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Q&A: Pulisic and Tuchel, USL teams in CCL, and much more

Who should win this year’s MLS MVP award? And what’s up with the USMNT’s midfield shape? We’re going to talk about all of that and more in this week’s mailbag.

4 min read
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Quick Hits

  • We asked for your American soccer questions on Twitter earlier this week – and you delivered!
  • What does Thomas Tuchel’s exit mean for Christian Pulisic at Chelsea? How do you make the USWNT even better? Are LAFC’s problems overblown? We’ll get to all that and more

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We’re back with another midweek mailbag. I put out a call for your questions on Twitter and you delivered with a great mix about all sorts of American soccer topics.

Let’s get to it!


What chances would you give Sacramento Republic of winning at least one CCL match if they had won the U.S. Open Cup?

This would be fun, wouldn’t it? Whenever it happens, a USL team participating in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time after winning the U.S. Open Cup will be a great story.

When a USL team makes it to this region’s Champions League, I think they have a real shot of getting a win. USL teams don’t have nearly as much talent as some of the other teams they could face in the CCL. Most MLS teams and Liga MX teams participating in the competition would be bad matchups (upsets happen, though). But what about some smaller Central American teams? Or some non-MLS Canadian teams?

Those are winnable games. And when the Concacaf Champions League expands to 27 teams in 2024, a USL team, should they make it, will have an even better shot at picking up a win.

So, while it’s difficult for USL teams to qualify for the CCL, I could see some promising performances from second-division teams once they’re inside the competition.


What are some specific tactical changes Vlatko Andonovski could make for the USWNT to produce more goals consistently?

I love this question because it gets right at the heart of my biggest issue with the U.S. women’s national team right now: they lack discipline in the attack.

The USWNT is a team full of superstars. They have an absurd amount of individual quality in every line. But too often, the U.S. roll out a remedial tactical gameplan that leaves far too much to chance. They rely on individual quality instead of stitching that individual quality together into something more.

Now, it’s not that the U.S. can’t, or doesn’t, create chances in possession. They scored a combined six goals against Nigeria in their two friendlies earlier this month. But too often, the U.S. hit hopeful crosses into the box or look disjointed with their attacking spacing.

If I’m Vlatko Andonovski, I’m working on my kill patterns in the final third. This team is dynamite in transition, so my focus is on possession. I’m telling my wingers to get in behind, find the Manchester City Zones (those outer corridors of the box), and then cut the ball back to a runner inside the box. Pushing into those spaces and combining with teammates in the halfspaces and the edges of the box could turn this team into a virtually unstoppable attacking force, even against other top-tier competition.

We’ve seen glimpses of those final third patterns from the U.S., but I’d love to see more than glimpses.


Is the LAFC roster turnover narrative overblown, given that Ginella was a backup No. 6, Fall was fifth in center back rotation, and Rodriguez missed a huge chunk of the season?

LAFC’s biggest challenges have to do with their recent signings, rather than their recent departures. I don’t think they’re really missing any of Francisco Ginella (left on loan to Nacional), Mamadou Fall (left on loan to Villarreal), Brian Rodríguez (transferred to Club America).

But with so many new attacking players up front, there are some valid questions about how Steve Cherundolo is going to set up his team. How do you use Carlos Vela and Gareth Bale together and still maintain some sort of pressing identity (or at least some defensive solidity)? How do Denis Bouanga and Cristian Tello fit into this team? Can any of those players give LAFC the same aggressive off-ball running that Kwadwo Opoku gives them?

LAFC’s attacking shuffle is a problem for Cherundolo. It’s a Champagne problem, but Champagne problems are still problems. LAFC are probably still going to win the Supporters’ Shield, but things are more complicated in LA now than they were a couple of months ago.


Do you think Chelsea firing Thomas Tuchel will be beneficial for Christian Pulisic?

Define beneficial. Is playing for pretty much anyone else in the world other than Thomas Tuchel going to help Christian Pulisic’s confidence? Absolutely. But is playing for a manager that actually rates him and plays him going to be good for Pulisic’s health? I’m not so sure.

Pulisic’s injury record is miles long. He missed a big chunk of last season for Chelsea with injuries. He missed a stretch of the year before with injuries, too. He hasn’t played more than 2,000 league minutes in a single season since 2017-18.

Getting a new voice in the locker room will be a refreshing thing for Pulisic ahead of the World Cup. But if he ends up playing a bunch of minutes between now and November, I’m not optimistic that Pulisic will stay healthy before Qatar.


Has Sam Vines played his way into the backup LB spot behind Jedi?

Left back is a touchy subject for the United States right now after Antonee Robinson went down with an ankle injury with Fulham over the weekend. Regardless of the severity of the injury, finding a capable backup for Robinson is important.

Sam Vines is a regular starter in Belgium’s top division – and he even scored a goal the other day – but I don’t think he’s locked into that backup spot. Vines’ biggest competition doesn’t come from other potential left backs, though. It comes from the right back depth chart.

With Sergiño Dest’s move to AC Milan, where he’ll get more playing time than he did at Barcelona, and Joe Scally’s time on the field for Gladbach in the Bundesliga this season, Gregg Berhalter has a couple of different options who can play on either side of the backline. And given that both Dest and Scally have played left back for the USMNT, it’s clear that Berhalter is willing to use a right-footed player on the left.

Now, if Robinson isn’t fit, I think Vines has the inside track relative to the rest of the left back competition. But if Robinson is ready to go, it wouldn’t surprise me if Berhalter brought just one true left back to the World Cup.