While the USMNT squad that beat Bosnia & Herzegovina on Saturday night was mostly composed of MLS players, head coach Gregg Berhalter had the chance to evaluate several players who currently do, or soon will ply their trade overseas.
Of the 26-man roster that participated in the camp leading up to the game on Saturday, only three currently play overseas – Bryan Reynolds at AS Roma, Taylor Booth in FC Bayern’s youth setup and Johnny Cardoso at Brazil’s Internacional. A pair of players set for overseas moves in January, Caden Clark and Jonathan Gomez, also participated ahead of their trips across the Atlantic ocean to Germany and Spain respectively.
In the game on Saturday, three of these, Cardoso, Reynolds and Gomez took the field, with the Internacional midfielder being the only one in the starting lineup.
After the game, Berhalter gave his honest thoughts about these players’ performances, and what each potentially brings to the team’s game.
For Reynolds, who played just under 30 minutes as a substitute, this amounted to the only substantial competitive playing time since he went the full 90 minutes for Roma in an October Europa Conference League game in Norway. That in turn was the only time since the spring that he had played more than a few moments at the tail-end of a game.
He has essentially been frozen out by current Roma head coach Jose Mourinho, as evidenced by the Portuguese coach’s willingness to let him leave Italy in the midst of Serie A games to join the recently finished camp.
Berhalter recognized that this lack of regular competitive play since his move to Italy nearly one year ago has been a hindrace to his development.
“You could surely see the rust [in the game] and that’s something that he can’t help, Berhalter admitted. “He’s doing his best in training, he’s doing his best to get on the field and it’s been difficult for him.”
“You can see he lacks rhythm,” he concluded.
Perhaps as a gentle push for a loan move for the defender, as has been heavily rumored in recent weeks, with Brugge and Hull being the current whispers, Berhalter pointed out that securing playing time will be a necessary pre-requisite for the Texan to be a contributor going forward.
“[Bryan is] a player that we believe in as a staff,” he pointed out, offering the warning, “We think he’s a top talent and he has really high potential, but he needs to be playing regularly. He needs to get rhythm if he’s going to help us in qualifying.”
The Brazilian-American Cardoso, the only player of the aforementioned group to start, is an interesting, if not somewhat mysterious prospect. Even though the 20 year-old has played in the American youth setup for several years and has a total of 40 Serie A appearances with his Porto Alegre-based club team, he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the rest of the primary USMNT squad, largely due to the glut of high-level central midfielders currently at Berhalter’s disposal.
After his 63-minute performance, where he held down the fort alongside senior regulars Cristian Roldan and Kellyn Acosta, Berhalter was complimentary, but gave little away in terms of what kind of potential he sees for the New Jersey-born player to break into the main squad anytime soon.
“[He is] another young player [in the] 2001 year [group], and a 20 year-old that’s playing in the Serie A in Brazil [at a] high level,” the coach introduced.
“For the most part he had a good performance. As the game went he faded a little bit,” Berhalter admitted, however pointing out, “the field was really heavy, [we had] a compact opponent, and it was a very difficult game to play in.”
The highest praise from the coach was reserved for Gomez, a player who barely made it onto the field against the Bosnians, however who made an overwhelmingly positive impression during he course of the camp.
The 18 year-old defender, originally born in the Dallas/Forth Worth area of Texas, has taken a non-standard development path of beginning his professional career in USL with Louisville City, but will joint Spanish team Real Sociedad in January. While he will begin his overseas career in their reserve team, which still competes in Spain’s high-quality second-division La Liga 2, the chance to work under one of Spain’s all-time great players, head coach Xabi Alonso, already indicates a bright future for the youngster.
“I’ve been impressed with [him] in camp for just the way he’s embraced all of this,” Berhalter gushed. “I said to the team that it’s not easy coming from the USL, [and then] playing with all the elite of MLS players [and] some international players as well.”
“You can see at times he was struggling, [so] he had to regain his confidence and just reapply himself,” he pointed out regarding him having to make the step up in quality.
“But I think that’s the strength of Jonathan,” he continued. “He’s got a terrific mindset, he’s resilient, he’s got character and he just keeps fighting. When we put him on, that’s all we’re hoping for is this, [that] he competes. And that’s what he did. He’s very aggressive in duels and in the end, he was he was on the field when we scored the winning goal so, that’s a great feeling for him.”
Being a Mexican-American dual citizen with one of the more promising futures of any 18 year-olds in either program, there has been much concern about whether his long-term future lies with the Stars and Stripes or El Tri, both of whom he has represented at various levels as a youth player.
However, this appearance, along with the coach’s words and recent comments in an interview about his upcoming plans with the USA U-20 squad seem to have put this question, at least for the foreseeable future, to rest.
All in all, while the camp was primarily the means for Berhalter and the USMNT staff to keep their MLS-based contributors ready and in-form for their upcoming January qualifiers, it still provided valuable data, and perhaps a couple friendly pushes in the right direction for current and future YAs on the fringes.