In a certain sense, golden generations are a product of fluke.
They’re a function of superior player development, sure. But they’re just as much the residue of timing and happenstance. Nebulous as the term is, thrown around easily and often, it still requires a generation of national team players who are well-rounded, complementary and complete – with adequate cover in every position. And then there are injuries, transfers, tactics and coaches, both for clubs and country, that all have to align just so. A lot of things have to break right for a generation to be gilded.
Yet those two loaded words were invoked by United States men’s national team right back DeAndre Yedlin. He spoke on the eve of the USA’s first game with all of its players available since a permanent coach, Gregg Berhalter, finally took over in December, bookending the transition period following the failure to reach the World Cup in October 2017.
"Now that we have a base and just a stable platform, you’ll really see an unbelievable growth, especially with these guys," Yedlin said. "This group of players, and a couple of the other younger guys, this could be a golden generation for the U.S., I think."
Certainly, the wealth and depth of talent now emerging is unprecedented. In Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic, who is Chelsea-bound over the summer for a staggering sum, Weston McKennie of Schalke, and Tyler Adams of RB Leipzig, the U.S. has a threesome of veritable midfield prodigies. All of them 20 years old. All of them playing regularly in the German Bundesliga, one of the world’s best circuits.
Josh Sargent is a 19-year-old striker breaking in with Werder Bremen, also in Germany. Tim Weah, born two days after Sargent, is not only a dazzling winger for Paris Saint-Germain – currently on loan at Celtic in Scotland – but also the son of the former world player of the year, and current Liberian president, George Weah. They are very much part of this group, albeit currently dropped down to the under-23 national team.
All five of them appear, at this early juncture of their careers, to have more upside than any American national team player before them.
And there is seemingly enough talent elsewhere to plug the holes, scattered on teams all over the world, spanning the spectrum from Manchester United and Everton to Nordsjaelland and Fortuna Sittard. Older players, too, like the 25-year-old Yedlin, who is in his third season playing significant minutes in the Premier League, and fellow defenders John Brooks and Aaron Long, who are both 26. It all seems to piece together quite nicely.
In the wake of the greatest failure in American soccer history and the first absence at a World Cup since 1986, it’s made for a buoyant mood. Everything seems possible.
Even a golden generation, whatever that means. One that finally and truly competes at World Cups, perhaps.
"I want them to think of [us] as a real world force, a team that has a chance against anyone in the world," Pulisic told reporters before the game, per ESPN. “I don't want them to just see them as, 'Oh , it's just the U.S.' I want them to fear [us] like a big team. That's our goal. We want to be respected around the world.”
On Thursday, Pulisic, McKennie and Adams all started together for the first time as the U.S. beat a respected Ecuador 1-0 in a friendly in Orlando. And in a zippy and spirited first half, the Americans received rave reviews.
— The American Outlaws (@AmericanOutlaws) March 22, 2019
is.... is this coherent and crisp build-up play from the #usmnt? i must be smacked
— A West (@ayyy_west) March 22, 2019
The #USMNT players have clearly designed corner kick plays. They're talking about what the trigger on the press is. They're discussing where they want to outlet pressure.
This is ... a real team with a system and plan that understands and communicates it 😍😍😍.
— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) March 22, 2019
McKennie, never one to play a highlight-reel kind of game, was solid for an hour before rolling his ankle. Pulisic had an up-and-down game before coming off shortly thereafter. And Adams was sometimes exposed while playing out of position in a right wingback sort of role. But on the whole, the U.S. played an ambitious and meticulous game, prizing possession and organization.
It had been a long while since the Americans had looked this coherent. And that was after a mere two full days of practicing together, to Berhalter’s enormous credit.
The game was much more even in the second half, after the Yanks had fashioned the better of the chances in the first. But a goal that was lucky was nevertheless deserved when a heretofore isolated Gyasi Zardes attempted a speculative long shot in the 81st minute. It caromed off a defender and stumped goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez, looping into goal just under the crossbar.
It was just one game. One win. But it was a good one. A promising one.
All the elements seem to be there for a generation that might yet be forged from a precious metal.
The rest will require an enormous amount of good fortune.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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