No matter how productive a team is, the addition of a new player can add depth and a different dimension to the attack. Some would argue that the U.S. men’s national team’s front line is as deep as it has been for years, featuring in-form players such as Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Christian Pulisic. However, that does not preclude some new blood from entering the program and shaking things up.
The 2018 World Cup is rapidly approaching, but there is still time for talented players to work their way into Bruce Arena’s squad. Will a previously untested talent make his debut and earn the right to represent the USMNT in Russia? Here is a list of five uncapped players who could debut for the national team this year.
Dom Dwyer - Sporting Kansas City
Dwyer is one of the most consistent scorers in MLS, with 52 goals in 113 appearances. Whether that productivity will translate to the national team remains to be seen, but he will most likely be given a chance to prove it.
The 26-year old striker is capable of scoring from long range and can be a surprisingly physical presence in the box despite standing a mere 5’9”. He has the foot speed to get behind defenses and finds space in compact defenses, which has generated a bit of transfer interest. Last summer, there were reports of a move to Olympiacos, but it was nixed because “it wasn’t the right time to go yet.”
Dwyer is eligible to apply for citizenship on February 14th, but it may not be granted for a while longer. Despite the potential wait, he remains steadfast in his desire to represent the USMNT.
"This country has given me a lot," Dwyer said at MLS Media Day. "If I have the opportunity to give something back, I would jump at it."
Bjorn Johnsen - Heart of Midlothian
Johnsen is a dual-national and eligible to play for Norway. However, he has yet to be called up by either country. That won’t last long if he keeps scoring in the Scottish Premier League or makes a jump to England (there’s rumored interest from Derby County).
The 25-year old striker fought his way through the lower divisions of Norway, Spain, and Portugal, and, after arriving at Hearts last summer from a year-and-a-half long stint in Bulgaria, has scored six goals in 19 appearances. Johnsen was named Scottish Premiership Player of the Month for November and recently told American Soccer Now that he wants a USMNT call up.
“I do really want to play for them,” Johnsen said. “I know that I want to show myself on the big stage. America can give me that and I am also a patriot. Hopefully that will come with a call-up."
At 6’5”, Johnsen is obviously a target striker, but has deceptively quick feet for a big man. While it’s doubtful he displaces Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood in the starting lineup, he would be an interesting option off the bench.
Kekuta Manneh - Vancouver Whitecaps
Manneh is the player on this list who is closest to a call up. He received an invitation to Bruce Arena’s January camp even though he’s not yet eligible to appear in friendlies. The 22-year old is eligible to represent The Gambia but has turned down several call ups to their youth set up.
Manneh recently gained his citizenship, but is also recovering from a foot injury sustained during the summer. When he is finally able to play, the USMNT will have a pacey, dynamic winger who confidently runs at defenders and has a respectable scoring record of 22 goals in 101 appearances. Manneh isn’t an out-and-out winger, but his ability to strike quickly on the counter attack and cut inside will provide a new dimension to the attack.
“Good young player,” Arena said recently. “He’s returning from an injury so I don’t think we’re going to expect too much from him early. Hopefully he can get through the next week healthy and start showing what he’s capable of doing.”
Patrick Mullins - D.C. United
Mullins had a slow start to his MLS career after an incredibly productive four years with the University of Maryland. He showed flashes of potential and scored ten goals in two seasons with the New England Revolution and New York City FC, but struggled to earn consistent playing time. His move to D.C. United last summer was a reawakening, as he scored eight goals in 14 matches and led the club to a spot in the playoffs.
The 24-year old striker wasn’t included in the January camp, but he’ll be impossible to ignore if he keeps up his blistering scoring pace. If Mullins continues to develop his hold up play and improve as a passer (skills that lifted D.C. United to new heights last season, as pointed out by MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle), then he could work his way into the roster for a friendly. Even if he doesn’t break through in 2017, he’s young enough where he could factor into the 2022 World Cup cycle.
Kenny Saief - KAA Gent
A perennial inclusion on every “Potential Dual-National” list, it appeared that the door slammed shut when Saief finally accepted an invitation from Israel in May of last year. However, following two friendly appearances, he has still yet to appear in a competitive match for The Blue and Whites. He’s still eligible for a USMNT call up and open to an invite from Arena, something he recently made known in an interview.
“I have yet to actually choose between the two countries,” Saief said. (via Boston Red on BigSoccer) “Because I have already played for Israel, but they were always friendly contests, which do not count. But it’s really not a choice for or against the US. It's just that they have not selected me. I still hope for a selection."
Saief is a 23-year old winger and attacking midfielder who was born in Florida but moved to Israel at a young age. He currently plays for Belgian Pro League club Gent after working his way through the Israeli Premier League with Bnei Sakhnin, Hapoel Haifa, Ironi Kiryat Shmona, and Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon. Saief is a regular in the starting lineup, and has five goals and three assists for his club that is currently in fifth place in the league and earned a spot in the knockout rounds of the Europa League.
And one bonus...
Andrew Wooten - SV Sandhausen
Including Wooten on this list is cheating because he has appeared for the national team (once, as a substitute in an October 2015 friendly against Costa Rica). However, the 27-year old striker has scored eight goals in 16 matches in the 2. Bundesliga. His current contract ends next summer, so he’s in line for an nice extension or a possible move (Nurnberg has emerged as a possibility).