Neil W. Blackmon
A report earlier this week from longtime soccer writer Kristian Dyer confirmed what many in the US Soccer media had speculated about the US Men’s National Team’s friendly against Portugal next month: the match will almost assuredly feature a very young group of American players.
According to Dyer’s report, sixty-plus names are being considered for a November call, and it’s likely many of the names ultimately selected are part of a sizeable contingent of young Americans already working on their crafts in Europe.
Due to travel costs and the demands on the player, calling in a heavily European-based squad for “pop-up” (travel, quick camp, game, travel) friendlies on European soil is longtime practice for the US. The Americans have traditionally simply supplemented what they can’t fill from an 18 or 23-man group in Europe with a handful of MLS veterans or Liga MX players. And November friendlies further complicate matters, because MLS clubs do not (and should not) release players for international friendlies during their playoff competition. As such, a largely European-based squad was always likely.
But this year there’s another incentive and justification for going with a predominantly young squad, thanks to the unexpected and unfortunate reality that the US will not be invited to participate in the FIFA Men’s World Cup next summer in Russia. The Portugal match is the first chance for the US Men’s National Team to turn the page from the qualifying fiasco, and the Americans, as TYAC noted in the aftermath of the monumental failure in Trnidad, should begin building for the future now.
One thing #USMNT should do head to Europe with a really young team and get qualified nations ready in send-off games. Cap and play the kids.
— The Yanks Are Coming (@YanksAreComing) October 11, 2017
With five years to Qatar, things like ELO or FIFA rankings simply don’t matter (if they ever did beyond some cryptic way they influence World Cup seeding). Results, rarely relevant in friendlies anyway, don’t matter. What matters is finding players that can help the US play better soccer and getting them quality repetitions and game experience together now so that when the time comes to qualify for the next World Cup, the US have a strong nucleus to build with and some tactical ideas to build upon.
With that in mind, here’s the 25 man roster TYAC would love to see in the November friendly.
GOALKEEPERS: Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge); David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes); Bill Hamid (FC Midtjylland)
From the looks of it- and judging Soccer Twitter, the hopes of it—Zack Steffen of the Columbus Crew will still be playing in the MLS playoffs. If that’s the case, the US can’t call him in, which opens the door for a third keeper behind the obvious choices, Horvath and Hamid. We think it should be Bingham, for two reasons.
First, he’s played a bit with the national team so he understands the way short camps and friendlies work and what would be expected.
Second, it’s a chance to get him training in front of European eyeballs as he ponders a move away from MLS this winter. Sources close to TYAC say teams in Scotland, Germany and Belgium are all high on the keeper, and Sam Stejskal of MLS Soccer reported that teams from Scandinavia also have interest last month. Why not take him instead of a Jesse Gonzalez, if only to get him training in front of European scouts, who would almost certainly be at a camp full of young American talent?
LEFT BACK: Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna); Danilo Acosta (Real Salt Lake)
If you read TYAC or listen to our podcast, you know we aren’t in love with Villafaña, who doesn’t defend well 1 v 1 and isn’t a good enough crosser to get too excited about what he offers getting forward, which, if he could pass, would be a lot. He’s still the best player the US have at a problem position, however, assuming the US finally let DaMarcus Beasley retire.
As for Acosta, the knock is that he’s not particularly fast. Here’s the thing, the US have had speed merchant left backs for ages. Maybe it’s time to just play the guy who is no-nonsense and positionally sound in defense? Remember, some of the best US soccer in this century came with Carlos Bocanegra slotted out at left back.
CENTER BACK: John Brooks (Wolfsburg); Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur on loan at Sheffield United); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Matt Miazga (Chelsea FC on loan with Vitesse (Holland)); Erik Palmer-Brown (Manchester City)
Why? Because you get the four best prospects you have, pair them with a veteran warrior like Geoff Cameron and you have a productive camp.
Palmer-Brown, the captain of the US U20s, has future leader written all over him, and it’s a short flight from England to Portugal. Miazga has continued to show well in Holland, and while he may never break through at Chelsea, the London giants have helped his career. Carter-Vickers needed games desperately and was probably damaged by Pochettino’s reluctance to loan him out last year, but he’s playing now with Sheffield United. And Brooks is back in the starting lineup after an injury that certainly hurt the US this autumn. All told, this is an exciting group and you wish there was a second match to get a longer look.
RIGHT BACK: DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United); Matthew Olosunde (Manchester United)
Why? Because Olosunde’s personal story warrants this roster spot at a time US Soccer needs a wake-up call on how it services underprivileged communities. And that’s true even if he’s only played in reserve and youth games.
If you aren’t familiar with the background on Olosunde, a star right back with the Manchester United reserves, make sure you check out this story.
Olosunde also demonstrates American- and MLS- academies can get things right when they look hard enough, and that’s the case even when a player ultimately spurns the MLS club, as Olosunde did with the New York Red Bulls, for something grander.
As for Yedlin, his credentials continue to shine brighter, and by the time the US play competitive soccer again at the 2019 Gold Cup, he should be entering his prime.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER: Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls); Jonathan Gonzalez (CF Monterrey)
Adams will be out of the MLS Playoffs this weekend barring a miracle, and even if you think he’s a right wing back or right back, he belongs on this team. His soccer IQ is crazy:
Tyler Adams with a brilliant pass you just have to watch to assist to BWP. What a season for the teenager https://t.co/QyxvYBQCiG
— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 7, 2017
Bottom line- if you don’t follow Rob Usry for outstanding analysis (you should, he’s great; you should at least follow him for fresh from the stone-fired brick oven Tyler Adams takes:
Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic and 9 blind midgets could've qualified for the World Cup
— Rob Usry (@RobUsry) October 15, 2017
There have been a handful of games where he’s been the best player on talented fields in MLS, and while I’m convinced he’s a future midfield partner for Weston McKennie or Danny Williams, and not a right back, there’s little debate he belongs on this team and probably already did.
As for Gonzalez, it’s instructive he’s one of the most vital players already on one of the best teams on the American continent. Mexico know this, and the US would do well to incorporate the dual-national into their team’s fold immediately.
Gonzalez is almost more a box-to-box eight than a six, just because of how good his vision is and how much ground he covers, but there’s a physicality and nastiness to his game the US have lacked to some extent since the decline of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Weston McKennie (Schalke 04 FC); Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union); Emerson Hyndman (AFC Bournemouth); Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town AFC)
Williams was hurt last month but is a Premier League starter who is too good with his feet to sit deep as the US six. Might as well play him slightly more advanced, or try the double pivot with Weston McKennie to his left.
McKennie should have been in the US team as early as the summer. It taxes the credulity of the credulous that he was out of a US side playing a functional NASL side in Trinidad and Tobago only a week removed from holding his own on the field against Bayern Munich.
McKennie is the best US midfield prospect since Stu Holden, and that’s probably a conservative estimate for a player that draws Tolisso comparisons. Give Christian Pulisic someone with his vision behind him and you have already improved the team.
As for Bedoya, here’s my explanation, beyond his ability to receive and demand the ball.
One thing I watched from my seat in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago as the American nightmare was unfolding was what was happening on the US bench. Brad Guzan was a mess, clapping, yelling and practically playing. Most the US players, however, had their heads down, either in premature shame or anger or sadness or some combination of all three. Ale Bedoya was standing, pacing, yelling, calling out passes, clapping, urging teammates on. It was a sight to see. Give me that attitude and “want to” on a young side that will need a few veterans.
This was a big season for Hyndman, and unfortunately, he has disappointed again after such a bright loan with Rangers. It’s a bad sign when you can’t get off the bench until the 116th minute of League Cup games at AFC Bournemouth. This is a big chance for him to show something to scouts in camp and find a new location in Europe where he can play.
WINGERS/ATTACKING MIDS: Paul Arriola (D.C. United); Luca de la Torre (Fulham FC); Kenny Saief (KAA Gent); Lynden Gooch (Sunderland)
Arriola has earned every minute he’s played with the national team in 2017, and was one of the few promising non-Pulisic stories from this qualification effort. Arriola told TYAC in Orlando last month that “he’d be open to Europe after the World Cup,” and if that’s true, this is a good chance to make an impression.
Gooch fell out of favor somehow despite being a Premier League player. Along with Danny Williams, that’s a mystery the US should correct.
De la Torre has played and had influence with Fulham this season, and at 19, is a talented attacking player the US should work into squad rotations as they search for creativity beyond Pulisic.
Pulisic is the key player, if you like metrics, on Dortmund, who are fighting for their Champions League lives and for league supremacy before the winter break. There’s no need to have him injured here and we left him at home.
Saief is a short train ride away and warrants another look after an injury ruined his Gold Cup audition. He’s found minutes tough to come by this year but warrants another look.
FORWARDS: Bobby Wood (Hamburg); Haji Wright (Schalke 04 on loan at SV Sandhausen); Joshua Sargent (Werder Bremen); Fafa Picault (Philadelphia Union)
Don’t be stunned if the last name on the list isn’t in the side and it is one of Christian Ramirez or European-based forward Rubio Rubin.
Both Picault and Ramirez are former NASL stars who have successfully made the leap to MLS. Picault starred with the now defunct Fort Lauderdale Strikers before moving to Europe and then coming home to MLS and the Union. Ramirez bulldozed his way to NASL best 11 honors before making the leap with the Loons to MLS.
Ramirez had the better year in MLS (14 goals), but Picault (7 goals) was in torrid form late, is a little younger, and fits a team with personnel dying to counterattack better. You couldn’t go wrong with either.
That said, Rubin is healthy and playing in Norway and it’s just an easier trip for a quick camp and one game.
Sargent is a no-brainer.
He’s about to move to Werder Bremen and play full-time in Germany. Call him in and let him see a European crowd and play a few minutes against one of the best teams on the planet.
Wright has found time at Sandhausen and a Schalke assistant told TYAC last week that Wright is “as natural an American goal-scorer as he’s seen since Brian McBride,” which is high praise. The club is pleased with how his loan is progressing and a senior team camp is a nice reward.
Wood is the incumbent starter and, assuming he’s in camp, probably merits the arm band if Cameron isn’t in camp.
Comments? Disagreements? Let us know!!
Neil W. Blackmon co-founded TYAC and you can follow him on Twitter @nwblackmon.