It has been a long road for fans of the US Men’s National Team. The team has grown by leaps and bounds since the days of Bruce Arena’s team missing the World Cup on that fateful October day in 2017. In less than four years, the sliver of light that was Christian Pulisic’s promising start at Dortmund has given rise to a new day of American talent taking Europe’s top leagues by storm. In the midst of that, MLS has started producing world class youth talent being transferred abroad. It is an unexpected and welcome turn of events given the depths the team and its program sank to.
Now it’s time to see what the true value of this potential is. For the first time in nearly five years, the US U-23 team will try to qualify for the Olympics. The team is once again mostly made up of MLS talent, but this time it seems like the squad will be more competitive than the one fielded by Andi Herzog. That team failed to overcome Honduras in the semi-final and then went on to be outplayed by Colombia in the final playoff to make the Olympic tournament. Jason Kreis’ squad can turn this around, but it is time for the team to turn potential into results.
While the stakes of the Olympic qualifiers are well known, the upcoming friendlies for the senior squad may also be more important than typical uncompetitive matches. At this point, the key players for the team are at least healthy if not in form. This is important because with the World Cup next year, it is important for the team to begin building chemistry and actually play together. Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, and Tyler Adams have never played a senior match on the same pitch, adding Gio Reyna and Tim Weah into the mix along with getting another look at Yunus Musah possibly and bringing Brenden Aaronson into the fold will be vital to the attack. What’s more, right now there’s not a clear first choice center back pairing for the team and Gregg Berhalter also needs to determine where to play Sergino Dest and fill in the other outside back role.
With a crucial tournament set to show the status of the U-23 team and friendlies that will give the senior side a chance to build chemistry, it’s not hyperbole to say that March 2021 might be the most important month that the men’s program has had in the past four years. If 2020 was about being excited for the potential of the team, 2021 will be about seeing what the talent the US men’s program has produced since its nadir in 2017 and the fruits of that process with start to be picked in a few short weeks.