Soccer Down Here
3 Gifts the USMNT Gave Us This Year
by Bart Keeler
This was a weird year for everyone, but especially the sports world. Some club seasons stopped, some shortened, some ended with a sprint to the finish in a handful of weeks, and some just made up a tournament just because.
The United States men’s national team only played four times this year, with a 10-month hiatus in between. However, the head coach Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT players provided their fans with some fantastic gifts during the dismal year.
Must-Watch Club Form
During the COVID-19 interruption, USMNT fans were treated to stellar performances by stars at their professional clubs.
Christian Pulisic wowed during Project Restart, scoring four goals and two assists for Chelsea when the Premier League resumed in June. He also added a goal in the FA Cup Final.
Tyler Adams scored a banger in the Champions League quarterfinal to put RB Leipzig through to the semifinals.
Sergiňo Dest and Weston McKennie moved to two of the biggest clubs in the world between seasons.
Dest, after a standout season at Ajax, caught the eye of Barcelona. He scored in the Champions League and picked up an assist recently in La Liga. McKennie earned himself a move to Italian giants Juventus and his scissor-kick goal against Barcelona in the last group stage match set Twitter ablaze.
Gio Reyna burst onto the scene with Dortmund. In 2020, “The American Dream,” as he’s called by teammate Erling Haaland, scored four goals, tallied six assists, and appeared in 36 Bundesliga and Champions League matches, most before he even turned 18!
A record eight USMNTers appeared in Champions League matches, proving how deep the talent pool is. These inspiring performances gave USMNT fans a lot to cheer about in the absence of international matches.
Electrifying Debut Goals
Berhalter capped 21 new guys in just four matches in 2020. Of those, four men etched their name in the USMNT scorers list in their first appearance for the Red, White and Blue.
The excitement when Ulysses Llanez slammed home a penalty kick in the first match of 2020 in February (can you remember that far back?).
After nearly 10 months, the USMNT returned to action. They scored six against Panama in November to remind us why we felt so good about the young talent in the system.
In his first start, Niko Gioacchini netted two goals and Sebastian Soto scored once in his first-ever USMNT cap. Even Gio Reyna opened his scoring account with a sweet free-kick goal in his second-ever USMNT appearance.
In the final match of 2020, Chris Mueller and Ayo Akinola tallied debut goals for the senior national team. Mueller’s two goals capped off a superb 2020 for the 24-year-old Orlando City attacker (he even had a wedding in mid-December to truly make this the best year of this life).
Recruiting Dual Nationals
Building off the success of locking in Dest to the USMNT in 2019, Berhalter introduced many dual-national players to the program with call-ups this year. In addition to goal scorers Llanez, Gioacchini, Soto and Akinola, we saw Richy Ledezma, Yunush Musah, Owen Otasowie, Konrad de la Fuente and Johnny Cardoso take the field for their first caps as U.S. players.
Some of those names were likely to play for Berhalter regardless, but Musah was a real win for the manager in his recruiting efforts. The Valencia midfielder started both games in the November friendly and impressed alongside McKennie and Adams.
Berhalter also called in players currently tied to other countries like Erfrain Alvarez—a player coveted by both USMNT and Mexico—and Andres Perea. They participated in camp but could not play for the U.S.
The “Soccer Nick Saban” may need to work extra in 2021 to secure as much talent as possible for the numerous competitions facing the USMNT.
After a scarcity of international soccer in 2020, 2021 will be the exact opposite for USMNT fans. Starting with Olympic qualifying and running through the first three windows of World Cup Qualifying, USMNT teams could play up to 27 matches.
(photo credit: @USMNT)