USA Is Quietly Building a Powerhouse

It is said that “great minds think alike”. Today (September 25, 2020) represents one of those days that proves that saying. That is, if one considers the Soccer Yoda to be a “great mind”. Included in this “great mind” scenario would be Julio Vega, writing for USA Today. The reason that these “great minds” thought alike today? That would be the emergence of a significant number of youthful American soccer players that are contributing in meaningful ways in Europe over the last few weeks and months. The Soccer Yoda has noticed that these players have been making inroads in places not typically noted for an American presence. Yes, some Americans have played in Europe for some notable teams. Michael Bradley started for Roma over a period of years in Italy, Clint Dempsey toiled for Fulham in the Premier League, Tim Howard was Everton’s number one keeper in that same league, considered by many to be the most competitive league in the world. Overall though, Yankees have been absent from high-level competition in Europe. However,there are now more young American players on European fields than ever before , actually contributing to competitive teams, with even a few playing for some of the most elite clubs on the continent. The Soccer Yoda noticed it and was inspired enough to write this post describing the promising situation brewing in Europe. But Mr Vega beat me to it. He published an article, today- September 25, 2020 postulating a USA national side playing a 4/2/3/1 that would be completely staffed with players presently playing in Europe. He noticed the same situation that I did. And wrote about it just before this post, the one you are reading, was begun.

So how come this situation has not been observed and written about in any major way by the American soccer community? Well, like everything else, Covid-19 has had a major effect on the USA national team situation. There has been no activity by the national team since the January 2020 camp and that was devoid of European players. Meanwhile soccer in Europe has begun a new season. True, it is without fans in stadiums, but it is not without the usual press and tv coverage and fan interest, even if those fans are not present at the matches. Even international soccer has begun in Europe, with the usual international breaks from club games and those national teams playing in their Nations League games. But, here in the USA, its all quiet on the national team front. The team isn’t scheduled to play again until next March with World Cup qualifying beginning next summer. Coach Gregg Burhalter is “hoping” for a couple matches this fall , but Covid concerns are making those plans difficult, if not impossible. So, the inroads being made in Europe by Americans have largely been ignored by the American sporting press and soccer community. Until now, when two perceptive soccer writers (myself and Mr Vega) decided to note the situation at the same time.

So who are these Americans who could represent a new, stronger US national team? Let’s take a look:

Christian Pulisic – Ok, Pulisic isn’t exactly a new name. He played on the unfortunate 2018 team that failed to make it to the World Cup. However, he has continued to progress. He plays for Chelsea, one of the strongest English teams and one, due to a number of additions, that is considered to be a favorite in England AND Europe. He demonstrated his ability against Liverpool earlier this summer by entering the match late in the game and scoring a brilliant goal and assisting on another. He is for real. Pulisic’s biggest challenge at this point is staying healthy as he has been very injury prone.

Pulisic runs through the Liverpool defense

Weston McKennie – McKennie has recently been inserted into the starting lineup at Juventus where he links up with the likes of Renaldo, yes THAT Renaldo. Juve is the Italian powerhouse and is one of the strongest European squads. This is a major advancement for the young American and suggests a strong midfield for the USA along with Reyna.

Gio Reyna – Reyna is only 17 but is starting and scoring for Dortmund in Germany. Dortmund is one of the best German sides, trailing only Bayern Munich in reputation among German teams. He has unlimited potential given his age and the caliber of competition in which he is playing. Matched with McKennie he could command the midfield against most any opponent the USA faces.

Reyna may be the brightest young star on the USA horizon.

Tyler Adams – Adams is 21 and has made inroads in the European game playing for Leipzig in Germany. Leipzig is not traditionally considered a German powerhouse but last year they advanced to the semifinals of the Champions League and Adams scored the winner in the quarterfinal vs Atletico Madrid. He can play many positions, in a 4/3/3 with the USA he would most likely play the defensive midfield role with McKennie and Reyna in front of him.

Serginio Dest – if there is a weak spot in the new American lineup it would be in defense. But it is in the back where Dest comes in and could raise the level in that important area. He is only 19 but his play for Ajax in the Netherlands has put him in an enviable position. Serginio plays an outside defender position and given Ajax is an accepted member of the European elite his play there gives him instant credibility. So much so that Barcelona and Bayern Munich are battling over him. Not bad….two of the strongest clubs in the world fighting to sign an American.

Josh Sargent – Sargent is an up front forward. His job is to create and score goals although at times he has shown an ability to combine with others to create an effective buildup. He plays for Werder Bremen in Germany.  Now Werder is not Chelsea or Juventus or even Leipzig, but Sargent has made an impact with the team and is seeing regular action when healthy. This certainly qualifies him for a starting position with the USA, perhaps teaming up with Pulisic as an effective striking team in front of that midfield described above.

Tim Weah – Tim Weah is one of the USA’s best potential stars to play forward. Weah was signed by French and European power Paris St Germain 3 years ago as a 17 yr old. After some encouraging play there he was loaned to Celtic of Scotland in 2019. He did well there for the second half of the 2019 season. PSG then loaned Tim to Lille of the French first division where he was expected to start and contribute but he sustained season-long injuries. If he can regain the quality of play he displayed before last season’s lost time, Weah could provide depth and perhaps a starting role with the USA.

Reggie Cannon – Cannon is another of the defense hopes for the future of the USA squad. He plays right back in Portugal for Boavista of the Portuguese First Division. Although only 22, Cannon has had a several years as a starter for F.C. Dallas of the MLS and this season has gone to Portugal to improve his game against the tougher competition there.

Reggie Cannon celebrates a goal with Boavista.

Zack Steffen – Steffen is the probable goalkeeper for the Americans and he is gaining valuable experience in Europe. After doing extremely well in the MLS the 25 yr. old moved to vaunted Manchester City in 2019 who promptly loaned him to Fortuna Dusseldorf. This season he is back at City as the backup to Ederson but started just last week in a cup victory.

Konrad de la Fuenta; Chris Richards; These two youngsters are with a couple of huge clubs: Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But playing time is an issue with these two. If they gain knowledge and skills training with two of the world’s best teams then perhaps they can make their marks onto our national team.

While continental Europe is considered the highest quality place to play the game, there are other continents where young Americans are succeeding and these players could break into the national squad. Tyler Boyd (25 yrs) is scoring goals for Besiktas in Turkey and Johnny (19 yrs) is contributing at defensive midfield for Internacional in Brazil (thus the one name name following Brazilian tradition). And of course, one cannot rule out the MLS. …I think. The quality of play in our home league is a large question mark, especially in the preparation of national team players to compete against world-class opposition. Berhalter will have to compare the ability of each player and make a judgement, hopefully he will ignore any pressure from his bosses to use home-playing talent strictly on the basis of where they play.

At this point, it appears that the USA is building a regional powerhouse. There should be no repetition of the woeful result of 2018 when qualifying for the 2022 World Cup commences next June. How ready this young crew will be for competition once in the Cup is another matter. However, if these players stay healthy, and they continue to develop and gain experience, there is a longer term objective in mind. In 2026 the World Cup will be played right here on our home continent. Hopefully, the team that is building now will be at its peak at that time and perhaps the USA can put on a display that will finally earn it’s place as a world soccer power.

Here comes a shameless plug: If you like this post you might like the Soccer Yoda’s book on understanding and teaching modern soccer tactics. It’s Concept Soccer – A Step By Step Method to Develop Players and Score Goals. The book has been well received by all who have it and it is available from Amazon in both print and ebook format.


						

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