The USMNT returned from a 285-day hiatus on Thursday. A global pandemic and the U.S. federal government’s bungled response meant the Americans hadn’t taken the pitch since a friendly on Feb. 1. Since then, young Americans abroad have staked their claims as vital figures at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, from Borussia Dortmund to Juventus to Barcelona.
Watching the USMNT play Wales to a 0-0 draw, I couldn’t help but think about the exciting future ahead for a starting lineup with an average age of 22 years and 48 days, fourth-youngest in team history. And I couldn’t help but think we’ve seen the last of a few former USMNT stalwarts.
Though the 0-0 final score won’t impress many, the action on the pitch told a different story. The Americans didn’t plod around the pitch like they did in Cuova two years ago — they danced. Weston McKennie did pirouettes, Gio Reyna rampaged past defenders, Sergiño Dest diced opponents with elasticos. The youngsters moved with a pace, precision and confidence I haven’t seen regularly from a U.S. team since the 2002 World Cup. This team has a long, long way to go to match that team’s quality, but it’s on track to be even better, even if this was just Wales.
The U.S. sorely missed a true striker (Jozy Altidore has the MLS playoffs to prepare for and Werder Bremen didn’t allow Josh Sargent to leave for the friendlies), but a few USMNT regulars will have watched Thursday’s match and worried for their own international futures.
Here are five American players who may never play for their country again.
1) Michael Bradley
No player has received as much hate for that loss in Cuova two years ago than Michael Bradley. He perfectly embodied the slow, uninspired play that resulted in the disastrous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago that kept the U.S. out of the 2018 World Cup.
While I’ve long felt he’s actually underrated, the truth is that the 33-year-old who is third all time in USMNT caps and second in assists is not better than McKennie or Tyler Adams right now.
2) Gyasi Zardes
While it’s tempting to put Jozy Altidore on this list, the U.S. doesn’t have a ton of depth at the striker position at the moment. But when it comes to forward/winger hybrids, they’re overloaded with exciting talent with the likes of Yunus Musah, Konrad de la Fuente, Timothy Weah, Sebastian Soto, Uly Llanez and Richard Ledezma. Throw in Reyna too as a creative attacking force and say goodbye to Zardes and his monster-truck of a first touch.
3) Jordan Morris
Morris has a lot of qualities as a footballer, but the 26-year-old is going to have a hard time holding onto a roster spot when World Cup qualifying begins. Morris is in the same boat as Zardes: He’s got decent qualities but when the U.S. can call on young players who are actually getting playing time at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, the Seattle Sounders star will be left behind.
4) Omar Gonzalez
Gonzalez scored the freak own goal that resulted in the USMNT’s loss in Cuova. He probably shouldn’t have been on the pitch for that match, but that’s for a Bruce Arena story. There are few American defenders better than John Brooks who aren’t named Ertz, Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper, Krieger or Dunn and while his center-back partner position is up for grabs, Matt Miazga and Tim Ream have proven solid options with growing European experience. It’s hard to imagine the 32-year-old Texan making it back into the USMNT fold, even over younger MLS players like Mark McKenzie.
5) Cristian Roldan
Another Seattle Sounders player who will struggle to return to the national team, and we could add folks like Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola to this list. With players like Johnny, Nicholas Gioacchini and Owen Otasowie coming off the bench on Thursday, Roldan has likely seen himself fall further down the pecking order for Berhalter’s future plans.
Farewell, Michael Bradley. Goodbye, Gyasi Zardes. Adios, Jordan Morris. Auf wiedersehen, Cristian Roldan. Good luck, Omar Gonzalez. Thank you for your service, but this team must move on.