Weekend Focus: New Jersey-born Johnny aims for Brazilian title and USMNT breakthrough

While the history of soccer in South America is rich and prestigious, it is particularly noteworthy that the United States national team has drawn from players based in the leagues of that continent on very rare occasions – and all in the last millennium. When Gregg Berhalter  unveiled his roster for the November friendlies, that changed as Internacional’s Johnny Cardoso became the first player called up to the U.S. team from South America in over 25 years.

In the first half of the 1990s decade, Cobi Jones, Jorge Acosta and Desmond Armstrong all earned call-ups from South American leagues. Cardoso is ready to end that drought that followed.

Born in Denville, New Jersey, Cardoso was raised in his Porto Alegre, Brazil where he has blossomed into a promising defensive midfielder.

Cardoso’s emergence shouldn’t come as a surprise. In September 2019, he made his first-team debut for Internacional at the age of just 17. Tipped off by a scout that Cardoso was an American and now playing for a Brazilian league title contender, Berhalter promptly contacted Cardoso, who goes by just “Johnny” in Brazil, and invited him to participate with the U.S. U-23 team for a camp in November.

That camp proved to be an enormous success for Cardoso, who was honored to make his first international appearance at any level when he played in the second half of the U.S. U-23 team’s 6-1 win over El Salvador.

“It was such a special opportunity in my career,” Cardoso said following that camp. “It’s the result of work I have been building at Inter that was awarded with the opportunity to represent the national team. I was very surprised with the quality of all players in the team. I have had a very good experience with the team, with a lot of learning from Jason [Kreis]. It was indeed a very good experience.”

In 2020, that success only continued for Cardoso. His role on Internacional’s first team expanded from mere cameos and into a more regular role. In Brazil, the year typically kicks off with local state tournaments followed by the national leagues. He was a regular starter for Internacional’s games in the Campeonato Gaúcho and then began earning regular minutes off the bench in Serie A.

Just before the leagues around the world shut down due to COVID-19, Berhalter even said that Cardoso was likely to have been called up for the March friendlies and was a player who he rated. Now he will have a chance to make his U.S. national team debut.

For Cardoso, there is potentially a lot of soccer ahead for him with the United States. As a player born in 2001 who turns 20 next September, Cardoso is eligible for the 2021 U.S. U-20 team, the 2021 U-23 Olympic team, the 2024 U-23 Olympic team, then the full national team.

Based on his experience last year with the U-23 team, Carodoso is happy to be a part of it all.

“We always dream with these goals,” Cardoso said. “Of course, it was always a dream and I was very happy to represent the team. It was a fantastic experience."

But future involvement will, of course, be predicated on how he does with Internacional. Coach Eduardo Coudet, who played for the Philadelphia Union in 2010 and the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in 2011, seems inclined to keep giving Cardoso opportunities.


Thus far in 2020, Cardoso has made four appearances in the Gaucho, five appearances in Serie A, one appearance in the Copa do Brazil, and three appearances in the Copa Libertadores. He only recently returned from missing nearly a month of action due to a hamstring injury.

And Johnny has been part of very impressive winning efforts. Internacional currently sit atop the Serie A standings, it is alive in the Copa do Brazil, and later this month it will meet Boca Juniors in the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores in a matchup of two of South America’s biggest clubs.

On Sunday, Cardoso will play in his final game for Internacional before leaving to play for the United States in Wales when it hosts Coritiba in Porto Alegre. His involvement in these games shows how far and wide U.S. players are making impacts across the globe – from the MLS playoffs, to the UEFA Champions League, and now to the top of Brazil and the Copa Libertadores.

7 comments about "Weekend Focus: New Jersey-born Johnny aims for Brazilian title and USMNT breakthrough".
  1. frank schoon, November 7, 2020 at 11:07 a.m.

    That is good nieuws but I much rather would have read about an American who learned the game and trained their whole lives here going to play for a top team  in Brazil....Instead what we get and read a lot about are 'Americans' like Dest who lived their whole lives in another country and then represent America because one of their parents has an American passport....Sorry, these types of stories don't excite me....

  2. R2 Dad replied, November 7, 2020 at 3:01 p.m.

    Frank, I think it's important for the USMNT silo to interact with South American clubs and players. This isn't just about the player--it's also about USSF maturing as an organization. How many USSF employees are from South America? It's not enough just to speak spanish, it's exposure to other countries/cultures/styles of play. Yes would have been "better" if Johnny came up through US clubs but obviously that's a much more difficult and challenging path to success as we do not have the high level of coaching throughout the path from U8 to to U18.

  3. Christopher Osmond, November 7, 2020 at 3:19 p.m.

     I couldn't agree with Frank more.  Should focus as much on native players born and bred in our system.  

  4. David Clark replied, November 7, 2020 at 6:29 p.m.

    Why does it have to be one or the other? The core of this Golden Generation came up through the US system - Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Sargent, Cannon, Robinson, Reyna, Aaronson, Ledezma. Almost every national team has some guys who developed outside the country. Portugal has had multiple guys who grew up in Brazil. France has had guys from Algeria and Senegal. It's not uncommon. Italy had Giuseppe Rossi, who learned to play in New Jersey! Dest, De La Fuente, Johnny - these guys will complement the core. That's how you build a top shelf national team!

  5. R2 Dad replied, November 7, 2020 at 6:55 p.m.

    C.O., born and bred isn't enough. All those players mentioned by David grew up here but had to leave at U15/6 if they had the paperwork (U17 otherwise) because the development in the USA at U15-U21 has been poor as it's been dependent on MLS. Things were improving with the DA/USL but because there is no direct path (like there is with European and South American clubs) from academy to first team, player develpment stagnates. Coaches use players for their own ends. That's why compensation for passing players along to the next stage/better setup/better training/better coaching greases the skids. Allows coaches to benefit from their station in the development food chain instead of hoarding players and stifling development in order to improve the name of their little club. Johnny is free to grow as far as his skill and determination will allow in Brazil--that would have been much more dificult to do in the USA. 

  6. John Polis, November 9, 2020 at 12:55 p.m.

    Identifying any player from any part of the world who can help our national team has been a huge part of the process for a long time now. And if ANY nation should consider this approach to building a national team, it should be the United States, a nation of immigrants with a short national history with the game, compared to many other nations. Eighty-seven percent of the France team that won the 2018 World Cup were from immigrant families. France and other nations have been adding players developed outside their country for years. One other thought here: What opportunities are there for true quality players to develop in the United States? How long has our system been in place? Although no one is saying this here, if we only concentrated on U.S.-born players to build our national team, it would be the equivalent of trying to build a World Cup-competitive team with one hand tied behind our back. While this is a challenge that some soccer nations could perhaps try, only concentrating on native-born players would not only doom our team to mediocrity, it would be against the very core identity of our nation. With the memory of such players as Roy Wegerle, Thomas Dooley, Earnie Stewart, John Brooks, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and others perhaps fresh in our minds: Keep recruiting, Coach Berhalter. We need all the help we can get.

  7. humble 1, November 11, 2020 at 11:58 a.m.

    Folks bring two separate MNT topics here, ID and Development  Of course for MNT and to some extent YNT, for player ID, the scope should be worldwide.  This point is covered very well above.  As for domesitc player development, keep marching forward, when we can develop players better here than those that are develop abroad, we should see those domestically developed players being IDd for Y and MNT spots.  We have to compete in ID and development.  It is always important to remember that distinction.  Keep it going! 

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