What style of play should the U.S. try to implement?

So, I floated the idea of Tony Pulis being considered as the next manager of the U.S. men’s soccer team:

Some of you on twitter seemed to like the idea, based upon the number of likes and re-tweets. There’s a chance that some of you were probably humoring me.

Some of you were more direct in your criticism:

For those not familiar with Pulis, he is the manager of West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League.

The 59-year-old has built a reputation on building teams at clubs such as Stoke City, Crystal Palace and the Baggies that have stout defenses, are good at counter-attacks and opportunistic at set pieces.

Not coincidentally, that is also the style of play that the U.S. has used to produce most of its best results in the past 10-20 years.

Based upon the current talent poll from which the U.S. has to draw, bunkering and breaking should be the path forward for the next few years.

It is a style that can be carried forward.

It also fits the U.S. mentality of being tough and overcoming odds.

It is a style that fits the skills the U.S. has until the team can develop the skill and depth necessary to truly and consistently compete with the world’s better to best.

Honestly, go through the 18 players on the U.S. roster that just lost to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 and ask yourself how many would make the 18, heck even the 36, for the world’s best teams. Ask how many could crack the 18 of Mexico, considered the best team in CONCACAF. I think there are as many as three: midfielder Christian Pulisic, fullback DeAndre Yedlin and and centerback Geoff Cameron, who inexplicably wasn’t used by manager Bruce Arena in the deciding World Cup qualifying game.

Defending and counter-attacking is the perfect style to frustrate teams that are more skilled and deeper. There’s nothing to be ashamed of using that style. Three points are three points. Wins are wins.

And Pulis is among the better managers in the world at using it.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me if the manager is Pulis. I understand his age and attitude toward MLS are concerns. He’s not a sexy pick.

I like the idea because Pulis doesn’t seem like the type of manager who would fall back on the familiar players even when it was evident what the results would likely be.

But I do think that a manager that knows how to coach this style of play is what’s needed through the next five years while the MLS academies and other clubs around the world continue to develop talent and depth from which the U.S. can draw. It takes a pool of at least 36 quality players to create the competition to create a squad that can challenge for tournament titles.

Some of you on twitter wrote that you want the U.S. to play an aggressive, attacking style. Well, yeah. Who doesn’t? But the U.S. doesn’t have the depth or skill 1-36 to consistently execute that style of play. It simply doesn’t. It will. I think it will take about two more generations, or 30 years, for there to be at least 30 players that the U.S. can choose from and say, “Our best is as good as your best.”

So, you defend and counter for a few years, get to Qatar in 2022, get the automatic berth that comes with hosting the World Cup in 2026, and then start to transition to a more proactive, attacking style.

 


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