Why can’t the US stop producing no. 10s? It’s a question plaguing the national consciousness as the United States has been unstoppable at producing quality creative attacking players. Yes, in truth the no. 10 is dead. Anyone with YouTube and the ability to look at a Tifo Football video knows that the classic no. 10 is a luxury player that has been replaced in the middle of the field by the Paul Pogbas and Kevin De Bruynes of the world and the wings are where creative playmaking happens. Gone are the days of enganches and trequartistas luxuriating in the attacking third waiting to pick out the perfect pass to score an artistic goal.
It wasn’t long ago that the best no. 10 the USMNT had at its disposal was Michael Bradley being played out of position. These were dark days, Landon Donovan was disliked by Jurgen Klinsmann, Benny Feilhaber was disliked by Jurgen Klinsmann, Lee Nguyen was disliked by Jurgen Klinsmann, Clint Dempsey was better served being played closer to goal. Meanwhile, Julian Green, Emerson Hyndman, and Gedion Zelalem never really lived up to their potential, though they have time to grow into the role. There were no options. Sebastian Lletget seemed like he could do it, but an injury during 2018 World Cup qualifying sidelined him until his recent resurgence under Gregg Berhalter.
The tide has changed. Now the role is filled by promising young players like Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, Konrad, Ulysses Llanez, Djordje Mihailovic, Gianluca Busio, Cole Bassett, Luca de la Torre, and more. Christian Pulisic is also fairly creative.
What gives? How did this happen so suddenly? The answer is clearly that Americans finally stopped focusing on developing players in youth systems that favored size and speed over technical ability and dug up unpolished gems from America’s hard-scrabble favelas. Wait, that’s not right. Uhhh.... Americans finally stopped focusing on developing players in youth systems that favored size and speed and leveraged its small size build a youth pipeline developed on publicly funded sports programs and built pitches accessible to every player while making top notch youth coaching licenses affordable. Wait, that’s not right. Uhhh... Americans finally stopped focusing on developing players in youth systems that favored size and speed came up with an innovative, simple, and effective solution to falling behind the world in order to win the 2014 World Cup. Wait not that one. Uhhhh... Americans finally stopped focusing on developing players in youth systems that favored size and speed and began sending it’s top talent to top college, hahahahahaha no that’ll never happen. So what is it?
Looking at those players, there seems to be a mix of different things. MLS academies finally started paying dividends and young players began earning playing time in the domestic league, dual nationals deciding to represent the USA, and Americans digging up long lost European relatives to get their EU passports stamped to develop abroad. It’s a great mix and a sustainable way to ensure that the team has a large pool of players to draw from. Presumably, this won’t last forever and one of these methods will lag while the other stays strong or gets better.
In other words, there are a lot of ways to skin an omelette.