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Beyond the hype, things look to be turning a corner for US player development

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Finally.

AS Roma v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Fans of the USMNT are truly a dedicated group. Overall, the last 18 years have been filled with promise but outside of a few sporadic successful results, there has been mostly disappointment. It’s like being a Chicago Cubs fan with the expectation that the team will be bad so the experience itself is what’s enjoyable is replaced by an unreasonable assumption that because its American it has to be good eventually if just that one player shows up to create that reality. That never happens and all that’s left is a void of disappointment and angst. USMNT fans could be doing something fun and not constantly be subjected to this.

But alas, things are changing and it might be fun.

Americans in Europe, but good at soccer actually

The USMNT might be... kinda good soon? And by soon I mean if they played with their best XI right now it’d be a team that seems like it could hang with some of the big names in international soccer. It wasn’t too long ago that I was writing about how the young players are being hyped and how that’s fine, but not good because it hides the problems that are at the core of US Soccer. Those problems still exist, but the young players that are breaking through are succeeding despite them. This alone is a promising development as seemingly every soccer federation except for Iceland, maybe, is rife with special interests in one way or another and is probably a few leaked emails away from having a key official being hauled away by INTERPOL. This is just speculation...

Hyping is still not good, see Julian Green, but some of the young players are coming through for their clubs abroad and it seems like the youth development system domestically is also starting to work. A few years ago it seemed like ALL of the future hopes of the team were on the shoulders of Christian Pulisic. He looked legit, but was the lone American breaking through in a big way in Europe. To be fair, he’s a generational talent for the team and not everyone will rise to his level, but now he’s got company.

John Brooks has been there this whole time and is a piece a backline can be built around. Weston McKennie is starting for Juventus. Full stop. 18 months ago nobody thought an American would be starting for Juventus. Tyler Adams is rising to the occasion with Leipzig, Josh Sargent is starting to break through with Werder, Gio Reyna is settling in with Dortmund, and Timothy Weah is working on staying healthy with Lille. Tyler Boyd is also getting back into form and Zack Steffen is getting starts with Manchester City.

On top of that, somehow, left back is turning into a position of strength and depth for the USA. Sergino Dest is the obvious first choice, but throw Antonee Robinson in there and suddenly Daniel Lovitz’ days seem numbered. On the opposite side of the pitch Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin seem ready to push each other to see who the starter should be. Aside from Brooks, centerback options go beyond Tim Ream and include some players who might need work like Chris Richards, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga, but are exciting none the less. 18 months ago any one of these players in addition to Pulisic would have been reason for excitement, but a lineup full of them feels like hitting the lottery.

The domestic pipeline is starting to flow

It has been promised, or expected, or assumed, or otherwise believed in some form that MLS should be able to harness the unrealized potential of youth soccer players across our vast country. That really has not been the case in comparison to every country that is good at soccer. It was puzzling and led to questions about our best athletes playing soccer. Just look at Lebron James, imagine a 6’8” 238 lb winger - he’d be unstoppable!

The days of playing kickball to the tall kid standing next to goal seem to be numbered. In its place MLS and private academies are producing players that are making a difference on their senior rosters and getting attention from abroad. Brenden Aaronson, Paxton Pomykal, Cole Bassett, James Sands, Jesus Ferreira, Miles Robinson, George Bello, Mark McKenzie, Gianluca Busio, Frankie Amaya, Julian Araujo, and Daryl Dike are all under 22 and starting for their teams. When Tyler Adams moved to Germany it was good news, but seemed like a one-off. Now, there are players that could soon make similar jumps.

They join more established Americans in the league like Jordan Morris, Aaron Long, Paul Arriola, Gyasi Zardes, Jozy Altidore, Cristian Roldan, and Sebastian Lletget as Americans who are a big part of their team’s success and among the best in the league in their positions.

Hype is catching up to the eye test

In the bigger picture, the USMNT is starting to look like good international squads. There’s a budding superstar, or possibly two, surrounded by starters in top five leagues. A host of exciting youth players that might make the jump abroad are breaking through in MLS. It’s pretty solid, but maybe not enough to break into the ranks of the top teams in the world. The sides like France, Germany, England, and Belgium have players nearly five deep in every position in the top five leagues of the world. The US isn’t there yet, and has a long way to go, but the path to getting there seems a lot shorter than it did just 18 months ago.