Jürgen Klinsmann’s scouting of NASL games and continued selection of Minnesota United’s Miguel Ibarra has fueled speculation as to who else in he US 2nd Division NASL could warrant a call-up to the US Men’s National Team squad.
The first name on the lips of many that are knowledgeable about lower-division soccer in the United States is Ibarra’s Minnesota United teammate Christian Ramirez. Last season, Ramirez equaled the NASL record for 20 goals in a regular season that was shared by Etienne Barbara and Pablo Campos. The 23 year-old Ramirez has steadily improved as a player in his time both in college and the US lower leagues.
A tall, yet mobile striker, Ramirez combines good technical skill with a physical presence and a great finishing touch. He is, to many observers, a more finished article as a striker than many of his counterparts in Major League Soccer.
Ramirez has not been capped at any level for the United States, but failure to play in the youth systems has not deterred Klinsmann from selecting players in the manner of his USMNT Head Coach predecessors.
Wálter Restrepo, who recently signed with the New York Cosmos, is a cultured and technical midfield player who made the NASL Best XI while with Fort Lauderdale and helped lead San Antonio to the 2014 NASL title. The 26 year-old San Diego born Restrepo was a revelation during the 2012 NASL season when he led the league in assists despite missing the last two months of the campaign with an injury. Restrepo is a creative player but might lack the durability or training discipline to hack it at the international level.
Perhaps a more intriguing option than either Restrepo or Ramirez is Fafà Picault. The 23 year-old winger just moved from Fort Lauderdale to Sparta Prague during the January transfer window. Picault, who was second behind Ramirez in goals scored during the 2014 NASL season, was a talismanic figure for the Strikers as they reached the NASL final. Picault won an NASL title with Tampa Bay in 2012 after spending several seasons developing in Italy with Cagliari. The New York-born but Miami-bred winger combines bags of pace with great vision, good touch, outstanding tactical understanding and a creative flair.
Haiti noted Picault’s quality and success and called him into the National Team camp prior to a friendly in Fort Lauderdale in 2014. However, Picault — who was part of the US youth setup — did not dress and remains eligible for a full US call-up.
Now that Picault is plying his trade at a European club that features regularly in continental competitions, it is almost certain the US will be closely tracking his progress.
Miguel Ibarra’s performances have made it crystal clear to observers of the American professional game that a whole world exists beyond Major League Soccer. Tapping into that potential is critical going forward for the United States National Team.
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