The U.S. Men’s National team is getting set to play against top-20 opponents Brazil and Mexico on Sept. 7 and 11, respectively. With Christian Pulisic out injured and Josh Sargent still getting acclimated to his Werder Bremen team, who are the players to keep an eye on?
Let’s take a look.
Goalkeeper: Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC)
After decades of an American goalkeeper being one of the best players on the team, the USMNT currently has a goalkeeper battle going on and it is wide open. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are out, as is longtime backup Nick Rimando. Bill Hamid struggled given his chance, Ethan Horvath showed he isn’t ready, and William Yarbrough hasn’t been in the picture since late 2016.
Of the keepers left, Alex Bono and Zack Steffen have emerged as the two players to replace Howard. After three impressive performances in 2018, it looks like it is Steffen’s job to lose. Interim Head Coach Dave Sarachan will most likely stick with the 23-year-old against Brazil and this will be Steffen’s biggest test to prove if he can keep up with some of the best players in the world.
Defender: John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
John Brooks should be the clear starting center back for the U.S. but injuries have plagued his international career. After breaking through in the 2014 World Cup, Brooks has played in just 31 games for the Yanks. When healthy he is a brick wall — even trending on Twitter as #WallofBrooks — but he has not been healthy and, as such, has not been in the USMNT picture. At just 25 years old he is still young enough to remain in the national team picture during this current youth movement, but he needs to prove his worth all over again.
Midfielder: Weston McKennie (Schalke)
He’s 20 years old, has four international caps, and all eyes are on him. Weston McKennie has shown glimpses in the past year of what he is capable of and that he can be the number six that the U.S. needs. He is a workhorse in the middle of the field who can get forward but also has the ability to hold his own defensively. He has played in all 180 minutes of Schalke’s first two Bundesliga matches and continues to improve. Getting time against Brazil and Mexico, and then, most likely, Colombia, England, and Italy in the next few months will be a big test to see where his abilities currently are.
Forwards: Andrija Novakovich (Fotuna Sittard), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC)
The one thing that is certain in the Sarachan era is that every player is going to be given a chance. For the strikers, this is especially true. While Sargent will most likely play a large part moving forward, he is still just 18 years old and not good enough — yet — to be the starter every day. Andrija Novakovich, Bobby Wood, and Gyasi Zardes will all get playing time in the next week and, plain and simple, need to capitalize on their chances. Against teams like Brazil and Mexico, the strikers might only get two or three chances all game to score and they need to make it count. Can one of these three step up when they are called upon?
Those are the players I’ll have my eyes on in the upcoming friendlies. Who are you eager to see?