Hey Dave: Is there hope for the USMNT?

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Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, center, runs with the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Chelsea at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Pulisic also plays for the United States Men’s National Team. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, Pool)

If there’s anyone who’s more critical of the United States Men’s National Team, besides European soccer fans, it’s probably me. For years, I’ve told my peers and even strangers who I see wearing the USSF crest in public that the United States men’s team has been nothing but an absolute joke and that they’ll never win a World Cup like the women’s team has. At times, some looked at me like I was a psychopath for having such an opinion, but others had a genuine conversation with me on the matter. 

I may be one of the biggest haters of the USMNT, but I have a valid reason for doing so. You might not agree with me, and I’ll gladly die on this hill for it, but you’re only preventing yourself from facing a huge reality: Our men’s team has sucked. Even when we had ‘legendary’ players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard (who, except Howard, I see as average at best), we’ve been lucky at times to win crucial games. But my stance might be changing…kind of. 

As of late, there have been numerous players from the United States who have traveled across the pond to Europe. The most recent, at the time of writing, is Jordan Morris, making his transfer from Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders to EFL Championship’s Swansea City. But some youngsters from the states have dominated the headlines for their consistent performance, like Weston McKennie at Juventus, Giovanni Reyna at Borussia Dortmund, Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig and Sergiño Dest at Barcelona. The list goes on. 

This is honestly a great time for fans of the men’s team, as these youngsters will boost hopes of returning to the World Cup after embarrassingly losing to Trinidad and Tobago for the 2018 qualifiers. But it definitely brought a question to mind: What caused the rise of these American players to perform well in Europe? You could easily answer that by saying the competitive level in Europe can greatly toughen up a player than in the MLS. You’re not wrong, but there are other factors.  

Part of the answer can be traced down to the country’s development academy, which had some impact on youth development like consistent training almost every month and having some form of competition with other youth clubs in North America until 2020 when it folded. The only problem with this, however, was the cost of players staying within the academy and the fact that they could only play for the academy and not for their schools. The academy was fortunate to produce some of the players I listed earlier, like McKennie and Reyna, but also Christian Pulisic. The academy was only significant as those who shined brighter than others in terms of talent were able to make their way to Europe’s giant clubs to further enhance their talent. 

Another reason as to why some US youngsters hold some hope to bring a ‘Golden Generation’ (I use that term loosely) to the states is because of how young they’re going to Europe. Compared to when Donovan and Dempsey played in Europe, Dest and Reyna for example are being trained at a much younger age and getting a decent amount of playing time. Dempsey didn’t make his first appearance in Europe until his mid-20s, the age range where some players are at their peak for performance, and, as for Donovan …well his inconsistency with trying to remain at a European club certainly didn’t help to progress his capability. 

I still have some concern for other areas in the men’s team. Our midfielders and forwards look decent, but our defenders, and especially our goalkeepers, are the only positions that could hold the team back. The only notable keeper that made moves to a European giant is Zack Steffen, who signed for Manchester City over the summer in 2020. He’s only likely to get playing time for the Citizens in their “less” important competitions like the FA or Carabao Cup which, for a 25-year-old, isn’t necessarily the worst, but also isn’t the greatest. As for the defense, Aaron Long, Marco Farfan and Dest seem to be the only promising defenders; the rest just don’t add enough depth in my opinion. 

Sure, I guess you can call me the Roy Keane of our men’s national team, but it’s not my fault I want to look at the reality. I sincerely want the USMNT to succeed, and, thankfully, some players are taking the right steps toward doing so by playing in Europe, but we can’t be heavily reliant on those who play in Europe to boost morale. More change needs to be made within the country’s youth system and in the MLS to ensure that the US can match up in competitions with the rest of the world. 

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