What’s at stake for young USMNT in Brazil, Mexico friendlies?

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As soon as the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, everything the program would do in the 11 months since that fateful night in Couva, Trinidad & Tobago, has been about (re-)building for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

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This year, this month, this week are no different, with the Yanks in camp once again for a pair of friendlies against two sides who faced off in the round of 16 this summer: Brazil and Mexico. The following players have the most to gain (or lose) with strong (or poor) showing on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET) and Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET).

(You won’t find blue-chip prospects likes Christian Pulisic — who’s not eveon on the roster — Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams or Tim Weah on this list, as they have already established themselves as likely building-block pieces for the 2022 and 2026 cycles.)

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John Brooks and Matt Miazga

In a perfect world, Brooks (who’s now 25) and Miazga (23) are the ready-made left-right center-back partnership that comes good at multiple tournaments this throughout World Cup cycle, culminating in a dominant defensive display in Qatar. Extra emphasis on “a perfect world,” as Brooks has been injured far more than not the last two or three years. On the plus side, Miazga has made steps up in competition — with coinciding performances — each of the last two club seasons; now is the time for that to translate to a purple patch of international form, and having a consistent, stable partner would go a long way to that end.

Antonee Robinson

Speaking of defensive positions just begging to be won, the starting left back job has been up for grabs for 15 or 20 years. With more than 48 months left before the next World Cup (remember, it’ll be played in November and December), there’s no reason Dave Sarachan — and eventually a permanent coach, hopefully — shouldn’t give every possible chance to an exciting 21-year-old currently playing in England’s second division. Robinson, who’s on loan at Wigan Athletic (from Everton), shone brightly in his first two senior-team appearances earlier this year, against Bolivia and France.

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Kellyn Acosta

As bad as the last 12 months have been for the USMNT, one could make a strong case that Acosta has had an even worse 15-month downturn which began last summer, after the 2017 Gold Cup. Acosta, then 21, reportedly had multiple offers to go to Europe — which he badly wanted to do, but was prevented from doing by FC Dallas, his club at the time. His form plummeted, right alongside with Dallas’ season, and 2018 has somehow been even worse: sports hernia surgery in February, more lackluster performances for FCD, and eventually a trade to the then-last-place Colorado Rapids. Since making the move to Colorado in July, Acosta has trended upward while playing for a very bad team that has had nothing to play for since the season was less than a month old. For now, Acosta’s youth will be enough to continue being called up, but that’ll stop sometime over the next 24 months, at which point he’ll be 25. Still an immensely talented player, we just need to see the best version of Acosta re-emerge.

Julian Green

If we were to pretend that I asked you how old you think Julian Green is right, what would you say? That’s a great question, he has to be about 25 or 26 by now, right? Wrong, he only turned 23 a couple months ago. Theoretically speaking, there’s still time for him to become the best player in the world play the UEFA Champions League be a serviceable player for the USMNT. Here’s why that’s unlikely: he’s made more than 10 first-team league appearances just once in his career. Once. That was last season while on loan to Greuther Furth (he scored three goals in league 24 appearance), the club he signed for on a permanent basis this summer. He’s likely running out of options in Europe, but he’ll get one or two more chances stateside before his career runs out, which means he’ll likely get one or two more chances with the national team, the first — and possibly last — of which comes this week.