By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 15, 2023) US Soccer Players – The USMNT is back to playing games that count, this time with stakes in two different competitions in play. Win on aggregate over two legs with Trinidad and Tobago that begins on Thursday night at Austin’s Q2 Stadium (9pm ET – TNT) and the Yanks will book their place in the final four of the Nations League and qualify for this summer’s 2024 Copa America.
The USMNT spent the September and October windows playing friendlies, first dominant victories over Uzbekistan and Oman, two wins with a combined scoreline of 7-0 for the Americans, and then against tougher sides Germany, losing 3-1, and Ghana, a 4-0 win. USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter used those windows to look at a few young players, something that looks wise in retrospect. The USMNT now faces key absences with advancement and qualification on the line.
Christian Pulisic and Timothy Weah will both miss these Nations League games due to injury, opening up opportunities on the wings in Berhalter’s standard 4-3-3 formation. Tyler Adams’s long-term injury means leaning into a new solution in the midfield. That task also became more complicated with Internacional holding midfielder Johnny Cardoso forced out of the team by an ankle injury this week. While Berhalter certainly has a few familiar versatile options, Brendan Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna chief among them, the roster includes players newer to the senior team who might be in line for significant responsibility over the two-game series with Trinidad and Tobago.
The newest, who wasn’t in the squads in September and October, is Eintracht Frankfurt player Paxten Aaronson. The 20-year-old Aaronson is solidly entrenched as an option for Eintracht coach Dino Toppmoller, with eight appearances in a range of attacking roles. He was also a mainstay of the US Under-20s during that program’s previous cycle. In a press conference earlier this week, Berhalter talked about what Paxten Aaronson brings.
“When two guys go down, an opportunity opens up for another player,” Berhalter explained. “We see (Paxten Aaronson) as a winger similar to Christian, in the fact that he gets in the penalty box and he’s dangerous in front of goal, and that’s what we focus on with our wingers. We know goals are a premium, and he’s a young player that has shown that he has a knack for scoring goals, and the starting point is arriving in the penalty box, which he does really well.”
Despite where the USMNT coaching staff envisions Aaronson playing for the senior USMNT side, the former Philadelphia Union player is most often deployed in an attacking midfield role for Eintracht Frankfurt. In his youth national team past, Aaronson played in a similar spot. A possible shift to the wing for the USMNT speaks to Aaronson’s talents but also reflects the difficult injury situation facing the Americans for the Nations League quarterfinal.
Pulisic and Weah made scoring important goals, and occasionally combining for them, a calling card of their play on the wings. With the duo out, someone else has to step up.
Aaronson isn’t the only MLS product thriving as a young player in Germany for whom this window is an opportunity. Berhalter also tapped former D.C. United man Kevin Paredes, a 20-year-old now in his second full season at Wolfsburg, following his appearance with the national team in September and October.
Paredes won his first senior cap against Oman as a substitute, then played 16 minutes in the Americans’ 3-1 loss to Germany in East Hartford. “We really like his versatility,” Berhalter said last week, adding that Paredes had impressed him as a young fullback in MLS.
“We’ve been watching his work in Wolfsburg, impressed with what he was able to do in the last game (a 2-2 draw against Werder Bremen in which Paredes scored) as a wingback. We like that versatility, especially as we have needs in the winger position. We think he’s a guy that can slot in nicely. He played in the Oman game, did a good job. He came into the Germany game as a winger, did a good job. So he’s just continued to make progress. We’re excited to be working with him.”
While Paredes seems highly likely to line up in a wide position if Berhalter turns to him against the Soca Warriors, 21-year-old PSV Eindhoven man Malik Tillman can play both wide in the forward line and as one of three central midfielders. Tillman enters the November games with six caps, including one in the Nations League when he played as a substitute in a 5-0 win over Grenada in June of 2022. He appeared in both of the September friendlies and started in the 4-0 win over Oman.
Tillman scored in PSV’s 4-0 win over PEC Zwolle on Saturday with USMNT teammate Sergino Dest assisting. PSV coach Peter Bosz quickly made Tillman part of his midfield rotation when the American arrived on loan from Bayern Munich in the summer, playing in the Eredivisie and the Champions League. He’s building on experience earned during a loan with Rangers last season, where Scotland’s Professional Footballers Association named him Young Player of the Year and included him in their Team of the Year. That experience is an asset for his national team at a moment when it’s needed in a two-game knockout scenario.
Photo by Imago via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com