The future backbone of the U.S. men’s national team is taking shape.
U.S. interim manager Dave Sarachan once again named a youthful side ahead of an international friendly, in this case a match against Bolivia on May 28. But one can already detect some common threads in terms of the players getting called in.
It’s true that Christian Pulisic is back in the mix for the first time since that brutal night in Trinidad on which the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in over 30 years. But the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was already a mainstay by the time World Cup qualifying ended — perhaps too much of one given how so much of the U.S. attack went through him.
Now as the U.S. rebuilds, some consistent names are beginning to emerge. You have the center-back tandem of Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers that has been playing together since their time on the U.S. U-20 team. There’s Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie as well as New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, the latter of whom isn’t on the roster for the Bolivia match but is expected to be added for games against Ireland and France.
Not only are these players gaining valuable minutes for the national team, but they’re each doing the same at the club level, too. Miazga is coming off his second successful season on loan at Vitesse, one that saw him help the club qualify for the Europa League. Carter-Vickers amassed over 3,000 minutes during loan stints with Sheffield United and Ipswich Town. McKennie made 22 appearances for a Schalke side that will be playing in the Champions League next season. Adams is already a mainstay for the Red Bulls.
Establishing a foundation at the club level might sound like an obvious requirement for progression at the international level, but one only has to look at the career trajectory of Julian Green to see that this hasn’t always been the case for U.S. players.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Green amassed more league appearances than international matches, which is a bit stunning considering that this is a player who was taken to — and scored at — the 2014 World Cup. But even Green is beginning to accumulate that needed first-team experience. He made 24 appearances for 2. Bundesliga side Greuther Furth this season, and it was his goal on the final match day of the campaign that secured the club’s second-division status for another season. Green’s club future is uncertain, but at least there is a body of work now for teams to evaluate, and his ability to come through in a big moment will get him noticed.
That said, Green’s path amounts to a cautionary tale as it relates to the expectations of rising U.S. players, and one that U.S. Soccer ought to heed when it comes to Josh Sargent.
The U.S. youth international signed his first professional contract with Werder Bremen back in February. Given the acclimatization that has to take place when moving to another country and adjusting to the demands of the professional game, Bremen has quite rightly limited Sargent to time with its U-19 team. Now Sargent has been called into this camp, and it isn’t his first with the senior team, having also been called in last November for the match against Portugal.
“I’ve seen things in Josh where I felt it was a good moment to bring him into the senior team,” said Sarachan. “As a striker, he plays a position that hasn’t been all that deep and shown great promise at the higher youth levels in World Cup play and so on. I feel physically he has the power and strength to play at this level; now it’s a question of can he adapt to the speed of play and physicality.
“The way [Sargent] stepped into the U-20 squad just before the World Cup last year showed how he’s able to handle some bigger challenges, and so we thought this was a prime opportunity to give him an extended look with our senior team.”
There is nothing wrong with bringing Sargent in, of course, or even putting him on the field against Bolivia. The same is true for players like Benfica’s Keaton Parks, Manchester United defender Matt Olosunde and Club Tijuana’s Alejandro Guido, though it seems more likely that the latter trio have been brought in simply to get a taste of how things work with the national team. But one thing holds true: Now is the time to take some risks and get a look at some younger players, even though the club level is where real progress is made. That base needs to be there if these players are to become consistent contributors for the U.S. moving forward.
So for all of the excitement surrounding younger players, it is those performers who are excelling for their clubs who represent the future of the U.S. team and offer the biggest current source of hope.