Monday’s release of the US men’s national team roster for the 2020 edition of January camp contained several head-turners, from the nods given to MLS youngsters like Julian Araujo and Sam Vines to the immediate call to Jesus Ferreira just two weeks after the FC Dallas Homegrown received his US citizenship.
But let’s be real, the biggest surprise of the bunch is the trio selected from outside MLS: Christian Cappis, Bryang Kayo and Uly Llanez.
Each of these three have huge talent and interesting backstories. Here’s a rundown.
Somewhere in a parallel universe, “Capi” might be a starter in the FC Dallas engine room alongside Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal right now – or perhaps already signed and transferred on to a big European club like his academy teammate Chris Richards, now at Bayern Munich. A rangy, determined central midfielder who can distribute, shoot and destroy opponents’ buildups with equal aplomb, he’s been in the youth national team pool for some time and has a good shot at making the 2020 Olympic squad.
After winning a U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship in 2017 under the tutelage of former MLS player Eric Quill at youth side Texans SC Houston, Cappis and Richards moved on to FCD’s academy. Both impressed, and both were apparently targeted for Homegrown deals. Richards, an Alabama native, signed his and was eventually sold on to Bayern for a reported seven-figure transfer fee.
But according to media reports as well as the words of the player himself, FCD was prevented from signing him – supposedly due to him being a Houston native and therefore part of the Dynamo’s catchment area, even though he had no ties to La Naranja. Long story short, he wound up in Denmark with Hobro IK, where he’s playing regularly in the 2019-20 SuperLiga campaign.
Like Cappis, Kayo is a do-it-all center mid and a target for a Homegrown deal who got away – in his case with his hometown club D.C. United, where he played academy ball from 2017-19.
Earlier this year the Black-and-Red moved him up to get minutes with Loudoun United, their USL Championship side, and offered him an HGP deal as he starred at Generation adidas Cup and earned a spot on the US U-17 World Cup squad, showcasing physical gifts, a composed demeanor and well-rounded skillset.
But when Kayo and D.C. were unable to agree on terms, he moved on to a brief stint with USL’s Orange County SC as he prepared for the U-17 World Cup – largely a stopgap as he waits for his 18th birthday (which is in July), at which point he’ll be officially eligible to sign a pro contract with a European club, which is widely reported to be Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg. It’s a huge compliment to him, and his massive upside, that he’s gotten this call from Gregg Berhalter so early in the process.
Now this is one name capable of breaking American Soccer Twitter. Speaking of Wolfsburg, that’s a move Llanez has already made, departing the LA Galaxy system to try his hand in Germany, and so far he’s made steady progress, regularly contributing to the Wolves’ U-19 side as he climbs towards a first-team debut. He’s also been a dangerous, at times dominant, attacking force for the US U-20s.
A cunning, creative winger, Llanez has been drawing attention since his adolescent days in the Chivas USA academy (RIP) thanks to his technical ability and daring, aggressive mindset. Here’s a detailed report on his toolkit, and some words from former Galaxy II coach Mike Munoz, who knows Uly from both academy and USL action:
“Uly always had individual, one vs. one capabilities that made him different from everyone else. He's a game-changer and he's fearless. He doesn't care if he's taking on MLS guys, USL guys. When he gets the ball there's only one thing on his mind: he wants to beat you.”
A SoCal native, Llanez is also dual-eligible due to his Mexican heritage, and has spent time in youth national team camps with El Tri. While he seems content in the US system at present, it’s a smart move by Berhalter to show he’s valued with this senior call-up. And Llanez’s greatest strengths are in an area of need for the USMNT, so don’t be surprised if he rises up the depth chart ahead of schedule.