It’s a very young, fresh US men’s national team that will face Wales in a friendly on Thursday afternoon, with an average age of 21 and 10 players seeking their first-ever senior international cap.
You’re probably already aware of many of them: Prodigies like Gio Reyna, Uly Llanez and Chris Richards have long since turned heads with their youth national team resumes and impressive trajectories at the club level. But a handful of the newcomers are even less familiar to Stateside eyes.
Here’s a rundown of four USMNT arrivals who are generating real intrigue, all four of them dual- or multi-eligible with options for their international allegiance.
He’s the toast of Valencia CF, a breakout star at age 17 thanks to his rapid climb up the club’s academy ranks and precocious La Liga displays thus far this season. Skillful, pacey, focused and hard-working, his blistering solo run and finish vs. Getafe has set tongues wagging across Europe.
Musah is also the epitome of globalization – born in New York to Ghanaian parents, raised in Italy and England, he’s eligible to represent all four nations and has already suited up for England in youth international action, having studied in Arsenal’s academy before his move to Spain.
It’s a huge compliment to the USMNT’s progress that he’s been convinced to give Gregg Berhalter’s project a closer look, even if this month’s friendlies won’t cap-tie him. Comparing him to Weston McKennie, Berhalter wants to try him as a No. 8 despite him playing a wide role for his club at present.
“We're going to play him probably centrally, and there's going be some growing pains with that, I can tell you right now, but he has so much talent that to me, it's worth it, it's worth looking at that,” said the coach when the roster was announced.
“All the intel we had about Yunus was that he was an absolute great guy and great pro,” Berhalter said on Wednesday. “And I can say that's absolutely all true. It's been a pleasure having in camp, he's such positive energy. Such a nice, nice person. And he's a good player, he is a very good player. He's a special player, you'll get to see that tomorrow, I'm sure.”
Technically he’s João Lucas de Souza Cardoso, a rising central midfield prospect at Porto Alegre side Internacional who was born in New Jersey but returned to Brazil at just three months of age.
But his US roots weren’t forgotten, as his soccer prowess later earned him the nickname “Johnny,” and he’s now been recruited to the USMNT after months of monitoring and relationship-building as he takes advantage of the opportunities Inter manager Eduardo Coudet has offered him during a congested phase of the club’s calendar.
When you're the first player to arrive to the first #USMNT camp in 🔟 months, you get your own training session.— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) November 9, 2020
After testing negative, newcomer Johnny Cardoso (@SCInternacional) did some individual work with the coaching staff here in Cardiff on Sunday.
“Johnny is a brave boy, if you think about it,” said Berhalter this week. “He doesn't speak perfect English, he's 19 years old, he's had the farthest to travel to get here. But he's still embracing everything and taking everything in stride. He’s a great person, very good player.”
With a subtly effective skillset of ball-winning, tempo-setting and facilitating, Berhalter hopes he’ll turn out to be an effective foil for the squad’s sudden bounty of attacking options.
“You can tell that he plays in Brazil; he's a street-smart player,” noted the coach. “Any type of physical battle, no matter who he's going against, he can deal with, no matter what his size is. He's quick on the ball – you can tell he's in an environment where they value the ball, where you have to take care of the ball, and where you have to play quickly.”
Born in Kansas City to an Italian father and Jamaican mother and based in France for the past five years, the rangy Caen frontrunner seems hungry to represent the United States, telling his club’s website last month that “I'll go with my eyes closed” if and when Berhalter calls him, adding, “this is the country where I was born, I feel American.”
Gioacchini, 20, is a modern striker with the pace and capacity to press and chase, size and spirit to battle center backs and an instinctive nose for goal. He’s Caen’s co-leading scorer in their Ligue 2 campaign with three goals in seven games thus far, and can also contribute out wide.
“He’s a very positive person, hard worker, is a team player, and he showed quality as well,” said Berhalter, who added that he expects to give Gioacchini his USMNT debut this month.
The Nigerian-British-American has yet to truly break through at the first-team level – understandably, given the wealth of quality on offer at Premier League climbers Wolverhampton Wanderers – which is perhaps why the buzz about Otasowie is a decibel or two lower than some other USMNT arrivals.
Owen Otasowie, 19, another USA/England Dual-National. Owen has made 6 first team appearances for Wolves all cup games and has been on the bench several more times. Owen is a big physically strong defensive minded player that can play either CB or CDM #USMNT pic.twitter.com/m6rpIQVFi7— ESPN Drew (@AmericaSoccerFC) November 3, 2020
Yet many of those familiar with him are extremely high on the athletic 19-year-old and he seems to be steadily working his way into the plans of Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo. Powerful and rangy in the Paul Pogba/Patrick Vieira mold, Otasowie seems most comfortable in a box-to-box or holding mid role, though others see tremendous potential as a ball-playing center back, including Tab Ramos, who worked with him at US U-18 level.
“He reads the game very well and he also has great technique," Ramos, now with the Houston Dynamo, recently told BirminghamLive. “I like to have teams where the central defenders are important in the development of the play out of the back. He has excellent feet for that. He’s good in the air – all those things because of his size that fit the position – but on top of that he has great skill and great feet.”
Ramos noted that Otasowie expressed unhappiness at a defensive role at the time, so it bears watching as to where Berhalter sees him to be of the most use, should he take the pitch for the US against Wales or Panama.