Some months, you don’t learn a whole lot about the U.S. mens’ national team player pool. Then there are stretches like the last 10 days, which included a pair of quality friendlies followed by a weekend of league matches, when valuable insight is far easier to glean.
We now know much more than we did even two weeks ago. Part of that was down to circumstances; the absence of several key starters because of injury offered opportunities to others in the loss to Colombia and the tie against Peru. Part of it was down to interim coach Dave Sarachan who, in what might have been his final two games in charge, opted to give looks — and in some cases, starts — to several players who had been mostly rooted to the bench with the national team or for their clubs, or both.
Which Americans made the most of their recent opportunities? Who is moving toward a bigger role based on their play overseas or back home in MLS? Here’s a look at whose stock is rising or falling right now:
F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (German Bundesliga)
Sargent managed to impress in a 10-minute substitute appearance against Los Cafeteros, and he was razor-sharp in his second career U.S. start versus Peru, scoring a striker’s goal and playing with the sort of guile rarely seen in American forwards, let alone 18-year-old ones.
Moving up the ranks! 🇺🇸
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) October 17, 2018
The takeaway: Upon Sargent’s return to Bremen, Werder boss Florian Kohfeldt said that the St. Louis area native would soon be promoted from the club’s under-23 squad. It didn’t happen in time for Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Schalke, but expect the young striker to get his chance soon.
M Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga)
Pulisic missed both U.S. games recovering from his leg injury sufficiently enough to provide an assist off the bench for first-place Dortmund in the second half of Saturday’s 4-0 win over Stuttgart. He should be good to go for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League visit from Atletico Madrid.
The takeaway: His American teammates missed him dearly in both games. But given initial fears that the 20-year-old could be out for a longer stretch, this young USMNT can live with its best player’s latest absence. They’re used to it. The hope is that Pulisic will be available for next month’s high-profile, 2018-ending matches against England and Italy.
M Weston McKennie, Schalke (German Bundesliga)
McKennie missed the two U.S. games because of an adductor injury, but he started and went the distance in Schalke’s win over Sargent-less Werder.
The takeaway: The Texan, also 20, was in the form of his young career before the break, scoring his first Bundesliga and Champions League goals. McKennie won’t have to wait long for his next chance in Europe’s top club competition, as Schalke travels to Istanbul to meet Galatasaray on Wednesday.
D Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls (MLS)
The rangy Californian center back started in his U.S. debut against Peru and played like a veteran, anchoring a back four that came into the match with just six combined caps — five of them by Long’s 20-year-old partner Cameron Carter-Vickers — and limiting the La Blanquirroja to just three shots on target.
The takeaway: There are spots up for grabs in central defense behind current first-choice pair John Brooks and Matt Miazga. The 26-year-old Long showed that he should be in the running for one of them going forward alongside Carter-Vickers and fellow MLSers Walker Zimmerman and Tim Parker, the latter his Red Bulls teammate.
D Reggie Cannon, FC Dallas (MLS)
Like Long, Cannon, 20, also made his senior international debut against Peru, and he also played with a maturity that belied his lack of experience.
The takeaway: With considerably less depth at right back than in the middle, there’s no reason why Cannon, who has started all but one game for FCD all season, shouldn’t be a consistent call-up from now on.
F Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC (MLS)
Altidore missed the October friendlies with an ankle injury that will require surgery, ensuring that the 28-year-old mainstay will not play for the USMNT at all in 2018.
The takeaway: While some so-called U.S. fans celebrated the news, it’s a blow not just to Altidore, but to a team that has so little depth up front that in its most recent game it started a striker who has never played a professional minute. Altidore’s age and production (41 international goals) mean he still has a future with the national team if he can stay healthy. That’s becoming a big if, though: Altidore has been limited to just 877 minutes for TFC this season.
D DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United (English Premier League)
Yedlin is the regular right back for the Magpies, but his grip on the spot for the U.S. isn’t as tight as many would think. That’s not likely to change after the 2014 World Cup vet got caught sleeping on Peru’s equalizer after replacing Cannon late in the contest.
The takeaway: Yedlin has started just three of the last six U.S. matches he’s been available for — including the Peru game and last month’s win over Mexico — and not because Sarachan wanted to send him back to Newcastle fresh. Now, with Cannon looking like a viable long-term alternative once he gains more experience, Yedlin’s performances must improve.
F Andrija Novakovich, Fortuna Sittard (Dutch Eredivisie)
Novakovich made his third U.S. appearance against Colombia, entering for the final 10 minutes, but didn’t make the game day roster versus Peru despite being healthy.
The takeaway: Considering how green Sarachan’s lineup was last week, Novakovich could have been in line to start. But word is that the 22-year-old Wisconsin native hasn’t trained well with the U.S., either this month or earlier this year. It’s up to him to change that narrative if and when he’s summoned again.
M Kenny Saief, Anderlecht (Belgian First Division A)
Saief was in the lineup against Colombia but was badly exposed defensively in the match, and he was yanked in favor of Fafa Picault after just 58 minutes.
The takeaway: As a technically sound 24-year-old left-footed winger, the thought was that Florida-born, Israel-raised Saief would be an important player for the U.S. this cycle. Maybe he still will be. But his performance against the Colombians left a lot of questions about his ability to play both sides of the ball at the highest level. He’ll need to answer them the next time he gets the nod.
D Erik Palmer-Brown, NAC Breda (Dutch Eredivisie)
After being an unused sub for three straight games, the former Sporting Kansas City prospect didn’t dress for Sunday’s 2-2 tie with Willem II.
The takeaway: Palmer-Brown’s loan from Manchester City has not gone as hoped so far. The 21-year-old didn’t report to the club in optimal shape, and when he finally cracked the lineup last month, he lasted just 180 minutes (3-2 and 3-0 losses) before heading back to the bench.
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