The opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs is in the books and if you’re not watching these games, you may be missing out on something very important for the U.S. men’s national team. The back-to-back days have seen two former U.S. youth national team stars shine and make strong cases that they deserve to be on the senior team as soon as possible.
The Columbus Crew’s Zack Steffen put on one of the most impressive displays by an American goalkeeper since Tim Howard’s iconic performance against Belgium in 2014. He nearly single-handedly knocked Atlanta United out of the playoffs with his stellar performance on Thursday night. Making key save after key save, he saved his brightest moment for the penalty shootout, robbing Julian Gressel with a phenomenal diving save:
Steffen's save on Gressel's penalty in the shootout was wonderful! Already behind him, clawed it out of the corner. #CrewSC #ATLvCLB #USMNT pic.twitter.com/2RQnqgjd03— Jason Foster (@JogaBonitoUSA) October 27, 2017
This was just one of his many terrific saves that make you wonder if he’ll be doing that for the USMNT some time soon. We’ve seen him have similar great matches with the U.S. U-20 team, specifically at the 2015 U-20 World Cup. This was his first professional season where he got significant minutes after returning from Europe in late 2016. He showed improvement throughout the season and at just 22 years of age, has a ton of potential to grow.
While the Crew’s advancement in the playoffs make it unlikely we see him in November against Portugal, it shouldn’t be long before we see some of those acrobatic heroics with the Stars and Stripes.
Another former youth standout who is making a name for himself this season is Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls. For me, Adams has the potential to be a cornerstone of the USMNT for the next 10+ years. The 18-year-old NY native has shown remarkable poise, technical ability, decision making and leadership this season. I truly believe he’s a candidate to be the U.S.’ captain in the not-so-distant future.
In his first career playoff match, the youngster picked up an assist from his right wingback spot. A textbook driving run down the flank with a very nicely measured whipped cross for Sacha Kljestan to finish:
Juninho is a veteran player who's won 3 MLS Cups, and he just fell asleep to let Kljestan stroll past him to score. #cf97 #RBNY #CHIvNY #MLS pic.twitter.com/9b7kTtkpwC— Jason Foster (@JogaBonitoUSA) October 26, 2017
Adams’ versatility is a point of contention for those who have watched him for years through his development. I see his future as a central midfielder, a box-to-box or holding player who can break up play and control possession. However, the majority of this season has seen Jesse Marsch deploy him as a full-back, where he has seen success also.
Wherever his eventual position ends up being, Adams’ class is obvious to all who watch him play. There are few players in the national team pool who can match combination of technique and composure on the ball. Without putting too much hype or pressure on him, he’s got the potential to be something special for the national team and arguably should’ve already been inserted into the mix this past World Cup qualifying cycle.
Have you been watching either of these players this season? What do you think about their USMNT prospects? Are there any young players who’ve caught your eye recently? Let us know.