Brad Friedel on USMNT, the World Cup and the Premier League
The former USMNT and Premier League goalkeeper discusses the upcoming 2022 World Cup and reviews the season so far.
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What does the USMNT need to do over this international break to hit the ground running in Qatar?
I think they have a really strong squad. One issue that I would see is how to make sure Christian Pulisic is fully fit, and that means match fitness, because he is not getting a lot of playing time at Chelsea. He is a really important player to us. I think it is crucial that he is in a really good frame of mind for the World Cup.
I think we have a host of good goalkeepers, but I'm a little worried that none of them are playing at the moment. Sean Johnson is, and Ethan Horvath is, but Zack Steffen I believe has a minor injury. Matt Turner, I think the world of him, but he has made the decision to sign the contract not to play, so he is not getting games.
I think Pulisic is important, I think having a goalkeeper that is in stride is important, and the center back position is important. Tyler Adams is fit, Brenden Aaronson is fit, Weston McKennie, they are all huge parts of our team. But I really do like our squad as a whole.
Would you classify the Wales match on the first day as a must-win for the USA?
It's a must not lose. I don’t know if it's a must win. You have Wales first, and the way the group is set up, you must not lose that. In any four-team group stage, if you lose the first game it is usually very difficult get through. The way that these teams are lined up, it's imperative that you simply can’t lose the first one. It would be really tough to come back from that.
Can the World Cup be a huge stage for Brendan Aaronson?
He's gone from a decent-sized stage in the MLS to a bigger stage in Austria to a bigger stage in the Premier League with all the media, and it looks like, right now, he will be penciled in to start, or at least get significant minutes at the World Cup. He has played really well. He looks very confident.
It's really good to see an academy product from the United States doing well. The Philadelphia Union have spent a lot of money on their academy. They were getting criticized at first when they started doing it, but they have done a great job. Look at their position in the table, and look at the players they are producing. You have to give a lot of credit for what they have done behind the scenes there, because it is not an overnight process to create a conveyor belt of players, and they have started to do it.
What are your thoughts on the first two months of the Leeds new project? How good can Aaronson and Tyler Adams be in this squad?
I coached Tyler. I love Tyler, I really do. He was one of my favourites to coach. He just gives his all everywhere, he really does. He can speak his mind, he can have a moan with the staff, but it never stops him from playing well. He is very versatile and can play multiple positions, even if he is not happy playing in a certain position, he goes out there and gives it his all. He is not tall in stature, but boy, is he strong. He has gotten better and better on the football. I have nothing but admiration for Tyler.
Aaronson I don’t know as well in regards to his personality, but just watching him, he has done so well. It is great for the United States development side of things. I know we have been focusing more on that and pouring more resources into that, so it's good that we are seeing some big strides being made.
Jesse Marsch is an outstanding coach. He has taken his time learning the game. He has learned from some outstanding minds. He was in a Red Bull’s system where they had a lot of educational tools at his disposal. He had some very good minds that were teaching him as well. He got some incredible experience in Austria and Germany. His time in Germany wasn’t long, but sometimes when you are in these adverse conditions, you learn even more. His style of coaching really lends itself to the Premier League. He can play a high-pressing system, he can play in a lower block, but with a lot of intensity, and he can also counter attack. The fans in England will enjoy watching it, because it is not a sit-back, boring type of football.
Jesse is an intense figure. He has caused a couple of rumbles so far, but the British public really enjoys that. They like intensity, they like when people show passion.
Aaronson is a bit different, he's a player with a bit more guile. They'll love him for his assists, his goals, and his work rate. Tyler they will love because no matter what game, whether it is Saturday at Old Trafford in a glamor tie, or Tuesday away to Rochdale in the League Cup, Tyler will give his all.
Is Marsch a future USMNT manager? Can you see him managing a huge club one day?
Could I see him coaching the US some day? Absolutely, the way that his trajectory has gone. Whether he wants to or not at some stage in his career, that is another question, because being a national team coach is very different than being a club team coach. You have a lot of time off. I've spoken to Gregg Berhalter about it, because he has obviously been a club coach as well, and Gregg is still really young in terms of being a national team coach. You have a lot of downtime compared to what you do with club coaching day-to-day.
I know Jesse, but I am not a close, personal friend where I talk to him all the time and know what he wants to do. But I could see, if the job ever came up again and he put his name in the ring, or US Soccer want to go interview him, yeah. In the group of 45 to 55-year-old coaches in the US, he is right up there with the best.
How important was Jack Harrison’s spell in the MLS?
That is another really good story for the development side of the US. You go from the Liverpool and Manchester United academy to the MLS Draft, and then you're at NYCFC, and from that point on, his career has just gone from strength to strength. It is more proof that you can come over here, or you can be born here, and you can make it places.
Pulisic is finding life hard at Chelsea at the moment. How do you think he’ll fare under Graham Potter?
From a United States perspective, I want him to play more, and I want him to do well in the World Cup. He may really benefit from Thomas Tuchel leaving, because things weren’t going incredibly well on the playing front in terms of starts and minutes on the pitch.
Again, I don’t know what Graham Potter’s views are of him, but he is a new head coach so he is going to give him a chance. I am sure of that at some stage.
Chelsea signed Gabriel Slonina in the summer. He’s highly rated, but how much do you know about him? Is he a future Chelsea No. 1?
I know him well. I've watched him a lot. He is one for a long way ahead. Chelsea, in my opinion, are not signing him to play right now. I would assume they will be looking for loans for him. Look at their No. 1 and 2, and the amounts they paid for them, the amounts they pay to them, and their ages. There is a long way to go to be Chelsea’s No. 1. I would assume they purchased him as a project for the future.
Do you think Harry Kane is the best striker in the world after Erling Håland?
I don’t know if you can say after Håland, because Manchester City plays such a different style. If Kane were in City’s team, you would have to think he would be up there around the 40-goal mark. Tottenham play such a different style, and Kane, year in and year out, has been magnificent.
I don’t know if I would say behind, I think you would definitely put him in the category of Håland, of Lewandowski, and it is sort of in the eye of the beholder who is best. But he is superb, he really is. His finishing is so difficult for a goalkeeper to save. He puts a lot of power, a lot of whip, a lot of swerve on his shots, and they are very difficult to handle for a keeper.
Just how important has Dier been for Spurs recently? Do you think he could start for England at the World Cup?
Yeah, I do. When he missed out on the last tournament with England, I know he was devastated. He knows between form and injuries last year he was probably just a little bit off.
Eric is a great kid. He is a super athlete, a really good teammate, and a physical specimen. Off the field he is so nice, and on the field he can be so angry, and do the dirty work that defenders need to do. He is in a great vein of form right now, and I would assume that he would be right there for the starting XI for England.
I don’t know of any defender who is playing better, it is just if Gareth Southgate sees someone that might be better in his system, or for what he wants to do against a particular opponent. But right now, I would think he has to be one of the first names on the team sheet.
How much of a blow would it be if Hugo Lloris’ injury keeps him out for Tottenham or France?
It would be a blow for both. Hugo does not get a lot of the recognition that he deserves. Part of it is that he is a quiet soldier himself. He is that unflappable one in the goal. He makes some super saves, and he gets some applause, but nothing over the top. I think a lot of it is because of his demeanour. He goes out and does his job each and every day, and he does it very confidently and quietly.
He's a leader. It's very similar to when Ledley King was there. He's not vocal, but he leads by example in how he conducts himself off the field and how he plays on it.
Hugo, like any of us as goalkeepers, makes the odd mistake. Hugo is so vastly experienced now that when he does make a mistake, it doesn't bother him to the point where he is going to make another and another. That is the big difference between him and some of the other keepers in the top leagues. Every keeper can come get a cross, or make a save, but it is how you deal with the mistakes, especially now when every mistake is on everyone’s phone within a second. You have to have a strong mind to deal with it, and Hugo has that.
Son finally got off the mark with a brilliant hat-trick, do you fancy him to really kick on now?
I said this about two weeks ago when someone asked me if I thought it was time for a change for Son, and I thought, absolutely not. I said the exact opposite. For Tottenham, you can flip it into a positive, that you know you have a brilliant player who is just a little bit low on confidence, but you know he is going to get the confidence back soon. Once he gets the first, he will score a ton.
You saw that when he scored his first, and then got his second and third right after. You could see by the reaction to that, the players right after. Everybody was hugging him, including the staff. The staff weren’t hugging because they had scored the goal, but rather because this burden had been lifted off of Son’s shoulders. The whole stadium enjoyed it. He is such a good worker, a good friend, a good teammate, a good pro, that you could see everyone loved it. It was like having one of your children score a goal.
Now that he is off the mark, you have another player there that has world class ability, and is like a new signing. That is how I put it, and how I see it right now. You can always tell how much a player is liked by his teammates when he goes through a little tough spell and then you watch the celebrations after the next goal he scores. You see how much it meant to everyone.
How dangerous can this Tottenham team be now in multiple competitions?
Because of how good Manchester City is, and also Liverpool even though they are stuttering right now, but I did have Tottenham as outside contenders. The front three - well, four really, because you have Dejan Kulusevski – Kane, Son, Richarlison, and Kulusevski, that is formidable. That is up there with the best in Europe.
When you add in Antonio Conte, who just wins everywhere he goes, you can’t discount them lifting a trophy. The Premier League is tough, Man City is so good. So, I don’t know. But if Man City has a stumble, you never know what's going to happen after the World Cup. There could be a couple of bad injuries, a loss of form, or just tired, tired legs afterwards.
It's one of those years that it could be Tottenham’s year to lift the Premier League or the Champions League. Again, it is really hard to win trophies. They made a final under Pochettino, but we will just have to wait and see. Conte doesn’t usually go home without lifting one, and they have a really good team.
Do you ever envisage Kane playing in the MLS like Beckham/Lampard/Gerrard?
I'm not stirring anything up, I've never spoken to him about it, but I do know he does love American sports. Could I see him over here at some point? Yeah, I could. And I think with the way Daniel Levy does his business, if he ever does leave Tottenham, going somewhere where he is not going to compete with Tottenham is probably a destination that Daniel Levy would like him to go to. If he ever leaves. So yes, I could see him over here.
What’s going wrong for Klopp and Liverpool this season?
I think they got a lot of confidence back in the 9-0 game. If you watch some of the games, it hasn’t been too bad. They haven’t been perfect: it hasn’t been to their standards of the last few years. You had a long season last year fighting on four trophy fronts. You might have a couple of tired minds, a couple of tired bodies, and they have a World Cup coming up.
I don’t see a lot wrong, I don’t see any reason for panic whatsoever. You don’t ever want to have to play catch up against your rivals, especially against Man City, of course. I don’t see a ton wrong, actually, I don’t see anything wrong. They just need to keep going and getting results. Losing Sadio Mane, with the type of player he is, is a miss. They have to wait for Darwin Nunez to get acclimated to the Premier League.
A couple of their games have been down to individual errors. When you look at the Napoli game, that was the first time in a long while that I saw a collective of poor performances for Liverpool. Other than that, it has been individual mistakes. It just happens, people are human. I think they are going to be neck-and-neck with Man City, and it could be Tottenham, at the end of the season.
Who should start for England at the World Cup: Trent, James or Trippier?
Kyle Walker. He is the fastest human being I have ever played with. I was with him at Villa, I was with him at Tottenham. If you stood next to him, he is big, powerful, strong, good on the ball. When I tell you fast, you could take the fastest guy in the NFL, and that is Walker. He has jets. I saw something when they were doing FIFA - I've never played FIFA, by the way - and they were doing his speed, and one of his teammates said it was 84, and started laughing. His speed is 99! He is so fast, and powerful. By the way, every one of the names you mentioned are good players, but Kyle is above them all.
Can Arsenal keep pace with Manchester City, or is top four a more realistic target?
I wouldn’t have thought so at the beginning of the season, but they made good signings and they have started with a lot of confidence, so who knows.
A team like Arsenal, the World Cup could hurt them, because the season is going to pause. They might be the club that could really benefit from it kicking along because of how good they have started.
Mikel Arteta has done a really good job. He got rid of a lot of players he needed to get rid of. He brought in some good players. I would agree with Arsene Wenger’s comments, you don’t see a weak player at any position any more.
Do you think Brighton can keep this pace up under a new manager? Is Europe a realistic target?
A target, yes, because of the way they started. But a realistic target, I doubt it. Graham Potter had things rolling there, and I'm not saying it can’t continue there, but if you look at the squad, compared to the other squads in the Premier League, over the course of the season they will find it really hard to finish in that top six or seven.
Ten Hag looks to have stabilized the ship and has United heading in the right direction. What do you think is their ceiling this season?
They are still far off trying to win the title. I do think it is realistic for them to make the top four, and that should really be their goal, especially with the way they do their budgeting. But I see a fourth, fifth, or sixth. If things go well for them, a top-four finish could be in the cards for them.
Does Steven Gerrard have anything to worry about with Villa or will he get time?
They got a big draw against Man City, and then a big win. Stevie is a winner, he is a fighter. I would like to think he is under zero pressure with the Aston Villa board. He is a young manager, yes, but he is vastly experienced in the game. I would think, and knowing his personality, the players would really enjoy playing for him. I think the club should keep backing him.
I think they have a really good, long-term, ambitious manager. He is not going to take liberties. He will not cut corners, and he will give 100 per cent effort no matter what he is trying to accomplish. I see no reason why the pressure be on him.