With World Cup qualifying less than a year away, and the 2022 World Cup on the horizon, it is a good time to take stock of the U.S. Men’s National Team talent pool heading into 2020.
Over the course of the final days 2019, and start of 2020, SBI will look at the talent pool at every USMNT position, and rank the top players based on current form, and long-term potential, as we move into the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle.
We started the series with the striker position, and followed up with the goalkeeper position, with the wingers list dropping before the New Year began. The Top 10 right backs were unveiled on New Year’s Eve, and Top 20 centerbacks revealed on January 5th.
Up next are the left backs, the players who will be looking to help fill a long-standing void at a position that hasn’t had a dominant presence very often for the USMNT.
That could be changing now that Sergino Dest has chosen to play for the United States, and now that there are a wave of exciting left back prospects making their way up the club ranks. At the moment there are more high-level left back prospects in the USMNT pipeline than ever before, and while some of them may not be ready to make a serious push for the 2022 World Cup, at least a few of them should be able to make good cases in the next three years.
It will be interesting to see how Berhalter handles the position in the new year. We saw some older players log time at left back in 2019, with Tim Ream and Daniel Lovitz earning regular call-ups, but this year should see younger candidates earning the majority of the minutes.
There are quite a few left backs on the older age range, from Ryan Hollingshead (28) , to Timmy Chandler (29), who could earn looks in 2020 if the youth movement is slow to develop, but with these rankings meant to focus on candidates for the 2022 World Cup, you won’t see those players, or Ream or Lovitz included here.
Here are the Top 10 left back prospects in the USMNT pipeline:
The Ajax fullback is arguably the best USMNT option at both right back and left back heading toward 2022, but left back should be where he settles until the youngsters in the pipeline are ready to push him to the right.
The 19-year-old will continue to face stiff competition for minutes at Ajax, but he is a safe bet to stay in Gregg Berhalter’s lineup even if he hits some rough patches with his club team.
An Everton academy product, the English-American defender left the Liverpool club on a permanent move to Wigan last summer and has established himself as a regular starter for the Championship side.
Robinson earned seven caps over two years, but failed to make the Gold Cup team last summer, and has yet to be called back in since that disappointing stint. Age-eligible for the Olympics, Robinson could be a factor for the Olympic team if the Americans qualify.
A standout starter on the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team last summer, Gloster is a natural left back who brings excellent attacking qualities to the position and is the same age as Dest.
The PSV fullback is still waiting to make his first-team debut, but he has pushed his way into the squad at Jong PSV after just arriving in the Netherlands from Hannover last summer.
A player who wouldn’t have been on this list at all a year ago, Gasper broke through with an impressive rookie season with Minnesota United, establishing himself as a strong defender and capable ball-handler worthy of a look from Gregg Berhalter.
As a result, Gasper has been called into the January camp and will be in contention for a place on the Olympic qualifying squad. The 22-year-old has a chance to create some distance between himself and the younger players on this list.
A player who made the most of his chance to develop his game in USL, Vines clocked 29 games with the Charlotte Independence, which helped put him in position to be a factor in 2019 with the Colorado Rapids. The result was 26 appearances and a solid first season as the Rapids’ starting left back.
The 20-year-old left back earned a USMNT call-up to the January camp, giving him a chance to impress Berhalter and try to stake claim to the left back job on the Olympic qualifying team.
One of the standouts on the U.S. Under-17 World Cup team, Hernandez-Foster didn’t have a chance to show his qualities as a left back due to his run in central defense, but he is a teenager with a bright future.
Will that future keep him with the LA Galaxy, or will he head elsewhere when he turns 18? The Galaxy have seen some top prospects leave in the past year in Alex Mendez and Ulysses Llanez, and the recent acquisitions of Emiliano Insua and Danilo Acosta mean minutes with the first team aren’t likely in 2020.
A year ago Bello was looking at a very exciting year ahead, but injuries left him sidelined for a large part of 2019, thwarting his chance to truly break out.
Will 2020 be Bello’s chance to become Atlanta United’s first-choice option at left back? It is easy to forget how young he is (Bello turns 18 later in January), but the good news is he should be able to find regular starts with Atlanta’s USL affiliate if Frank DeBoer decides he isn’t ready for the first team.
The wait for Farfan to become Portland’s first-choice option at left back has been a long one, ever since he showed glimpses as a teenager. Though he only managed three appearances for the Timbers in 2019 (along with 17 for T2 in USL), Farfan was still in the U.S. Under-23 setup.
The competition for Olympic qualifying places has gotten much tougher with Chase Gasper and Sam Vines becoming MLS regulars, and the continued presence of veteran Jorge Villafana could force Farfan to wait even longer to break out.
Another player with tough competition at his club, Real is stuck behind impressive German left back Kai Wagner, but he made 18 appearances for USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel to go with his three appearances for the Philadelphia Union.
A member of the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team, Real will have a tough time breaking into the crowded Olympic qualifying picture, but
The former Sacramento Republic academy product is another of the many young Americans to make the jump to Germany, and the Hamburg left back is currently training with Hamburg’s first team with a chance to take the step up from the U-19 team.
The 18-year-old has some good competition in his U-20 age group at left back in Hernandez-Foster and Bello, but if Sousa can earn first-team minutes, he can start to climb up this list.