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Diskerud backheel goal confirms Ulsan Hyundai place in AFC CL knockouts

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South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai confirmed its place in the knockout stages of the 2019 AFC Champions League thanks to a 1-0 win over Sydney FC early Tuesday morning. The game’s only goal came in the 60th minute and it was scored by U.S. international Mix Diskerud in glittering fashion.

With the American at the Korean club on loan from Manchester City, Diskerud continued Ulsan Hyundai’s undefeated group stage with a backheel strike, taking a square cross from In-seong Kim and depositing it inside the far post despite his back to goal. The goal is Diskerud’s fourth with the club since joining in January and his first in the AFC Champions League.

The win for Ulsan clinched the top spot in Group G on 11 points through five matches, with Chinese side Shanghai SIPG in a distant second on six points. In fact, they have the second-most points of the entire group stage to this point, behind the 12 collected by Saudi side Al-Hilal, and they are one of just three unbeaten teams across the group stage.

Diskerud has been a regular in the Ulsan lineup, seeing the starting lineup in all but one of the club’s games since he joined. They have lost just three of those 16 matches, with Diskerud mostly playing a defensive midfield role.

At 28 years old Oslo-born American international is unlikely to see the Manchester City first team anytime soon, and his developmental years are behind him, but should Diskerud’s good club form continue wherever City desides to send him on loan, he could most certainly find himself in the mix for a place in the USMNT squad as Gregg Berhalter continues to reorganize the international setup with a view towards the 2022 World Cup. Michael Bradley consistently occupies the holding midfield role even at 31 years old, but should Berhalter want depth at that position, Diskerud would undoubtedly be an option should he continue see consistent minutes and perform at his club.

So which domestic players will be in Berhalter’s first USMNT call-ups?

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The amount of players called up to USMNT camps has varied in the last few seasons.

Jurgen Klinsmann called up 23 in 2016 during World Cup qualifying, Bruce Arena opted for 32 in 2017 as he evaluated who could help him right the ship, and Dave Sarachan rang in 30 players last January.

[ MORE: Berhalter introduced by USSF ]

It’s likely new boss Gregg Berhalter is going to look at 30-32 players for the usually domestic-based January camp which will lead up to a Jan. 27 meeting with Panama in Arizona.

That’s not to say Berhalter couldn’t ask permission for some European-based players who are B-teamers or relatively unused abroad (Keaton Parks, Aron Johannsson, Timmy Chandler, Jonathan Klinsmann), but this will be MLS heavy.

Let’s begin with the relatively obvious… and imagine the MLS names who were called up last month alongside the European stars will be a part of Berhalter’s plans.

That means Brad Guzan, Jorge Villafana, Reggie Cannon, Aaron Long, Marky Delgado, Sebastian Lletget, Wil Trapp, and Kellyn Acosta.

Zack Steffen and Walker Zimmerman are expected to seal January deals to Europe, so we’ll abstain from considering them in our 30.

Next, the top season performers in MLS. Crew forward Gyasi Zardes was the highest-scoring American player in MLS and did it under Berhalter’s tutelage, so it would say something about the player and coach if he wasn’t invited to camp.

Dom Dwyer was the second-leading American scorer in MLS — the only two Yanks in the Top 25 — while Teal Bunbury (26th), Chris Wondolowski (35th), Fafa Picault (36th), Christian Ramirez (44th) are in the Top 50.

You added correctly; Only six Americans were in the Top 50 for goal scoring in MLS.

It gets worse with assists. Cristian Roldan was the leading American playmaker with nine, good for 33rd in the league. Paul Arriola (37th), Sean Davis (40th), Miguel Ibarra (41st), Chris Mueller (48th) round out the Top 50.

There were plenty of very decent goalkeeping performances, as pretty much every top backstop this side of Andre Blake is American. Stefan Frei, Evan Bush, David Bingham, and Steffen were pretty good. Nick Rimando is a vet to the program, and Bill Hamid is sure to hear his name.

Anyone who’s read this site knows I love the advanced stats site WhoScored, and it’s MLS player rankings for Americans regurgitates plenty of the above names but tosses in some others: Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Keegan Rosenberry, Tim Parker, Russell Canouse, Edgar Castillo, Matt Hedges, Steve Birnbaum, and Nick Lima.

Other non-traditional calendar followers include Denmark, where Jonathan Amon plies his trade, and South Korea (remember Mix Diskerud? He was often linked with the Crew, but this still seems a long shot).

Also called up in the past year from MLS and still active? Ben Sweat, Alex Bono, Justin Morrow, Matt Polster, Danilo Acosta, Justen Glad, Darlington Nagbe, Kelyn Rowe, Marlon Hairston, Ian Harkes, Brooks Lennon, Juan Agudelo.

Finally, the young bucks… Unless I’m blanking, no one above is under the age of 23 except for Cannon. Every camp has its kids, and the Yanks just had some serious and proud representation at U-20 World Cup qualification. Philadelphia’s Mark McKenzie (CB), Paxton Pomykal (CM), and Jaylin Lindsey (LB/RB) are interesting for this.

So let’s try… for 30-32. Veteran heavy.

Goalkeepers (4): Guzan, Hamid, Bono, Klinsmann

Defenders (10): Long, Parker, Rosenberry, Birnbaum, Lima, Cannon, Villafana, Glad, McKenzie, Lennon

Midfielders (11): Canouse, Trapp, Michael Bradley, Romain Gall, Davis, Roldan, Arriola, Lletget, Delgado, K. Acosta, Nagbe

Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore, Amon, Zardes, Dwyer, Mueller