International Fixtures

USMNT vs. Serbia Breakdown

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It’s certainly been a chaotic January for the United States Men’s National Team off of the soccer pitch. First and foremost, we need to address the elephant in the room. Gregg Berhalter‘s contract as the USMNT’s manager expired at the stroke of 12 midnight on New Year’s Eve.

At the time, Berhalter and the US Soccer Federation were interested in continuing their relationship as the Men’s National Team looks toward a co-hosted 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup. A few days after his contract lapsed, however, controversy ensued.

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Danielle Egan Reported Berhalter During World Cup

Not long after the USMNT were eliminated from the World Cup due to a 3-1 defeat against The Netherlands, an unknown person contacted the US Soccer Federation regarding Berhalter’s past transgressions. It was later revealed to be Danielle Egan, the mother of USMNT/ Borussia Dortmund midfielder Gio Reyna, who was given limited minutes by Berhalter during the tournament, being kept off the scoreboard as a result.

In a Jan. 4 interview with ESPN, Egan admitted to reporting Gregg Berhalter to the United States Soccer Federation while the World Cup was happening as a means of blackmailing Berhalter, as she had knowledge of a past episode of domestic violence involving him kicking his now-wife in the leg. The incident in question occurred in 1991, when Berhalter was beginning his freshman year at The University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill.

“Without going into detail, the statements from yesterday minimize the abuse on the night in question,” Egan said at the time. “Rosalind Berhalter was my roommate, teammate, and best friend, and I supported her through the trauma that followed.”

Berhalter’s Side of The Story

Upon news of the incident breaking, Gregg Berhalter took to Twitter to discuss the physical altercation in 1991.

“We had been dating for four months when an incident happened that would shape the future of our relationship,” Berhalter said. “One night, while drinking at a local bar, Rosalind and I had a heated argument that continued outside. It became physical and I kicked her in the legs.”

No police involvement ever took place and the Berhalters have been united in marriage for over 25 years. Subsequent to the revelations, Anthony Hudson, a former manager for the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, was appointed as the USMNT’s interim head coach for this week’s international friendlies, beginning Wednesday (10 pm ET/ 7 pm PT, HBO Max [English], Peacock/ NBC Universo [Spanish]) against Serbia.

Baptism Under Fire For Anthony Hudson

Anthony Hudson takes over as the manager for the USMNT during an undoubtedly difficult time, but he’s got experience coaching national teams on the junior level. Prior to being given the senior national team’s managerial role on an interim basis, he served as the permanent coach for the under-20 USMNT between 2020 and 2021. In the recent World Cup, Hudson worked as an assistant on Berhalter’s staff.

Under his watch, the U-20s qualified for a spot in the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup after the 2021 version of the tournament was scrubbed by COVID-19, securing a berth thanks to their win in last year’s CONCACAF U-20 Championship. During said tournament, the team outscored its opponents by a combined 29-2 margin, including a 6-0 shutout of the Dominican Republic in the final.

These friendlies will be predicated on youth for the USMNT. Given Hudson’s recent managerial history, though, this shouldn’t come as a shock.

Young Players Getting the Spotlight in January Camp

In the January camp, 11 players were selected to the senior national team roster for the first time in their careers. Hudson said in a recent question-and-answer session that these call-ups are crucial to their development.

“As we were putting this roster together, the focus has been around identifying positions within our team that would benefit from more depth,” Hudson began. “And then given the time of year, being a January camp, it gives us an opportunity to look at some real high-potential young players that have been on our radar for some time. This gives us an opportunity to look at them over the course of these two games.”

Paxten Aaronson Looking to Shine For USMNT in First Call-Up

One of the more noteworthy names from the younger roster pool is Paxten Aaronson. The midfielder from the Philadelphia Union starred for the U-20s last summer in the CONCACAF tournament. In seven matches, he scored seven goals to lead the tournament in that category, including braces during both the opening match of group play and the tournament final.

For his efforts, he was named the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship Best Player. Will Aaronson get minutes in the January window? Tune in later this week and find out.

Serbia Match Should Be Winnable

Wednesday night’s adversary, Serbia, doesn’t look to be too tough of an opponent on paper. Much like the USMNT, Serbia, too, qualified for this past fall’s World Cup, but didn’t survive beyond group play.

Serbia had been drawn into Group G for the tournament last April, a group that featured Brazil, Cameroon, and Switzerland as adversaries. The Serbian national team only managed to eke out a single point in group play, battling Cameroon to a 3-3 stalemate during the middle game of the group stage.

If Serbia plays the way it did during the first and third games of group play, the USMNT should have an easy night on Wednesday at the newly-renamed BMO Stadium (formerly Banc of California Stadium) in Los Angeles to open up the 2026 FIFA World Cup cycle. However, if Serbia plays like the team it fielded during the early stages of the 2022-2023 UEFA Nations League, the Americans will be in trouble.

USMNT Have To Play Better on Defense

At the same time, however, the USMNT must be able to put the clamps on Serbia defensively. Defensive issues cropped up for the Americans in the World Cup. During the first match of group play, the USMNT appeared to be headed toward three points in the standings to kick off the tournament, but the now-retired Gareth Bale won a penalty after being fouled by Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman.

Bale coolly buried the penalty kick, forcing the Americans to settle for a draw. Upon holding England and Iran off of the scoreboard in the final two matches of the group stage, the red, white, and blue were undone by The Netherlands, who scored three goals against them on Dec. 3.

If the USMNT plays as it did in the home fixtures of last year’s CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, it’ll be a victorious start to the new World Cup cycle. The fact that these first two friendlies are on home soil is a major boon for the team.

Final Thoughts

Controversy off of the pitch soon will give way to the game itself on Wednesday. With news outlets reporting on the Berhalter drama in the early part of January, it’ll be refreshing to actually see the USMNT play.

How well have the players been able to tune out the distraction away from the field of play? We’ll soon find out.

Prediction: USMNT 2-0 over Serbia.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.

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