorf and registered his first clean sheet in the Bundesliga in Saturday’s win over 10-man Mainz.

Takeaway: There are big question marks in the U.S. midfield, and others on the back line and up front. But goalkeeper is one position that Berhalter doesn’t have to worry about right now — provided Steffen stays healthy.

M Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas (MLS)

That the 21-year-old right back didn’t play against Canada only helps his cause.

Takeaway: Cannon had started the previous five games of the U.S., performing well, but Berhalter opted for 2014 World Cup vet Yedlin for the first away match of his tenure. Yedlin had just returned from injury, so some rust had to be expected. But while his big-game experience is crucial, Yedlin continues to switch off defensively with alarming frequency. Berhalter initially saw the Newcastle man in more attacking role. If the coach reverts to that thinking, Cannon could well reclaim the right back spot next month.

USMNT players trending down

Weston McKennie (left) had another frustrating night for the U.S. in last week's 2-0 loss in Canada. (Angel Marchini/Getty)
Weston McKennie (left) had another frustrating night for the U.S. in last week's 2-0 loss in Canada. (Angel Marchini/Getty)

M Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany)

After scoring a hat trick against a diabolically poor Cuban team, McKennie struggled mightily against Canada, as he had in the two losses to Mexico earlier this year.

Takeaway: That’s worrying. So is the fact that McKennie didn’t dress for Schalke’s 2-0 loss to Hoffenheim because of a minor calf strain.

M Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

In arguably the biggest game of his young career, Roldan had a nightmare in Toronto. Not only did he nearly gift Canada an early opener before Steffen bailed him out, the central midfielder was exposed physically and probably got lucky that he wasn’t sent off following a vicious and cynical kick on young Canadian star Alphonso Davies.

Takeaway: With the U.S. in desperate need of steel and range in the center of the park, it was worth giving Roldan a shot. It’s safe to say he didn’t take it.

M Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew (MLS)

Berhalter’s former captain in Columbus, Trapp has started six games for the U.S. this year, the most recent being last month’s 3-0 loss to El Tri. But he didn’t play at all in October.

Takeaway: It sure looks like the slick-passing central midfielder is slowly being phased out by his former club coach, which is fair. Trapp didn’t have a good season playing for his former college coach Caleb Porter with the Crew, and for all of his considerable leadership abilities, his physical limitations have been plain to see at the highest level.

F Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (MLS)

Zardes came on in the 73rd minute in the loss to Canada and didn’t register a shot.

Takeaway: His experience, athleticism and versatility, combined with the player pool’s dearth of other quality attacking options, probably gives Zardes a better chance of sticking around than Trapp. But after splitting the forward duties with Jozy Altidore (who is injured yet again) during the Gold Cup, the 28-year-old has clearly fallen behind Sargent on Berhalter’s depth chart heading into the final two U.S. games this year.

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