As we took in the baby steps of the new generation of the US Men’s National Team, the most apt word to describe it all was promising.
Greg Berhalter and Co. called up an incredibly green squad for a pair of international friendlies against Wales and Panama with 14 players who are aged 20 or younger. This was less the start of a new chapter and more the start of an entirely new book.
This is a US National Team like we’ve never seen. We’ve never been this young, this technical. It’s incredibly exciting. Keep in mind, too, the US was missing its best player (Christian Pulisic, Chelsea) and its best striker (Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen). The headliners from this two-game run were a pair of 17-year-old debutants in Yunus Musah and Giovanni Reyna. Reyna in particular because he’s the son of former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna, and he is as blue chip of a prospect as they come. He’s already become a regular starter for Borussia Dortmund this campaign like his compatriot Pulisic before him. And like his future teammate, his talent is already so obvious that you can write his name in stone on the roster for the next decade without any hesitation.
The overarching takeaway from this pair of matches was how technical the US squad could play in comparison to previous iterations. So was there (at times) dominate possession based style of play. Playing possession style soccer is a chicken-and-the-egg proposition: You need to be supremely technical to be able to execute with precision. This has NEVER been the US’s forte on the international stage. So the fact that we could see such proficiency of this team dynamic amongst a bunch of kids is remarkable.
I thought it was baffling that Berhalter chose to start Sebastian Lleget at No. 9 against Wales. It didn’t have the desired effect. It was especially a waste considering all the young talent at his disposal and the fact that this was a friendly game with no consequence.
As an aside, Berhalter makes me nervous. I’m skeptical he has the chops to lead this group. He’ll clearly get his chance, but I’ll be watching him closely. He’ll have to get his tactics right. Going from being an average MLS coach to coaching a squad that is filled to the brim with some of the best youth prospects in the world is quite a large gap to bridge. That said, Berhalter looks to possibly be applying a “total football” approach akin to the famous Dutch national teams from the past, where players freely rotate positions and hold them for brief periods. That could be wildly impressive 1) if true, and 2) if it comes off. Time will tell.
In the first match, the squad was wildly impressive for the first 65 minutes. Yunus Musah, who should be a high school junior but instead is getting regular minutes for Valencia in La Liga, was particularly awe-inspiring. He could be an absolute stud. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are clearly the holding mids going forward for the national team. Adams is extra exciting and could be riveting as the team’s No. 6. (Imagine a fast Michael Bradley who can dribble! What!?!). He needs to continue to develop, but his ceiling is beyond intriguing — it could be skyscraper-level. McKennie is still awesome, but his game as a bull-in-a-China-shop is what it is. Adams could be a real dynamo.
Let’s talk about Serginho Dest because he is absolutely filthy. It is mind-boggling that he chose the US instead of Holland considering how good he is. He is going to be incredible. Already, he might be the US’s second best player at present based on pure talent. Now throw in the fact that he can play at either fullback position — he’s out of this world.
Eventually the boys ran out of gas (and ideas) against Wales. But at this point, this is such a hodgepodge group of guys that have been quickly assembled, you couldn’t blame them for lacking a flowing chemistry. The follow up game against Panama on Monday afternoon further displayed this squad’s potential by following up the 0-0 draw with an explosive 6-2 win over Panama.
Reyna got his first international goal with a deftly taken free kick. After that, every US goal was one fantastic team move after another. Nicholas Gioacchini‘s second goal in particular. Richard Ledezma and Sebastian Soto combined for a pair of cross-to-header goals, both of which derived from gorgeous crosses from the former. Both Ledezma and Soto have impressed me greatly will player for the U20 national team, and I expect them to be around for the long haul.
These breakout performances would not come as a shock for any of those who took in the 2019 U20 FIFA World Cup, where the US was considered among the top performers. Since then many players, like Ledezma and Soto, have be cherry-picked by numerous European clubs. That has had a domino effect of further developing the US’s player pool in dramatic fashion. If they can all perform well at senior level, this will have an even bigger ripple effect.
The next decade of US Soccer is going to be fascinating. And the 2026 World Cup could arrive on home soil at the perfect time.