Since we’re going to have a 2021 MLS season, it’s time to focus yet again on the game on the pitch. With some high stakes games coming up for the USMNT this year, Gregg Berhalter will be narrowing down the roster ahead of the 2022 World Cup. There have been some big moves in recent months with players going from MLS abroad, however some players have dropped off the mark and will need a strong year to stay in the national team conversation. Let’s take a look at who can step up in the domestic league.
Paxton Pomykal - The Dallas midfielder jumped into the national picture of up and coming MLS players following a stellar 2019. That year he started 20 games across the midfield for FCD and logged 1876 minutes. 2020 was cut sadly short as Pomykal required season ending surgery. He certainly has “the look” of a solid midfielder and at 21 has a while to go before his talent is truly known, but a step forward this year will improve his prospects for playing with the USMNT at either the senior or U23 level.
Jesus Ferreira - His eye popping play in the friendly after January camp against Trinidad & Tobago was certainly a good sign. At 20, he has plenty of time to grow as a goal scorer, but he took a step back last year. An 8 goal/6 assist line in 2453 minutes in 2019 was followed by a lackluster 1 goal/1 assist line with 979 minutes last season. Dallas shuffled him across the field though and if he can find a consistent position it may help along his development. Still, he has obvious talent and if he can start to produce in 2021 he may be headed to Tokyo, Qatar, and beyond.
Mason Toye - The attacker looked like he was breaking through with Minnesota United in 2019. That year he had six goals and three assists in 820 minutes across nine starts and 17 appearances overall. 2020 was less productive. Last year Toye had just one goal in six starts for the Loons who traded to Montreal mid-season. In Canada, or wherever Montreal had to play home games, he did not score and played just 152 minutes. He has a huge opportunity this season as Thierry Henry looks to build a re-branded team. Toye might be fairly fringe when it comes to chances of being on the national team, but if he can prove he deserves to start to Henry, that will speak volumes about his future.
Jonathan Klinsmann - 2020 was something of a rollercoaster year for the son of legendary manager Jurgen Klinsmann. After testing himself at the highest level with Hertha Berlin, Klinsmann joined St. Gallen in Switzerland. He did not break through with the team and subsequently transferred to the LA Galaxy. The keeper didn’t exactly impress with the club and started four games with a clean sheet and 11 goals allowed. That’s not a good number of goals allowed in four games. MLS has been a proving ground for American keepers and a way for them to move abroad, see Zack Steffen for example. However, Klinsmann will first have to win the starting job as LA looks to bounce back after a poor 2020 campaign.
Miles Robinson - Joining Ferreira among players who stood out against Trinidad & Tobago, Robinson will look to somewhat bounce back in 2021. After seeming to breakout with Atlanta United in 2019, the defender seemed a bit off last year. That said, Atlanta spent most of the year struggling for any kind of identity or consistency under interim manager Stephen Glass. Robinson’s best strength has always been his one v. one defending, but he’ll need to add a few more clubs to his bag if he wants to be in the conversation for starting at centerback in Qatar. New manager Gabriel Heinze was a world class defender in his playing days and should help Robinson make a jump in his career and show what he can do in what should be a more competitive season for Atlanta in 2021.
Jozy Altidore - Finally, there’s Jozy Altidore. The third all-time leading scorer for the USMNT might not be the first choice starter going into the World Cup in 2022, but he still has something to offer the team in terms of leadership and coming off of the bench. That said, he needs to prove on the field that he belongs and will deserve a roster spot. Altidore has struggled with injuries throughout his time in MLS having never started more than 25 games or appeared in over 27 since coming back to the league in 2015. In his most recent relatively successful year, Altidore scored 11 goals with 7 assists in 18 starts for Toronto in 2019. A full off season with an extra month tacked on will give him extra time to be healthy for 2021, but he’ll need to stay on the field and keep his numbers up for Chris Armas’ team to stay in the USMNT picture.