Armchair Analyst: More USYNT prospects & other thoughts | Mailbag

For Monday I wrote about the very best USYNT prospects of the past quarter century. So for today's mailbag, let's start there:

To answer this question I'm going to go back a month to my "US prospects' club situation broken down by tiers" column and use the definition of "prospect" I came up with for that one:

Prospect: A player still eligible for the USYNT at some level, but who has not graduated to regular full USMNT appearances. So guys like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Jackson Yueill and Reggie Cannon (and a bunch of others) are not "prospects" even though all are eligible for the Olympic qualifying squad, and two of them – Yueill and Cannon – were on it. Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah are also on this list.

None of those guys is a prospect anymore. All of them are blooded, full-time senior-level pros.

Here are my five:

Paxton Pomykal: You might have heard once or twice that I rate Paxton Pomykal, as do a (growing) number of big clubs in Europe. He needs to clean it up and be more goal-dangerous both as a finisher and creator in the 18, and there are times when he over-dribbles. But the list of teenaged American central midfielders who were as good and as impactful as Pomykal in a top flight, literally ever, is Tyler Adams and Michael Bradley. That's the whole list.

Pomykal is that same level of player as those guys. That means a team like Roma could be in his future, or a Champions League team in the Bundesliga or elsewhere. If he stays healthy, that's where he's headed.

If he stays healthy, he's also headed to a larger role for the USMNT. If I was Gregg Berhalter I'd probably throw him into the midfield trio with Adams and Weston McKennie and just press the hell out of everything. The real decision is "do we play Pomykal as the right-side Free 8 because he actually drives the game forward more when he's on the right side of the field, or do we play him as the left-sided Free 8 so he can actually flair out wide and allow left winger Christian Pulisic to tuck inside?"

Cohort: 2019 US U-20s; starter

Miles Robinson: It seems pretty obvious that Robinson would've gotten more minutes and would've anchored the US Olympic qualifying effort had Atlanta released him, and had COVID-19 not happened. He still has moments where he relies too much on his athleticism to put out fires, but that's true of virtually any young CB. That tendency will probably go away with reps.

The big knock on Robinson had been his lack of comfort with the ball on his foot and poor distribution, but neither of those were evident last year – his first as a starter. I'm not saying he was Michael Parkhurst with how he was pinging the ball around, but he did a very nice job of usually hitting the right pass with the right weight to the right foot at the right time, and limited his mistakes.

Give me a lock-down CB who can do that.

Cohort: 2017 U-20s; didn't make the squad

Robbie Robinson: This one's almost entirely just a gut feeling, but Robinson was absolutely tearing D.C. United up in the second game of his rookie season before coming off with an injury. Miami run a relatively tight ship and it's hard to judge leaks out of an expansion club, but part of the reason they're starting to think harder about spending that third DP slot on a midfielder instead of a forward is because they're really, really high on Robinson.

If this kid gets to play as the 9 in front of Rodolfo Pizarro and James Rodriguez he's going to score a bajillion goals. And anybody who scores a bajillion goals gets a look. 

Cohort: 2017 U-20s; has never appeared for the US at any level

Richie Ledezma: PSV think he's good enough. Know how you can tell? Because they paid him a lot of money not just for this year, but for several years into the future. With the way things work in the Eredivisie, those teams have to either fish or cut bait. They're fishing.

It is easy to see why. Ledezma has easy speed and a true creator's spark of magic. He is fun:

I feel like this summer's Olympics could've/would've been a huge chance for him to break out after a relatively strong year with Jong PSV. Like everything else, his development has to have been put on pause for a bit.

But on the other side of this thing, don't be surprised if Ledezma makes a real case to be a starter for both club and country. He's talented enough.

Cohort: 2019 U-20s; off-the-bench attacking option

Frankie Amaya: It is probably too early to get too excited about Amaya, who hasn't even officially moved back to the No. 6 yet. But he's going to move to the No. 6 (or maybe a destroying No. 8 in front of a regista), and he is going to make you miserable.

Amaya is not about to let you take lazy touches against him, and he's not about to give you passing lanes, and if he's forced you to play backwards to your teammate, then what you've actually done is just invite your teammate to enjoy the "damn I'm getting closed down real hard by this guy" experience.

A friend – a Crew fan – raises this point: How many excellent 5-foot-4 defensive midfielders are there these days? The answer is "not a lot." It's a concern, and one that might end up dictating where, on the field, Amaya does eventually play.

But at this point I've started thinking of him as a poor man's Tyler Adams. He is smart, he is relentless, he chews up ground, he challenges everything, and he wins the ball. And I don't mind, at all, when he gets the ball in tough spots:

Did I just compare him to Adams in one breath and Ozzie Alonso in the next? Yes. Is it too soon for that? Probably. But I'm laying down a marker here so I can say "I told you so" later.

Cohort: 2019 U-20s; one of the final cuts to the World Cup roster

The Red Bulls have been doing that since they were the MetroStars. Tim Howard was actually signed and played for "MetroStars Black," which was essentially a reserve team, all the way back in 1998. And they have a long list of young players who've turned into major contributors for both club and country.

But RBNY's academy definitely took a step backwards over the second half of the 2010s – aided by NYCFC showing up on the scene and out-recruiting them for the 2000s through '03s – and so they've had to do a reassessment from both the top down and bottom up. There's now some distance between them and the best academies in MLS.

At this moment, though, it's pretty clear that FC Dallas are head and shoulders above the crowd when it comes to identifying, integrating and developing top talent for their first team and then the national team. They are the best.

I'm curious, though, whether LAFC will have caught up to them in five years.

More people should follow Paul Calixte.

You need to be healthy and whole and firing on damn near all cylinders if you're going to beat a Liga MX side in the CCL. Atlanta United have been none of those things either of these past two years.

So I think what it comes down to is "if you want to win it, you've got to plan to win it." That's what RSL did 10 years ago and what Montreal did five years ago, what TFC and the Red Bulls did in 2018 and what LAFC did this year. If it's your priority, then make it your priority.

The Five Stripes didn't do that.

Of those three you mentioned it would've been Diego Rossi, simply because Uruguayans are vetted. There is a long and storied history of top clubs buying Uruguayan attackers and reaping the benefits. You don't have to explain to your angry fans why you just spent $12 million on a Uruguayan.

You do have to explain that if you're spending that kind of cash on an American.

All that said, I think the one who'll sell for the most is a guy you didn't list: Eduard Atuesta. I was kind of surprised he didn't end up in Spain this past January.

But anyway, all that might be moot. Coming out of quarantine there are going to be a lot of motivated sellers and not too many buyers. I think the transfer market is going to look very different than what we're used to.

Honestly: yes. You could also throw Pomykal and Tim Weah into that mix. Maybe Jordan Morris as well. 

For MLS, I'd love the Beckham-Donovan era Galaxy for obvious reasons.

For a non-MLS side, I would love, love LOVE to have had that kind of access and archive about the USMNT during the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle. Let's just see it all in its wretchedness. I want to see how ugly it actually got.

And then let's learn from it and make sure it never happens again.

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