Chalking up over 700 appearances for club and country, Brad Friedel played soccer at the highest level for 20 years.
Representing Team USA at three World Cups, Friedel spent the majority of his career in England – playing for the likes of Liverpool, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur. Hanging up his boots, and gloves, in 2015, Friedel still holds the record for most consecutive Premier League appearances.
Speaking to CardsChat, the veteran shot stopper gives his verdict on Alisson Becker’s recent blunders, the future of Harry Kane, and who he thinks could become the best American player in Europe.
On Liverpool …
How do you assess Liverpool’s season so far? They’re comfortably behind where many expected in the League. Did you expect them to take the league by storm again this year?
I absolutely thought Liverpool would be challenging for the title this year. I’ve said recently that I think Liverpool have the best squad, and I thought they would go on a run. I still think they’ll go on a run. I did not expect Man City to claw back the points as quickly as they did. In truth, I didn’t expect Man City to be fighting for the title race. I think the instability in the back four has cost Liverpool. When they were playing Tottenham and it was 1-1 and they scored the late winner, I thought that was what was going to really catapult them again. But then you fast-forward to the game against Man City, it’s 1-1 and Alisson – who’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world – makes a couple of mistakes and they lose, then they lose again after. And it’s very difficult to catch up now.
I think Jürgen Klopp is one of the very best managers in the world and I just think the instability in the back four has cost them. I think, when they get the players back, they still have the best squad in the Premier League. I think Jürgen Klopp and his staff are excellent and they’ll improve the squad in the summer again, and it’ll be probably down to Liverpool and Man City next season. Maybe Man United – we’ll see what happens.
Do you think it’s conceivable that Jurgen Klopp’s job could be under any pressure?
I think that would be the most farcical firing in world football if Liverpool were to get rid of Klopp. I don’t even know how people are speaking about it, if truth be told. Unless there’s problems behind the scenes with the board and he resigns – I mean that’s something that we would never know about. But with regards to his job being under pressure now? No, I can’t see that Klopp is under any immediate pressure.
Do you expect Liverpool to progress past Leipzig over the two legs having won well last night? With the league now very unlikely, how much pressure will there be for Liverpool to win the Champions League?
Liverpool need to focus on two things for the remainder of the season. First of all, they have to win as many points in the league and get as close to Man City as they possibly can. There’s always pressure on the clubs to bring in trophies and they’ve got – as I said earlier – the best squad. They need a little bit of confidence going, they need their centre halves back and once they do, they’re going to be one of the best. I’m going to keep saying it until the end of the season and I do think they’ll go on a very, very long unbeaten run at some stage here throughout the end of the season of the Premier League.
Second of all, they’ll have a chance of winning the Champions League. I don’t think there will be pressure from the Board room if they don’t win it but there will be pressure amongst the team to push on and do that.
Alisson has made a series of uncharacteristic errors this season already – how much is that down to the fact that he has an unsettled defence in front of him or should that not affect his individual errors?
The fact that Alisson has been playing with an unsettled defence can affect his form but also the fact that he’s encouraged to take risk by playing with his feet. If you take who I consider probably the two best goalkeepers in the Premier League right now, and I think Martínez has had a great year at Villa, but if you take Ederson and Alisson, they both play a little bit on the edge with their feet. I think they’re both outstanding with their feet, especially Ederson. Alisson has made some mistakes but Jürgen Klopp will know if he has to put an arm around him or just leave him be. We all make mistakes. What separates the top players – and especially the top goalkeepers – from others is, when they do make the mistake, is how they come back from it.
On the outside, looking in, I really wouldn’t be too worried about it, other than worried at the fact that Liverpool have lost points, but I think Alisson will come good. I think he’s one of the best. And just because you make a mistake or two, doesn’t mean you’re not automatically one of the world’s best, but then you have to start performing again, which I’m sure he will.
Do you think Liverpool are suffering as a result of not bolstering their squad more in the transfer window this summer?
When you go into a season as a manager, you think you’re covered enough more times than not. I think they’ve had longer-term injuries than they would have hoped. I also think all the managers – whether you’re in the top of the pile or fighting relegation, you have to deal with COVID-related issues, you have to change sometimes how you train, your methodology. And perhaps, with Coronavirus and these clubs not bringing in matchday revenue, some of the clubs might be waiting to spend the transfer fees. Maybe the player that they wanted isn’t available till next summer, so they weren’t going to just spend to spend. I think there’s a lot of permutations that go into it.
But I think, going into the season, Liverpool probably thought they had a good enough squad. I most certainly did. And just sometimes injuries get on top of you and there’s a little bit of luck or lack of luck to it. But I think their squad is still superb, and I’m sure the scouts are working around the clock to get their targets in.
Are you surprised to see Thiago struggling to make the impact many expected in the Premier League?
I’m not surprised that Thiago has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League. The Premier League is a different league. It’s not fair to compare like a Bayern Munich to a Manchester United. The Bundesliga to the Premier League. There’s a difference, it’s a different league, it’s a more physical league – even though the Bundesliga is probably the closest one in physicality to it. And it takes players – even the best of players – a little bit of time to get used to it.
And when you’re a player, especially in the middle of the field, it takes more time. I would assume, at the beginning, he was playing against these teams and thinking ‘wow, all these players tackle, all these players run, they’re physical, they’re big, they’re strong’. And he just has to get used to it. He is a wonderful player and he will be very good for Liverpool. But it does take a little bit of time and sometimes a couple of months more than some other players to get acclimated to the Premier League.
Liverpool are reportedly among a number of top clubs said to be keeping tabs on young Schalke striker, American, Matthew Hoppe. Does he have the quality needed for a club like Liverpool?
Time will tell if Liverpool target Matthew Hope has the quality to make it at Liverpool. I think, with a signing like that, it depends on the amount of money you’re paying and the wage that you’re paying. I’ve not studied Hoppe like they would have studied him, that’s for sure. If Klopp thinks he would be a good addition, then that would be the only approval that he would need.
On Aston Villa …
How impressed have you been with Aston Villa this season, especially given last season?
I think most people at the start of the season would have thought Aston Villa would need to fight to avoid relegation. I really feared for them last season at some stages, and I’m so happy for them that they stayed up and this season has been fantastic. I think Martinez has played a big part of it and then they also have a player with the ability of Grealish in their team – which a lot of teams that come up don’t have. And he’s homegrown in the academy and he is a player that is exceptionally gifted. Now, whether they can hold on to him will be a different story, but I think in having the solidity of knowing what’s going to happen defensively, and then having a player that can unlock defences has gone a long way for them.
And they have been fantastic to watch, good fun to watch as well. I covered the game when they actually beat Liverpool and that game was so open and it could have been anything, and just wonderful to watch.
They’ll probably finish in the top ten, but if everything falls their way, they could get into that top six, and what a wonderful turn of events for such a wonderful club.
Should Aston Villa be looking to finish in the Europa League places this year? Is that realistic?
If Aston Villa finish in the top ten finish it’ll be incredibly successful. If they get the luck of the bounce here and there and can win a couple of points when maybe they don’t play at their best, then possibly, in those Europa League spots. But the great news for Villa fans is, they’re going to be comfortably in the Premier League and now their scouting department and their staff can start to look at how they can improve their squad again, to then get up that table even more.
And it’s so difficult to get above teams like Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, and now even Leicester. They’re always fighting up there. Look what Wolves did last year and now they’re a little bit lower this year, but they could come back again. It’s a really difficult division, so great to see where Villa is at the moment.
Do you think Martinez might be the signing of the season? Do you think Arsenal let the wrong keeper go?
It looks like Martinez is probably ‘the’ signing of the season for Villa. It could be the signing for the last few seasons for them.
I’ve thought for a while that Arsenal needed to focus more on the goalkeeper and their centre backs. I think they’ve always had a very good attacking game. I didn’t know Martínez like I know him now, because he’s playing a lot more, and I think Leno is a good goalkeeper as well, but at this point in time, you can understand the argument that they might have let the wrong keeper go. But maybe it’s just best for both, because they both get to play now. You can’t have the two goalkeepers that are good enough to start in the Premier League both playing at the same club and they had to make a choice.
How much of Aston Villa’s success can be put down to Martinez specifically?
Getting clean sheets is a collective effort, that’s for sure, but when you’re a defender, you really want to know that you have a consistent goalkeeper behind you, and one that’s going to bail you out from time to time. And in the Premier League, you’re always going to need your goalkeeper at some stage. I think a lot of their resilience has come down to the confidence that he gives to their then back four, especially the two centre backs, and then the defensive midfielder. And I think they just look really solid down the middle of the field when defending. So, crosses come in the box if a counter attack needs to be run down, shots from outside the box. They just look comfortable defending most situations.
Can Aston Villa keep hold of Jack Grealish this summer or should they cash in to reinvest in the rest of the squad?
I don’t know Villa’s finances and whether they need to sell Jack Grealish but I do think it’ll be very difficult to keep a hold of him. Firstly, the transfer fee that they would be able to command for him would be tremendous. Secondly, just the individual wage packet. I think, at some stage, you’re going to have to be fair to the player who has come through your own system. And if someone’s going to be able to offer double, triple – or even more – wages than what you could offer him, you need to possibly look to let go.
It’s probably not what Villa fans want to hear or see, but that’s the reality of the situation. Unless there’s a big pot of cash sitting there with Villa – which could be the case – after being promoted and then staying in the Premier League and now being comfortable – maybe they can continue to give him a pay packet that keeps him at the club. Who knows!
How impressed have you been with Ollie Watkins this season?
When you watch Ollie Watkins play last year and then watch him this season – and this is the whole team – just a completely different group of players coming out. They come out on the games and they expect to get a result. And he’s another player that has done incredibly well for them and he helps out the likes of Jack Grealish. And when you have a player like Grealish that can lay things on the plate, it works.
On Tottenham …
What do you make of the job that Mourinho has done at Tottenham so far? Is he the right man to take the club forward.
When Mourinho was first hired, I thought the interesting one would be his relationship with Daniel Levy. And now they’re sitting in ninth. When I saw him at Man City, I think he’s got the players on his side, his comments after the game were very good in the loss, very complimentary of the players. And he’s been one of the best managers around, but they have to start winning. You’re ninth right now, if you get down into 10th, 11th, 12th and you have the wage bill that they do, and the expectations that they do, and the recent successes and league placement that they’ve had, then I’m sure his job will be under threat. Do I think it should be? That’s a different story. I’m just saying the reality of the situation and he’ll know that.
So hopefully they can get a result against West Ham this weekend, which will be hard because David Moyes has West Ham going really well. And we’ll have to see if they win the three points and they go back up and they finish in at least a Europa League spot, then everything will be fine and then they can try to build again. If not, then we’ll have to see how the board reacts.
If Tottenham win the League Cup this season, will that be viewed as a successful campaign?
For Tottenham to win the League Cup this season, that would be enough because they haven’t won a trophy in a long time, and that would be a trophy haul. They still need to get up that league table though, but you bring silverware into a club, that goes a long way also.
How far away do you think this Tottenham squad are from challenging for the league next season, and challenging the likes of Man City and Liverpool?
In October, I thought the Tottenham squad were a lot closer to challenging for the title than they actually are. I think they need to shore up in the centre of defence and the defensive midfield area. They have a really good firepower, although the supporting cast hasn’t scored enough, so they’re heavily reliant on Kane and Son. Gareth Bale needs to start scoring and Ndombele needs to score more, and Lamela needs to get on the scoresheet. They need more goals in the team. They put a little bit too much pressure on the defensive side of things and put too much onus on just two players to score the goals. Normally, José Mourinho teams are very resilient in how they defend but they’re just leaking too many sloppy goals at bad times when they’re not scoring at the other side.
And I see a group of players that are fighting for the club, I see a group of players that are working hard for the club. They just need the little breaks and the little half a percent extra here and there.
What do you make of Hugo Lloris’ performances this season, he’s been criticised for mistakes he has made this season. He’s been linked with a move to PSG with Pochettino, but do you expect him to remain as No 1 at Spurs?
Hugo Lloris is still good enough to be Tottenham’s Number One. It wouldn’t surprise me if PSG were interested in him. I know he had a good relationship with Mauricio. I think he’s one of the very good reaction goalkeepers. Like Alisson, yes, he’s had a couple of mistakes, but Hugo has been around in the biggest games in the world stage and he’ll know that when he makes a mistake, then he’ll get back on the training ground and work hard and play through it. He’s done it time and time again and wherever he goes to, he’ll be the number one, or, if he stays at Tottenham, he’ll be the number one.
Is Joe Hart unlucky not to have been given more of an opportunity in the Premier League for Spurs.
Over his career, Joe Hart has been a superb goalkeeper, but when he was signed, he was signed as the number two, and I don’t think anything has changed that.
What do you make of the way that Mourinho has handled players like Gareth Bale and Dele Alli?
This has nothing to do with how Mourinho has dealt with Dele Alli because, again, I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. I’m just surprised that Dele Alli is not involved. He’s such a good player and was such an integral part of Mauricio Pochettino’s teams and England. So that, I am very surprised at. I’m also surprised that he’s just not been utilised. With regards to Gareth, the Gareth that I played with was one of the world’s best. He was a monster – physical, strong, fast, and he still has all that. Again, what goes on in the day-to-day and the relationship with José Mourinho, I don’t know if it’s good, bad or indifferent. What I do know is, he is such a quality player and individual that I would keep working with him all the time, hoping that he gets the former role back, because if he does, he is virtually unstoppable.
Does Harry Kane need to leave Tottenham in order to win himself trophies as he enters the prime years of his career? Which club do you think will be best suited for him?
I think Harry Kane will eventually be sold by Tottenham. I think it will start getting to a point of near impossible to keep him. He has proven himself to be one of the best goal scorers globally. Where he would go, I don’t know. Tottenham are very savvy and very good in the transfer market. I don’t know if they would hold on and only sell him abroad or sell him in the Premier League. I would think that they would probably not want to play against him, so then you would have to look around. And COVID is going to come into play a little bit in terms of who could afford the transfer fee.
What I do know about Harry as an individual is, he will think every season that he’s going to win a trophy with Tottenham. He’s a great team player and a great number nine himself that we all know, so he’ll also think, every season, that he can win these trophies with Tottenham. But him leaving will be dictated by the board and when or if they accept a transfer fee. It’s not going to be dictated by the player. That’s something that Tottenham does better than most in world football. And people can say or think what they want about Daniel Levy, but this is, by him being as good as he has been in the transfer market, has put Tottenham into just a wonderful financial position.
So, they’ll dictate – if Harry Kane moves, that’ll be dictated by the club accepting the transfer fee. If Harry stays, Harry will give his all towards the cause to win as many trophies as possible for Tottenham.
On Blackburn Rovers …
Do you think Blackburn have an outside chance at reaching the Play Offs?
Blackburn have an outside chance of reaching the play offs this year. A lot of things need to fall for them. The great thing and the bad thing – the hard thing, the frustrating thing with the Championship is, some teams just go into these runs of form where they don’t lose for 12 games and then they don’t win for 8. Either you have games Sunday and then Tuesday and then a Wednesday, and then maybe you get hit with four COVID cases and you don’t have your best players to go out on the field. It’s such a hard league to get through. So, do they have an outside chance? Absolutely, they have an outside chance to get into the playoff places. Do they have to have a lot that goes their way? Yeah, they need that as well.
So, for them, I really hope they get there. The eight and a half years that I spent there was such a wonderful time in my life and career. I’d love to see them back in the Premier League, but it will be hard.
How impressed have you been with Adam Armstrong this season? Do you expect him to the be the subject of a big money Premier League move in the summer?
If Blackburn get into the playoffs and get promoted, I can see Adam Armstrong staying with the club. Actually, undoubtedly, he would stay with the club. If they don’t, that will be a discussion, because they might need the finances to come in.
On Premier League Goalkeepers …
How do you assess the standard of goalkeeping since your retirement?
The biggest difference with goalkeepers since I retired is their ability to play with their feet. Looking back on my own career, from the 2002 World Cup, that’s where I really started to notice the distribution element from the goalkeepers. Now, each season, the goalkeepers seem to get better and better, more confident with their feet, their range of passing with their feet. It’s got to the stage where in some countries it’s being seen as more of a category in terms of development for goalkeepers than actually saving shots, which I don’t agree with. I still think the most important thing is keeping the ball out of the net. But the emphasis on being able to play with your feet and being the 11th outfield player is very big and quite relevant in a lot of countries when they develop their goalkeepers.
I think the size of the goalkeepers is relatively the same. They’re still very big, agile, not too bulky, so a lot of the size and the shapes have stayed the same. But the emphasis on the distribution side of things just keeps getting more and more. When you go on the continent, take Germany out of it, crosses are a lot less important. In Germany and in England they’re very important so you still see the goalkeepers in those two countries quite confident when coming and dealing with crosses. On the continent, they teach goalkeepers to box and punch the ball a lot more than in England, so there’s also differences. But by and large, it’s pretty similar with the exception of the distribution side of things, for me.
Do you think there is too much of a reliance now on goalkeepers needing to play with their feet? Does it invite too much unnecessary pressure?
It depends on an individual’s coaching philosophy as to whether there is too much reliance nowadays on playing with their feet. Not long ago, about 78% of goals were scored from losing possession in your half of the field and the other team being able to attack quickly on your goal. So, it just depends on what your football philosophy is as a manager, so I think if you’re going to ask your goalkeeper to play out at the back and take some risk, then you have to be prepared to concede some goals from time to time. If you don’t, then your philosophy is for your goalkeeper just to clear the danger, then that’s a different way of playing as well, but I see that philosophy less and less. And I see managers with the philosophy of a goalkeeper wanting to have a decent pass percentage rate themselves.
So, the goalkeeper is never going to be spotless in his distribution, that’s for sure, but I think the best at this moment in time would be Ederson, and then there’s a lot of goalkeepers that would probably try to aspire to be like him with his feet. But Ederson also is a very talented shot-stopper and very good on crosses, so he’s got the whole package.
There are a number of high-profile goalkeepers who have had come under a high level of scrutiny in the Premier League. in recent times (Allison, De Gea, Kepa). Do you think goalkeepers get treated unfairly?
I don’t think goalkeepers are treated unfairly. I mean, I got it so let them get it! What happens is, our mistakes a lot of times lead to goals and the goals are what is shown on all the highlight reels. It’s just normal. When you make mistakes, you will get some negative publicity for it. What separates the top goalkeepers are the ones that can deal with that and move on and you don’t let the one mistake turn into two or turn into three or four. And if it does, you quickly have to check your mental game because the way social media is today, the billions around the world will know of your mistake within five seconds. You have to form a skin of leather and deal with it. That’s the only way around it. But that’s a goalkeeper’s life before and it’s a goalkeeper’s life now and it’s going to be a goalkeeper’s life in the future, so if you can’t handle that, don’t become a goalkeeper!
How close is Dean Henderson to fighting David de Gea for United’s No 1 spot?
Dean Henderson can challenge De Gea for United’s Number One slot. I have a lot of respect for David de Gea and it stemmed from when he first came to Man United when Sir Alex signed him. He had a really difficult time – his first six to eight months. He made a lot of mistakes. He was young and was getting a lot of abuse from pundits and in the newspapers and social media, and he came out of it after that. And to be able to do that at such a young age, not just at a young age, but with one of the world’s biggest powers in football, showed me a lot about what he had inside of his head and his heart.
And that’s not easy to do, and he became one of the world’s best goalkeepers for a long period of time. So, he has all this experience under his belt and it’s not easy to go to the big clubs and just jump in and unseat a number one. Because you will make your mistake also and then you have to see how you’ll deal with it. So, it’s not as easy as you think to unseat somebody like David de Gea.
Who do you think should be England’s Number One for the Euros this summer?
I’m not too sure! I think Pickford would still be England’s Number One choice for the Euros because he’s gotten more experience recently, but it can be a decent little battle on.
On MLS 2021 …
What do you make of Atlanta United’s decision to appoint Gabriele Heinze? He brings a strong European playing pedigree to the MLS.
Whenever you hire a foreign manager into – or a head coach – into MLS, whether they’re a good coach or not, you have to wait to see if it’s a good hire or a bad hire. And I really hope that Heinze makes a success but there are so many rules to contend with. You’re working with a salary cap, it’s hard to get rid of players, it’s hard to bring in your own players all the time. There are collective bargaining agreement issues of when you can train players, when you can’t train players, the amount of days off that you give players. When you play at big clubs in Europe, days off are few and far between. In the MLS, it’s mandatory you have to give a certain amount of days off a month.
And a lot of managers just don’t understand it. And I didn’t when I was the head coach of New England, I didn’t understand how a player could return back to pre-season over 20lbs overweight and not have repercussions for it. It just didn’t happen at Tottenham or Liverpool, or anywhere in Europe. That doesn’t happen. So, he’ll have to get used to that quick and he’ll have to adapt quick. For his football methodology and his thoughts on football – I think he’ll be a great hire for that. It’ll be how he can adapt to the rules, the travel, playing on some plastic pitches, what COVID is going to throw at him, what players he can and can’t get.
Because you saw Tata Martino was incredibly successful at Atlanta, then they brought in de Boer and I think he found it really difficult to navigate through the MLS rules, and then they had a very poor season. Atlanta is a wonderful club, an incredible fan base. If fans can come back into the stadiums, and he should thoroughly enjoy his time there. But we’ll have to see how he navigates through all these interesting rules over here.
Do you think the reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew start the season as favourites to retain their title?
What you get in MLS is, almost every single team, from top to bottom, is the exact same, with the exceptions then of your designated players. If your designated players can mesh with the rest of the team, that’s what sets apart the teams. If your designated player gets injured through the season, you lose a lot of ground and a lot of points. If your designated players aren’t fit come the end of the season when the playoffs come around, it’s very difficult to win MLS Cup. Caleb knows how to get through MLS seasons and have a team ready for the playoffs. What we would consider winning the league, which is the Supporters’ Shield, has some onus over here, but MLS Cup, making it into the playoffs and then winning the MLS Cup is considered the main champion. I think you would get six or seven teams that are sort of like joint favourites at this stage where pre-season hasn’t even started yet, and Columbus will definitely be one of those teams.
What is your reaction to the appointment of Phil Neville as coach of Inter Miami?
I did my pro licence with Phil Neville so know all about his quality. I think it’s a great hire, I really do. It’s hard to get through the rules over here, so he’s a really mild-mannered guy, a very intelligent guy. The players will like him, he speaks Spanish from his time at Valencia, which will help him here in Miami. It will also help with a lot of the foreign players that you bring in, because there’s huge influx of players from South America that come in. So, the language will not be an issue whatsoever. But he’s going to have to get used to everything that I just rattled off with regards to Gabriel Heinze.
The other thing he is a little bit of a disadvantage is the fact that Inter Miami was only a first-year team last year and they never really got to have a normal season because of COVID. So, they’re still bit-piecing their entire club together. They call themselves ‘Inter Miami’, but they don’t have land for their stadium in Miami so they play up in Fort Lauderdale. A beautiful training facility and a really nice makeshift stadium for a few years, but there’s a lot of uncertainty with the club itself.
And a lot of times when the managers don’t succeed, especially the foreign managers, it takes them a while to know all the rules, and then by the time they know all the rules, they probably would have liked to man-manage the players a little bit different. But hopefully he hits the ground running and does a great job because he’s a really, really good guy.
Given his experience, is Neville better-placed to get the best out of big-name signings like Gonzalo Higuain and Blauise Matuidi?
Phil Neville will be fine to deal with big name signings like Higuaín and Matuidi. He played at one of the biggest clubs in the world for a long time. And you know what I think will help him even more is his time with the women’s national team in England, because it showed that Phil was able to adapt to a completely different way of playing. And he and Gabriel Heinze, they are going to have to adapt over here. If he thinks he’s going to come in and only be able to set his rules his way, he’ll be sorely mistaken because you do have to understand that the level of professionalism that he’s used to is going to be a lot different over here.
The likes of Higuain, Matuidi and Vela are all amongst the top stars in the MLS – do you think the MLS is more attractive to players coming from Europe than it was at the start of the Beckham era?
The MLS is now more of an attractive option for players from Europe’s top leagues. It’s better football, they’re better players. The money isn’t as big as some people might think – for designated players, it can be, but there is a salary cap and structure scenarios over here. So, I think a lot of the European players are a bit surprised when they see the offers that come in. But it’s better, and it gets better and better every single year – more fans, more participation on social media and a lot of the cities that you can live in are beautiful cities. And a lot of the cities, you can also live, for the most part, anonymously, which you can’t do in Europe.
Does David Beckham have the potential to make a bigger impact on the MLS as an owner than he did as a player?
The impact that Beckham had on the MLS as a player can’t be repeated as an owner. The impact that David had on MLS reverberated globally. No one really knew about MLS until David came here. And he got MLS into media outlets and social media outlets that MLS could never have imagined without the signing of him. Now, once in those outlets, MLS hasn’t left them, so can he make an impact, here, in Miami? Yeah, absolutely. If they win the league, will it be because David Beckham won the league? I think it will be Inter Miami and David’s name will definitely be there, but I think, during his time at LA Galaxy, what he did for the league will never be replicated by anyone unless Ronaldo and Messi come over at the same time. But what David did for the league is just second to none to what anyone’s done in the league so far.
Three more teams are set to join the MLS by 2023, taking the league to a total of 31 teams. Is this a golden era for the MLS?
The MLS still hasn’t reached the ‘golden period’. Every time the league expands, we dilute the product on the field. We need the television contract to get a lot bigger. It doesn’t even cover the salary cap amounts. So, we’re still in a growing phase at this moment in time. COVID has hit the owners’ pockets big, so thankfully there’s no wage reduction over here in salaries. Thankfully, the MLS players union and owners have agreed to extend the CBA for two more years. So they have either five or seven years to run on a CBA. Where there are increases, gradually going up, but not further. I think this year stays the same as it was last year because they did get hit hard, but the whole soccer in general over here is still growing. We’re not in a golden era.
I think Gregg Berhalter has a little bit of a golden era with the young players that we have on the national side. That, I would agree with. But golden era of MLS – not yet. We’re still growing. When they reach the maximum on the teams, then probably five to ten years after that we’ll start getting to a little bit more of a golden era.
On US National Team Players …
It’s obviously an exciting time with a lot of exciting players. What should be the goal for the US men’s national team ahead of the upcoming World Cup in USA 2026?
Well, the national team disastrously didn’t qualify for the last World Cup – that should never have happened. The players that Gregg has at his disposal now, it’s starting to resemble a lot more of what we had in 2002 when we had a good, core group of players that weren’t only playing at reputable clubs in Europe, but were integral parts of the team. In the middle of the field, you had John O’Brien who was starting at Ajax at the time, and Claudio Reyna, who was either at Rangers or Man City or Sunderland at the time, but he was a focal point.
So right in the middle of the field we had two very good but very confident players in the centre of midfield. I was starting at Blackburn at the time, we had the likes of Brian McBride and Joe-Max Moore who were playing in Europe. I could rabble off the list, so that’s what Craig has now with your Weston McKennies at Juventus. You have Tyler Adams at Red Bull Leipzig, you had Josh Sargent at Werder Bremen. You have Giovanni Reyna at Dortmund, you have Christian Pulisic at Chelsea.
I can obviously go on and name the rest – Dest at Barcelona. He has a lot of good players at a lot of big clubs and when they’re playing against the big teams they’re not going to be fazed, because they play against them, week in and week out. So, should we, as a nation, try to say quarter finals and then see what happens? I don’t know, but whenever we get into the knockout stages, we should qualify through the group and then let’s see what happens. Will we be good enough to win it? Who knows, but we’ll have an exciting team, that’s for sure.
What do make of Weston Mackennie’s impact at Juventus following his loan move from Schalke?
Well, I coached West when I was a head coach at the under-19 national team and from back then, I said it to my staff after the second training session with him, I said, “This kid’s special. He has a lot of work to do – fitness and this, that and the other, but he’s special.” And he proved that when he moved to Schalke, and now he’s at one of the truly biggest clubs in the world. As long as he keeps his head on the right way and works extremely hard – which I’ve always known him to do – then he’ll be lifting trophies with Juventus. And let’s see where his career takes him from there, but he’s a true leader, very athletic and just a truly gifted individual and a great kid. A really, really good kid.
Giovanni Reyna has broken into the Borussia Dortmund first team over the last 12 x months – how much potential do you think he has?
Another one who – he was with the youth 15 and youth 16 national team when I was coaching. I know his dad, obviously, really well. It was kind of surprising because Claudio was out in Manchester City and then we heard that Gio signed for Dortmund. I don’t know how that went down inside the Manchester City group, but we were all looking to see how he’s doing and he started playing with the first team. And boy, he has just done incredibly well. He was one that I never coached. I watched him play, was on the scouting radar, knew he was good and I had no idea ‘who’s this kid?’ He’s another one that could do some special things on the international stage and be an incredibly good player for the US for years.
How encouraged are you to see Zack Steffen getting first team game time with Manchester City? Can you envisage that he will need to move on to guarantee regular game time?
Ederson is just one of the world’s best – unless he’s injured or leaves the club – which I don’t see happening – Zack’s going to need the games in the long run. In the short term, I think it’s good to be there training with all the great players, but he will have to get games. He’s owned by a wonderful group, being the City group, but you’re going to have to play. And if he does find himself getting regular game time, be that at City or elsewhere, I believe that he’ll be US’s number one for many years.
What do you make of Christian Pulisic’s role at Chelsea? Does he have the potential to be the most successful American player to play in mainland Europe?
Pulisic has the potential to be the most successful American player in mainland Europe but let’s see what relationship is like with the new head coach at Chelsea. At the beginning of the season, he was unplayable at times and doing really, really well. Let’s just see how it goes for the US. He is our best attacking player, and we’ve got a few of them. We need him to stay healthy, that’s for sure.