The year is almost over, and it is time for another SBI Q&A, as we answer your December questions on all things soccer and pop culture.
The final Q&A of the year features plenty of USMNT-related questions, along with some MLS ones, as well as some questions on movies and TV.
Here are your December Questions Answered:
JIM NGUYEN – I’m hearing Pepi to Wolfsburg move is complete. How would you assess this move?
IVES – If Wolfsburg is paying the type of price being reported (north of $10 million) you would imagine the Bundesliga club has some serious plans to integrate Pepi. Wout Weghorst is Wolfsburg’s lead striker and is reportedly on the market for a potential January move. If Wolfsburg can sell Weghorst for $20 million or more and turn around and use a portion of that fee to buy Pepi, it would mean a chance for some real playing time for the young USMNT striker. Lukas Nmecha and Luca Waldschmidt would be the likely starters until Pepi settled in, but he would have a real shot at minutes right away in that scenario.
KRAMER – It’s been exciting seeing MLS academies graduating more players to the 1st teams and then some making the jump to bigger clubs in Europe. Do you see this continuing to trend in that direction w more teams spending more on their academies? It seems like only a few MLS teams have taken this approach w Dallas and Philly being prob the best examples.
IVES – It is clear more and more teams are seeing the light when it comes to bolstering their academies in order to develop talent to both play and eventually sell, and the MLS shift to emphasizing its potential as a selling league has helped remove some of the stigma of the past, which seemed to hold back the potential for player sales.
FC Dallas and Philadelphia have done a great job and lead the way, but they aren’t the only academies producing talent. Real Salt Lake has produced plenty of talent, and will now be able to keep more of it as opposed to losing so much of it directly to Europe (Ledezma, Booth) if it emphasizes first-team opportunities, which it should. New York City FC produced Gio Reyna and Joe Scally and boasted a pair of academy products in its MLS Cup-winning lineup in James Sands and Tayvon Gray.
What is a bit of a concern is the amount of elite prospects being produced in the bigger markets, like Los Angeles and Chicago. The Fire have an exciting top talent in Gabriel Slonina, but hasn’t produced first-team players at anywhere the rate you would like to see from a market like Chicago, and both LAFC and the LA Galaxy are sitting on a gold mine of youth talent, but we haven’t seen it really produce gems yet. Julian Araujo and Efrain Alvarez are promising to be sure, but the Galaxy have gone years without producing useful and elite first-team players from its youth setup. LAFC under Bob Bradley did well to integrate younger players and it will be interesting to see how Bradley’s replacement treats that project. You can also look at the New York Red Bulls as a team that has seen its production of academy talents slow a bit. Caden Clark wasn’t a Red Bulls academy product. Omir Fernandez and John Tolkin have show some glimpses, but haven’t had an elite academy product since Tyler Adams left.
I scored 3 goals in one game – Pick a starting xi right now when healthy who would it be
IVES – This will be its own SBI post later this week so stay tuned.
Jay Coleman – So, Matrix Resurrections, Spiderman: No Way Home, Kingsmen, and several other movies out now. Which one did you enjoy the most or are you looking forward to seeing the most?
IVES – Matrix would be the one I’m most looking forward to, but having seen Spiderman and being blown away by how good it was I’m not sure Matrix will be able to top it.
CJ – Am i the only one concerned that the qualifiers played in January could potentially be in a blizzard? If it were to be played on a snowy or less than perfect pitch, it would even the playing field against less talented opposition
IVES – Is there some risk of weather negatively impacting a game during that window? Absolutely, but at the end of the day if you are assured of playing Canada in extreme winter conditions in Canada, then it makes sense to try and build a plan around all three games. It isn’t just a weather thing either, it’s reducing travel as well. What’s the alternative? Playing in warm weather in the home games and then going to Canada to play in the cold? That would be a difficult adjustment AND would mean increasing the travel to get anywhere reasonably warm.
I also happen to agree with the idea that the USMNT will be much better equipped to deal with playing in cold weather than El Salvador and Panama.
JIM NGUYEN – Looking in your crystal ball – name one player who in your estimation will be a surprise inclusion to the U.S. World Cup squad? One surprise omission?
IVES – That’s a tough one since the general idea is it’s someone we don’t expect right now. I’d probably throw a flyer on Richie Ledezma, who is just coming back from injury. He has a very unique skill set and brings some good attacking quality to central midfield. If he can play his way into a regular role for PSV, and stay healthy and thrive, he would be the type of player who Berhalter could see as a creative threat off the bench. From a practical standpoint, the “surprise” is more likely to come in a defender role, like a left back (Jonathan Gomez) or right back (Kyle Duncan). Given how many young players Gregg Berhalter has called up and looked at I’m not sure we’ll have a full-blown surprise make the final 23, though plenty can change in 11 months.
John Brooks feels like a good candidate to be a surprise omission, though right now it’s not as surprising an idea as it was four months ago. In terms of a healthy roster snub, someone like DeAndre Yedlin could wind up missing out given the stiff competition at right back.
BRIAN DONOVAN – What is the current status of travel rules between the US and Canada? How will that impact the USMNT’s trip to Hamilton in January?
IVES – As things stand, there are no new restrictions on travel between the United States and Canada, but with the new spike in COVID infections due to the Omicron variant it is tough to know if that will hold up for another month. I’m all booked and set to go to Hamilton with the CBS Sports team (we are broadcasting the game) but if there are changes to the travel rules then everyone will just have to adjust, and you have to think the chances of there being a full stadium for the USMNT-Canada qualifier grow less and less likely as COVID numbers rise.
JB – Assuming the USMNT can finish the job, and qualify for the ’22 world cup, what are realistic expectations for a talented but really young team at the tournament? Good enough to get out of the group stage? Make a deeper run? Or will be lucky to be competitive and get experience before young talent hits prime years in ’26?
IVES – First thing’s first, the draw is always an important step. Who you wind up going against, and where those teams are form-wise when the tournament comes around will play a big part. If the young USMNT talent continues to develop on its current track then there’s every reason to believe the team can reach the Round of 16. From there, the draw matters once again because you can have a promising group stage and still run into a nightmare Round of 16 draw (see Mexico in 2018, when it faced Brazil in the Round of 16).
What really matters for this group is gaining experience and putting together a good showing to build on for 2026. So many promising players will be at their peak ages for that world cup (24-27 age range) and the hope will be that by then the team will be talented enough to hold its own no matter how tough the draw might be (and as host in 2026 it should mean a spot in Pot A and avoiding many of the very best teams in the group stage).
PAUL MILLER – Ives, Please provide update on the remaining open MLS coaching positions. And what / where will Tab Ramos do next? Too good of a resource to stay unemployed. thanks.
IVES – As of Tuesday, Los Angeles FC and the Houston Dynamo remain the only vacant head coaching positions, though reports out of Houston have linked Paulo Nagamura with the Dynamo job.
As for Ramos, his first head coaching experience was a rough one, and it can’t be stressed enough what a thankless situation he stepped into on a team that wasn’t spending. New ownership came in, but Ramos didn’t get a chance to benefit from that change, or from the change in general manager.
Will Ramos get another head coaching opportunity in MLS?
JIM – Do you think we will continue to see in form players miss out from camps and potentially the World Cup roster due to how Berhalter wants to play (eg “verticality”)? Or do you think Berhalter will show more personnel/tactical flexibility? Given the need to be better on say set pieces I can’t imagine him not considering bringing in players who offer a more aerial threat.
IVES – Not sure who all these “in-form” players are missing out on camps, but Berhalter wouldn’t be the first national team coach to have preferences in style and player profiles.
In terms of recent surprise omissions, when Berhalter didn’t call in Jordan Pefok and Josh Sargent at striker, going instead with Jesus Ferreira, Pefok and Sargent weren’t in form. Same went for John Brooks, who was left off after a run of questionable form (he was playing his way out of it, at least temporarily, but it was far from a case of Brooks having been at his best when he was left out).
Are there some players who might be in good form but who aren’t necessarily better options than the current ones? Sure, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Luca De La Torre are having good club seasons, but I don’t see either of their exclusions being about how Berhalter wants to play.
I do think Berhalter has shown some flexibility in how he views players because we have seen players he clearly didn’t rate before playing their way into the picture, like Antonee Robinson and DeAndre Yedlin.
CHARLIE COSTIN – How close are we from seeing MLS and Liga MX coming together, do you see this happening or will they just work together but never merge.
IVES– The whole “make Liga MX and MLS one league” idea is in the box with the “World Cup every two years” idea in the “Things that will never happen but rich people wish they would” category. It makes zero practical sense to combine the leagues and it would be a logistical nightmare. Both leagues are fine on their own, and both league should work on improving themselves as individual entities rather than just trying to jam the two together in some misguided quest to cash in.
The leagues will continue to partner on things, as they should, and we’ve seen friendlies and the MLS All-Star Game show the possibilities. That sort of collaboration is long overdue, but the combo league idea needs to be buried and forgotten.
KRAMER – Top 5 series to binge? My top spot is The Wire followed by in no specific order Sopranos, Narcos, Ted Lasso, and Sons of Anarchy.
IVES – If you’re asking my all-time favorite shows, I’ll probably go 1. Wire, 2. Game of Thrones, 3. Breaking Bad, 4. Sopranos, 5. Better Call Saul. In the comedy department, King of Queens, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Everybody Loves Raymond and The Office are in the pantheon for me.
In terms of current shows that are good to binge, Narcos, Ozark, Ted Lasso and Master of None are some I would recommend.
Shows I am hoping to finally watch in 2022 include: Homeland, Snowfall, Mr. Robot, Dexter, See and Succession are some.
ANDREW – Hey Ives. My Question is about Coach Bob. Do you think he will play his son as a 6 or as a center back? Also do you think he can turn Jozy around like it was 2010 or 2014? The USMNT could use a inform Jozy at least as a bench option. Also did Bob have anything to say when Zimmerman was traded? Did Bob have any National team interest from other countries? Thanks. AD
IVES – This is more than one question Andrew, but I’ll knock a few of them out. I do think we’ll eventually see Michael Bradley as a central defender. It’s a natural transition, and he can control the game from that spot with his passing and ability to read the game. As for Jozy Altidore, it sounds like Toronto FC has eyes on a high-profile striker addition, and that could mean the end of Altidore’s time in Toronto. I think Altidore still has plenty to give, but it will be up to Bradley to decide if the money would be better spent in other spots (and TFC reportedly landing Lorenzo Insigne for a record salary could force TFC to move Altidore).
MIKE R – Any chance MLS raises its salary cap (and Mex lowers theres) to make a merger more possible? I believe if a merger happens (and a loosening of salary cap) the league will be a top 3 league. As it stands we love to say MLS has surpassed NHL on the American sports landscape, Howver the NHL average salary is $2.69 million and the average MLS average is $410,000. The disaprity is laughable except for the fact that NHL is the top league in its sport and MLS isnt close. But if you raised the cap it might be.
IVES – Given what’s going on with the pandemic, which has led to MLS freezing the salary cap for what will be a second straight season, it’s tough to talk about raising the cap right now. Will that happen when things are back to normal (if they ever are)? It’s something MLS needs to consider for sure, but right now isn’t really the time to talk about that given the current situation in the world.
RICH – Hi Ives – With some question still at some positions are there any MLSers that you see making the USMNT for Qatar (assuming we make it)? Matt Polster has been doing it for the Revs. Aaron Herrera has been standout for RSL.
IVES – It’s getting tougher and tougher for MLS players given the growing wave of talents heading to Europe. Right now I’d say the leading candidates to be in Qatar as MLS players are Walker Zimmerman, Jordan Morris, Matt Turner, Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta. I think we will see something like 6-8 MLS players make the 23. I think players like Ricardo Pepi and Miles Robinson will be in Europe by the time the World Cup roles around.
Do I see any current MLS players who aren’t already in Berhalter’s regular rotation making it to Qatar, like a Polster or Herrera? I think we see at most 1-2 of those, but it would more likely be someone younger.