No U.S. men's national team coach has never had the opportunity to work with a new wave of young stars like Gregg Berhalter.
When UEFA club play resumes next week, at least 10 Americans are likely to suit up in the Champions League and Europa League. Players have made splashes as some of the biggest names in European soccer: Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig, Sergino Dest at Barcelona, Weston McKennie at Juventus, Christian Pulisic at Chelsea and Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund.
None is older than 22.
The emergence of new talent since Berhalter took charge two years ago -- Dest and Reyna both made their pro debuts after he took charge in 2019 -- has certainly expanded the player pool he is looking at with World Cup 2022 qualifying less than seven months away.
"We probably have a group of 18 players we are really comfortable with," Berhalter said last week in an interview with Extratime.
But he added that many factors go into picking a team: form, performance and health.
"It's never in a state of finality," he said. "It's always open. You never know if the players are going to be fit or if they are going to be in form."
Berhalter was not speaking of any player in particular. But it certainly applies for the young players in the program. For all their promise, none of the USA's big five is yet considered an indispensable element in the lineup at his club, not even Pulisic, a $73 million transfer from Borussia Dortmund two years ago.
McKennie might be the closest this season, having been a revelation in midfield at Juventus. Adams has been in and out of the starting lineup at RB Leipzig, playing at right wing back and in central midfield. Reyna and Dest enjoyed fast starts in 2020-21 but have cooled down in the winter.
On the other hand, Tim Weah, injured for most of the 2019-20 season in France and not a factor for the first three months of the 2020-21 season, has been a key contributor in first-place Lille's hot run. Matthew Hoppe came out of nowhere to score five Bundesliga goals for Schalke 04 in January.
"The best message for players when it comes to the national team is they need to continually prove themselves," Berhalter said in his Extratime segment. "No one spot should be taken for granted."
McKennie photo: ImagePhoto/Imago/Icon Sportswire