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Ranking the USMNT Talent Pool: Left Backs

With the game of soccer currently on hold around the world, it is a good time to take stock of the U.S. Men’s National Team talent pool as we wait for the sport to resume.

SBI is taking a closer look at each position in the USMNT player pool, ranking the top options, based both on recent form, and potential.

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.

Ream is left off the list due to his age, and this lists’s focus being on long-term prospects. The reality is Ream could very well still be a part of Berhalter’s plans when World Cup qualifying begins, but Ream will be 35 when the 2022 World Cup kicks off, making his involvement highly unlikely by that point.

Here are the Top 10 left back prospects in the USMNT pipeline:

Sergino Dest

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.

Antonee Robinson

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. The new year began with a whirlwind transfer saga involving AC Milan, but Robinson’s proposed move was halted by what was later discovered to be a heart defect. He has been out of action since the defect was discovered, and he is set to undergo a procedure to address his condition.

Chris Gloster

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.

Chase Gasper

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.

Sam Vines

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.

Ryan Hollingshead

The FC Dallas veteran is one of the more underrated fullbacks in MLS, with the converted winger thriving in 2019 as an effective weapon at left back. The 28-year-old is a better attacker than defender, but has shown steady improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Hollingshead hasn’t received a USMNT look before, and he’s turning 29 in April, which puts him on the older side for a chance at the 2022 World Cup.

Kobe Hernandez-Foster

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? There have been rumblings that he plans on signing with Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, and following the trail blazed by fellow Galaxy academy product Ulysses Llanez.

George Bello

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.

Daniel Lovitz

The Nashville SC defender saw more call-ups from the USMNT than most USMNT fans would have liked, and the reality is he failed to do much with the opportunities he received.

To be fair to Lovitz, he has played better than he did in 2019, when he fell out of favor with the Montreal Impact, which precipitated his move to Nashville. The change of scenery could help him get back to being one of the best left backs in MLS, and the 28-year-old clearly has qualities that Gregg Berhalter likes, so a national team return isn’t impossible.

Travian Sousa

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.


  1. One thing that’s becoming obvious as you go position-by-position is that the USMNT has some really good players at at least eight spots. In terms of defenders, keepers, and central midfielders, the USA has some really good players, at least in its starting 11, and at least half of those guys are playing for Champions League-caliber teams. That’s a team that could conceivably aspire to make the Round of 8 at the World Cup.

    The bigger problem – and the thing that’s keeping us from really aspiring to that top level – is the lack of difference makers at striker and on the wing, unless the Nats can afford to push Pulisic out to the wing, and we’re just not that deep at central midfield yet.

    I could live with Altidore as a spot guy, but our problem is he’s our best striker. We don’t have a Messi or even a Dempsey in this group and it does limit us some.

  2. After getting a few starts early in the season, rookie John Nelson (Dallas) experienced some injury woes and Hollingshead w was moved from midfield to LB. I think Nelson performed very well and was surprised when he failed to get much love after May. The FC Dallas article about him blames injury, Nelson did play 7 games for the USL franchise before moving back to the travelling squad at the end of the season.

    I still think Nelson will fit into the USMNT plans sooner or later, but until Hollingshead is moved or injured, it looks like Nelson will continue to bide his time. He also had some minor surgery at the end of the season.

    I really think he has the best defensive instincts I”ve seen in a young player. He simply never gets caught out of position; his 1v1 defending and speed are great. If the injury bug does not prevent it, he is definitely someone to watch

  3. Honestly, I am kind of hoping the Union trade Matt Real to a team that needs him. He needs to get on the field and Kai has that spot on lock down.
    This is probably one of the better examples of the effects of TAM. We have a budding young national team player who is not getting game time because the league subsidized an international player on the roster.
    Yes, Kai is better than Matt (and a few years older, so not a big surprise). But Real is lagging behind now without minutes at the top level. Playing with Union II (RIP Bethlehem Steel) is not going to cut it.
    Garber is trying to inject better players into the league, I get it. But when it comes to the National Team this does nothing to help the ‘MLS Players Suck’ narrative. Real will never develop into our next USMNT LB if Garber is taking him off the field.
    Quick addendum for anyone who is saying he needs to beat Kai out for the spot – I agree with you on some level, but there isn’t a player (international or domestic) in MLS who can’t be taken off the field by a more expensive player from the world market.
    Full disclosure, I side with the MLSPA in wanting TAM taken out of the CBA’s. This is only one of the reasons.

    • While I hate to give credit to the Mexican Federation….They were facing the same issue within Liga MX a while back (10+ yrs ago). In order to improve the Mexican national teams, the Mexican federation created a rule that each club had to have a certain number of youth players (U-23 age eligible I believe) on their roster, and that youth players had to meet a certain percentage of playing time over the course of the season (all competitions counted towards this %).
      If a club failed to have sufficient youth players, or failed to meet the percentage of playing time they were docked points at the end of the regular season and/or fined by the federation. This basically forced clubs to have reserve teams and give young players real game experience….even if it was minutes in Cup matches or mop up minutes.
      After instituting this rule, the Mexican Youth National teams significantly improved….which has helped more of their players get to Europe, and has vaulted their Sr. Team well above the rest of CONCACAF.
      As I said I hate to give them credit, but this is something that has greatly improved their National Team player pool, and is something USSF could easily implement here in the US.
      Will it magically fix the problem…No. But over time you improve the overall quality & experience of your players…and get away from the perception of a “retirement league”.


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