Giovanni Reyna of Dortmund smiles during the DFB Cup first round match between MSV Duisburg and Borussia Dortmund on Sept. 14, 2020 in Duisburg, Germany.
The future of U.S. men’s soccer has been bright for so long it’s easy to forget things are still just getting started.
While a parade of young Americans have established themselves at major European teams in the past year, and several others are knocking on the door at clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich, some of the biggest names in the U.S. pipeline still have yet to play for the national team.
That could change this month as players such as Gio Reyna, Chris Richards and Yunus Musah are among 10 uncapped players on the 24-man roster for the USMNT’s first full-strength games in nearly a year. A U.S. squad with an average age of under 22 — including 19 players who would be age-eligible for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo — will face Wales on Thursday in Cardiff before playing Panama on Nov. 16 in Austria.
The last time the U.S. played in a FIFA window, Reyna, Richards and Musah had yet to make their full professional debuts. This month they could enter the national team lineup and hold down major roles for a generation.
Ahead of these friendlies, we take a look at Reyna, Richards Musah and the seven other promising young players who could make their USMNT debuts this month.
Chituru Odunze, GK, Leicester City (England)
The battle to replace Tim Howard as the next mainstay in goal for the USMNT is underway, and Odunze can best be described as a long-term prospect. The 18-year-old was born in North Carolina but has crisscrossed North America and Europe looking for the right opportunity, which he seems to have found as part of the youth setup at Leicester City. Standing 6-foot-8, Odunze has had success with the U.S. at the youth level, including at the U-17 World Cup in 2019.
Chris Richards, DF, Bayern Munich (Germany)
Blockbuster transfers saw American players move to some of the biggest clubs in the world this year. Richards was already at one. The 20-year-old, 6-foot-3 central defender made his Bundesliga debut in June as a late sub for Bayern Munich, and he’s already featured twice so far in 2020-21 for the newly crowned European champions. Included in those was his first league start on Oct. 4, and Richards responded with an assist in a 4-3 win over Hertha Berlin. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Richards spent time with the FC Dallas academy before joining Bayern in 2019. A starter in all five U.S. games at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, Richards is seen as one of the brightest prospects for the senior national team.
Johnny Cardoso, MF, Internacional (Brazil)
The rare USMNT player who doesn’t play in Europe or North America, Cardoso, 19, is actually the first player in 24 years to earn a call-up from outside those two regions. Born in New Jersey to Brazilian parents, his family moved back to Brazil when he was an infant. In 2014, Cardoso joined Internacional in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, where he climbed through the youth ranks as a versatile midfielder and eventually caught the eye of U.S. officials. Still seen as more of a prospect than a standout for his club team, Cardoso nonetheless has the potential to become an impact player for club and country.
Richie Ledezma, MF, PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
Ledezma came up through the Real Salt Lake academy before moving to Dutch team PSV Eindhoven in 2019, and he comes into the national team in good form. The 20-year-old made his first-team debut for Eindhoven on Nov. 1, where he recorded an assist in a 4-0 win over ADO Den Haag. The attacking midfielder, originally from Phoenix, is one of 13 players on this month’s roster who has represented the U.S. at a youth World Cup, in his case the 2019 U-20 tournament, where the Americans reached the quarterfinals.
Yunus Musah, MF, Valencia (Spain)
Musah recently became the youngest player to score for Valencia in 79 years, and the 17-year-old is the youngest player on this U.S. team. His future as a dynamic box-to-box midfielder appears both long and bright. Perhaps the biggest question is whether he’ll stick around with the USMNT. Born in New York, Musah grew up between Italy and England, and he’s also eligible to play for Ghana. Most pegged him for England’s national team after he played for the Three Lions on the youth level, including serving as captain. Musah won’t be locked into any team until he plays a game in an official senior competition, but at least for now he’s with the Yanks, and a lot of eager eyes will be following him this week. “What we see from him is a player that’s hungry. He’s hungry to make his impact,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “He has a connection with the United States. He loves the direction the team is going in. He loves the young talent that he can be alongside, and we see him as having a ton of potential and for us.”
Owen Otasowie, MF, Wolverhampton (England)
One of the lesser known prospects on this list, Otasowie, 19, is on the cusp of making both his national team and Premier League debuts. Born in New York, he moved to London shortly thereafter and only started playing soccer as a teenager. Otasowie eventually found his way to the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ youth academy, where he’s developed into a defensive midfielder who can also play on the back line. Now he just needs to take the next step, which appears imminent after he made the team’s bench for a handful of Premier League games already this season. Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo recently told Birmingham Live that Otasowie “can become a very good football player” but added “he’s patient enough to know that he has a long road in front of him.”
Konrad de la Fuente, FW, Barcelona (Spain)
Known simply as Konrad, the talented winger was the caveat to last month’s big news that Sergiño Dest would be the first American to join Barcelona’s first team. That’s because Konrad was already with the Catalan giants as a member of the youth sides. The 19-year-old from Miami is still seeking his first-team debut, though that day could come at any time after Konrad has made the match day roster multiple times already this season. Earlier this year Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman called out Konrad by name as one of the team’s young players to watch. “If I had to highlight one of the youngsters, I would say Konrad, I am really happy with him,” Koeman said. A longtime member of U.S. youth teams, Konrad moved to Spain at age 10 when his dad got a job there, and after catching on with some local teams he was invited to join Barcelona’s famed “La Masia” youth academy at age 12.
Nicholas Gioacchini, FW, Caen (France)
Considered perhaps a hidden gem of sorts, the 20-year-old Gioacchini has begun to make a name for himself in the French second division with three goals in eight games so far this season. Gioacchini, who can also play on the right wing — a potential position of need for the USMNT — is coming into camp hot after entering as a late sub for Caen on Saturday and scoring a 94th-minute game-winner. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Gioacchini grew up in Maryland before moving to France as a teenager.
Gio Reyna, FW, Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Though listed on the U.S. roster as a forward, the 17-year-old Reyna has so far thrived as an attacking midfielder at Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s biggest clubs and a team known for developing young talent (such as compatriot Christian Pulisic, who’s now at Chelsea in England). Reyna debuted with Dortmund’s first team earlier this year, and he’s already become a regular with two goals and four assists across nine total matches this season, including the Champions League. The son of longtime U.S. men’s star Claudio Reyna and former U.S. women’s team member Danielle Egan, Gio Reyna is expected to slot right into the U.S. starting lineup and stay there for years. “Gio and his dad have a very similar grace to them, how the move around the field,” said Berhalter, who played with Claudio at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. “Gio and Claudio both move around the field in a very fluid way.” Should the younger Reyna play on Thursday, he would become just the 12th USMNT player to earn a cap before his 18th birthday, which is Friday.
Sebastian Soto, FW, Telstar (Netherlands)
Eligible to play for either Chile or the U.S., Soto stood out for the U.S. at the 2019 U-20 World Cup and now appears ready to stick with the Yanks at the senior level, too. On loan to Dutch second-division team Telstar, from Norwich City in England, Soto raised some eyebrows last month when he came off the bench to score both goals in a 2-0 win. The California-born striker, who has a Chilean father, has five goals in seven games so far this season for Telstar.