The clicking of keyboards could be heard before the US faced down Mexico in the Gold Cup final back on July 7. Some of those regular USMNT voices/writers were already thinking out loud - a loss is still an improvement for this program. While it was solid that the US made it to the Gold Cup final, a 1-0 loss against Mexico was not good enough. The team could and should have played better, especially against a fading Mexico side.
One player to thank for USA’s improved play over the course of the campaign had to be Reggie Cannon. The FC Dallas academy and regular got stronger and more comfortable in Berhalter’s system as the tournament progressed, winning the job outright by the end and staking a claim to more minutes in the future. It’s a good sign, but it also points to the pathway for more FC Dallas academy products getting minutes in the future.
Rather than wait around until that mythical day, I decided to take a trip down fantasy lane to imagine what that roster could be today if Gregg Berhalter received a firm edict from on high to stock his US Men’s National Team lineup with nothing but FC Dallas players, academy products, and alumni. This is a ridiculous experiment. I am wasting my own time by writing it, but it’s fun, silly, and exciting. Join me on this journey, will you?
To reiterate my own constraints, I can only stock this lineup with current FC Dallas players, academy products (wherever they might be today), and former FC Dallas players. That last one is cheating a little bit, but I don’t know if I can comfortably fill out depth spots without reaching for a few outside names. Candidates need to be active on rosters and national team eligible, which leaves out a few wildcards or hoping Bressan (or someone else) gets their citizenship.
Jesse Gonzalez gets the nod as the starting goalkeeper for this mythical USMNT. Is he good enough at the national level? Yes. He’s still growing and maturing but would be strong and skilled enough to keep the USMNT dominant in CONCACAF games and scintillate with amazing saves in World Cup performances. Jesse is prone to the occasional mistake, but who isn’t?
Options at backup get thin fast. No idea. Pick Jimmy Maurer, Chris Seitz, or maybe a youngster coming up in the academy. I’d probably prefer the veteran Seitz at this point, though Maurer is fine for what he can do.
The USMNT already is starting FC Dallas draftee Walker Zimmerman regularly in recent Gold Cup games. Walker is a defender who continues to mature and show confidence in a possession-based system. He’s fine. Next to him, go young and toss in academy product Chris Richards who had an excellent performance at the U20 World Cup and is on a quick rise at Bayern Munich. Finally, I’m ecstatic with Matt Hedges as that key veteran on the bench and in the mix with experience and the ability to step right in. His history with Zimmerman is a bonus. If you need a 4th center back, pick another youngster. Callum Montgomery, who is still adjusting to Luchi Gonzalez’s system but could potentially be a late game defensive sub, is actually Canadian and ineligible. (Thanks to Ben in the comments for pointing that out.) I’d likely prefer Drew Moor though as another veteran presence, a guy who wouldn’t wilt against the likes of Trinidad and Tobago.
Reggie Cannon is obviously the no. 1 starter at right back. (DeAndre Yedlin? Who?) He shows he fits the system and can do a lot of things to make this team’s defense and attack hum. At left back, it’s tough, but I’m going to give Ryan Hollingshead his first USMNT call up and start. He also brings versatility that a coach like Berhalter needs on the big stage. John Nelson would make an untested and raw backup on the left side. Kellyn Acosta won’t be happy playing backup behind Cannon or Hollingshead, but he would be a heck of a security blanket. He played some decent ball at outside back in the past for the USMNT and could help out in midfield too. London Woodberry, now playing with the Austin Bold, slots in as a next potential call up at right back (or in the middle) for this purely fictional lineup. Eric Avila is another guy with some experience and versatility but whose best years are in the rearview mirror. He only gets the call up if Drew or London get a stomach virus or foot fungus. Or both.
Here, FC Dallas is blessing the national men’s program with a literal fountain of talent and potential. You can start with Weston McKennie, who looks to grow with FC Schalke and flashed his quality in the Gold Cup. Add in Paxton Pomykal as your creative force and who is ready right now to take the step to the next level, serving as the motor in Berhalter’s tactical masterplan. Brandon Servania would round out the solid, if young, trio in the center of the pitch. I absolutely love the thought of this lineup already - its athleticism, its potential, and its creativity.
We have a whole host of other possibilities to deepen this midfield core. Victor Ulloa, Edwin Cerrillo, Jacori Hayes, Emerson Hyndman, and Christian Cappis feature as a number of the options available. I’d also give a shout to FC Dallas fan favorite Dax McCarty, who brings veteran savvy to this squad and earns the nod before some of the other unproven or less experienced guys. Give me the first three with McCarty as the fourth, and that’s a deep set of options. Hyndman, if he can earn minutes at Atlanta, could dethrone Hayes or Cerrillo quickly though.
This area of the pitch would have a ton of competition, and that’s a darn good thing.
The wings, however, are a disaster. It’s like west Texas at this point. Not much to look at.
Here’s where I would go with Bryan Reynolds on the right wing instead of at right back, since he would bring some youthful speed and energy and looks damn dangerous there. Thomas Roberts really belongs in the center midfield, but I’d use him as a starter on the wing even if he isn’t all that great there... yet. He at least has potential. For depth on the left, and yes I know you are not going to dig this, I’d call up a somehow healthy Brek Shea with a high grade cyborg knee. Beggars can’t be choosers. Devin Vega also catches a flight from lowly FC Tucson to provide some possibilities in the wide places. Shaft Brewer is another option, despite his link with FC Dallas being miniscule, but again, you go to war with the army you have, not the.. You get the drift.
If FC Dallas can somehow trade for Lee Nguyen, he’d be a big help for this razor thin attacking lineup. Why can’t FC Dallas produce homegrown wingers?
Youth reigns here, and it would likely be feast or famine for a squad relying on these youngsters. Jesus Ferreira is the best choice to start up top. He is still adjusting his game and learning at the MLS level but showcases incredible promise and potential just about every week. He could definitely lead the line. Ricardo Pepi backs him up, the wunderkid, ready to dominate at the next stage and as a late game sub. Yes, he’s super young, but who else can I call up according to the constraints of this ridiculous, unnecessary article?
How would this fictional team fare?
We’d likely lose, but we’d win some games too. I imagine a squad like this would do as well as any other USMNT team playing down in Panama or the Caribbean or at Jamaica and in front of a bunch of fans in Ohio. But, without some wing quality and proven strikers, it would be a slog to rise to the top of CONCACAF, at least initially.
However, the potential of this kind of squad to grow up and dominate in years to come - limitless. We might come back to this goofy article in a season or two and remark at how close this lineup comes to resemble what the USA trots out during World Cup qualifying. How far away is Pomykal or Servania from making their USMNT debut? If Hollingshead continues to play well and other guys struggle or pick up injuries, is it really out of the question that he might get a look at left back when the USA is playing Tim “turnstile” Ream out there right now? Is the USA so flush with goal scorers that a young dynamic guy like Jesus Ferreira can’t earn his way into a call up and minutes with the big boys?
Did I miss anyone?
FC Dallas’ connections stretch long and wide. I’m sure I’m leaving out some potential players, especially guys who have a history with the academy. Is there a name or two that we should be looking add to this list in the coming years? Who of North Texas SC is ready to make the leap?
I wait for your ridiculous reactions to this ridiculous article below.