Coming to America
There has been a recent trend in young Americans struggling for minutes outside of MLS. We see the fantastic stories of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams… even a Matt Miazga or a Jonathan Klinnsman are doing well club wise. But what about those names of USMNT past that never quite worked out?
Remember Brooks Lennon? Stud right-wingback for RSL? Well Lennon signed with Liverpool’s youth teams in 2015, and in 2017 was loaned out from Liverpool to RSL where he stars. Remember Gedion Zelalem? Zelalem came up through Arsenal’s youth sides and was officially part of the team in 2014. Never making a true first team appearance he went out on loan to Rangers for a season, VVV-Venlo for a season, and just didn’t play in 2018. He was bought by Sporting Kansas City this year and now has a total of 8 appearances between SKC and Swope Park. I guess the most recent example of this is Emerson Hyndman. 25 appearances for Fulham from 2014-2016, then signing with Bournemouth where he would only go on to make 2 appearances in 3 season… Hyndman went out on loan to Rangers, Hibernian, and now is on loan with Atlanta United looking to make his mark.
There are more examples than the three that I named above; Manneh, Parks, Canouse, Stanko, Shea… But what happened? Was it a bad culture fit? Was it the reputation around an American soccer player? Or was it that these players just really aren’t good enough? Maybe a mixture of all three plus some other stuff too. Many look at these players coming home and playing for MLS as a negative, and in some cases, those people may be right. But let me try and be an optimist!
Lennon is 21 years old. Coming up through the U.S. youth system and in Liverpool’s youth system he was a winger. Since coming back to Real Salt Lake he has truly flourished as a right-wingback. Though he still has some work in front of him, he has the ability to be a very strong wing-back, bomb forward, and put in beautiful crosses for attackers (just look at his 9 assists in 2.5 MLS seasons). Also, let’s be real, with the current high flying state of Liverpool, even if he was a high quality player, wouldn’t be a first team option for them. Getting consistent starting MLS minutes is a good thing for Lennon and he has that European experience behind him. He could get back to Europe one day, especially with how much the Bundesliga is loving our young talent.
People might have a tough time trying to find the positive in the Zelalem story but that is why I am here. Zelalem was never able to make an EPL appearance for Arsenal, made a few cup games, but nothing ever serious for his time in Europe. And what happens? You go out on loan and come back to try and impress in the off-season. Zelalem did that routine and even after a solid loan stint with Rangers (28 games and 8 assists) he couldn’t crack though. With poor loan performances and not playing in 2018 you’d have to imagine that the 22 year old’s confidence was shot! Then Peter Vermes came calling and if there is ANY coach in MLS to shake things up and get confidence back in a player… it might just be Vermes. Also, with the TON of Sporting Kansas City injuries this season it might just be an opportunity for Zelalem to get minutes. He is now closing in on 10 appearances between SKC and their USL Championship side Swope Park Rangers. I think that given the time and the minutes, we could see a bounce back in the career of Gedion Zelalem. I don’t think an Arsenal return but pshh who am I to say it WON’T happen?! (PS it 99.9% never will, I know)
I can break down each individual case of young American “future stars” that never panned out in that way. But, player’s careers don’t always work out. Not everyone is going to be a Dempsey, a McKennie, or a Pulisic. But these guys are still young and maybe a shot of confidence coming from solid MLS play is what they need! I have faith in our boys to figure things out here in MLS and still play some major minutes in Europe before their career’s end. Maybe this is what MLS can offer players. A league for American teens to develop and eventually be sold to larger leagues, a league where veteran Americans can come home to, and a league where struggling Americans in Europe can come home to and gain their confidence back.