November’s international window did more than just provide the United States men’s national team with a chance to convene a nearly full strength squad before the end of this coronavirus-cursed year.
The two games in Europe this month — Monday’s 6-2 pasting of CONCACAF rival Panama in Austria and last week’s scoreless draw at Wales — also told us a ton about Gregg Berhalter’s roster heading into what, COVID permitting, is expected to be a jam-packed 2021.
We already knew that Christian Pulisic, who missed both friendlies with a hamstring injury, is Berhalter’s most dangerous and irreplaceable player. We also knew that Gio Reyna, who debuted against the Welsh and scored his first U.S. goal on Monday, is a lineup lock along with Tyler Adams and Sergiño Dest.
But now we have clearer answers to previously pressing questions, too: Which young forwards will challenge Gyasi Zardes, Josh Sargent and Jozy Altidore in 2021? Who is the USMNT’s captain-in-waiting? Who ought to be Berhalter’s first-choice left back? Which players took a step forward this month? Who’s is on the outside looking in?
With the two games in the rearview, here’s a look at the player pool’s biggest movers over the last two weeks.
USMNT players trending up
F Nicholas Gioacchini, Caen (France)
The 20-year-old was named Man of the Match after scoring two goals — including the eventual game winner — against Panama.
Takeaway: Perhaps no U.S. player helped himself more this month than Gioacchini.
“He gave us a little bit of what I think we were missing in Wales,” Berhalter said. “[It was] a good performance from him for sure.”
F Sebastian Soto, Telstar (Netherlands)
Soto, also 20, came off the bench in the 77th minute Monday and scored twice in his senior international debut. “What a dream start,” Berhalter said. “He showed quality as well.”
Takeaway: If Soto, a dual-national who turned down a invite from Chile’s senior team in September, wasn’t fully committed to the Americans’ cause before this month, you have to think he is following his storybook first cap.
M Weston McKennie, Juventus (Italy)
The all-action McKennie has been an automatic starter in the U.S. lineup since 2018, and rightfully so. But he clearly had an added swagger during this camp, his first since moving from Schalke to Italian champion Juventus, and was probably Berhalter’s best player over the two games.
Takeaway: Still just 22, McKennie’s on- and off-field leadership has taken a huge leap forward, to the point where he may have nosed past Adams, long considered the future U.S. captain, as the frontrunner to eventually wear the armband.
M Yunus Musah, Valencia (Spain)
The 17-year-old — who became the first USMNT player to start two games before turning 18 — was a box-to-box force in both games and, by all accounts, fit in seamlessly off the field, too.
Takeaway: The kid can play. The only question now is whether Musah will commit to the U.S. over England, Ghana and Italy. After this camp, the Americans clearly have the inside track. “It seems like he sees us a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good young group,” Berhalter said. “In the end, it’s going to be him and his family that decide.”
D John Brooks, Wolfsburg (Germany)
Brooks played only the opener, but it was easily his best performance in a U.S. shirt since he helped lead the U.S. to the Copa America Centenario semifinals in 2016.
Takeaway: Not only was Brooks flawless defensively — to be fair, he didn’t have much to do — his composure on the ball and his passing out of the back was excellent throughout. “John made a big difference,” Berhalter said of the 27-year-old.
M Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (MLS)
While Lletget looked like a midfielder playing a striker against Wales, he still put in a hard-working shift and he scored off the bench on Monday.
Takeaway: Lletget replaced forward Josh Sargent on what began as an entirely European-based roster, but Berhalter wanted the cagey vet in from the jump. (The Galaxy didn’t want to release him initially.) That Lletget got the start in Swansea shows how highly the coach thinks of the popular 28-year-old.
D Reggie Cannon, Boavista (Portugal)
After sitting out last Thursday, Cannon more than justified Berhalter’s decision to start him at right back in Austria, turning in an excellent performance that included two assists.
Takeaway: If he continues to play like that, Berhalter will find it hard to keep Cannon off the field in 2021.
USMNT players trending down
F Aron Johannsson, Hammarby (Sweden)
The Brazil 2014 veteran wasn’t called in despite scoring 11 goals in his last 14 games for his club.
Takeaway: Had the U.S. been playing World Cup qualifiers this month instead of friendlies, maybe Johannsson, who just turned 30, would’ve been called in. The door certainly isn’t closed. “I had a long conversation with him,” Berhalter said after naming the squad. “When you have to choose, it’s difficult.”
It’s not going to get any easier. Johannsson still wasn’t summoned even after Sargent withdrew, Gioacchini and Soto took full advantage of their opportunities, and Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes remain ahead of him with young MLS strikers like Daryl Dike and Ayo Akinola also emerging as potential options up top.
M Julian Green, Greuther Furth (Germany)
Green has been excellent for second-tier Furth this season, but the 25-year-old clearly isn’t in Berhalter’s plans right now. “We’re just looking at his skillset compared to some other guys in his position, and how we need that role to perform, and the profile we need, and we didn’t include him in that,” the coach said. “It’s not to say he has no future with the national team.”
Takeaway: At this point it’s hard to see Green getting recalled unless he forces Berhalter’s hand by leading Furth to Bundesliga promotion next spring.
D Matt Miazga, Anderlecht (Belgium)
After being left off the roster for the final match of 2019, Miazga started both games this month and played well enough, although he probably could’ve done better on both of the goals the U.S. conceded on Monday.
Takeaway: Again, it’s not that Miazga was poor. He wasn’t. He just didn’t do quite enough to lock down the extremely open right center back spot, leaving the door cracked for Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie, Chris Richards or Walker Zimmerman to lay claim to it next year.
D Antonee Robinson, Fulham (England)
The lightning-quick left back didn’t play on Monday after an uneven 90 minutes against Wales.
Takeaway: Robinson’s struggles in possession combined with Cannon’s impressive showing vs. Panama could convince Berhalter to keep the latter at right back and Barcelona’s Dest on the left.
F Konrad de la Fuente, Barcelona (Spain)
Konrad got the start at left wing last week in place of Pulisic, but he was unable to stretch the Welsh back line and wasn’t nearly dangerous enough in his 71 minutes before being replaced by Uly Llanez.
Takeaway: It’s hard to be too critical of a 19-year-old who was making his international debut before having played a minute at senior club level. Konrad remains a genuine talent, though. His next U.S. appearance, whenever it comes, will be better.
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