It’s back! MLS is back! #OurSoccer! This year will bring some changes - more charter flights and better seats on airplanes, Americans from abroad coming to play in MLS, Mexicans from LigaMX coming to play in MLS, wild stuff folks. Much to the joy or chagrin of USMNT fans there are plenty of players in the league that end up on the national team, or could get a look, that play in the league. That’s right - the team that is ranked 22nd with the likes of Peru, Wales, Venezuela, and Ukraine has players in its pool that play in Major League Soccer. Unthinkable.
Here’s part one of a few, probably two but maybe three, looks at players that have a shot of representing the Stars and Stripes in 2020 from the league.
Chapter I: Names we know
Paul Arriola - No, Paul Arriola did not have a miracle recovery suddenly. But his name looms large over this list. Over his time with the USMNT, he’s shown that he can be an effective defensive winger and do things that need to be done in Concacaf. He managed to do enough to start over Tyler Boyd and has been a valuable if unsung starter for the Stars and Stripes. Gregg Berhalter clearly thinks a player with his skillset is needed on the squad and finding a player who can step into his role seems like a question that will need to be answered in 2020.
Miles Robinson - At this point he’s a known talent. Robinson’s main skill is 1v1 defending and it’ll be important for him to show he can be consistent as he was last year and even grow as a center back. He’s also got to stay healthy. Last year he picked up an injury during a late night training session with the USMNT at the end of a long and strenuous MLS season. His second full year as a starter needs to be injury-free or injury-limited.
Jordan Morris - The best American position player in MLS last year had a great season and finally looks set to live up to his potential and contract. Still, we saw this from Morris before. In 2016 he had a great year followed by a down season where he battled injuries. After missing all of 2018, 2019 was a great comeback but he’ll have to show he can be consistent and stay healthy to put aside whatever doubts about him still exist.
Jozy Altidore - The forward again fought injuries in 2019, but in 18 starts he managed 11 goals and tacked on 7 assists. His health will again determine if he’s called in to the USMNT, but if he’s not hurt or TFC isn’t asking that he be held out of the team, expect to see Jozy represent the Stars and Stripes this year.
Walker Zimmerman - What a career Walker Zimmerman is putting together. He came up through the FC Dallas system, established himself as a starter and then was brought in by LAFC in their expansion season to anchor the defense. He did so well in that role that he won MLS Defender of the Year and… was promptly traded to Nashville. Maybe something doesn’t add up about Zimmerman. On one hand, he’s a good passer and solid defender. On the other, he seems fairly mistake prone and I can’t help but think that his success has something to do with the system he plays in. That’s a big ole take from me because why would MLS put a lot of marketing behind a player and give him a yearly award if he wasn’t great? There will be nowhere for Zimmerman to hide in 2020, his skills and faults will be laid bare in Nashville. As of now, the defense is made up of players who have been on some… really, really bad defenses in recent years and is being shielded by an aging Dax McCarty and one of the many Godoys. Zimmerman will be looked upon to keep his team organized and this will be a year he can grow into a leader as well as clean up some of the weak spots in his game… or it’s going to be really bad in Nasvegas this year.
Aaron Long - The centerback followed up his 2018 Defender of the Year award by… well being on a team that had an up and down year in 2019. This season might be more of the same as NYRB retools. Still, Long is a skilled CB who showed well with the USMNT in 2019. He should continue to be in the picture this year too.
Reggie Cannon - We know about Cannon. He’s a right back he can defend and maraud, it’s what you want from a right back. He might even push for first choice status if he keeps performing in MLS this year.
Sebastian Lletget - He’s what Atlanta United fans would call “The Nagbe Replacement.” Darlington Nagbe isn’t going to play for the MNT, but Lletget does some of the things that Nagbe does almost 75% as well. Good on the ball, a good passer, pretty good at winning it back - not quite Nagbe level good at those things, but he does do a better job of putting the ball on target so that’s good.
Cristian Roldan - What if Julian Gressel was just OK? He’d be Cristian Roldan. Kinda. Roldan has some of the qualities that Arriola does in that he’s got a lot of hustle and plays a pretty gritty game even if it’s not pretty. This is Concacaf and in Concacaf you need Concacaf players to do Concacaf things - that’s Cristian Roldan.
Gyasi Zardes - Sorry, you’ll be watching Zardes in 2020 because he’s going to get callups. He just is.
Nick Lima - See above. Though, to his credit, Lima can play left back and is American so he might be an alternative to other options in the role like Tim Ream or Daniel Lovitz.
Chris Wondolowski - He’s not getting called up, but Wondo is the best story in MLS and a great one in the lore of US Soccer - this is his farewell tour and we still don’t have an answer to the question: When will America produce another Chris Wondolowski?
Chapter II: Newish MLS Attackers that need a good year to get a chance
Emerson Hyndman: There were high hopes for Hyndman in England, things didn’t quite pan out for him there and he finds himself back in the States. It seems like he’ll be in the plans to start a significant amount for Atlanta United and if he can show that he can play center midfield in an attacking and possession oriented side, he should be on Gregg Berhalter’s radar in 2020.
Andrew Wooten - At 30 years old Wooten’s window with the national team is probably set to close, but a good year with Philly could change that. He had just over 350 minutes last year but just managed one assist and no goals, so the attacker will need to start producing.
Jerome Kiesewetter - Somehow, outside of DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris, the USMNT doesn’t have a ton of speed. Kiesewetter scored 12 goals in 28 games for El Paso Locomotive FC last year so he’s at least scored goals recently. If he continues producing in MLS, his experience might make him a candidate for the MNT if Berhalter doesn’t want to turn to a younger player in 2020.
Joe Gyau - Another quick winger who fell out of favor abroad and is in MLS now, Gyau will have a lot of work to do to get time with the USMNT. He did have a callup last year so Berhalter has seen him with the team recently. Still, he’ll have to win a starting job and produce for FC Cincinnati in 2020 to get back with the USMNT.
Come back tomorrow when we will address the question: Huh? and talk about yoots.