Let’s paint a picture for you. The year is 2017, just over three years to the day in fact – October 10th – and the USA are facing Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
Unsurprisingly, the United States were expected to win, especially against the bottom-placed team in their qualifying group. By gaining three points or even a draw, they would secure qualification to the 2018 World Cup.
However, life is never simple, and on a pitch that was hardly fit for the elite footballer, the unexpected occurred.
The USA had a two-point advantage over their nearest rivals heading into the final game so Panama had to win while praying that America lost in order to reach their first-ever World Cup.
Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Bruce Arena’s side were beaten 2-1 by T&T and in unlikely circumstances, both Panama and Honduras won.
It was an embarrassing moment for the United States, suffering a defeat that was described as the “worst loss in USMNT history.” Consequently, Arena resigned and America watched the most prestigious competition in football from home.
Gregg Berhalter has since taken over and there is renewed hope ahead of 2026 when they co-host the World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico.
But why, I hear you ask? Because they are currently bringing through a golden generation of players.
The USA currently has some of the most exciting young talent on the planet and after the summer transfer window closed, they could name an entire starting XI purely playing in Europe.
On its day, that attack has enormous potential, while the midfield and full-backs are also incredibly dynamic. Excitement and intrigue, as a result, is building.
Speaking exclusively to GIVEMESPORT, Steven Goff of the Washington Post said: “The rise of young U.S. players at big clubs in Europe certainly supports the belief that a golden generation is here.”
However, it’s important to apply some perspective. Despite having players at Barcelona, Juventus and Chelsea, Goff added: “It’s still a bit too early to make such a proclamation. They need to play consistent minutes and contribute over multiple club seasons, while also forming a cohesive national team that qualifies and performs well at the World Cup.”
That being said, this is an incredibly exciting time to support the USMNT. Brian Sciaretta of American Soccer Now told GIVEMESPORT:
“Things are certainly on the upswing. Everyone knows about Pulisic, Reyna, Dest, McKennie and Adams who are all playing for Champions League teams, but people are missing the most exciting news – that the overall American player is better.”
Sciaretta is spot on. Soccer in the United States is becoming more and more popular and with plenty of names starring in European competitions, who can blame those who have a renewed sense of optimism about their country.
Pulisic, for obvious reasons, has earned comparisons to Eden Hazard. The nifty £54m-rated winger has replaced the Madrid star on Chelsea’s flanks and has quickly become one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League.
The 22-year-old scored 11 goals and claimed ten assists in 34 outings last season, even netting in the FA Cup final against Arsenal.
MLS editor at World Football Index, Chris Smith, told GIVEMESPORT that Pulisic could be even better than the man he’s replaced:
“I’ll probably get shot down for this but I think he actually has a higher ceiling. Hazard was and still is an incredible talent but for one reason or another, lacked consistency year in, year out. Pulisic has already proved how much of a difference-maker he can be for Chelsea.”
Fortunately for the young attacker, the burden won’t fall solely on his shoulders. The USA has plenty of talented young individuals and it’s another to have come through the ranks at Borussia Dortmund who is now one to watch.
Son of Claudio Reyna, a man with 112 caps to his name, is Giovanni, a 17-year-old born in Sunderland, England.
Remarkably, he is yet to be capped at senior level, but it’s surely only a matter of time. The attacking midfielder played 15 times in the Bundesliga last term, making two Champions League appearances in the process.
“Reyna is a phenomenal talent,” Sciaretta tells GMS.
“Playing as the top playmaker for a club like Dortmund – at just 17 – is very unusual and it puts him up there as one of the top 2002-born players in the world,” he adds.
But there are other more established players ahead of him. Midfielder Weston McKennie has just been signed by Juventus on loan while there are several Americans featuring in the Bundesliga alongside Reyna; Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams, Chris Richards and John Brooks all currently play in Germany.
It’s no surprise to see such excitement, especially from Chris Smith who told us: “We’ve never seen this level of US talent in Europe at once before and they’re not just taking a shirt number either, they’re acting as some of the most important players for their teams.”
Alongside Pulisic in England, you also have Antonee Robinson of Fulham and Zack Steffen at Manchester City. That’s without forgetting Tim Ream and DeAndre Yedlin as well.
Even Barcelona have an American player at their disposal – Sergino Dest – someone who cost the Spanish giants £18.9m this summer.
Sciaretta comments: “McKennie and Dest have big challenges at Juventus and Barcelona but I like their chances.”
Goff expanded: “Dest has been given an incredible opportunity to make his mark and secure regular playing time at a giant club. He shows enormous promise.”
Dest is just a number of reasons to believe that a golden generation is emerging in the United States but surprisingly, he isn’t the only young American on the scene at Barcelona.
19-year-old winger Konrad de la Fuente, born in Miami, is part of their B team and the future looks bright for him as well.
“Konrad has certainly made some huge strides in his game. Everything we’ve heard about him training with their first team has been promising,” Sciaretta said.
Smith was also full of praise, suggesting that “the kid has bags of talent.”
But it’s not all about the European prospects. MLS has its own pool of players to call upon, something Sciaretta was keen to stress:
“There are plenty of players I like on the domestic side here. Brenden Aaronson is a star for Philadelphia and should be moving to Salzburg next year. Caden Clark on the New York Red Bulls is only 17 and I think he has a very bright future too.”
Smith added: “If you’re looking for players that are perhaps a little more under the radar, 18-year-old left-back George Bello has been one of Atlanta United’s few bright sparks throughout the 2020 MLS season. If he can double down on his defending, the United States will be set at left-back for years.”
So, with a World Cup approaching in 2022 before they co-host one four years later, the USMNT looks in a promising position. In six years time, many of these players will be at their peak, but just qualifying for a tournament after the embarrassment of 2017 will be an achievement.
Goff suggested to GIVEMESPORT that supporters may have to remain patient and realistic in the coming years. “First things first: The United States needs to qualify,” the Washington Post reporter declared.
“American soccer is still haunted by the fiasco in Trinidad and Tobago last cycle. The pandemic has caused delays and disruptions to Gregg Berhalter’s plans, stalling the integration of new players and the implementation of tactics. On paper, the future is bright, but the execution is still unfulfilled,” Goff stated.
Everything won’t click into gear overnight. For USA’s new golden generation, they will have to overcome regular transatlantic flights for training camps and matches while they’ll also have to discover their own unique style.
Many of these players haven’t been together yet and the USMNT’s last competitive match was in November 2019.
Therefore, head coach Berhalter has a task on his hands. He has some of the best talent America has ever seen at his disposal, but finding a system and a way of playing will be tricky.
It’s rare we see a golden generation succeed too. Just look at England’s team at the turn of the millennium or even Belgium’s side now. They may be at number one in FIFA’s rankings, but they are yet to win a tournament.
The likes of Timothy Weah, Dest, Reyna and Adams are all rising stars, but much of their career will be judged by the American public on their achievements for their country.
Goff concluded: “The success of the national team will ultimately determine whether these players become household names.”
If the USA do well at the next few major tournaments, these players will truly be put on the map.
Fortunately, Smith thinks they’ll do exactly that: “I’ve had this conversation a few times before, there is so much talent yet to move from MLS to Europe that I don’t see a universe where the USA aren’t at least dark horses on their own turf. My bold prediction so far has been USA to make the semi-finals, Mexico the quarter-finals and Canada to make it out of their group. You heard it here first.”
For now, success at international level is nothing but a pipe dream. Though, if they are going to go beyond the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time since 1930, the next six years will be their ideal chance.
The American public will just have to hope that Reyna and co become more of a Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, as opposed to the next Freddy Adu.
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