Let’s put it bluntly: Last week was a rough one for the US men’s national team. Another round of international fixtures came and went, with disappointing results only topped by baffling managerial decisions. These were friendly games, which are the right time to be experimenting, so perspective is needed. But an off-and-on performance against Peru and a 4-1 pasting by Brazil soil has led to renewed calls for coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s job and an overarching concern about the progress of the team leading up to the crucial Confederations Cup qualifier against Mexico next month.
There will be thousands of words typed, tweeted and shouted about the State of US Soccer and Jurgen Klinsmann’s position atop it. And there should be. But let’s brighten the mood a little bit with some good news: there’s a young American turning heads across the pond, and it may not be someone you’ve heard much about.
When American soccer fans think about our young talents honing their skills abroad, there are a few names that come to mind. There’s the enigmatic savior of our midfield, Arsenal starlet Gedion Zelalem, who occasionally graces social media with some exquisite touch or pass (he’s still doing just that to rave reviews from his new fans at his loan team, Rangers). You may think of Fulham’s Emerson Hyndman, who’s already made an appearance for the senior national team, or the electric Deandre Yedlin, who turned into one of the breakout players of last summer’s World Cup.
But it’s Yedlin’s current teammate, Lynden Gooch (no, not that Gooch) that made headlines last week. He was named the Barclays Under-21 Player of the Month for the month of August on Friday, becoming only the second American to claim the honor. And it’s easy to see why: he scored goals in each of his first three league matches for the Sunderland reserves, and added an assist to top it off. He was rewarded with a 30-minute cameo in the Black Cats senior team in the Capital One Cup win over Exeter. While Exeter’s not exactly Champions League quality, Gooch impressed so much in the 6-3 victory that he was named in the senior squad for a Premier League game just a few days later.
Gooch told Sunderland’s website:
“I’ve had a great start; last season was frustrating for me because I had a few injuries so it was important to get off to a good start this year, and I came back really fit for preseason which I think has really paid off.”
That return to fitness came in a a rollercoaster summer for the Santa Cruz, Calif., native. The 19-year-old was left off of Tab Ramos’s roster for this summer’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand but then appeared four times for the U-20’s in the CONCACAF Championship in Jamaica.
He’s since turned into one of Sunderland’s star youngsters, providing a dynamic outlet on the wing for their U-21s with the versatility to play as a forward or across the midfield. Sunderland’s professional development director, Kevin Ball, called him one of the most technically gifted players in the youth squad. It’s his creativity from the wing combined with his impressive physicality on the field that has Sunderland fans salivating after a dull start to their senior team’s Premier League journey.
It’s important to note that he is not the finished product. Gooch is not ready to be a consistent player for the national team, and still has to prove his quality to get starts for Sunderland. But if the start to this season is any indicator, we could see another American plying his trade in the Premier League sooner than later.
There is a catch: Jurgen Klinsmann needs to recognize this talent and give him some playing time soon, or he may lose him. Despite being born in California and being capped by the US at junior level, Gooch has close ties to England. His father is from there, he’s spent much of his time there since his early teens, and he has both UK and Irish passports. That means he can still apply to switch national status to either of those teams until he makes an appearance for the US senior team in an official competition. He’s caught the eye of several of European’s big names before, having tried out for AC Milan and Everton in the past. One can hope that Klinsmann’s affinity for talent playing abroad will force him to take notice of this talent budding in northeast England.
So if last week’s friendlies have you concerned about the future of the US Men’s National team, remember: the kids are alright. With Zelalem, Hyndman and Tottenham’s rising defensive star Cameron Carter-Vickers all tipped for upcoming first-team success, it seems the Americans have a solid foundation upon which they can build. And in Lynden Gooch, they could have a special, dynamic talent to lead the line for the next generation of American stars for years to come.
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