Welcome back to another interesting week in American soccer. As the calendar ticked to February and the January transfer window closed, there were some moves made (like Cameron Carter-Vickers) and one high profile move that fell through (Antonee Robinson). This weekend, there was nearly a full slate of games in Europe with almost all the leagues back from their winter breaks and it marked the conclusion of January camp. For any new readers, the rating at the end of each update reflects how much I think each player should be called up (1-nowhere near ready; 10-absolutely call him up). Here’s what’s going on this week:
Ulysses Llanez - Winger, VFL Wolfsburg
The best compliment I can give Uly Llanez after this weekend’s national team debut is that he has caused me to spend the last couple days reflecting on my opinions. His performance against a heavily experienced Costa Rica national team opened my eyes not to his individual talent (I’ve been a fan for a while-just go back and read my U-20 World Cup preview), but to the larger picture. For the uninitiated, Llanez has yet to ever play above the USL level. He left the Los Angeles Galaxy reserves to join Wolfsburg and has spent the entirety of his time there playing at the U-19 level. Despite dominating at that level, he wasn’t invited to Wolfsburg’s first team camp in January. Other players have forced their way into their first teams at similar level clubs in Germany and elsewhere after a similar amount of time acclimating to a new club. While he would hardly be the first youth player to be overlooked by his club, it still doesn’t paint some rosy picture of his situation there. All that is to say it didn’t matter in the least. Llanez was simply one of the best players on the field in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica. The 18-year-old not only scored the game’s only goal, but he constantly created danger from the left wing as he made darting runs and quick moves and overall excellent decisions when he was on the ball. In fact, he was more influential than many professional players on that same team (i.e. Paul Arriola, Sam Vines, Jonathan Lewis, Brenden Aaronson, etc.). I have argued many times that players should be expected to play with their first teams before being considered for the national team, but Llanez’s performance honestly proves me wrong. At this stage with this national team, we should be taking looks at any player that we think can make a difference. Ultimately, I still feel like the United States will never compete for the goals we want them to achieve until we’re able to choose between top professionals at every position (i.e. winning World Cups), but the USMNT isn’t anywhere close to that right now anyway. So for now, the USMNT should be kicking the tires on every talented player it can find. US Soccer should still do what’s best for the player on an individual basis (i.e. allow the player to have a full preseason to impress his club coaches instead of playing in a Gold Cup), so these decisions should be made carefully. And every player playing in a youth academy should not be getting a look with the senior national team either. These decisions have to be made carefully. But they should be part of the discussion. For those that have argued this with me for a long while, you were right and I was wrong. Rating: 8
Giovanni Reyna - Attacking Midfielder, Borussia Dortmund
Gio Reyna has started off 2020 in a big way. He earned his third consecutive appearance for Borussia Dortmund on Friday. The 17-year-old replaced Erling Haaland in the 77th minute with Dortmund already having put the match against Union Berlin away. Reyna started off well at the striker position when he chested a pass to create an early chance for Raphael Guerreiro. His first assist was not to be, but he once again looked comfortable with Dortmund in command. Reyna may be in line for some more opportunities in the coming weeks with Dortmund’s schedule packed. On Tuesday, Dortmund take on Werder Bremen in the DFB Pokal (2:45 PM ET on ESPN3). Then in two weeks, they will face PSG in the Champions League knockout stage. All while having their regular Bundesliga matches every week. Look for several more chances for the youngster. Rating: 8
Sebastian Soto - Striker, Hannover
Finally, some good news on the Sebastian Soto front. The 19-year-old has made the matchday squad for each of Hannover’s first two matches since returning from the winter break. Soto came off the bench in the 78th minute with Hannover trailing 1-0 on Saturday. Soon after coming on, Hannover tied the score and just four minutes later took the lead. It seemed as though the win was at hand but Wehen Wiesbaden struck in stoppage time to end it in a draw. This was his first time appearing with the first team since his four-minute cameo in early August. It’s been a nightmare campaign for him, but this is a good sign that he’s at least getting a look. Hopefully he can keep getting opportunities after this. Rating: 4
Indiana Vassilev - Attacking Midfielder/Striker, Aston Villa
As feared, Vassilev found his way back out of the matchday squad for each of Aston Villa’s two matches this week. Last week, Villa signed Mbwana Samatta to a big deal and the roster spot he was occupying thus became unavailable. Late on Friday, they added Spanish striker Borja Bastón as further depth. So Vassilev’s opportunities may well have dried up for the time being. It just means he needs to push himself harder to force his way back into the squad. Hopefully he can do so. Rating: 6
Jonathan Tomkinson - Centerback, Norwich City
Slowly but surely, Tomkinson is moving up the ladder at Norwich. The 17-year-old made his second start and third appearance for Norwich’s U-23’s this weekend, going the distance in their 2-1 loss to Manchester United’s U-23’s. Tomkinson failed to make the U-17 World Cup team, but he seems to be responding in the correct fashion. Hopefully he can continue to move up in the coming months and years. Rating: 1
Konrad de la Fuente - Winger, FC Barcelona
Konrad had a big week. It appears that he has agreed to stay at La Masia, because he was given another chance with the reserves this weekend. The 18-year-old came off the bench for Barcelona’s B team on Sunday for just his third career appearance for their reserves. In the 90th minute, Konrad scored his first professional goal when he raced in on goal and beat the keeper to put Barca B in the lead with what would eventually be the game-winner.
The win propelled them into second place in Segunda División B. Today, he was one of many youth players to take part in first team training at the mega club. After his contract drama, it’s great to see him settling down and impressing once again. Rating: 5
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!