“The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.” – Mia Hamm
Winning is contagious, winning in the top level of sports requires the right state of mind, the right environment and culture, the right coach and right players. This can be so difficult to capture at the international level because with such short cycles and training camps with coaches doesn’t allow the time to instill their system and mentality into the group of players. It’s not a coincidence that Spain won the 2010 World Cup and that so many on that team played together for both club and country. Barcalona dominated at the time with a primarily Spanish international squad. It was an incredible team to watch and brought a new era of soccer to us. Next was Bayern Munich’s run of dominance going to three Champions League finals in the span of four years followed by Germany’s 2014 World Cup win. They brought the tough minded combination of strong defense and a speedy counter attack that seems to still be holding strong under the genius coach Lowe. Many of the players for Germany’s national team were on those club teams and brought a winning champion’s mentality to the national team.
I’ve written before about my hope that US players could come together on a club in one of the World’s top leagues and the value that can and has brought to international runs. However, I just don’t think we have enough talent to pull that feat off yet. The next best thing might be to at least get our players on the World’s top clubs, ideally playing, but the next best thing might be to learn from the best and experience everything from training regiment to gaining the confidence of winning at the highest level.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” – Muhammad Ali
There are many young players all around the world itching for their opportunity to play with the USMNT and bring their clubs winning mentality to the team. Many of the young US players are currently in the MLS or domestic academies, but at the very least getting experience fighting for a playoff spot, gaining valuable experience under pressure in the MLS playoffs or fighting for a title. These battles and young players don’t go unnoticed abroad. I expect players like Tyler Adams and Derrick Jones success at the U20 World Cup to gain some national recognition. Brooks Lennon is already on loan to Real Salt Lake from Liverpool and could get more interest after a great World Cup this summer and helping his team battle to the final game for a spot in the playoffs.
The academies have gained a lot of interest abroad and the US’ poor rules around age allow European clubs to recruit young talent at a fraction of the cost from European based academies. Several young academy players recent success abroad like Weston McKinnie will likely only see increased interest from larger European clubs. Even more senior players who want to make a mark on the US game are looking to bring their skills abroad like that of Bill Hamid. Jermaine Jones issued a challenge to young players to try to make their way in Europe before making their mark on MLS singling out college phenom Jordan Morris.
More importantly for me other young talent are gaining momentum in both EPL and Bundesliga, along with several other smaller leagues in Europe. Gaining this winning mentality, training regiments and experience will no doubt be invaluable to their personal development and hopefully bear fruit for team USA. Dortmund sold Dembélé for over €100 million poached during the summer transfer window and moved to a new coach. Christian Pulisic remained though there was and continues to be interest from major clubs around the World including murmurs of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool interest. Pulisic had to step up and even though Dortmund lost the prolific star, the team has been playing fantastic.
Weston McKinnie has broken in at Schalke 04 and become a regular starter, John Brooks record sales crushed the largest for USMNT player when VFL Wolfsburg purchased him earlier this year for €20 million, double that of what Jozy Altidore had done only four years before. Bobby Wood broke the record for goals by an American in the 2016 Bundesliga season when he netted 16th league goals for Union Berlin before he was purchased by Hamburg. Haji Wright is waiting his turn and Josh Sargant the young wonder striker for both U20 and most recently the U17 World Cup team was recently signed by Werder Bremen. This group headlined by Christian Pulisic who now has Dortmund in first place of the Bundesliga ahead of powerhouse Bayern Munich should help cause a flood of young USMNT player interest.
English Premier League
Historically US players like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan – some of the US’ greatest players of all time – were among those regularly getting starting minutes in the EPL. In recent years with the domestic MLS league gaining momentum and funds, along with the desire to bring some of the US stars back really cleaned house especially in the Premier League. This year however DeAndre Yedlin who made a dangerous choice to move to Newcastle as they were going through relegation, has now buoyed to not only a starter on a top 7 club in EPL, but even gaining recognition in Europe for his play as arguably one of the better right backs in the league. Manager Rafa Benitez is well known for his ability to develop young backs, but Yedlin’s transformation has been incredible for both club and country and likely make him an anchor for the future back line.
His success, like Geoff Cameron’s and Brooks success as defenders in Europe, hope to help gain interest abroad for our young back line who has been atrocious and a crucial weakness for the USMNT who relied on an MLS heavy line for most of qualifying. Erik Palmer-Brown was signed by Manchester City in 2017 and Matt Miagza has done well on loan away from Chelsea. Cameron Carter-Vickers has been well liked by his Tottenham coach, but was recently sent out on loan to hopefully find his footing and gain more experience. Danny Williams skill was noticed by promoted Huddersfield and until they were relegated Sunderland was fielding speedy winger Lyden Gooch. There are many young American players including Gooch playing regular minutes and performing well in the English Championship. The U17 and U20 USMNT teams both performed well at their respective World Cups, each making the quarter finals and will hopefully continue to gain interest from the EPL and can be put in similar good situation like what Yedlin has found.
Below are how many of our young players respective clubs are fairing in some of the leagues we have a presence in. As you can see along with the MLS playoff teams we have talented USMNT hopefuls or players signed by some of the top teams and leagues in the world. This experience at the top for our U20 and U17 stars along with some of our younger senior team players as it has in the case of Pulisic and Yedlin can prove invaluable.
Success from players like Brooks, Wood, Yedlin and Pulisic is helping to pave the way for interest in young American players. The real hope for the 2022 World Cup will come from this group and others who may still join them, for now these young men are gaining valuable experience and winning mentality on the world’s top clubs and many from the world’s top managers.