Top 10 USMNT Abroad to Watch in 2018
Top 10 1.     Christian Pulisic – Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga) Who else could be top of the list but the 2017 USMNT player of the year? The 19-year-old from Hershey, PA has seen a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of US soccer, and the trajectory is only going up. At the halfway mark of the Bundesliga season, Pulisic statistical ranks in league play among his Dortmund teammates are nothing short of stellar. Pulisic is 3rd on the team in minutes played with 1,278, behind only keeper Roman Burki and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (for comparison, Pulisic racked up 1,515 minutes in 2016/17 and 387 minutes in 2015/16). He is also T-1 in appearances with 16 and T-4 in starts with 14 out of a possible 17 matches so far. Combine this with making five UEFA Champions League appearances (four starts, including away to Real Madrid in Estadio Bernabeu) and his effort to drag the USMNT to Russia and it is obvious why Pulisic was named USMNT player of the year. But this sort of use also shows the (now former) manager’s confidence in the young American, even while contributing only one league assist so far this year to go along with his three league goals. And while alternative attacking options Mario Gotze and Marco Reus have been sidelined for much of the year and are eying a return in early 2018, don’t expect Pulisic to be left on the sidelines as the year progresses. 2.     John Anthony Brooks – VfL Wolfsburg (German Bundesliga) At number two (in your best Ian Darke voice) … IT’S JOHN BROOKS! IT’S JOHN BROOKS! 2017 was quite the year for the 24-year-old. In January, he returned from injury for Hertha Berlin and started all but three of BSC’s last 19 matches (one missed for injury, one for suspension) as they secured a UEFA Europa League spot by finishing 6th. Then in July, he became the most expensive American transfer when Hertha sold JAB to relegation-playoff side Vfl Wolfsburg for €17 million (~$20 million). But injury struck again as he missed a little over two months with a torn thigh tendon. Since returning from that injury, JAB has started all seven of Wolfsburg’s league matches before again being sidelined in December with an undisclosed lower leg injury. There is no doubt that the biggest concern for JAB is his propensity to wind up on the training table, but at the same time the talent is there. I mean, you don’t go breaking transfer fee records for nothing. In 2018, look for Brooks to (hopefully) stay healthy as Wolfsburg looks to push toward the top half of the table and avoid the relegation playoff stresses of last year while also maintaining his spot as a first-choice center back for the USMNT.


3.     Bobby Wood – Hamburg SV (German Bundesliga) After tallying five Bundesliga goals in his first season at Hamburg, Wood’s scoring rate has declined so far this season, only netting once in the league in 12 appearances. Much like Brooks, Wood has also missed multiple stints through injury, missing Matchday 2 with a knee knock and Matchdays 15 and 16 with another knee injury. But the low output has drawn some concern from his manager who recently called for better performances and most importantly more goals upon Wood’s return to fitness. In the coming year, look for Wood to use his physical style of play to get back on the scorer’s sheet while also pushing for the summer squad callups.


4.     DeAndre Yedlin – Newcastle United (English Premier League) After a slow start to his career in England (only one league appearance for Tottenham before being sold to Sunderland), 24-year-old Yedlin began to stake his claim on the right back position. Last season he made 27 appearances (21 starts) for Newcastle in the Championship as they won the league on the last day. Unfortunately, sticking with the theme of the piece, Yedlin missed the beginning of this year’s Premier League campaign through injury, sitting out the Magpies first four matches. Since returning, Yedlin has started and played every minute in all but one of Newcastle’s league matches, contributing an assist on the opening goal of their 4-1 loss away to Manchester United. For 2018, look for Yedlin to continue occupying his role in the right side of Newcastle’s defense, while also looking to use his pace to get into the attack more often. Just as well, there is no doubt Yedlin is the right back of choice for the USMNT for the foreseeable future.


5.     Bill Hamid – FC Midtjylland (Danish Superliga) For the last seven years, if you stumbled upon a DC United match, chances are you would have seen Bill Hamid in goal. That’s because for the past seven years, the now-27-year-old Hamid started a remarkable 72% of DC United’s matches. Since taking over for Troy Perkins at the age of 20 following the 2010 season, Hamid has been a stalwart in goal for United, all while biding his time until he could be named USMNT #1. At the conclusion of the 2017 MLS season, Hamid announced he would be looking abroad for a new challenge. He found that new challenge in the Danish Superliga when he joined FC Midtjylland. Nineteen weeks into a 26-week regular season, ‘The Wolves’ sit top of the table. Hamid will look to beat out 32-year-old Jesper Hansen before the season resumes in early February. But, coincidentally, Hamid may also have a new challenge Stateside. With the turmoil of US Soccer right now, the starting keeper job is as open as ever, and Hamid is one of many names that must be considered for the spot.


6.     Ethan Horvath – Club Brugge (Belgian First Division A) Horvath (22 years old) began 2017 by making a transfer from Norwegian side Molde to perennial contenders Club Brugge. The latter half of the 2016/17 season was spent stealing time from then first-choice Ludovic Butelle. Over the summer, however, Horvath claimed the starting spot and has started 12 of Brugge’s 21 league matches so far this season. The outlook for 2018 could go many ways. Much like Wood, Horvath has been challenged by his manager to be more consistent with his performances (Portugal, anyone?). But much like Hamid, Horvath is one of the handful of names that surely is being considered for the next USMNT keeper spot.


7.     Weston McKennie – Schalke 04 (German Bundesliga) 19-year-old America? Check. Playing in Germany? Check. For one of the traditional powers? Check. From central Pennsylvania? Not so much. In fact, the first three are where the similarities between McKennie (from Little Elm, TX) and Pulisic seem to end, at least in terms of soccer. McKennie spent previous seasons with Schalke’s U19 team before being called up and making his first appearance in Schalke’s season-ending 1-1 draw with FC Ingolstadt. To begin this season, McKennie was used mostly as a substitute, but has seen his starts increase dramatically since November. McKennie brings a physicality to the midfield game, so look for Schalke to continue to use him while also developing his technical play. He also made his international debut against Portugal this November, scoring the USMNT’s only goal while playing 83 minutes. Needless to say, McKennie could be a piece in the USMNT midfield for quite some time.


8.     Jonathan Gonzalez – CF Monterrey (Mexican Liga MX) Gonzalez (18-years-old) is the only American not based in Europe to make the list, and rightly so. The defensive mind midfielder burst onto the scene last July, starting and playing 56 minutes in Monterrey’s opening Aperture match away to Monarcas Morelia. Since then, he has played 22 league matches for the Mexican side, including starting the Apertura playoff final and the Copa MX final, the latter of which Monterrey won. His performances were recognized, both in a good way and bad. The good was being recognized on the Liga MX team of the season. The bad was being courted by El Tri to play for them in lieu of the USMNT as Gonzalez has dual-citizenship by way of Mexican parents. 2018 will be a big year for Gonzalez, both in terms of development and in selection of which international side he will line up for.


9.     Matt Miazga – Vitesse Arnhem (Dutch Eredivisie) [on loan from Chelsea] Life for Miazga has been strange since leaving New York Red Bulls for Chelsea back in January of 2016. Since then, he made his international friendly debut (USMNT 3-1 win over Puerto Rico in May of 2016) as well as two league appearances for the Blues. Everything was looking up for the now-22-year-old. From the start of the 2016/17 season, however, he has been on loan to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem, where he has made a mark, starting 22 league matches en route to a UEFA Europa League spot and a Dutch KNVB Beker (FA cup-style) trophy. So far this season, Miazga has played in all 18 of Vitesse’s league matches, starting 15 of them. The real test for Miazga’s future may well lie in 2018. If he can return to his parent club and earn a spot, the hype will resurrect. If not, it may be best for him to move elsewhere in England or among the top 5 European leagues. The future for Miazga with the USMNT is not dead either, by any means. After all, he is still only 22-years-old.


10.  Kenny Saief – KAA Gent (Belgian First Division A) Saief flew under almost everyone’s radar until last June, and rightly so. That’s when the 24-year-old Panama City, FL native used his one-time association switch to change from representing Israel to the USMNT. Bruce Arena immediately called Saief into the 23-man Gold Cup squad, but Saief had to leave the squad after suffering a groin injury during a friendly against Ghana. That injury eventually required surgery and a recovery process that kept him out of play until the day after Thanksgiving. Since returning, Saief has seen sparse minutes and only one start, a 4-1 Belgian Cup defeat to Kortrijk. But the lack of minutes could be seen in a number of ways. At the time of his return, Gent were in the midst of a 6-game winning streak. Gent could also be trying to ease him back into playing fitness as to not reaggravate or exacerbate the groin injury. Saief is the biggest uncertainty on the list as far as 2018 output goes and future with the USMNT, but his potential to earn minutes is what gets him on this list.
January 06, 2018