The most encouraging sign for the current iteration of the US men’s national team is that its best, and as a result, most high-profile stars are all aged 22 or under.
The leading light in this group, Christian Pulisic, is a player who is well on the way to becoming one of the most entertaining attacking players in the world, and more encouragement comes from the fact some of his international teammates look more likely to join him at that level than get left behind.
This provides hope ahead of a World Cup on North American soil in 2026 after the US’s dismal failure to reach the 2018 tournament. By the time it arrives, this group of players will be in their prime years. They are not merely players for the future, though, they are players for now, and will play their part in the 2021 Gold Cup, and the 2022 World Cup.
Europe’s big clubs may be accused of spotting the marketing potential of American soccer players and signing them partly on that basis, but these are highly talented players regardless of their nationality. And this is perhaps the most exciting thing for US fans – their stars are mixing it with the world’s best and don’t look out of place.
Juventus, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona will all boast US stars among their ranks in the coming season. These players are not there to make up the numbers as squad players or names to sell shirts in the US, they are important parts of these clubs’ plans for success.
After the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, it would be tempting to suggest things can only get better. Things were so bad at that stage, though, that judging any improvement from such a low bar could lead to praise for underachievement.
Luckily, this new wave of young American soccer players are emerging in Europe where they are being schooled not with that failure in their minds, but with ambition and drive to succeed at the top level of the sport for their clubs.
They will continue to do so regardless of the success of the national team, but this should naturally bode well for the USA’s chances at international tournaments – if the right environment and an appropriate style of soccer exists when these players leave their clubs to perform national team duties.
Here’s a rundown of the best US prospects in Europe at the moment.
Club: Ajax (move to Barcelona pending)
Born in the Netherlands, the 19-year-old qualifies for the US through his Surinamese-American father. He provides the USMNT with the type of player every team needs in the modern game. He’s an attacking right-back who can also play on the left, with a set of attributes honed after dropping back from his position on the wing as a youth player at hometown team Almere City.
First a positional move, then a geographical one, across the IJmeer to Amsterdam where he developed at the famous Ajax academy into one of its most promising talents. A transfer to Barcelona awaits, where he will attempt to emulate a player to whom he has been compared, Dani Alves, and will spend at least one season linking up with one of the best players of all time, Lionel Messi. A decent schooling.
Club: RB Leipzig
While Dest offers freewheeling attacking width, Adams will be one of the players tasked with providing some insurance. A tactically versatile player who has performed admirably in the right-back role himself, the 21-year-old is best in the middle of the park, spoiling opposition attacks before using his increasingly impressive passing ability to launch them for his own team. He may not be the most eye-catching name on this list, but could become one of the most important.
While there may be questions around McKennie’s best role, there is no doubt he has the potential to be very useful for both Juventus and the US. He joined the Italian champions from Schalke 04 this summer, impressing on his debut. Learning more about the creative side of the game from new Juve boss Andrea Pirlo, who in his day was one of the best deep-lying playmakers in the game, will do the Texan no harm at all.
At the moment, he will knit a team together with presence as much as passing, and could complement Adams in the centre of the park. A threat at set pieces, and useful at defending those of the opposition, McKennie is the wildcard every pack needs.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Club: Borussia Dortmund
At 17, Reyna is the youngest of this bunch but is already experiencing football at a level most teenager footballers are still dreaming of. Following in the footsteps of Pulisic at Dortmund, the attacking midfielder is the son of former US international Claudio, and already has two Champions League appearances under his belt.
It feels like Pulisic has been around so long that he shouldn’t be on this list of young players. But still only 22, he has a rare zip about his attacking play, and it’s testament to his professionalism that he’s no longer thought of as an up and coming player but as one who is already a bona fide global star. If he continues on this trajectory he will be the best American men’s player of all time. If he hasn’t achieved that status already.