Americans Abroad: Miazga and Carter-Vickers march toward USMNT futures

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After disappointing performances from the senior team center backs in September and October, the two defenders seemed poised to step into big roles

The future is now for the U.S. national team.

The shocking defeat to Trinidad & Tobago and subsequent elimination from the 2018 World Cup has completely altered the landscape of the national team. Whereas before the focus was on doing enough to make it to Russia this summer, the long game has come back into play for players looking to get into the squad.

How long? The next World Cup is in five years. The next competitive tournament, the Gold Cup, is not until the summer of 2019. We have what amounts nearly two full European seasons and another MLS campaign before the U.S. next plays in a game that matters.

With the long timeline, the reality is many of the roster’s current veterans will likely see their time with the team end. And that also means the younger players in the pool will get opportunities to step into their places — provided they can prove it with their club teams.

And after the struggles of the U.S. back line in the September and October qualifiers, fans will be glad to see a pair of center backs are doing just that. In fact, Matt Miazga arguably should have been there for at least the October games.

Miazga seemed to tick all the boxes — he was playing well with Vitesse, had played for the U.S. national team in the last year and shown well in his one start, scoring a goal. But instead he was left out, and now his omission is among the many “what ifs” of qualification.

But Miazga’s time is almost certainly coming. Of the top five U.S. center backs — Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Tim Ream and John Brooks, only Brooks will be under 30 at the 2022 World Cup. The other four will all be in their mid-30s.

With that in mind, it seems likely Miazga will be given every opportunity to step into a center back role in the near future. As long as he keeps playing well in the Eredivisie, Miazga should be in the mix.

Another popular player among U.S. fans for his potential is Miazga’s U-20 and U-23 teammate Cameron Carter-Vickers. While calling in Carter-Vickers for the Hex would have been too big a risk, even with the results ending up the way they did, things are likely to change now.

Not only is fresh blood needed for the senior national team, Carter-Vickers has finally landed consistent playing time. The 19-year-old defender has started five of Sheffield United’s games in the Championship, and has scored a goal. That playing time has come recently following his loan move from Tottenham, with Carter-Vickers starting four straight and five out of six.

The upcoming Portugal friendly offers a good opportunity for Carter-Vickers to get his first senior team cap. We’ll see if that happens, though it is worth remembering the U.S. can't actually cap-tie Carter-Vickers, or any other dual national, until 2019 at the earliest.


HORVATH LOOKING TO IMPROVE


Ethan Horvath Club Brugge

He’s not playing in one of the top European leagues, but Ethan Horvath is trending up. The 22-year old keeper made a winter move to Club Brugge last year and sat on the bench for much of the remainder of 2016-17.

However, Horvath got his opportunity late in the season and has not looked back. He’s started every one of Brugge’s contests this season, and the club is currently sitting in the top spot in the Belgian First Division, six points ahead of Sporting Charleroi. Brugge has conceded the fewest goals in the league, with just nine.

It hasn’t been a perfect season for Horvath and Brugge — they went out in the qualifying stage of the Europa League 3-0 on aggregate to AEK Athens. And Horvath said there are things he still needs to work on a few weeks ago, specifically the command of his area.

“I know I need to get better at getting out of my goal [on] long balls,” Horvath told the club’s official website after a 2-1 win against Gent. “I wanted to punch away the ball first, but I hesitated and the equalizer happened. I know it remains a work in progress.”

But it looks like he’ll get the chance to continue seeking improvement as Brugge's first-team goalkeeper. And he may possibly pick up some silverware, if Brugge can continue its strong start, as well.

With the U.S. playing at least one friendly in Europe in November, and the likelihood that Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are done as national team keepers, Horvath may well get a chance to show his stuff in a national team jersey again soon enough.


UNCERTAIN USMNT FUTURE FOR JOHNSON AND CHANDLER


Fabian Johnson Borussia Moenchengladbach

Perhaps the biggest shock of the U.S. roster for October’s qualifiers was the omission of Fabian Johnson.

Johnson had not covered himself in glory in the September loss to Costa Rica but was just recovering from injury. He had made two straight starts for Borussia Monchengladbach before the October qualifiers, only to be left out of the USA's roster. And while he preferred to play left midfield, Johnson was likely the best option at left back — something that might have helped the U.S. in the shock loss to Trinidad & Tobago.

It’s an interesting question as to whether Johnson has played his last game in a U.S. shirt. It’s possible, especially since he’ll be 34 in 2022. But with that said, we saw another left midfielder/fullback, DaMarcus Beasley, starting key games for the U.S. this year at 35, for better or for worse. So perhaps there is a chance for Johnson, especially as the options at left back remain a question.

Timothy Chandler is another interesting case. Shunned by Bruce Arena after pulling out of the June qualifiers with injury, he remains one of the few Americans abroad in a top league who is a starting XI lock for his side. And since he’ll be 32 in 2022, Chandler is not entirely aged out of contention either.

Given that fact, and the complete lack of proven options behind DeAndre Yedlin, perhaps the next U.S. coach will begin to give Chandler calls again. Or perhaps the next U.S. boss has decided he’s seen enough and that Chandler’s Bundesliga form will never carry over to the national team.

It will be something to watch. While the next World Cup is five years away, the U.S. will play important games before then. And should something happen to Yedlin, Chandler may well represent the best option for the U.S.


PAYNE EARNS MINUTES IN EREDIVISIE


A player who seemed to be making progress last year but fell off the radar just as quickly was Desevio Payne.

The right back had come into playing time with FC Groningen, but it proved to be short-lived and after around a month of action, he found himself back on the bench. He only ended up appearing in six Eredivisie games last season.

The 21-year-old made a move to Excelsior, also in the Eredivisie, after last season. The move had not initially resulted in any more playing time for Payne, but he’s now earned appearances in two of the last three games. And in Sunday’s contest, Payne got the entire second half as a substitute.

While the U.S. youth international has not blossomed like many would hope given his appearances in the Eredivisie at a young age, the right-back pool seems to be wide open behind Yedlin. Outside of the Newcastle man, all the current right-back options will be over 30 in 2022.

If Payne can work his way back into consistent playing time, and eventually starts, he might be able to push his way into the right-back depth chart. And he’s got time — not only does the U.S. have nearly two years before the next Gold Cup, Payne doesn’t turn 22 until the end of November.

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MORALES SCORES FIRST GOAL IN 10 MONTHS


For a while in 2016-17 it looked like Alfredo Morales was pushing for another shot with the U.S. national team. But unfortunately for him, his form dipped toward the end of the year, Ingolstadt got relegated and Bruce Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, with Arena less interested in all the American players abroad.

Morales has been solid for Ingolstadt in the 2.Bundesliga this season though, and bagged his first goal since last season in a 2-2 draw with Dynamo Dresden over the weekend.

It does not seem likely that Morales will fight his way back into the U.S. fold, given he will be 32 in 2022. But after the U.S. failure in qualification, it seems wrong to write anyone off totally. The midfielder will need to keep playing well in the German second division and eventually return to the top-flight if he wants to make a compelling case for a national team return.

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