Opinion: The future of the USMNT is now its present

Jake Adams headshot

Jacob Adams

On a warm night in Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. men’s national soccer team walked off the field having disappointed their country. They failed to make the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.  Fans were shocked at the result. All that was needed was a draw to advance, and Trinidad had already been eliminated from the World Cup. American hopes for the World Cup this summer were crushed, and it seemed liked the end was near.

Sevens months later, after the firing of Bruce Arena and resignation of Sunil Gulati, the team is beginning to rebuild with youth. On Monday, the United States beat a weak Bolivia by 3-0. Normally, this match would go unnoticed as a “warm-up” for the World Cup; however, it was the debut for many young Americans.

Eighteen year-olds Tim Weah and Josh Sargent both scored on their international debuts. Tim Weah is the son of legendary soccer player and current Liberian president George Weah. He earned his first professional minutes this year with French powerhouse, Paris-Saint Germain. Josh Sargent recently signed with German club Werder Bremen, but has yet to play in a professional game.

Antonee Robinson (age 20), Erik Palmer-Brown (21), Alex Bono (24), Keaton Parks (20), and Matthew Olosunde (20) all made their international debuts as well. Besides Alex Bono, these youngsters all represents massive clubs in Europe. Robinson represents Everton, Palmer-Brown was signed by Manchester City this year, Parks has gained first team minutes with Portuguese club Benefica, and Olosunde has been working his way up through Manchester United’s youth program.

The complete roster average age was 22 years old. To put it in perspective, it was essentially made up of college-aged players. This valuable time with the national team would have not come had the U.S. qualified for this year’s World Cup.

As a diehard United States national team fan — looking back at the squads from the World Cup qualifiers — it would have not been a good outcome in Russia. Bruce Arena would take about the same team he had in the 2006 World Cup to Russia. That is never a good sign. While that crop of players were young and talented, they are past their peak. We would have maybe crashed out of the group stage, maybe won a single game.

One aspect of the national team that has been neglected over the last few years is integrating young talent. Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Jordan Morris, and Bobby Wood are the only young players within those years to get 20+ appearances with the national team. All of those players, especially Pulisic, are crucial to this team. Outside of that, it would’ve been the same as always. A 39 year-old Tim Howard in goal, a 35-year old Clint Dempsey up front. Teams who win consistently are always rejuvenating.

The optimistic in me likes to think that this youth movement will show positive results. Especially since these players are talented, which is clear based on the clubs they represent. At worst, all of this integration of young players will only deepen the national team pool.

Now that we have so much time to develop a group of players before the next World Cup qualification, we can build a solid foundation of young players. When we watch the national team in the near future, it won’t just be the Christian Pulisic show. He’ll be surrounded by players who he has grown used to playing with, players who have the same amount of skill as him.

If you want to see this young team in action, they’ll be playing two friendlies in Europe. One against Ireland (June 2nd), and the other against France (June 9th). Expect a couple more youngsters to turn some heads against formidable competition. The future of U.S. men’s soccer starts now.

 Jacob Adams is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].