The U.S. men’s national team’s B-minus squad earned a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica to open the Yanks’ 2020 slate on Saturday, led by a group of youngsters seeking to establish themselves just under three years out from the 2022 World Cup.
Ulysses Llanez put himself on the radar
The 18-year-old Los Angeles native who moved to Germany last April has quietly, but steadily, been climbing the ranks of Wolfsburg’s second team and will likely be the next young American to reach the first team for a Bundesliga club. On Saturday, Llanez made his USMNT debut and introduced himself to a much wider audience in fantastic fashion.
He scored the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot, and was otherwise the Yanks’ brightest attacking threat during his 73 minutes on the field. Llanez was consistently dangerous down the left flank, most notably when combining with Sebastian Lletget and Sam Vines, and rarely looked timid for a player making his international debut. Of course, everything he saw and tried didn’t always come off exactly how he hoped it would, but Llanez took his opportunity and made the most of it.
He’ll almost certainly be a key figure for the U-23 team when Olympic qualifying gets underway in a few weeks — assuming he hasn’t inched closer to the fringes of the first team at Wolfsburg, thus decreasing the chance he’s released by the club — and that will be a perfect environment to grow with high expectations and something of real consequence on the line.
Reggie Cannon continues to climb
So, here’s a 21-year-old with over 5,000 minutes of professional soccer under his belt already. He quickly ascended to his current standing as one of — if not the — best right backs in MLS, and he’ll likely find himself the subject of multiple bids from mid-level European clubs this summer. Given his vast wealth of experience at such an early age, Cannon should find himself in a starter’s battle in Germany or Belgium come August.
He was excellent once again on Saturday and appears to possess everything you could ask of a right back. He has the speed and change of direction to create and recover on both sides of possession, he’s more than a little clever when combining with wide attackers ahead of him, and he’s a constant threat when he overlaps and becomes the wide attacker most advanced.
Sure, Segiño Dest is the golden boy at the position, but Cannon is a far more accomplished — albeit in a lesser league and at a slightly advanced age — Dutch-born American-committed dual national. Dest’s ceiling is probably higher — perhaps considerably so — but Cannon is the more ready-made player for, say, the start of World Cup qualifying in August.
It’s Olympics or bust
Both Llanez and Cannon are U-23-eligible and should be called in by Jason Kreis, but they’re far from the only intriguing Olympic hopefuls who featured against Costa Rica.
Forward Jesus Ferreira made 33 appearances and logged over 2,400 minutes last season for FC Dallas… as an 18-year-old; he scored 8 goals and had 6 assists. Midfielder Brenden Aaronson was also 18 for the entirety of last season and he got over 1,700 minutes in 28 appearances for the Philadelphia Union. Left back Sam Vines is 20 and logged over 2,100 minutes for Colorado Rapids a season ago. Midfielder Jackson Yueill is 22 and will cross the 5,000-minute threshold for San Jose Earthquakes on opening day.
Every one of those players started and played well on Saturday. As noted in the recap, the interplay was far more cohesive and fluid than January friendlies of years past, and that’s a testament to, among others, this group of talented professionals who have all found their way at the club level at a very young age.