Since that fateful night in Couva in 2017 that saw America fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, there hasn’t been much to celebrate for fans of the USMNT. Losing to Trinidad and Tobago was bad enough. Worse, perhaps, was the feeling of that fate being well deserved.
Two plus years later does the American soccer fan have any reason for hope?
The team has not impressed under Gregg Berhalter. However, there may be help on the way from a young cohort both in MLS and overseas.
Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, each 21, and Tyler Adams, 20, are now counted on by both club and country. Josh Sargent is banging on the door with Werder Bremen. Tim Weah is healthy again and ready to compete for playing time with Lille. Sergino Dest continues to impress at Ajax.
The final three of that group are all 19 years old.
But the U.S. talent pool has proved shallow in the past, so today we will take a look at four prospects on the verge of making the breakthrough to first team soccer in some of the biggest leagues in the world. Hopefully some of these youngsters, none older than 19, will soon deepen that pool.
The Future: Germany
Giovanni Reyna – 17 years old – Borussia Dortmund
The youngest player on our list, Reyna has been on the radar for quite some time given his tender age. The son of “Captain America” Claudio Reyna, Gio made Dortmund’s game day 18 and is currently part of the BVB winter camp. Reyna scored his first senior goal for Dortmund in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Feyenoord as he looks to follow the Pulisic template of impressing during the Winterpause before making the breakthrough in the second half of the campaign.
At 6’1” Reyna is an attack minded midfielder with the speed to play wide, the technique to pick a pass and a nose for goal. Reyna chose Dortmund over NYCFC, where he starred in the team’s academy. He has captained the U17 U.S. side at the World Cup and impressed in Dortmund’s U19 team, scoring five goals and adding six assists in 14 appearances.
Word broke today, Monday, that Reyna will stay on with the senior side after the break, although he will still be available to the U19’s.
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most likely, odds that Reyna will make his 1st team league debut: 4.5*
*Higher if Jaden Sancho makes his big money move in January rather than the summer.
Ulysses Llanez – 18 years old – Wolfsburg
A veteran of the U20 World Cup, Llanez came up through the Los Angeles Galaxy system. Lllanez made his professional debut for the Galaxy’s USL squad, LA Galaxy II as a 16 year old in October 2017. He went on to score two goals in 12 matches before signing with Wolfsburg on his 18th birthday.
With 10 goals in 11 games, Lllanez has taken the Bundesliga U19 league by storm, earning an invitation to the USMNT senior January camp. Perhaps with an eye on Olympic qualification, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter has called in a young squad. Llanez is also eligible for Mexico, so the Olympics may be an offering to keep Llanez in the U.S. fold.
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most likely, odds that Llanez will make his 1st team league debut: 2
With Wolfsburg in ninth place and battling for a European spot, manager Oliver Glasner may be reluctant to trust the young American and the Olympics could also be a factor.
On the other hand, with just 18 goals from 17 games, tied for last in the Bundesliga, Die Wölfe, may opt to see if Llanez is ready to step up.
The Future: England
The American presence in England’s Premier League has shrunk dramatically in recent years. Just Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and DeAndre Yedlin are currently flying the Stars and Stripes in Old Blighyt’s top flight.
Here are two surprising candidates to add to the number in the second half of the 2019/20 season.
Indiana Vassilev – 18 years old – Aston Villa
With a pair of Cup appearences under his belt, Vassilev is getting closer and closer to making his Premier League debut for the relegation-threatened Villians. A run of four goals in six matches for the Birmingham sides U23’s earned the Georgia native a closer look at first team action.
An attacking midfielder/forward, Vassilev was in the 18 but did not see action in Sunday’s 6-1 hammering by Manchester City. However with Villa short on attacking options, Vassilev’s chances of a 1st team debut this season look good.
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most likely, odds that Vassilev will make his 1st team league debut: 4
Owen Otasowie – 18 years old – Wolverhampton Wanderers
A rangy New York native capable of playing as a central midfielder or a center back, Otasowie has already made his senior debut for Wolves, coming on at midfield versus Besiktas in Europa League play.
Otasowie has since made the bench on a couple of occasions, although he was left out of the 18 for Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle.
Unlike most of the other players on this list, Otasowie does not have an extensive history with U.S youth teams – is that applause I hear? Otasowie has made three U18 apperences with the Nats but he has clearly caught the eye at Wolverhampton, earning a new contract through 2022. This may or may not cool interest from -via the Daily Mail– the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, PSG, and Real Madrid.
All of which is likely a bit of British tabloid “Silly Season” nonsense but Otaswie has moved quickly up the ladder at a very good Wolves side. Will we see him make his Premier league debut this season? Wolves are chasing a European position and have plenty of talent on hand.
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most likely, odds that Otasowie will make his 1st team league debut: 2
Others to watch
Also keep an eye out for Chris Durkin, who is already playing first team football with Sint Truiden in the Belgian top flight.
Richie Ledezma, PSV Eindhoven, is impressing for Jong PSV.
Florida born, raised in Argentina, 18 year-old Matko Miljevic has made a handful of appearances in Argentina’s Primera Division for Argentinos Junior and is currently part of U20 camp with the United States.
Peter Nolan has been on the soccer beat for many years now, covering the United States Men's and Women's teams, from the SnowClasico to Azteca and back again. Along with the US national teams, Peter will provide insight into the MLS and NWSL, with a focus on the NY Red Bulls and NYCFC.