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USMNT Weekly Youth Update: Alex Mendez makes some noise

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The 19-year-old is starting to put it together for Jong Ajax.

Telstar v Ajax U23 - Dutch Keuken Kampioen Divisie Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images

This was a much quieter week for young Americans, although there were some notable happenings (welcome back, Weston McKennie) and performances as well. For any new readers, the rating at the end of each update reflects how much I think each player should be called up to the senior national team at the next opportunity (1-nowhere near ready; 10-absolutely call him up and start him). Here’s what happened this week:

Netherlands

Alex Mendez - Central Midfielder, AFC Ajax

Mendez had a very notable week. Slowly but surely, he’s becoming a consistent starter for Jong Ajax. After a slow start to his time with the Dutch giants, the 19-year-old has started each of the last three matches and gone all 90 minutes for the first three times all season. On Monday, Mendez was instrumental in helping them pull off a 2-0 win over basement-dwelling FC Dordrecht. With Jong Ajax already leading 1-0, teammate Sontje Hansen was fouled for a penalty. Mendez stepped up and took the penalty with a well-taken strike into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.

The 2-0 scoreline held and Jong Ajax were briefly in first place. Then on Friday, Mendez had another good performance although the result didn’t go their way. In that match, Mendez picked up an assist on the opening goal when he found Danilo on the wing. Danilo cut inside on his left foot and scored on a very nice strike just outside the box. Jong Ajax let a 3-1 lead slip away as NEC Nijmegen struck twice in the final 15 minutes to steal a point. The draw combined with Cambuur’s victory drops them to second place in the Eerste Divisie. Even if they won the league, they’d be ineligible to be promoted to the top tier, but it would be cool to see Mendez and Josh Pynadath (he’s been out the last few matches after picking up a red card in his last appearance for the Ajax reserves) to be part of a team that won their league. Mendez still faces long odds to push his way into the first team this season, but if he can keep playing well he may get a shot to prove himself with the first team this summer. Rating: 4

Sergiño Dest - Fullback, AFC Ajax

Dest found his way back into the starting lineup this week. The 19-year-old has seen his minutes decrease as Noussair Mazraoui has returned to full health, but the return of the KNVB Beker gave Dest another chance last Wednesday. Facing an overmatched opponent, Dest delivered a lovely ball to Siem De Jong who cooly dispatched it to complete his first half hat trick and put Ajax up 3-0. The assist in what wound up being a 7-0 rout of third division SV Spakenburg brings Dest’s season totals to two goals in six assists in all competitions. On Sunday, Dest was again in the starting lineup as they returned to league action against FC Groningen. He should have had an assist on a tying goal in the 37th minute, but his perfect cross wasn’t put away by Ryan Babel. Ajax’s nightmares continued in the second half as a deflected strike saw Groningen go up 2-0. A late rally from Ajax fell short and the 2-1 loss means their lead over AZ Alkmaar is down to just three points. Dest played pretty well individually, but it was one day the club would like to forget. Rating: 10

Germany

Josh Sargent - Striker, Werder Bremen

Sargent is struggling. The 19-year-old has started each of the last two matches for Werder Bremen since the return from the winter break, which is great since he hadn’t started a match since October. But he has failed to make an impact with Bremen now staring the threat of relegation in the face. On Sunday, Sargent started against Hoffenheim, but he wasn’t able to provide much of an attacking threat before being subbed off right after they fell behind in the 66th minute. Werder Bremen would concede twice more in the latest loss. Last week, they did get a much needed 1-0 win over last-place Fortuna Düsseldorf, but they’re in trouble regardless. If the season ended today, they’d have to play in the relegation playoff and they’re only ahead of each of Düsseldorf and Paderborn by two points. They need to pick it up if they want to stay up, and Josh Sargent needs to show more than he has recently. Rating: 9

Travian Sousa - Left Back, Hamburger SV

We’re on Sousa watch this week following the conclusion of their winter break. The first 18-year-old trained with the first team the whole time and may get a look in the coming weeks. Last week, he was an unused substitute in their final friendly ahead of this Thursday’s matchup with FC Nürnberg. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, it’s pretty impressive that he’s already getting a look after only being there since the summer. Hopefully a first team debut is on the horizon. Rating: 4

Spain

Konrad de la Fuente - Winger, FC Barcelona

It’s been a dramatic couple of months for Konrad. Amid reports that there were several Bundesliga clubs interested, the 18-year-old refused to sign a contract extension with FC Barcelona due to his desire for first team football at this stage of his career. This week, Barcelona increased their offer to Konrad and made him an ultimatum that he would have to either sign the contract extension or risk being alienated for the rest of the season. Konrad’s current deal runs out this summer, so he would leave on a “free” transfer if he doesn’t sign an extension (Barcelona would still be owed training compensation for him). This weekend, Konrad was an unused substitute in Barcelona B’s 2-0 win over Ejea in Spain’s Segunda División B (the Spanish third tier). That may be a sign that a signature is imminent, because he hadn’t been making the squad in recent weeks prior to that. We will continue to monitor his situation closely. Rating: 3

Brazil

Johnny Cardoso - Central Midfielder, SC Internacional

Cardoso is starting to push his way further into the first team picture at Internacional. The 18-year-old Brazilian-American was an unused substitute in their 1-0 win over Juventude on Thursday. He then earned his first career start on Sunday in their 3-1 win over Pelotas in their second Campeonato Gaúcho group stage match. Cardoso went 59 minutes before being subbed off with Internacional leading 2-0. This could be a golden opportunity for him as they have two more group stage matches in the coming week before starting the Copa Libertadores knockout round in early February. Let’s hope the young man can take advantage of his chance. Cardoso came up as a striker, but he usually plays as a defensive midfielder and did so when he was called into the US U-23’s last summer. For anyone who hasn’t seen him before, see the below highlight video for a small taste. Rating: 2

Quick Notes

Gio Reyna made the bench and his second appearance in a brief cameo at the end of Borussia Dortmund’s dominant 5-1 win on Friday. Indiana Vassilev came off the bench for his second Premier League appearance on Wednesday in Aston Villa’s 2-1 win. They signed striker Mbwana Samatta this week, and he figures to take back some of the opportunity that’s been afforded to Vassilev in recent weeks. We’ll see if he can remain in the squad going forward.

As always, hit the comment section to let me know if there’s anything major I overlooked or if there’s anyone you’d like to hear about. Thank you for reading!