USA 2022: Attackers Comment Count

Brian July 16th, 2018 at 12:47 PM

One vestige of World Cup coverage remains.


Welp. The World Cup proceeded without the United States. Sunil Gulati finally got the message and is gone; in his place is Carlos Cordiero, who was nominally Gulati's right-hand man but not the chosen successor. That was Kathy Carter, who does something or other for SUM, the shadowy money machine that's attached to MLS, US Soccer, and the Mexican Federation.

Cordiero and Gulati reportedly had a falling out. I choose to believe that was over Gulati's insane dedication to Klinsmann, for sanity's sake.

The federation hasn't done much since except play some friendlies and hire Earnie Stewart as a "general manager," a vague job title with vague responsibilities and no ability to hire and fire the national team coach. Stewart, at least at first blush, is exactly the right guy for the job. A Dutch dual national with 101 caps, Stewart had a couple years of MLS experience at the tail end of his career and then transitioned into front office roles with a couple of Dutch clubs before becoming the sporting director of the Philadelphia Union. Now just hire a coach who is vaguely competent and things will start moving in the right direction.

Actually: they already have. The MLS 3.0 era has been going on long enough that it's starting to pay off. MLS 1.0 was about survival. MLS 2.0 was about expansion. MLS 3.0 is about development. Most MLS teams now have fully-fledged academies and reserve/youth sides playing in the USL, which is a quantum leap from even five years ago. When MLS first started up, it piggy-backed on the existing soccer infrastructure. The "Super Draft" was really important and most Americans in the league had significant college soccer experience. While college soccer still has a role to play, these days virtually all of the country's top-end prospects skip college in favor of going direct to the pros. MLS is now creating an alternate path that's closer to the way soccer prospects develop worldwide.

The result is an unprecedented wave of young Americans both at home and abroad at major clubs, striving to break through and in an increasing number of cases actually doing so. The US had two teenagers playing major minutes for top-end Bundesliga sides last year and is poised to have a couple more breakthroughs this year. There's now a steady stream of US prospects getting signed by German clubs, in part because they're free—a hole the USSF really has to patch—but in part because the academy structure has created a class of legitimate teenage prospects.

As a result this cycle has far too many young prospects at major Euro clubs to name, and the rate of signings seems to be going up annually. Projecting these guys has a bunch of wild-ass guessing involved, obviously. The edition of this post four years highlighted a certain Dortmund attacker... Junior Flores. In my defense, Christian Pulisic was 15. May there be another 15 year old out there I have no knowledge of.

Anyway, one man's guess at the main contenders for the roster in Qatar. Or, for cynics, the last match in the hex when we run out a 4-1-3-2 in a game we need one point in. All ages are as of the 2022 World Cup. Players are roughly ordered by beautiful perfect son-ness. 


Josh Sargent (22), Werder Bremen. Sargent is the real deal, the only player to score for the U17s, U20s, and main national team in the same calendar year. Sargent's on-field awareness is leagues better than any 18 year old's should be; he seemingly always knows the position of his teammates and how to unbalance a defense. He's not big-huge but he's comfortable with hold-up play and puts himself in excellent positions on the regular. His ability to pull off the line and find pockets of space leapt out at the U20 World Cup, which he played in despite also being eligible for (and playing in) the U17 World Cup:

Sargent signed with Bremen, a mid-table Bundesliga side, afterwards and moved to Germany despite being ineligible to play with the main team—FIFA rules state you have to be 18 to leave your country of origin and Sargent just turned 18 in February. If he does make the breakthrough people expect him to he could end up at the top of the US depth chart almost immediately. Bremen's coach is outright saying they will not bring in a striker because of Sargent and another young player.

[After THE JUMP: less beautiful, less perfect sons]

Bobby Wood (29), Hannover. Wood had a miserable year with a Hamburg team that got relegated for the first time in its history but did secure a loan move to Hannover to stick in the Bundesliga and will remain near the top of the pool unless forcibly displaced by the young guys. Wood is an industrious gent who likes playing off the back shoulder of defenders and has a role, but he's not that useful against teams that want to bunker.

Gyasi Zardes (30), Columbus Crew. Yes, him. Zardes was traded to Columbus this offseason and has thrived as the kind of striker who doesn't touch the ball until it's time to dump it in the net.

He has 10 goals thus far to lead Americans in MLS. As a traditional #9, Zardes's donkey touches are limited; his athleticism and aerial ability come to the forefront. He's able to run the channels and track down long balls to relieve pressure, and after a little hold up play he plays a poacher role well.

It's clear he was miscast by Klinsmann, who used him as a winger, and now that he's a pure 9 he's moved into the weakest part of the player pool. If he continues being the top-scoring American in MLS he'll get another shot. If Columbus's Gregg Berhalter gets the USA job his chances likely increase. How do I feel about this? Middling!

Andrija Novakovich (25), Reading. Novakovich tore up the Dutch second division last year and his new loan bumps him up to a newly-promoted club in the top flight. He'll get plenty of opportunity in the wide-open Eredivise; he's good on the end of set pieces, takes penalties, and is fast enough to get a bunch of through balls in a lower league. This year will announce him as a real prospect or not so much.

Sebastian Soto (21), Real Salt Lake. Soto's apparently on the verge of a move to Germany after training with Borussia Monchengladbach, which I like saying out loud. Try it. It's fun! If so, Soto is in for a limbo year similar to the one Sargent just went through and then has to make the first-team breakthrough that Sargent is apparently about to. Tall order, but Soto promises to be the same kind of multi-dimensional 9 that Sargent could become.

OTHERS: Jozy Altidore (32) will be old-ish and has suffered so many injuries in his career it seems unlikely he'll be World Cup quality in four years. Aron Johannson (31) is the only person in history who regrets defecting from the Iceland national team. His career has been derailed by injury but he's part of Sargent's competition after having recovered. Jordan Morris (27) has fallen off considerably in MLS, been injured a lot, and probably hit his ceiling. Rubio Rubin (25) needs to actually play some soccer. Dom Dwyer (31)... eh? Haji Wright (24) landed at Schalke last year but a loan to the second Bundesliga did not go as well as hoped.

Bonus weird one: Frenchman Theoson Siebatcheu (26) was born in DC and just made a fairly expensive transfer to one of the better French sides after a 17 goal, 6 assist season with Reims in the French second flight. Siebatcheu has a slightly intimidating climb to the French national team that the US could probably sway him from but is also eligible for Cameroon. The US has inquired.


actually wait there are a fair number of these guys now

Christian Pulisic (24), Dortmund. The lockiest lock on the team sheet at the moment, a 24-year-old Pulisic should be the most high profile Euro star in USMNT history by 2022. He could be a central attacking midfielder or a wing threat; the assumption here is that the US remains more bereft on the outside than up the middle. Also he seems to be settling in as a right winger at Dortmund.

I'd rather play a guy at his club position than elsewhere unless it's absolutely necessary to deviate. The general dearth of central playmakers in the US pool may in fact make it absolutely necessary to deviate. For now, we'll call him a winger.

Kenny Saief (28), Anderlecht. Saief was a mildly touted one-time switch from Israel who got hurt and then had a scary infection almost as soon as he was eligible for the US; his move to Belgian power Anderlecht is good for his playing time, as he got a ton of minutes in the back half of the last season under his old coach at Ghent. Saief is a left-sided player, which helps him in a pool that's got quite a lot of right wingers, and will be dead in the middle of his prime in four years. He's tricky and has passing range...

...and top teams in Belgium are usually USA-quality destinations. (Yes, that is Memo Ochoa.)

Paul Arriola (27), DC United. Arriola is an old school USA player who will run all day and work his ass off on defense, and that should go a fair way towards keeping him in the picture. His offensive upside remains somewhat in doubt; he was DC's record signing a couple years ago and hasn't produced at the level you might expect from a DP/USMNT level player. Also DC is real bad.

Tim Weah (22), PSG. Weah is the sun of legendary George Weah, who's now president of Liberia, and made his PSG debut in their final game last season before getting some full US callups. He's probably not going to unseat Kylian Mbappe—call it a hunch—and should probably get loaned out somewhere he'll play extensively. In his US appearances he's gotten a fair number of opportunities that usually get booted straight at the goalkeeper.

I'll fight you if you say anything bad about my glorious son Josh Sargeant but I'm a bit skeptical about Weah. Hopefully he gets enough playing time and results this season to put some doubters on a one-way train to coldtakesville.

Jonathan Lewis (25), NYCFC. Inexplicably did not play for his club this year until Patrick Viera left and a new guy took over and then instantly became a game-changing super-sub. Produces whenever he's on the field, now maybe put him on it? I'm just sayin'. Right? At 21 needs an MLS breakthough now to stay prospect-ish and should get it.

Jonathan Amon (23), FC Nordsjaelland. Uh...

...let's explore this. Amon piled up a lot of highlights in ten appearances but was limited with the injuries that perpetually strike down promising US wingers abroad. (Remember Josh Gatt? Joe Gyau? No? Well, injuries.) Amon is also a left-sided player, which will help him. 

OTHERS: Julian Green (27) recently made a permanent move to a bottom-half club in the 2nd flight in Germany and is no longer a big-time prospect. Kekuta Manneh (27) is a super fast guy who was recently naturalized but a move to Pachuca was disastrous and now he's in the Swiss league being fast at people. Romain Gall (27) is probably going to move after impressing in the Swedish league, possibly to a big Dutch club or Malmo, the Bayern of Sweden.  Lynden Gooch (26) should have a major role with Sunderland this year, but they've suffered consecutive relegations so it'll be in the third flight. Nick Taitague (22) made another Bundesliga-at-17 move as one of three Americans Schalke picked up. Injuries have held him back but a breakthrough would spring him way up the list here.


Musket Rebellion

July 16th, 2018 at 1:14 PM ^

Love that this gets posted after the Twellman thread got all "soccer? NIMBY herp derp" real quick. 2022 becomes much more important after both not making 2018 and also, as Brian stated, the stunning rate at which Americans have been heading to European academies of late. Great to see that trend start and continue over the last 3 - 5 years.

Brian - Will you be posting something about potential coaches? Or just wait for the USMNT to actually hire one? Wouldn't blame you either way. 


July 16th, 2018 at 1:26 PM ^

RE: Borussia Monchengladbach

You know what else is fun? Add "-ic" to the end of everyone's names. I was inspired by the Croats. I even invented a Croatian blog dedicated to Michigan football. I call it, Our favorite player is Chasic Winovic. The lead writer is Brian Cookic. The sales editor is Misopogonic Fisheric.


July 16th, 2018 at 1:55 PM ^

Kramaric: I think he looked like Feldman, from the Bizarro-world Seinfeld episode.

The odd thing about the final 4 was that each team had a player named after a popular song:

France: M'bopp / Mbappe

England: Dier Maker

Hrvatska: My Name is Luka (Modric)

Belgium: My Name is Lukaku, and Bad Kompany



July 16th, 2018 at 1:33 PM ^

I was really surprised Amon didn't get a call up for those friendlies the US played earlier this summer.  Not the highest league he's playing in, but he put some impressive performances in a legit pro league a young age.  Hopefully we see him for the next round of friendlies.  And it's crazy to think about, but if the qualifying schedule follows past cycles, WC qualifying will start in little over a year, in fall of 2019.  So even some of those older guys, if they're not in for the next WC in 2022, the US is going to need them (like Altidore and Johansson).  

And speaking of Johansson, I doubt he regrets choosing US over Iceland.  Remember, he's already played and started in a World Cup.  And got further than Iceland did!  And with his injuries lately, he probably wouldn't have gotten called up to the Iceland squad anyway.  So he's still ahead with the US so far.  And since he's a Bremen also, it would be awesome to see a Johansson/Sargent strike force do well there.


July 16th, 2018 at 1:50 PM ^

I don't follow soccer that closely so I'm confused by this line regarding Sargent:

Sargent signed with Bremen, a mid-table Bundesliga side, afterwards and moved to Germany despite being ineligible to play with the main team—FIFA rules state you have to be 18 to leave your country of origin and Sargent just turned 18 in February.

I thought it was very common for players to leave their countries(especially Latin America and Africa) to join development programs in Europe.  Is this a relatively new rule or do they go knowing they won't play on the senior team until 18?


July 16th, 2018 at 2:04 PM ^

You have to be in an academy in Europe by a certain age (if memory serves me correctly, it's 14) or be eligible for a European passport, or else you can't sign a professional contract until the transfer window in which you turn 18. Sargent was like a week too young to sign and play the second half of the Bundesliga season for Werder after developing in St. Louis.


July 16th, 2018 at 2:06 PM ^

I don't know how it works world wide, but in Europe, if you have an EU passport, you can work in the EU before 18.  That's why a lot of young Europeans train outside of their home countries, and also why dual nationals will get EU passports if they live abroad.  Like Pulisic got his Croatian passport when he was like 16 or something so he could move and train with Dortmund before 18.  Matt Miazga got his Polish passport to do the same.  

I think in most of the world, the domestic leagues's business models involve selling players to bigger clubs when young.  Like Brazil's domestic league trains and develops a ton of talent that they will sell to bigger clubs around the world when able, even if after 18.  They're good enough that European countries will buy a guy they didn't develop from like 15.  That's the model MLS needs to embrace if US soccer as a whole is to take the next step forward.


July 16th, 2018 at 2:22 PM ^

It is relatively new, and there are also loopholes. The most prominent is that if you have an EU passport FIFA can't stop you. Pulisic had one and went at 15. Gio Reyna is trying to do the same thing. Sargent doesn't have the right relatives to follow suit. 


July 16th, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

soccer is king in most other countries where top tier managers would go and is not as big here, they have more resources to outspend us usually i think. i'm not too up on usa soccer's finances but i'd guess that the money cannon for other sides is just as well armed.

other reasons that a top tier manager might want to coach somewhere (high chance of winning a world cup, prestigious role) don't really apply either.


July 16th, 2018 at 2:07 PM ^

The US hired the most expensive manager in the world like 6 years ago (Klinnsman). There's more to winning than comes with paying for a top manager. Quite honestly, there's value in a manager, but in the international game - where the team trains together only in camps before games - it's a bit of an overrated position. 

For the USMNT's specific position in the game, it makes more sense to hire a guy who has an understanding of the player pool and why college/MLS/etc. make the country unique than trying to find some tactical/development wizard.


July 16th, 2018 at 2:21 PM ^

My take is that it normally doesn't come down to money. 

The true top-tier of managers (the Guardiolas and Mourinhos of the the world) are much more interested in coaching club teams since a national team only plays a handful of meaningful games per year. There's a lot more administrative burden for a national team coach in terms of keeping up with players, scouting, etc than actual improving of players skills or game tactics. That being said, a great coach of a club team will command a much higher salary than a great national team coach. 

Then secondarily if a coach is interested in heading up a national team, there's a lot of national pride that plays a factor. Take the top 4 of this year's world cup. France, Croatia, England are all coached by countrymen. Expand to the top 8 and 7 (incl. Uruguay, Brazil, Sweden and Russia) are also coached by countrymen.

End of the day, I don't believe it operates as much like a free market as one would expect from domestic leagues like college football, where the biggest spenders can bring in the best coaches. 

oriental andrew

July 16th, 2018 at 4:50 PM ^

On a somewhat related note, my BIL and I were talking about it and figured that if soccer were THE top sport in the US (as opposed to football and basketball - even baseball), we would absolutely be a dominant nation. Can you imagine all our top athletes being funneled into soccer academies instead of football programs and AAU basketball?


July 17th, 2018 at 12:47 AM ^

In regards to the answer to your question, if just a decent percentage of players that go into basketball and football went into soccer the US team could have 11 players on the field with the speed and athleticism of Mpape (sp? - it's late and I'm drunk). 

As Brian mentioned with the MLS academies, it's coming.   We just need to be patient.


July 17th, 2018 at 8:15 AM ^

The problem with the US has never (well not "never" in a literal sense, but in recent history) been lack of athleticism. Indeed, the USMNT has been known for having great athletes. It's been lack of technical development. 

I know it's en vogue to say "but what if our best athletes..." especially in the wake of not making the World Cup, but it's really not an accurate picture of what our country lacks. Is Luka Modric an elite athlete? Sergio Ramos? Robert Lewandowski? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Heck, I'd say there's a decent chance Christian Pulisic is a better athlete than Lionel Messi.

Sure, we've never had that Mbappé type, but there have been very few of those over the years. We've lacked the technical development far more than we've ever lacked athletes.


July 17th, 2018 at 1:07 PM ^

A much larger problem is the screwed-up way we raise youth players here -- it doesn't help to get great athletes into the sport if we then don't develop them appropriately. Youth soccer has become a big, profit-making business and has gotten so expensive that the "sport of the streets" in the rest of the world has become a sport of the wealthy here in America. As a good New York Times article on the subject said, "Currently, American households with more than $100,000 in annual income provide 35 percent of soccer players, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, compared with 11 percent from households earning $25,000 or less."

If that were true for basketball, the US Men's National Basketball Team would be losing to Trinidad & Tobago, too.

And at the risk of triggering Brian's AFCAA homerism, I'll note that this is one of the things I love about my club, Detroit City FC. They're trying to fight the youth soccer machine by not only running their own no/low-cost youth system in partnership with Detroit PAL but also by renovating Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck so kids in the community there simply have a place to go play soccer.

I spoke once with a local soccer player and coach who grew up in Romania, was capped for onem of their national youth teams and played lower-league European pro soccer before coming to the U.S. He was passionate about the fact that neither he nor his parents had ever had to pay for him to play soccer, because there was always a free youth program in his local clubs. He told me that if he were named US Soccer King for a Day, he'd issue a decree that you couldn't call your team "FC" or "SC" anything unless it had a free youth program and developmental system -- in other words, unless it were an actual club.


July 17th, 2018 at 1:48 PM ^

Actually we wouldn't be dominant at all because the rest of the world cares about soccer as well.

The problem which has been touched upon in the main post and by some commenters is that the US system of sports (most of them anyway) runs through our university system. If you want to develop great soccer players, taking arguably their prime development years to play 25 college games in a span of 3 months with a concern only on winning games, is a TERRIBLE way to do it.

We are incredibly successful in the sporting world (outside of soccer) because we have a good sporting culture, have more resources and money than anyone, and have a huge population base. You can add Title IX for women's sports success as well. And yet, in my opinion, our nation underachieves, because our development system dates back to a time when a few Ivy Leaguers started to play football against each other back in the 1800s. 


July 16th, 2018 at 1:59 PM ^

I like Dwyer more than you do (barring a renaissance from Wood, I'd absolutely rather have Dwyer), and am glad as king of the Gyasi Zardes fanclub (non-haterz club?) that you've come around on him at his new position. I don't much care for Soto yet, and if Jozy can stay healthy (not likely! maybe not possible!) would rather have him as the holdover-y type from past WC squads.

Morris is all winger to me because he's 1) pacey 2) comically one-sided 3) meh as a pure finisher. If he retains his speed after coming back from injury, cool. For me, he's sort of on the downside of his tenure in the MNT picture.

Arriola is, uh, not for me. I'd rather have Julian Green, honestly. Winger is probably a spot where somebody we don't really know a ton about yet is going to be a major factor come 2022. Somebody like Efra Alvarez (pls) who could be a great finisher from the wing sounds pretty good to me.


July 17th, 2018 at 8:49 AM ^

Romelu Lukaku starts for one of the best soccer nations in the world and his first touch is only marginally better than Zardes. I'll say two things: 1. I'm a reformed Zardes-hater, and 2. I'm a Crew fan, but with those in mind, Berhalter's ability to find a way to hide Zardes's glaring inadequacy is a genius decision.


July 17th, 2018 at 10:33 AM ^

It absolutely must be somebody with an understanding of the US player pool and what (MLS/college/etc.) makes it unique vis-a-vis other countries, at least for the next hire. Somebody with Earnie Stewart familiarity (Berhalter played against him in the Eredivisie, they've crossed paths in other ways since then) is also pretty likely.

My top two choices - assuming Vermes is off the table for now - are Jesse Marsch and Berhalter. USSF can be a little more adventurous (not "Klinnsman-level adventurous") with the next hire.


July 17th, 2018 at 12:57 PM ^

Counterpoint, Klinnsman had a really successful 4 years, and was integral in the current explosion of youth talent from his role as the country's technical director. Things went sour on the field and he was deservedly fired. The USSF made things exponentially worse by bringing in Bruce Arena.


July 17th, 2018 at 2:39 PM ^

Yes, and ABB. Anybody but Bruce. 

No to be serious, I'm not sure who was available at the time. Vermes and Ramos would have at least been more forward thinking. Plenty of good candidates are out there at all times. Why turn to a 65 year old Bruce Arena who wasn't good enough for the USSF back in 2006?

Why hire anybody you plan on letting go in 18 months regardless of success on the field. That's what Bruce was. If we failed to qualify, he would be fired. If we qualified, he would have been forced to step aside gracefully. Hell, American soccer should never have settled for the goal of just qualifying for the World Cup. The bid was doomed from that moment.


July 17th, 2018 at 10:37 PM ^

While hindsight is 20-20, qualifying was hardly in the bag at that point and that was the ultimate goal. For this particular group it was a down cycle to say the least. Hell it was a down cycle for CONCACAF outside of maybe Mexico. Panama was awful and Costa Rica was a shell of its 2014 self.

You hire somebody for 18 months to steer you to qualification because a) he had done it before, b) putting someone without national team experience in that spot isn't fair to either the new coach or the players on the team. Arena knew that team and those players. 


July 18th, 2018 at 9:13 AM ^

Jill Ellis was hired in April of 2016 and hoisted the Womens World Cup trophy 15 months later. She is still the WNT coach. That is the type of hire you do. Someone with a future. Someone who can earn a full time gig. Someone with skin in the game. Bruce Arena had nothing to gain or lose by being the coach. And that lack of urgency bled down to the team until the final whistle in Trinidad and Tobago while Michael Bradley was walking around in stoppage time.  

Only qualifying for the world cup should never have been the USA's goal. Falling short of that goal is unacceptable. Falling short of making it our of the group stage at least lands you in the group stage!


July 16th, 2018 at 2:29 PM ^

Stick to politics.

Err, stick to sports.

Err again, stick to American sports.


But seriously, I find this stuff really interesting.  It does seem like there's more young talent in the pipeline than perhaps we saw during the run-up to the World Cup qualifiers, especially at the wings.  It does seem like the biggest factor going forward is who they get as manager; after guys like Klinsmann and Arena, I'd like to see them maybe pull a college coach or a top MLS guy and roll with a leader who has seen these guys play at the lower levels and can maybe push the homegrown system that looked like it was working at some point.  But again, I say this as a soccer neophyte.



July 16th, 2018 at 2:34 PM ^

The only omission that stands out is George Acosta, who signed with Boca Juniors just after he turned 18 in April. Occasionally he's listed as a midfielder but I think he's more of an attacker. 

He just got his first U-20 MNT call-up the other day but has played with the Under 17's in the past, including the U-17 World Cup squad in India. 


July 16th, 2018 at 3:05 PM ^

Up until about a week about I thought that Arriola was a late-20s guy who just showed up for a few games in qualifying and would probably never be seen in a USMNT jersey again. Now that it turns out that he's only 23, I'm prepping myself for a Zusi or Beasley-style career where he does his grit thing at wing or fullback for the next two cycles. 


July 16th, 2018 at 4:30 PM ^

Great stuff. With no US in the World Cup I thought we were going to be shutout (clean sheeted?) of solid footy content. Can't wait for the other articles. 


Also for those interested, if you go to they have some mini-docs on some of the aforementioned players. They just released the videos today.


July 16th, 2018 at 5:06 PM ^

Borussia Monchengladbach, that's a mouthful. I like saying "Bundesliga", who knew German would be so fun to enunciate!

Also, US Soccer just put this out about Christian Pulisic; see, I told you this blog has power!


July 16th, 2018 at 5:23 PM ^

Am I the only one who thinks that Emerson Hyndman could still be the future at the number 10 spot?  This will be a big year for him at Bournemouth--he started their preseason match on Saturday and if he can break through I expect he would instantly be in the conversation for the USMNT.  At age 26 in 2022, he would be in the prime of his career.