2018 in Review: A USMNT “gap year,” a look at the lost year of US Men’s Soccer

Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic celebrate a USMNT goal

2018 was an underwhelming year for USMNT. At the end of 2017, we all knew the US would not play in Russia for the 2018 World Cup. This created a lost year of US Mens Soccer. This “gap year” did little to prepare the Mens National Team moving towards matches of significance in 2019.

Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic celebrate a USMNT goal.

2018 in Review:

The disappointing end of 2017 created a chain of events. The first being the firing of then coach Bruce Arena, the appointing of Dave Sarachan as interim head coach. US Soccer’s then president Sunil Gulati stepped down after the disappointment. His successor, Carlos Cordeiro, was elected and said that US Soccer was in store for major changes. This included the hiring of a Men’s and Women’s general manager, and finding a full-time Men’s head coach, as the US Soccer Federation tries to restore their Men’s team to a competitive side.

2018 was “gap year” for the US Men’s National Team. USA only played 11 matches friendly matches; in those matches, the US posted a poor record (three wins, five losses, and three ties). Missing out on the World Cup and blowing up the chain of command, meant that it was a full lost year for US Men’s soccer.

In a year where there was very little to draw positives from, there was one area of promise. Young players were given an opportunity to play.

Positive Youthful Presences:

In what could be the only positive out of 2018 for the USMNT, young players were given oppertunities on the field. Josh Sargent (Age 18), Tyler Adams (Age 19) and Zach Steffen (Age 23) were standout players in 2018. Overall the average age of an US Mens players in 2018 was 25.

To look at it differently, here’s a breakdown of average age by position:

  • Forwards: 25-years-old
  • Midfielders 23-years-old
  • Defenders 25-years-old
  • Goalkeepers 26-years-old

The USMNT’s youth movement was a bright spot, but the absence of veteran players meant that there was little leadership on the field. The cohesion was not on the pitch at times, but the experiences that the young players received could be instrumental moving forward.

The young players were on the field, while great positions of need laid vacant for most of 2018. The general manager and head coach were not filled for the majority of 2018!

GM & Head Coach Hired:

Back in June of 2018, the USMNT announced the hiring of former player Earnie Stewart as the first ever General Manager.  The ex-USMNT player, and most recently the sporting director of Philadelphia Union in MLS, took the instrumental job. This is a new position made by US Soccer. The general manager is tasked with overseeing the coach, and picking players for selection. US Soccer President, Carlos Cordeiro said of Stewart:

“With his breadth of experience as both a player and a technical director, Earnie  is the ideal leader to guide the long-term success of our Men’s National Team program,” Cordeiro said. “ Combined with the structural changes at the Federation that we announced in April, this is a further step in our commitment to ensure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts.”

Six months after Stewart was appointed as GM, he hired the USMNT’s full-time coach Gregg Berhalter. The long process of hiring Berhalter was explained by Earnie Stewart:

“After a very thorough process, I am absolutely convinced Gregg is the right man to lead the National Team program moving forward,” Stewart said. “He ticks all the boxes with his background as a person, a successful coach and an accomplished former international player.”

Now as 2019 is on the horizon, the young players have been given an opportunity and the GM and head coach have been appointed, the “gap year” can finally end!

The “Gap Year” Finally Ends:

US Soccer took their sweet time to appoint major decision makers. Without having a general manager who was supposed to, be the main shaper of this squad, for six months, and with out a head coach until December, many fans have become even more soured. Now that the major pieces are in place, the US Men’s National Team has nowhere to go but up.

As the calendar turns to 2019, we’ll get the first look at how Gregg Berhalter will structure the USMNT. A January camp will be riddled with MLS players as is usually the case. This will be the last round of friendlies where fringe players are given major oppertunities. Some of the USMNT regulars will be sure to re-join the group ahead of some major competitions that will take place in 2019.

2019 brings Gold Cup, Olympics & World Cup Qualifications:

The USMNT will have to gain some steam at the beginning of 2019, to feel confident about what comes next. In June, the US will participate in the Gold Cup. US Won that Cup back in 2017. Now as they try to move on from uncertainty, USMNT will look to defend their crown in the summer.

Apart from that major competition, USMNT will also take part in Olympic qualification. The US has failed to qualify for the past two Olympics, so making the competition this time around would be instrumental. The Olympic roster would have to be made up of players 23-and-under (baring three players who can be over the age of 23). If the US youngsters are able to qualify, it could be an invaluable experience for the future USMNT regulars.

2019 is also the start of Qatar 2022 World Cup Qualifying. While the first rounds of qualifying are usually a breeze for the US. They will look to start off qualifying determined to show that are past October, 10th 2017.

As the 2018 “gap year” comes to a close, USMNT have their decision makers in place, a young core to work with, and big oppertunities to show they can win crucial games. 2019 should be the return of fun for the USMNT.

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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports