Brooks, Pulisic, and Yedlin Take Top Honors in 2016
December 30, 2016
MANY PEOPLE are ready to turn the page on 2016—especially American soccer fans.
The U.S. women's team lost in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics—an unthinkable showing for the best squad in the world. The men's national team lost its first two games of the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualification, and Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked based on these poor results.
The number of Americans playing in the Premier League is at a two-decade low. Bob Bradley was fired at Swansea City after 85 days. The best American player is out of the game indefinitely with a heart problem. And MLS Cup was a complete dud (even if the playoffs were quite good).
Here's a look back at some of the best, and worst, of 2016.
Player of the Year: John Brooks
John Brooks was the best American player of 2016. At the Copa America the highly touted Brooks finally translated his elite club reputation over to the international game and proved that he could be a fixture on the U.S. team for the next decade.
It wasn’t all roses for Brooks. He’s had injuries and has missed the last few games before the Bundesliga winter break. His performance against Costa Rica in November’s humiliating 4-0 loss in the Hexagonal was one of the worst performances by an American central defender in decades. Hertha Berlin was also dropped out of Europe with a shocking loss to Brondby in qualifying.
But the positives far outweigh the negatives. Hertha Berlin currently sits in third place in the Bundesliga and is a club on the rise just a few years after its promotion (after years of being a yo-yo club between the top two flights). Brooks is a big contributor to that success.
Breakout player: Christian Pulisic
Back in January the Pennsylvania teen broke into Borussia Dortmund’s first team and has never looked back. Christian Pulisic does not always start but the amount of playing time he received this calendar year with the first team is impressive.
Overall in 2016 he played 1,558 minutes over 30 appearances (17 starts) with four goals. That is simply unprecedented for an American in Europe, let alone with a big club like Dortmund. Most importantly is that whenever he is on the field he is not simply a role player but rather an impact player.
Comeback Player: DeAndre Yedlin
As 2015 drew to a close, DeAndre Yedlin was one of the American players most looking forward to a new year. He made just one appearance for Tottenham through June and was still not a regular with Sunderland during his season-long loan.
But 2016 was outstanding for Yedlin. It all started in when he made his way into Sunderland’s starting lineup while it was in the relegation zone. He played well down the stretch and Sunderland ended up surviving the drop.
During the offseason he was sold to Newcastle which was relegated to the Championship. With expectations high for a quick return to the Premier League, Yedlin has had to fight for minutes but has done a good job despite strong competition. So far this season he has played in 12 games and is closing in on 1,000 minutes across all competitions. Meanwhile, Newcastle is in second place which would be good enough for automatic promotion should it finish the season there.
Biggest Surprise: Jordan Morris
Often when a younger American player receives outrageous amounts of hype, he fails to live up to expectations. That was simply not the case for Jordan Morris who logged more than 3,400 minutes, won the MLS Rookie of the Year award, and lifted MLS Cup to boot. When Clint Dempsey was forced out due to a health crisis, Morris raised his game to help propel Seattle into the playoffs. He didn’t just score goals, he scored important goals that made the difference.
In 2017 Morris should aim to be a dominant Best XI player. If he does that, he will be in far better shape to move to Europe than he was when he left Stanford. He has done very well already but with another strong season he will probably be looking for fresh challenges overseas.
Biggest Bust: Darlington Nagbe
After earning his American citizenship late in 2015, expectations began to mount for Darlington Nagbe. The Portland Timbers midfielder led his team to the 2015 MLS title and Jurgen Klinsmann gave him key minutes on the U.S. men's national team.
But 2016 proved to be a major step in the wrong direction for Nagbe. He did not play as well for Portland this year and Klinsmann could not find a way to get him on the field. Yes, he looked very good in the friendlies ahead of Copa America Centenario, but Nagbe saw minimal time in the actual tournament.
In the fall, Nagbe fell out of favor completely with Klinsmann after the two had a falling out. Nagbe was not even on the roster when the U.S. dropped its first two games of the Hexagonal. Then Portland failed to make the playoffs and got bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League in the group stages.
The drop-off from 2015 to 2016 was tough for Nagbe but at least there are positive signs ahead for 2017. New U.S. boss Bruce Arena has said that Nagbe will get an invite to January camp so he will get a chance to for a fresh start.
Breakout Player for 2017: Juan Agudelo
Who is going to be the breakout Yank in 2017? Keep an eye on Juan Agudelo. The 24-year-old isn’t old but he doesn't exactly qualify as young either. What he is, however, is still very talented and he could be the type of player who really benefits from Bruce Arena's return to the U.S. men's national team.
Agudelo has been inconsistent throughout his career, bouncing around MLS quite a bit and then going MIA after he failed to get a UK work permit after signing with Stoke City. But this past season Agudelo demonstrated that the talent is still there. New England was not a good team in 2016 but Agudelo certainly has the skill to be among the better strikers in the league—the best evidence coming in the U.S. Open Cup.
Betting on Agudelo is by no means a sure thing but I am going to take it anyway.
Right now, Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, and Jordan Morris are locks for the U.S. team on a 23-man roster (and that assumes that all will be healthy which is a long shot given the injury histories of Wood and Altidore). Even if Dempsey comes back, Agudelo could fit into the midfield and not take a forward spot. The opportunity is there for Agudelo to move past Chris Wondolowski and others to claim a spot on the team.
This year’s January camp is going to be far more interesting than it ever has been. Agudelo has a path to being one of the players who boosts his stock the most. Will he take advantage? Stay tuned.
Those are Brian's picks—now share yours. Do you agree with his selections? Have any others in mind? Share your take in the Comments section below.