USMNT Stock Watch: Is Weston McKennie making a case to be Berhalter's right back?

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/1121556/" data-ylk="slk:Weston McKennie">Weston McKennie</a> impressed as a right back in Schalke’s scoreless draw against Freiburg on Saturday. (Christof Koepsel/Getty)
Weston McKennie impressed as a right back in Schalke’s scoreless draw against Freiburg on Saturday. (Christof Koepsel/Getty)

After a rough 2018 for American soccer players overseas, 2019 is off to a relatively promising start. The U.S. men’s national team’s German Bundesliga-based representatives continue to set the bar high for their compatriots in lesser leagues, but overall there’s no shortage of players beating on the door for inclusion in next month’s USMNT camp, when new coach Gregg Berhalter will be able to select his strongest possible squad for the first time.

It’s not all puppies and ice cream, mind you. It never is. But the fact remains that there’s a lot more positive than negative when it comes to how U.S. regulars and roster hopefuls alike are faring right now, and that goes for the players in Europe as well as those in Mexico or back home in MLS.

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Who boosted their standing the most over the last week? Who’s headed in the other direction? Find out below in our latest Stock Watch.

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Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany)

A week after being his team’s best player in a loss to Bayern Munich, McKennie put in another strong 90-minute performance, this time at right back, for 10-man Schalke in Saturday’s scoreless draw against Freiburg. 

Takeaway: It’s not the first time this season that the versatile McKennie has been deployed in a fullback role, and his comfort there showed. A few more showings like that and the question for the USMNT will become this: Could the Texan actually be a better fit as a right back in Berhalter’s system than Tyler Adams?

M Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig (Germany)  

The new 20-year-old — Adams celebrated his birthday on Valentine’s Day — capped another impressive all-around performance deep in Leipzig’s midfield with his first assist since swapping MLS for the Bundesliga last month:


Takeaway: There’s no question that Adams’ comfort on the ball, combined with Berhalter’s insistence that his right backs pinch up and in to support the central midfielders, makes him a strong candidate for a backline role with the national team. However, if Adams keeps playing in the middle in Germany and contributing to the attack, it might be hard for the U.S. coach to play him anywhere other than his natural spot.

F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany) 

While the 18-year-old continues to wait for his Bundesliga start, Sargent keeps finding ways to contribute off the bench. That was the case again on Saturday, when the St. Louis-area product drew the foul that led to Bremen’s equalizer against Hertha Berlin six minutes into second half stoppage time.

Takeaway: Despite his relative inexperience, Sargent continues to show his quality. Given the lack of better options up top, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Sargent in Berhalter’s lineup for at least one of next month’s two friendlies versus Ecuador and Chile.

F/M Romain Gall, Malmo (Sweden)

The French-born, Virginia-raised 24-year-old played the final eight minutes of Malmo’s 2-1 Europa League loss to Chelsea midweek, then got the game-winning goal and an assist in a 3-1 Swedish cup victory over second-tier Degerfors.

Takeaway: Gall was called in to the final USMNT camp of 2018 under interim coach Dave Sarachan, but he’s far from a lock for the March games even after scoring 12 times in 24 league games in Sweden’s top division: Berhalter cut the winger from his Columbus Crew in 2015 after just three MLS appearances.

M/D Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany)

Johnson, now 31, made his first seventh start of the season (and 11th appearance overall) for the Bundesliga’s No. 3 side in Sunday’s 1-1 tie with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Takeaway: The German-American will turn 35 during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but don’t dismiss the chances of the Brazil 2014 standout getting his first call-up in nearly two years next month. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” a person with knowledge of Berhalter’s thinking told Yahoo recently when asked if Johnson could get an invite.

 M/F Rubio Rubin, Dorados Sinaloa (Mexico)

Rubin, 22, scored twice in Saturday’s 6-3 loss to fellow second-tier club Atlante.

Takeaway: After riding the bench with Liga MX side Tijuana last season, Rubin, who was starting in the Eredivisie at 18, dropped down to the Ascenso MX in search of playing time. The Oregon native has found it so far under manager Diego Maradona, having made five appearances since January.

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Erik Palmer-Brown made his first start of 2019, but the defender had a match to forget in NAC Breda’s 5-0 loss at Ajax. (Getty)
Erik Palmer-Brown made his first start of 2019, but the defender had a match to forget in NAC Breda’s 5-0 loss at Ajax. (Getty)

M/D Erik Palmer-Brown, NAC Breda (Netherlands)

The Manchester City loanee made his first Eredivisie start since early December Sunday at Ajax, but he was directly involved in two of the hosts’ strikes — scoring an own goal on one — in the 5-0 rout.

Takeaway: Palmer-Brown got caught sleeping on Ajax’s second goal before inadvertently deflecting the fifth past his own keeper. That can’t bode well for keep his place in the lineup for next weekend’s match against Gronigen.  

Greg Garza, FC Cincinnati (MLS)

First the veteran left back missed the national team’s first two matches under Berhalter because of quadriceps strain, then Garza re-aggravated the injury training with FCC, putting his early season availability in doubt.

Takeaway: It’s another tough blow for Garza, who missed much of the last two seasons with hip and shoulder issues, and who was in contention for a starting role in the USMNT’s shallowest position.

M Duane Holmes, Derby County (England)

Holmes made his eighth start in nine games for the Championship side, but was pulled by manager Frank Lampard halfway through Saturday’s 2-1 FA Cup loss to Premier League Brighton & Hove Albion. 

Takeaway: It wasn’t a good showing by the 24-year-old winger, who was caught out of position defensively early on. What matters now is how he rebounds from the setback, and whether it costs him his starting job when Derby resumes its league schedule Wednesday against Millwall.

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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