KENYA BROWN - Friday, October 9, 2020
The United States men's national team has missed a golden opportunity to play friendlies during the October international window even if those games could not be played on U.S. shores.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put soccer into a loop all across the globe. However, by following strict protocols, leagues were able to resume play during the summer months, and now they have all gotten the new season under with a few hiccups along the way. A few have even welcomed back fans despite being limited to the number of fans allowed inside the stadiums.
The same goes for the international game as UEFA started its second run of the Nations League in September. The national teams are set to play their next games this month and, at the moment, it looks like the rescheduled 2020 European Championship could be played next year.
South America has started its qualifying phase for the 2022 FIFA World Cup this week as federations around the world have had to reschedule in light of the impact from the coronavirus.
So where does that leave CONCACAF, and more importantly the United States in this hectic period? Well, while some of the countries have arranged games during the international window, Mexico in particular has games lined up against Holland and Algeria, U.S. Soccer has nothing on tap for our guys. And this is a very crucial time as it is vital to find a way to get them games before they head into the World Cup qualifiers next year.
Just like we were left in the dark about who would be appointed as the national team head coach for over a year, we're wondering exactly what measures the federation is taking to ensure that they can arrange friendlies for the team during this period.
With the virus outbreak still not fully under control in the United States, it's no doubt that Europe would be the best and safest venue to play any games. Many national teams have set up friendlies across the continent over the next two weeks. So why didn't the United States follow suit when they time to prepare?
While it would be a risk to bring over players from Major League Soccer, head coach Gregg Berhalter has a good amount of European-based players to call on. There are the obvious picks like Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and the fully-recovered Christian Pulisic (if Chelsea were willing to release him). Then there are players on the fringes who should get a look just to see whether they could contribute.
And then there is 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna who has impressed thus far with his play at Borussia Dortmund. Berhalter has talked about bringing him in, and this month would have been an excellent time.
So U.S. Soccer has no excuse for not being able to put together a full squad made of European-based players for games this month.
With that being said, Yanks Abroad compiled a list of players who could have made up the team for the October internationals.
Sergino Dest is probably the most obvious choice with a few caps under his belt and now playing for one of the biggest teams in the world.
Matt Miazga is not a stranger to the national team and now that he has found a team that is coached by probably one of the best defenders in the past decade, the Anderlecht loanee is in a good place
Sebastian Soto is an exciting prospect and the USA should get him in the mix especially since he has another country trying to get him to commit to them.
Duane Holmes has had a couple of caps for the USA and should have had more, if not for injuries. He is a solid midfielder for Derby County in the English second tier and at 25 years old, he is still getting better.
Ethan Horvath hasn't been playing because of his Belgian international teammate, Simon Mignolet but the kid is very good between the posts and should not be overlooked but encouraged by US Soccer to find a team where he will play. Learning from Mignolet as a young keeper is fine but playing is essential.
Gio Reyna is a very exciting attacking midfielder and at 17 years old, this kid has a great future ahead of him. Sure, he is very young but he is also a lot better than some midfielders who have already been capped.
Antonee Robinson has moved up into the Premiership after a move to Italy fell through earlier this year. Playing for Fulham as a defender is not going to be easy their first season back in the top flight and this guy's decision to join the London club will either make or break him. Let's get him into the national team.
Tim Weah hasn't been in the Lille lineup much since his move from PSG but that is mainly due to injuries. He should be called back into the US setup because the guy has a lot of potential and a great pedigree.
Theoson-Jordan Sebatcheu is French but since he was born in the USA, qualifies to play for the USA. Maybe it's time to call him up since he probably realizes that he will not break into the French squad any time soon. He is currently on loan at Young Boys in Switzerland and would probably welcome a bit of attention at this time.
Tyler Boyd had a good season for Besiktas in Turkey and has also featured for the USA on 10 occasions so joining a European-based squad would have made sense.
John Brooks is a regular in the national team with 38 caps. Enough said.
Joe Efford joined Waasland-Beveren this summer and has been putting in some solid performances for the Belgian Pro League team. Now 24 years old and playing in a pretty tough league (rated eighth overall by UEFA), Berhalter should at least give him a look.
Kenny Saief won a championship with Gent in Belgium and then moved to Anderlecht where he performed well until injuries and then was not able to get back into the team. He is now on loan again in Poland with Gdansk and is getting playing time. He has capped for the national team on four occasions and at 26 years old still has a lot to offer.
Emmanuel Sabbi has represented the USA at youth level and a few years of European experience in Denmark. He's 22 years old right now and with a new team where he is a regular, so I would recommend a call-up.
There's no need to go into a long explanation for some of the obvious picks among the European-based players, so here are their names:
Barring injuries these six players would make up the core of the team. So let's focus on who could be brought in to build around them.
Carlos dos Santos may be very young, but he should get the call-up as Berhalter needs to evaluate the depth of the goalkeeper position. The 6'3" netminder has worked his way through Benfica's academy to earn a spot with the reserves. Goalkeeper used to be one spot where there were no worries, but at the moment there is really no one to challenge Steffan. So bring the kid in for a look.
The U.S. has always had that problem with finding a quality player at left-back. That's going to leave Dest as the only option for now. Antonee Robinson should get a call-up based on his strong performance for Wigan Athletic despite their relegation. He looks like he's starting to make inroads at Fulham despite their horrendous record so far in the Premier League season.
With Dest most likely playing on the left, the two best options for right-back are Reggie Cannon and Shaq Moore. DeAndre Yedlin would have been a candidate, but with his lack of playing time at Newcastle United and the emergence of challengers to the position, he's moved down the list.
The U.S. is still looking for a steady center-back pairing since the days of Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra. Whatever pairing has been put together since that period has not worked out either because of injuries or the two just didn't mesh well. It's a gamble right now, but John Brooks and Matt Miazga would have to be the center-backs that the U.S. would go with.
Erik Palmer-Brown should get a nod as well. It's still up in the air whether he will ever play for Man City, but at least he's given the opportunity in Austria. Cameron Carter-Vickers would be the other pick although his future at Tottenham is uncertain at the moment. Chris Richards definitely deserves a call-up as he is most likely going to be a future first-choice central defender if he continues to make progress at Bayern Munich.
With McKennie and Adams the top choices in central midfield, it will be interesting to see who can fill in should either one of them succumb to an injury. The October friendlies would have been a good opportunity to bring in some of the young guys in the Netherlands. Richie Ledezman seems to be on the brink of breaking into the PSV Eindhoven first team from the reserves. Mexico expressed interest in bringing him into their fold in the past, so it would be good to see the U.S. Soccer show their support for the player and reward his progress with a call-up.
The same goes for Alex Mendez with Jong Ajax. It's still unclear whether he will move up to the first team in the future for the Amsterdammers, but it would be good to see how he's progressed during his time at the club. Let's through Chris Durkin in there as a candidate as well.
This is not a pick among the European-based players, but if he were allowed to get on a plane from Brazil, it would be interesting to see how Johnny (Joao Lucas de Souza Cardoso) could fit into the plans of the senior team going forward. Many have said he's a talented defensive midfielder and he's earned his way into the first team at Internacional in Brazil's Serie A.
In the attack, someone has got to start stepping up at striker. With Berhalter's recent comments stating that Jozy Altidore remains the most talented option, that's a worrying sign, especially if World Cup qualifiers get started on next year. Altidore is injury-prone and who knows how much he could contribute at the international level now. The coach's other favorite choice, Gyasi Zardes is not a viable option as well.
So it's up in the air as to who can fill that role among the players in Europe. Of course, Josh Sargent would get the call-up, but we're still waiting to see him break out at Werder Bremen. It's a struggling team in the Bundesliga, but it would great to see if the 20-year-old can increase his goal tally compared with the four he scored last season.
Then there is Timothy Weah. It seems like we've been waiting forever to see him finally break out. However, injuries have proven to be an obstacle. He's fit once again but finding it hard to get playing time with Lille. Then we can look over to Sweden where Aron Johannsson to have regained his scoring touch. But just like Altidore, there is the concern about injuries with the 29-year-old.
It may be a division down from Ligue 1, but it wouldn't hurt to bring in Nicholas Gioacchini. The 20-year-old is leading the front line at Caen and has started the season very well in France. He should be a top selection for the Under-23s, but with their Olympic qualifying campaign on hold, he could be brought in to camp just for the experience.
Andrija Novakovich is a guy we haven't heard from in a while. He could play as a target forward thanks in part to his 6'4" frame. He also has the technical ability that's needed to take on defenders with the ball at his feet. The 24-year-old only has three caps for the U.S., so it's not enough to determine whether he'd be useful. But another call-up would have been a good choice.
On the wings, the most exciting player to see in that position would be Konrad de la Fuente. Just when most of us were on the hype train for Ben Lederman at Barcelona, the kid from Miami has been quietly working his way through La Masia academy. And it looks like he's already in the good books for Ronald Koeman as he's been on the subs bench in two of their games so far. The thought of the 19-year-old as another option in the attack is very intriguing and a call-up just to get a look at what he can do would have been deserved.
Tyler Boyd would be another player that would brought into the camp to battle it out for a spot on the wing.
Lastly, Emmanuel Sabbi would have deserved a call-up in October. After some good showings Hobro in previous seasons in Denmark, he's started this season well at his new club Odense BK. With a couple of guys already ahead of him, the 22-year-old could provide a spark off the bench when the team needs it most.
Michael Adubato also contributed to this story.