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For the U.S. men’s national team, recent wins against Canada and Cuba did more than qualify the Americans for June’s CONCACAF Nations League semifinals. The two matches also provided some valuable insight into where a number of players fit within the positional pecking order under coach Gregg Berhalter.
That matters, because the twin victories also guaranteed that Berhalter will remain at the helm of the USMNT through at least next summer. Berhalter’s first year had some low lows, with shocking losses against the Canadians and fellow border rival Mexico sticking out. The fanbase remains cynical, quite understandably after missing last year’s World Cup.
But if Berhalter is to lead the USMNT to a more convincing 2020, he’ll likely lean on many of the names listed in the section immediately below. As for those Americans whose national team sock is trending the other direction at the moment, they should be heartened by the knowledge that fortunes can change quickly at the sport’s highest level.
With the program’s 2019 slate finished, here’s a snapshot of where some of the national team’s most interesting players stand right now.
USMNT players trending up
M Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
The crafty central midfielder started both U.S. games in November, turning in two fine performances despite having not logged a minute of action since the Quakes’ season ended in early October.
Takeaway: No player helped himself more this month than the 22-year-old Yueill, who will head into 2022 as a presumed starter even when veteran Michael Bradley returns from the ankle injury he suffered during MLS Cup. “I really liked his intensity,” Berhalter said after naming Yueill his man of the match against Cuba. “He didn't let up for 90 minutes, and to turn around from a very physical Canada match to now play again in these conditions, I thought he did a great job.”
D Sergino Dest, Ajax (Netherlands)
The USMNT officially cap-tied the Dutch-born fullback against Canada, and Dest looked like a man with a weight lifted off his shoulders in the 4-1 win.
Takeaway: With Dest’s decision to represent the U.S. now made, the 19-year-old figures to quickly establish himself as a key player on both sides of the ball. “It feels great if you can do both,” Dest said after the Canada match. “I also want to make an impact on the team defensive-wise and attacking-wise.”
M Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (MLS)
With Christian Pulisic nursing a hip injury, Lletget stepped into a playmaking role against Canada and provided some of the attacking swagger that was missing in October’s 2-0 loss north of the border.
Takeaway: “Sebastian is a guy that gives you a little bit more of the game-changing quality that that Christian possesses,” Berhalter said after his side exacted revenge on Les Rouges in Orlando. Lletget probably returns to the bench when Pulisic’s healthy, but he definitely didn’t hurt his case for more minutes in 2020.
M/F Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Morris scored five goals in the final five U.S. matches of 2019, including two in last week’s 4-0 rout of Cuba.
Takeaway: The all-action 25-year-old is coming off a career season for club and country; Morris was the USMNT’s best player during the second half of 2019. Don’t be surprised if European suitors come calling. “I’d never rule anything out,” Morris told Yahoo Sports after helping his hometown Sounders to a second MLS Cup in four years earlier this month. “If an offer or something came along that I really enjoyed and thought was right for me, I would have no quarrels with making a jump.”
D John Brooks, Wolfsburg (Germany)
Brooks made just his second appearance under Berhalter in Orlando, and his experience and pedigree made a huge difference defensively. “He's got that quality about him that's very calming,” center back partner Aaron Long said. “He's very smooth on the ball, definitely a guy that calms the game down for us.”
Takeaway: While Brooks’ ability has rarely been in doubt, questions about his commitment and ability to stay heathy remain. Only time will tell if the 26-year-old answers them in 2020.
F Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (MLS)
U.S. fans’ favorite whipping boy at least temporarily silenced his haters with two well-taken strikes in Orlando.
Takeaway: Goals aside, Zardes still had an excellent match, making smart decisions on and away from the ball. He might not be Berhalter’s first choice up top when everyone is available, but in a paper-thin forward pool he proved that he should remain in the conversation for minutes.
F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany)
Sargent didn’t let the disappointment of not playing against Canada linger versus Cuba, against whom the 19-year-old scored twice.
Takeaway: It was a fitting way to end the year for Sargent, who wasn’t even in the coach’s plans as recently as June’s Gold Cup. “Overall I think you can tell he was hungry to score goals and that's what I liked,” Berhalter said. “He had a very good mentality in this match.”
D Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls (MLS)
The 27 year-old scored the backbreaking third goal against Canada and went the distance in the 2019 finale, too.
Takeaway: It was a strong way to finish the year for Long, who suffered late summer swoon with both his club and national team after the Red Bulls turned down an offer from English Premier League strugglers West Ham.
USMNT players trending down
G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
With tendonitis in is his left knee, Steffen was allowed to skip both games and rest. But he struggled in his return, gifting Bayern Munich its second goal in Saturday’s 4-0 loss.
Takeaway: Steffen remains the U.S. No. 1. But his position is perhaps less secure than it was a few weeks go. The 24-year-old continues to struggle playing out of the back, and veteran Brad Guzan acquitted himself well in Steffen’s absence.
D Matt Miazga, Reading (England)
Four months after Miazga started both the Gold Cup semifinal and final, the 24-year-old central defender was left off the U.S. roster entirely this month.
Takeaway: The snub is especially head-scratching considering that the New Jersey native has been ever-present for Reading in the English second tier when healthy. He even scored a game-winning goal against Preston North End shortly before Berhalter’s latest squad was announced.
F Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC (MLS)
Although he was able to recover from a quad injury enough to come off the bench (and score) in the Nov. 10 MLS Cup, Altidore did not join up with the USMNT afterward.
Takeaway: Given the circumstances, no huge surprise there. Still, the fact is that Altidore, who just turned 30, wasn’t around much during Berhalter’s first year in charge. When he was during last summer’s Gold Cup, the coach used him sparingly. It’s fair to wonder how much he fits into the plan going forward.
M Duane Holmes, Derby County (England)
After October’s embarrassment, it stood to reason that Berhalter would call in a fresh face or two. Holmes had been called in earlier in the year, and the hard-running and versatile 25-year-old seemed like an obvious candidate after starting eight of the Rams’ 10 matches before the break.
Takeaway: Holmes’ next chance to play for the U.S. comes in March. Perhaps a few goals between now and then might compel Berhalter to reconsider.
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