USMNT Stock Watch: Weston McKennie previews U.S. role, John Brooks' inconsistency resurfaces

Weston McKennie was Schalke’s best player in Saturday’s 3-1 loss at German champion Bayern Munich. (Adam Pretty/Getty)
Weston McKennie was Schalke’s best player in Saturday’s 3-1 loss at German champion Bayern Munich. (Adam Pretty/Getty)

The U.S. men’s national team doesn’t return to action until late next month, when new coach Gregg Berhalter convenes his strongest possible team — Schalke’s Weston McKennie included — for the first time ahead of friendlies against South American foes Ecuador and Chile.

Just 23 roster spots will be available, give or take. That means the fight for places, not to mention those in the starting lineup, is well underway more than a month before Berhalter will name his squad. The competition will be intense. Many of the program’s European-based members are now in midseason from; Berhalter is scheduled to scout some of them in person in the weeks to come. He’ll also have a close eye on MLS, though, with the national team’s domestic contingent set to kick off the league’s 2019 campaign in early March.

With invites up for grabs, which players are already swimming upstream? Who’s treading water instead? Our latest USMNT Stock Watch clues you in.

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M Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany)

The 20-year-old was the Royal Blues’ best player in Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Bayern Munich, and he picked up a pretty assist on his side’s lone goal:

Takeaway: The versatile McKennie has been used in various positions by Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco, but his skills as an all-action No. 8 were on full display against the defending Bundesliga champs. McKennie was everywhere: breaking up plays, getting involved in the attack, and nearly scoring off a first-half header. It’s the same role the Texan figures to man in Berhalter’s system.

D Matt Miazga, Reading (England)

Parent club Chelsea loaned Miazga to the Royals after a nightmare half season with French side Nantes, and the New Jersey native walked right into manager Jose Manuel Gomes’s lineup. So far Miazga has played every minute of his three games, helping Reading keep clean sheets in their last two.

Takeaway: At 23, Miazga needs to play. Now that he’s finally back on the field, the rangy center back is well-positioned to compete for a starting job for March matches against Ecuador and Chile.

D Cameron Carter-Vickers, Swansea (Wales)

After spending most of the first half of the 2018-19 season rooted to the Swans bench, Carter-Vickers has now made four consecutive starts for the midtable English Championship side.

Takeaway: With next month’s international window fast approaching, the 21-year-old central defender couldn’t have picked a better time to win a starting job. Carter-Vickers faces stiff competition for an invite, though; Miazga and John Brooks (more on him below) are roster locks, while MLS standouts Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman were among the biggest winners at January camp.

M Duane Holmes, Derby County (England)

Holmes won a regular place in Frank Lampard’s lineup last month and the 24-year-old continues to impress for second-division Derby. On Saturday, he set up the Rams’ opener in a 2-0 win over Hull City.

Takeaway: The Georgia-born, England-raised dual-national has been on USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart’s radar since last year, before Berhalter was hired. It’s not clear if the new coach is also a fan, but Berhalter can’t have too many fleet-footed wingers at his disposal. Holmes is only bolstering his case for inclusion in March.

F Andrija Novakovich, Fortuna Sittard (Netherlands)

The 6-4 striker out of Muskego, Wisconsin, scored his fifth goal of the Eredivisie season in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Excelsior:

Takeaway: Novakovich still has work to do to cement his inclusion next month despite the relative lack of depth up front for the Americans. Even if Jozy Altidore isn’t fit following ankle surgery, it’s hard to see the 22-year-old beating out Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, Bobby Wood or Gyasi Zardes for a spot.

D Antonee Robinson, Wigan (England)

After missing close to three months following ankle surgery, Robinson has resumed full training with Wigan and is expected back on the field soon.

Takeaway: Depending on how quickly the 21-year-old regains match fitness, Robinson could potentially start at left back for the U.S. next month, with Daniel Lovitz and Gregg Garza likely the English-American’s main competition.

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John Brooks had been excellent for Wolfsburg this season, but he had a game to forget against Freiburg. (Matthias Hangst/Getty)
John Brooks had been excellent for Wolfsburg this season, but he had a game to forget against Freiburg. (Matthias Hangst/Getty)

D John Brooks, Wolfsburg (Germany)

Although he’s enjoying the strongest season of his seven-year Bundesliga career, Brooks showed on Saturday that he’s still prone to the occasional gaffe, gifting Freiburg their opening goal in a 3-3 stalemate.

Takeaway: Brooks has always had consistency issues with the national team. And while those ought to disappear as his experience grows, the recent emergence of Long in particular means that Brook’s starting job is perhaps less assured than it has been since early last cycle.

M Emerson Hyndman, Bournemouth (England)

Hyndman didn’t dress for Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool, and he hasn’t suited up for the Cherries since returning from his loan to Scottish club Hibernian.

Takeaway: Still just 22, Hyndman is in a tough spot. He hasn’t played since Dec. 29 and doesn’t appear to be in manager Eddie Howe’s plans, at least this season. And while the diminutive Texan could still be loaned out to a lower-tier English or foreign club outside of the transfer window, no move appears imminent for the technical playmaker.

M Joe Corona, Club America (Mexico)

Corona has struggled for minutes under new Xolos coach Oscar Pareja after returning from his loan to Club America, which he helped to a Liga MX title in December. The 28-year-old Californian is now reportedly looking toward MLS for playing time.

Takeaway: Corona can’t afford to ride the bench at his age, so a move to MLS makes sense. He’d still face an uphill battle to became a USMNT regular, though, given the Americans’ central midfield logjam.

D Erik Palmer-Brown, NAC Breda (Netherlands)

The Manchester City loanee has made just six appearances for the Eredivisie’s cellar-dwellers and hasn’t played for Stewart’s old club since Dec. 2.

Takeaway: It’s not a good situation for Palmer-Brown, who has regressed after a successful stint with Belgian top-flight outfit KV Kortrijk last season.

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

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