It’s that time of the year again. The big European leagues begin ramping back up this weekend, starting with the Premier League. The preseason has offered young American players plenty of opportunity to shine and show their abilities to their managers in hopes of more playing time this season.
With Jurgen Klinsmann recently being critical of the United States men’s national team’s next generation of young stars, the onus is now on the players to go out and prove they deserve a chance.
Here are five young Americans with the most to prove this season:
It’s the all too familiar story of a highly rated teenager being praised as the next great thing in American soccer, only to plateau very early in his career. Zelalem is right back where he started last season. Getting leftover scraps of minutes in preseason, hoping to impress Arsene Wenger. Last preseason it was decided he would go on loan to Rangers.
There he began the season in the starting lineup and it looked like it would be a very profitable experience. However, after a few months and some injury issues, Zelalem lost his place in the team and was eventually relegated to a reserve role for the majority of the year. Outside of gaining some experience, it wasn’t a very good season in terms of actual production for the midfielder.
Now he returns to Arsenal with his future very much in doubt. As of writing, he’s still a member of the Arsenal first team. There haven’t been any rumors of another loan, but that could change at any moment. He appears to be extremely far from a USMNT call-up at this point. Zelalem desperately needs a productive season, wherever he plays, to improve his chances of possibly working his way into Klinsmann’s plans.
Green’s career is almost an exact replica of Zelalem’s except magnified in the form of a World Cup roster spot and a goal in his only appearance. After that fateful moment against Belgium, it’s been nothing but downhill for the German-American.
However, unlike Zelalem, Green has gotten a boatload of chances to prove himself to Bayern Munich this preseason. With a new manager at the helm, Green appears to have a real chance at winning the back-up striker job behind Robert Lewandowski. He’s shined in his opportunities during the preseason and looks ready to at least begin the upcoming Bundesliga season with the Bayern first team.
Carlo Ancelotti has switched Green’s position from winger to striker and with four goals so far in preseason, it looks as if he’s found his spot. It was officially announced on Tuesday that he had been named to the club’s first team for this season. If Green can lock down that back-up spot and show his progress to Klinsmann early in the season, don’t be surprised to see him back with the USMNT sooner rather than later.
The newest addition to the Yanks in the Premier League contingent, Hyndman has had a rather unfortunate preseason. After joining Bournemouth on a free transfer, the young midfielder got hurt before the club’s warm-up friendlies even began. The last update we’ve been given is that he was expected to miss the club’s entire preseason.
When he returns from injury he’ll inevitably face a difficult fight for first team minutes. It’s up to him to prove that his decision to sign with Bournemouth was the correct one and earn his spot. He risked a lot last season with Fulham, refusing to sign a contract extension. Despite scoring his first professional goal last season, it was close to being a wasted year as he fought for his free agent status. He won it and decided to sign in the Premier League.
If he hopes to ever get back to the USMNT he’ll have to prove that he’s worthy of Premier League minutes. This season will be a big one in his career and in his development.
At 18 years old, CCV has a chance to become a Premier League player for Tottenham Hotspur this season. He’s already gotten plenty of preseason minutes with defenders who participated in EURO 2016 absent. Reviews of his performances have been mixed, but the fact remains, he’s in contention for minutes this season.
He may not start the season with the Spurs first team, but he’s not far away. That has to have the attention of Jurgen Klinsmann, especially considering Carter-Vickers is a dual national, able to represent the USA and England. You can bet that Klinsmann will be chomping at the bit to cap-tie the promising defender as soon as he can.
If/When CCV does get the call to the Premier League (technically he got called up last year, but didn’t play) the spotlight will be firmly focused on him. It’ll be very interesting to see how he responds to the added pressure and it should give us an indication on how ready he is for the international level when that time comes.
You may think Pulisic’s name on a “most to prove” list would be a little absurd considering the debut season he had. His story of coming from the U-19’s all the way to the BVB first team and USMNT Copa America roster is one to inspire any young player. However, the journey is just beginning for Pulisic. He’s proven he can hang with the best players in the world. Now he has prove that he can consistently produce at the highest level.
There’s a good argument to be made that he’ll face an even more difficult challenge for playing time with Borussia Dortmund this season. They’ve added at least four dynamic attackers this summer and Pulisic will be under a lot of pressure to produce when his chances arise this season.
While his USMNT standing probably won’t be affected early in the season, if he doesn’t keep his minutes at a respectable level and his appearances with the first team start to dwindle, then he could be in trouble when it comes to the national team. Still just 17 years old, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a make or break season, but he’ll need to consistently impress if he hopes to maintain the level he’s been introduced to over the past six months. At the top level, players have to continuously prove themselves. Pulisic will learn that this season and hopefully he’s up to the task.