With U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter set to name his roster for this month’s CONCACAF Nations League games against Cuba and Canada on Wednesday, let jump straight in and see which players are making noise — for reasons both good and bad — with their clubs in Europe and MLS.
USMNT players trending up
F Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (Germany)
In his second consecutive start, Sargent’s slick flick-on with his head stood up as Bremen’s decisive equalizer in a 2-2 tie at perennial Bundesliga contender Borussia Dortmund.
Takeaway: It wasn’t just the helper; this was the 19-year-old’s most complete performance in Germany since being promoted to Werder’s first team late last year. “It was no mistake that Sargent was there to make this play happen,” manager Florian Kohfeldt said afterward, according to ProSoccerUSA.com. “His movement ahead of the second goal was fantastic.
“Overall, he was very good. Perhaps in the first half he was trying to do too much — you had the feeling he was almost surprised by how much ground he covered. But that is normal for a young player.”
G Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
Six days after making the Bundesliga’s team of the week for a second time in the opening month of the season, Steffen stopped a penalty kick in a 2-1 loss to Freiburg, his former team.
Takeaway: Steffen continues to impress in the Bundesliga and put distance between himself and his closest challengers, Atlanta’s Brad Guzan and New York City’s Sean Johnson.
D/M DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle (England)
Finally recovered from the ankle surgery that sidelined him for more than four months, the speedy 2014 World Cup veteran saw his first action of the Prem season in Sunday’s lopsided loss to Leicester City.
Takeaway: “It was not the best circumstance but it was great to be back,” Yedlin told Newcastle’s website after his cameo. “It’s been a very long and frustrating journey.” For that reason, Berhalter could allow Yedlin to skip this window. Or he could use it as a way to get the 26-year-old games. Whenever he returns, Yedlin’ experience will be a welcome addition to this young American squad.
M Weston McKennie, Schalke (Germany)
The FC Dallas academy product has helped his club off to a 4-1-1 start in the Bundesliga following a disappointing season a year ago, starting in all four wins so far.
Takeaway: There’s no question that McKennie is a quality player. The key for him — and the challenge for Berhalter — is to figure out how he can do the things he does well for his club side at the international level.
M Paul Arriola, D.C. United (MLS)
Takeaway: Arriola emerged as a starter over the summer, and the U.S. missed him badly in the September matches. They’ll be a better team with the 24-year-old back in the lineup.
D Matt Miazga, Reading (England)
The big center back — who had established himself as Aaron Long’s partner towards the end of the Gold Cup over the summer — returned from a hamstring injury to start second-tier Reading’s 1-1 League Cup draw with Premier League Wolves.
Takeaway: The 24-year-old is still working his way back (he didn’t dress in Reading’s tie at Swansea last weekend) so it’s possible that Berhalter could allow him to remain with his club during the international break. If he is invited, he could reclaim his starting spot next to Long with John Brooks — more on him below — still out.
Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (MLS)
Zardes didn’t score in Columbus’s 2-0 win over Philly on Sunday, but he found the net in the Crew’s two games before that and he heads into the final weekend of the MLS season as the league’s leading USMNT-eligible scorer.
Takeaway: It’s fair to debate whether Zardes is capable of leading the line at the international level. But as much as many U.S. fans don’t want to hear it, there’s absolutely no reason to think that Berhalter won’t call in the veteran this month.
M Duane Holmes, Derby County (England)
Holmes picked up his first assist of the season in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Birmingham City, helping the Rams secure their first victory of the year in the second-tier Championship.
Takeaway: After missing the early part of the new campaign through injury, Holmes is rounding into form at the perfect time. Expect him to be on Berhalter’s list.
M Brenden Aaronson, Philadelphia Union (MLS)
According to MLSSoccer’s Tom Bogert, the 18-year-old will be included on his first senior roster
Takeaway: Word is that Aaronson was the best player on the U-23 squad the last two camps, and he’s started 24 games for the second place team in the Eastern Conference. He might not play much — if he plays at all — against the Cubans and Canadians, but the experience should be valuable to a player who has a bright future with the USMNT.
M/F Khiry Shelton, Paderborn (Germany)
With Paderborn looking for a late equalizer against mighty Bayern Munich, manager Steffen Baumgart summoned the former U.S. U-23 national team and New York City FC attacker for the final five minutes of Saturday match. Shelton didn’t score, but the appearance marked Shelton’s Bundesliga debut.
Takeaway: The 26-year-old is probably a ways away from a senior call-up. Still, getting minutes in one of the planet’s top three leagues isn’t easy. If Shelton continue to play, his chance will come — maybe even before the end of the year.
USMNT players trending down
D Sergino Dest, Ajax (Netherlands)
According to multiple reports in the Netherlands, the 18-year-old Dutch-born American met with Oranje manager Ronald Koeman last week to discuss filing a one-time change of national association with FIFA.
Takeaway: Even if Dest has yet to decide his international future, it’s not likely that he accepts a call to this months’s U.S. matches, as appearing in either of those would permanently cap-tie him to the U.S. program.
M/F Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (England)
The national team’s headliner picked up an assist in last week’s League Cup rout of fourth-tier Grimsby Town, but he sat out his third consecutive Premier League match on Saturday against Brighton.
Takeaway: The international break couldn’t come at at a better time for the 21-year-old. Look for Pulisic to play 180 minutes for the U.S. this month.
M Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)
Morales hasn’t played for Fortuna since suffering a leg injury playing for the U.S. against El Tri last month.
Takeaway: While this month’s national team camp might come a little bit too soon, the good news is that the 29-year-old Berlin native returned to training with Dusseldorf this week.
D John Brooks, Wolfsburg (Germany)
Books has missed Wolfsburg’s last five matches with hamstring and adductor injuries.
Takeaway: Assuming Brooks can’t play for the U.S. this month, he will have missed three of Berhalter’s first four full-strength camps.
M Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas (MLS)
Pomykal got his first cap against Uruguay last month, but he’s struggled — as have FCD — since returning to MLS play.
Takeaway: Because these are competitive games and not friendlies, look for the 19-year-old (and other young players on the bubble such as Atlanta defender MIles Robinson) to be included with the U.S. U-23 squad this month instead.
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