Almost three years removed from the USMNT’s spectacular failure to qualify for its eighth consecutive World Cup, American players are having a moment.
No, Christian Pulisic didn’t feature Monday in Chelsea’s opening match of the new Premier League season. America’s best player, still recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered in last month’s FA Cup final, might not be available this weekend, when the Blues travel to champions Liverpool.
But that’s about the only disappointing news these days when it comes to how members of the national team pool are faring both at home in MLS and, more significantly from a USMNT perspective, at the very highest levels of the sport.
When some of those players might don a USMNT shirt again remains to be seen. The start of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region has been pushed back once again because of the coronavirus pandemic. And while U.S. Soccer is still hoping to schedule a few friendlies this fall, nothing has been finalized yet.
Coach Gregg Berhalter still has to be happy man these days though, considering how most of his players, key guys and up-and-comers alike, have been performing with their clubs over the last week or so.
USMNT players trending up
M Weston McKennie, Juventus (Italy)
Those worried McKennie might languish on the bench in Serie A following his move from German side Schalke shouldn’t. The 22-year-old was signed upon the request of rookie manager Andrea Pirlo, and McKennie was in Pirlo’s starting lineup (alongside the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Juan Cuadrado and Cristiano Ronaldo) in Sunday’s 5-0 preseason win over third-tier Novara.
Takeaway: The hard-running McKennie will earn everything he gets in Turin. He’ll face still competition, particularly from Arthur Melo, for a box-to-box role. But the Texan is also full of confidence following his high-profile transfer. He was brought to Juve to play, and he’ll get every chance to prove he belongs in Pirlo’s best 11.
M Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig (Germany)
Adams earned Man of the Match honors in Saturday’s 3-0 German Cup win over Nurnberg.
Takeaway: His heroics off the bench in the Champions League last month plus an injury to Konrad Laimer have helped the New Yorker win back a starting spot — even if some of his 90 minutes Saturday came in central defense (!) in manager Julian Nagelsmann’s back three.
“Tyler played like a quarterback,” Nagelsmann said afterward. “It gives us new opportunities for the future.” Wherever Adams lines up, the best news might be that the 21-year-old is fully fit and healthy again after missing most of 2019-20 with groin and foot injuries.
Brenden Aaronson, Philadelphia Union (MLS)
The 19-year-old continues to show why he’s the domestic league’s most sought-after young American. Check his goal last week against the New York Red Bulls:
Takeaway: Aaronson appears poised to graduate to Europe this January or even before, with Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg the most intriguing rumored destination. From a national team perspective, though, Aaronson figures to spend most of 2021 with the U.S. under-23 squad hoping to play in the Tokyo Olympics.
F Tyler Boyd, Besiktas (Turkey)
Speaking of great goals, how about this bomb from Boyd in Sunday’s Super Lig-opening 3-1 win over Trabzonspor:
Takeaway: Boyd, 25, has already matched his output from his up-and-down first season with the Istanbul power. The winger started five of the club’s final eight games after the campaign resumed in June following a three-month hiatus.
F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany)
Sargent had the game-winner Saturday in Bremen’s 2-0 German Cup triumph over fourth-division Carl Zeiss Jena.
Takeaway: By all accounts, the 20-year-old striker has enjoyed an impressive preseason after helping Werder stave off relegation from the Bundesliga last term. Question is, will he receive better service than in 2019-20, when his teammates struggled mightily to get him the ball in scoring positions?
M Konrad de la Fuerte, Barcelona (Spain)
The teenager became the first American to appear for Barcelona’s first team when he came off the bench in Saturday’s preseason win over Gimnastic de Tarragona:
Takeaway: First, some perspective: It was just a friendly. The diminutive winger, who won’t turn 20 for another 10 months, isn’t the first American youngster to see minutes for a giant in a tuneup match. The kid has a long way to go. Still, that De la Fuente appears likely to be on Barca’s La Liga roster this season is exciting, no doubt.
F Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC (MLS)
Altidore scored his first goal of the COVID-cursed 2020 MLS season last Wednesday in Montreal:
Takeaway: The veteran’s future with the USMNT is uncertain, but that 89th-minute strike couldn’t have been more clutch for his club. Not only did it lift TFC past its chief rival, it might well put the Reds into the Canadian Championship final, where a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League will be up for grabs.
M Julian Green, Greuther Furth (Germany)
With five goals in six preseason games — including a brace against top-flight Borussia Monchengladbach — 2014 World Cup vet Green enters the 2020-21 2. Bundesliga slate in sizzling form.
Takeaway: If the USMNT is able to play a match or two in Europe in November with an all Euro-based squad, as hoped, expect the 25-year-old to receive his first call-up from Berhalter.
M Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
The 17-year-old phenom has enjoyed a fine preseason, especially early on, as he embarks on his first full year with BVB’s first team. On Monday, he started and scored (via a deflection) in BVB’s German Cup win over Duisburg.
Takeaway: Reyna appears ready to claim a full-time role following his breakout early 2020, when he was used almost exclusively off the bench.
M/F Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Morris has three goals and three assists in Seattle’s last six games and is averaging a goal every 118 minutes in 2020. On Monday, he was named MLS Player of the Week
Takeaway: Even when he’s not scoring, Morris’ strength and tenacity make him a handful for any defender Along with his experience and responsible defending, it’s why if the USMNT played a World Cup qualifier tomorrow, the 25-year-old two-time MLS Cup champ would be in Berhalter’s starting lineup.
D Reggie Cannon, Boavista (Portugal)
The fleet-footed 22-year-old right back’s transfer from FC Dallas became official last week.
Takeaway: The Primeira Liga seems like a strange choice for a USMNT starter, and other Americans have found it difficult to adapt in Portugal. But if Cannon settles in quickly and play well, the move could be a stepping stone to a more prestigious European circuit.
M Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (MLS)
With four goals and two helpers, Lletget has helped the Galaxy win four times and draw once in five games since since the regular season resumed last month. Last week’s POTW also rode the bicycle in the Sept. 6 demolition of LAFC:
Takeaway: He doesn’t get the attention of his Euro-based attacking teammates, but don’t underestimate how valuable the well-liked 28-year-old glue guy’s experience will be to the USMNT during qualifying, both on the field and in the locker room.
F Aron Johannsson, Hammarby (Sweden)
Beset by injuries over the last five years, Johannsson is healthy and tearing up the Allsvenskan with four goals in his last three games and six in his last seven.
Takeaway: The Alabama-born Icelandic-American hasn’t played for the U.S. since way back in 2015, but he’s still just 29, and you can be sure former Hammarby manager Berhalter is keeping close tabs on the World Cup vet given the Americans’ dearth of depth up front.
D George Bello, Atlanta United (MLS)
One of the few bright spots of the Five Stripes’s season so far has been the play of 18-year-old homegrown left back Bello, who has started five of Atlanta’s last six games. Bello scored his second career goal Saturday in a 4-2 loss to expansion side Nashville.
Takeaway: Bello is a legit international prospect at the weakest position in the player pool, but this World Cup cycle comes too soon for him. While he might get a cameo in the next couple of years, Bello is probably not going to be a USMNT regular until the 2026 cycle begins.
F Tim Weah, Lille (France)
After missing most of last season with hamstring issues, Weah entered off the bench in each of Lille’s last two Ligue 1 matches.
Takeaway: Like Green, Weah — if he can stay healthy — seems like shoo-in to receive his first invite from Berhalter before the year is out.
M/F Ulysses Llanez, Heerenveen (Netherlands)
The 19-year-old will spend this season in the Eredivisie on loan from Germany’s Wolfsburg.
Takeaway: The attack-minded, development-conscious Dutch league is the ideal place for Llanez to get some needed first-team experience.
USMNT players trending down
D Sergiño Dest, Ajax (Netherlands)
A year on from breaking into the lineup with Champions League mainstay Ajax, Dest lost his right back job to Noussair Mazraoui during the preseason.
Takeaway: Fortunately for Dest, he played well in the opposite corner after entering off the bench early in Sunday’s Eredivisie-opening 1-0 win at Sparta Rotterdam after left back Nicolás Tagliafico was sent off. That can’t hurt the 19-year-old’s chances to reclaiming a starting spot.
D DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle (England)
Yedlin didn’t dress for Saturday’s season-opening win over West Ham.
D Tim Ream, Fulham (England)
Ream made the error that gifted Arsenal its first goal Saturday en route to a 3-0 loss.
Takeaway: While the left-footed 32-year-old was one of the Cottagers’ most consistent performers last season in England’s second tier, keeping his starting USMNT job will likely depend on how he performs in the Prem this season.
D Antonee Robinson, Fulham (England)
The 23-year-old left back was not in uniform for Saturday’s game against the Gunners.
Takeaway: It’s a little unfair to put the 23-year-old left back in this category. His recent move to the Prem from second division Wigan obviously is a good one. Yet it’s now also clear that it might take some time to break into Scott Parker’s side. Still, another lopsided loss could convince Parker to give Robinson his chance.
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