Let the Kids Play

Randy Ollie, Sports Editor

You might remember that I called out the Unit­ed States Men’s National Team a while back for looking completely out of sorts heading into the 2016 Centennial Copa America tournament this summer. I continue to stand by that statement. The men’s team is in trouble, not just for the invitational tourna­ment this summer but also for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

However, there may be a slight glimmer of hope for USMNT fans. His name is Christian Pulisic. Last month, at only 17 years old, the Hershey, PA, native be­came the youngest player to score two goals in the history of the Bundesliga, Germany’s professional soccer league. He is also the youngest non-German to score in the Bundesliga for his Borussia Dortmund squad.

If a 17-year-old Ameri­can scoring two goals in only 11 appearances in one of Europe’s top leagues and starting for the second best team in Germany doesn’t excite you for the future of USMNT, then I have no idea what will.

To bolster his resume, the young phenomenon is already being tracked by the Premier League’s Liver­pool and Manchester City, as well as Real Madrid of La Liga.

Granted, despite the vast amount of potential this teenage midfielder pos­sesses, his skills are largely untested, and his talent has yet to be developed and incorporated into the USMNT.

For too long, the USMNT has embraced a culture of being “good enough,” never making a significant impact on the international stage and sometimes even embarrassing themselves, altogether proving that their international competitors are leagues ahead of them. The mantle of international fame has been picked up by the Women’s National Team, leaving the USMNT coasting in its shadow.

I grew up watching Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, but as reliable as these two superstars have been in World Cups and other international competitions, all players must face the realities of aging at some point. The USMNT’s 2014 World Cup start­ing lineup featured a majority of players around 30 years old. Of the remaining members, there are only a few projected starters that will not be 30 or older by 2018, when Russia hosts the World Cup.

Veteran players are certainly reli­able, and having a few inserted into a roster at key positions gives a coach the peace of mind of knowing that certain parts of the soccer pitch are occupied by experienced players. But if the USMNT wants to avoid making it to the first elimination round of a tournament only to lose to notori­ously weak teams like Guatemala — like they did in a World Cup qualify­ing match earlier this year — then it’s time to stop playing it safe and start taking some chances.

Winning Copa America could potentially give the USMNT some much-needed confidence and mo­mentum heading into its two re­maining World Cup qualifiers versus St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. But more im­portantly, the summer tournament could give players like Pulisic, Julian Green, Emerson Hyndman, Gedion Zelalem and Wil Trapp a chance to show their stuff.

There are no guarantees with any of these players; even Pulisic may end up not getting a starting nod by the time summer 2018 rolls around. However, you can bet they will be ready to contribute in some capacity, and they will be all the more ready by the time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar arrives when they are all seasoned professionals in their mid-20s.

It’s time to roll the dice. USMNT fans aren’t stupid — losing games due to inexperienced young players is a completely different story than being defeated because aging veter­ans are underperforming. No USMNT fan will ever forget when the talented 20-year-old Landon Donovan made his international debut in South Korea. Since then, the United States has been waiting for the next young superstar to take the helm and right the ship. Considering that the games in Copa America are merely exhibi­tions, it’s a great opportunity to find out what’s hype and what’s real with up-and-coming USMNT players.