Young, promising U.S. men's national soccer team could get extra boost from dual-national players
Three wins and one draw wasn't bad for a limited season for the U.S. men's national soccer team in 2020.
If you ask USMNT trainer Gregg Berhalter, seeing indicators of the increasing depth of their program domestically and abroad has been her biggest win.
"This is still a young group," said Berhalter. “But the sky is the limit. Next year is a big year and we need a lot of players. "
In Europe, Weston McKennie (Juventus), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Sergino Dest (Barcelona), recently named US Football's Male Player of the Year, have shown remarkable performances at three of the continent's leading clubs.
And earlier this month, a mostly MLS-based roster of nine players making their international debut beat El Salvador 6-0.
Julian Araujo, one of those young debutants, assisted in one of Chris Mueller's two goals.
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Julian Araujo (2) controls the ball against El Salvador during the international friendly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Berhalter still has many squad decisions to make before a busy calendar for 2021 includes two friendly games in March, the Concacaf Nations League in June, the Gold Cup in July, World Cup qualifiers in late August / early September and the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Berhalter's hope is that Araujo and other doubles internationals will continue to have roster options en route to Qatar.
Araujo, a 19-year-old LA Galaxy defender whose parents are Mexicans, neglected his long-term plans earlier this month. Araujo has been contacted by Mexico coach Tata Martino but said playing for the US was "something to check my goals".
"It's a tough decision and it's really hard for me," said Araujo before making his debut. "I just want to grow as a player and get better every day."
Araujo showed his potential against El Salvador with the ability to create opportunities as he did on multiple campaigns and his precise cross that made Mueller's successful header dive.
Araujo made 17 starts for the Galaxy during the 2020 MLS season, scored one goal and three assists, and attended US camp in January.
"He learns and can adapt and understand," said Berhalter. “Our employees have fixed expectations of us and as a player you have to be able to adapt. I think we saw some real progress in Julian's game. I let him know that he is not afraid of making mistakes. We all have each other's backs. All the full-backs were fired early to win the airballs and he was great. "
Along with Araujo, the 20-year-old Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola has ties to Canada and Nigeria. Akinola shared a glimpse of his talent when he closed a 3v1 goal scoring opportunity that resulted in his first international goal.
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Ayo Akinola scores a goal against El Salvador at the Inter Miami CF Stadium.
And then there are others who don't have the USA in their squad for an international match.
Efrain Alvarez, an 18-year-old Galaxy midfielder, would have to request a one-time move as he played for Mexico's U17 side. Alvarez had already played for the US U15 squad in 2016.
"(Alvarez) is a guy that you want around the ball," said Berhalter. "I could see him in an attacking midfield or winger role and even a 9 role."
Orlando City midfielder Andres Perea, 20, was also absent as he is in the same situation as Alvarez, who played for the Colombian U20 side.
Daryl Dike (Nigeria), a 20-year-old Orlando City striker, was unable to play El Salvador due to an injury, as was the case with 19-year-old former Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa (quadriceps) who is of Mexican descent. 20-year-old Cincinnati FC midfielder Frankie Amaya (Mexico) tested positive for COVID-19 before the game.
"With Daryl he showed us a lot of potential," said Berhalter. "He's an example of that, just like Andres. He has really good reach and can cover ground. A very interesting young player in the league. Ayo has great off-ball movement and can find space. (Amaya) is very aggressive on defense . He can win tackles and you can integrate him into what we do. It would be interesting to win and work with him. "
A total of 38 players made their international debut during Berhalter's two-year tenure - a record for a US head coach.
If most or all of the above talents choose the US, it could make all the difference in both qualifying and on the field when they reach the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
At the moment Berhalter can only present his case.
"They are still young players," said Berhalter. “You still have the world in front of you, and we just want to bring it into our environment and show what our environment is about. And then it's up to them in the end to make a decision that they ultimately commit to, and we'll be fine with whatever they choose. "
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: USMNT is recruiting dual citizens ahead of the hectic 2021 campaign
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