After their dismal qualifying performance for the 2018 World Cup, resulting in them missing the tournament for the first time in decades, confidence in the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was at an all-time low. The team’s on-field play was disjointed, they were dismally coached by Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, and little hope sprung on the horizon. A few years later on, oh how much has changed. A string of positive performances under current coach Greg Berhalter, along with a flood of talented players making names for themselves in Europe and across the world has optimism once again coursing through U.S. soccer fans’ veins.
Recent friendlies have seen many players snag their first caps, and has thrown fuel on the fire of one soccer’s most fun guessing games: who are going to be the 23?
Well, some answers to this question are obvious. Everyone knows who Christian Pulisic is, the talismanic attacking midfielder currently kicking ass and taking names for Chelsea. Other young stars on the rise like Konrad De La Fuente, Sergino Dest, Josh Sargent, Weston McKinnie, and others are rapidly becoming household names.
But what if Berhalter wanted to really plumb the depths of the talent mine to round out the back end of the roster? He would probably schedule a friendly to audition a bunch of heretofore unknown players for those spots, wouldn’t he? Well, if WE were Berhalter, it’s what WE would do.
Here’s how that lineup might look.
Goalkeeper: Divine Imasuen
The United States has rarely been hurting for goalkeeping talent, which makes it weird that they kept running out Brad Guzan for so many games after the over overrated Tim Howard era. That being neither here nor there, the U.S. maintains a healthy stable of good goalkeepers, including but not limited to guys like Zach Steffen and Ethan Horvath. But if they ever wanted a, uh, intervention at the position, they might go with Divine Imasuen. The 19-year-old is currently contracted to Tennis Borussia in the German Regionalliga, which is somewhere between the 4th and 16th tier of German soccer. I’d say he was plying his trade, but it doesn’t look like he’s gotten on the field yet. Competition must be stiff up there in Tennis, wherever the hell that is.
Defender: Jonathan Campbell
Jonathan Campbell. He even sounds like a defender, right? John Brooks. Timothy Chandler. Jonathan Campbell. Would you even ask the question? Campbell is a veteran of sorts at age 29. Deep MLS fans may even remember the time he spent with the Chicago Fire from 2016 to 2018, and his cup of coffee in 2019 with the Seattle Sounders. Campbell supposedly announced his retirement in May of last year, but joke’s on you morons. The interwebs tell me he’s currently lacing them up for Svay Rieng in the Cambodian C-League. If my wild dreams of a Jonathan Campbell Disney movie-type late rise to stardom have any chance of becoming reality, I really hope there’s not a Cambodian A or B-League…
Defender: Rayan Holland
No, that’s not a typo, presumptuous grammar snob. You think I don’t know how to spell Ryan? That isn’t even this guy’s name. Anyway, Holland. He was born in England, but for some reason that I assume involves at least one of his parents, he has U.S. National Team eligibility. And a good thing he does, because if his recent performance for Kettering Town of the English National League (a mere four tiers below the Premiership) are any indicator, a call-up could happen at any moment. I may or may not have made some assumptions about those performances, because it’s impossible to find any information on his play, but come on. Rayan Holland! What a name!
Defender: Tom Tom Johnson
If you’re wondering why Johnson’s first name is Tom Tom instead of just Tom, or Thomas, or Tommy, so am I. Imagine being a 25-year-old from New Jersey, and having to introduce yourself with a name that sounds like something your grandma puts in your birthday card accompanying the wool sweater she knit you. Well, grandma can be proud of lil’ Tom Tom because he’s representing Rincon in the Spanish Autonomicas Division. I don’t know anything about Rincon, or Autonomicas for that matter, except that it’s below the Tercera Division, which my high school Spanish gives me reasonable confidence in asserting it’s well below the Primera Division as well.
Defender: Leo Krupnik
This is funny because Krupnik is old enough to have been born in the Soviet freaking Union!!! At 41, he’s still younger than me but whatever. While I can’t find any statistics on him after 2015, he’s still apparently somehow with Maccabi Umm Al Fahm in the Israeli Liga Bet. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Krupnik actually had a fairly long, if a bit undistinguished, career in pro soccer, including a brief stint with the New York Red Bulls in 2009. And if you think 41 is too old to have a shot at making your international debut, well then you’ve clearly never seen Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. Jimmy Morris may have been about 36 when he cracked the big leagues with the Devil Rays, but Quaid was at least 60 when he played the part.
Midfielder: Mukwelle Akale
I had a whole litany of funny things to write about Akale, who is from Minneapolis and currently patrols the wing for Pafos in the Cypriot first division. That means it’s in Cyprus, you uncultured cretin. Turns out, I’m the dingus and the joke is on me. If Akale ever did get that call up to the senior team, it would only be his first time representing the senior team. That’s right. Akale has represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-18, and U-20 levels. *throws jokes into trash can*
Midfielder: Nehemia Perry
Perry is a 27-year-old of Jamaican descent but American eligibility who patrols the midfield for St. Andrews. No, not that St. Andrews. Not the other St. Andrews either. This St. Andrews is in the Maltese Challenge League. This is noteworthy because I was today years old when I found out that the Malta has multiple tiers of professional soccer. The Challenge League is not in the top one. To be fair to Perry, the limited statistical availability for Maltese lower league soccer still confirms he’s logged a few minutes for the team, even smashing home a goal. And can you say that you have scored a goal in professional soccer? Yeah, I didn’t think so, so shut up.
Midfielder: Athanasios Scheidt
In case you wondered, Scheidt’s name is pronounced shite. I know this, because I understand the basics of enunciation, and in the off chance I’m wrong, it means that God hates us and we’re all doomed anyway. Scheidt was born in Germany but apparently has at least one American parent, which passes the sniff test because we’re known as a country in which parents name their kids some pretty weird ass shite. See what I did there? Your new favorite player with the name Athanasios earns that distinction over all the other Athanasiosi by playing for Radomiak Radom in Polish I Liga. Or maybe it’s the 1 Liga? Who the hell knows, but it’s not the Ekstraklasa, which is evidently the top tier in Polish soccer.
Midfielder: Ben Sippola
Remember this guy? No you don’t, you damn liar. I mean, sure, there’s an off-chance you were a die-hard Columbus Crew supporter circa 2011, and knew his name from the occasional appearance on the substitutes bench. But let’s just be honest with one another. You weren’t a Crew fan in 2011, you’ll never be a Crew fan, and I had a third thing I wanted to say here but my train of thought got derailed. The 33-year-old Sippola currently is on the roster of Torslanda in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer. I can’t find any stats for him after 2013 so he might just be a coach. But it’s more fun to think of him out there whipping crosses and snapping fibulas in sub zero temperatures.
Forward: Arda Bulut
Bulut currently smashes goals into the back of the net for Karacabey Belediyespor in the Turkish second division. Yes, I absolutely copy and pasted that team name, because the chances of me typing that out without a typo that changed it’s meaning to goat humper or something embarrassing was close to zero. Also, Bulut has really only smashed in one goal. In 70 career minutes. Wipe that smirk off your face. It’s one more goal than you’ve scored.
Forward: Dion Acoff
Listen, man. You can’t go out there and bag goals for an Icelandic powerhouse like Throttur Reykjavik without being a badass on the pitch. Or maybe you can. Maybe you just have to be kinda good at soccer. And Acoff might be, because the 29-year-old from Fontana, California sees semi-regular playing time with Iceland’s biggest soccer club and has netted 16 career goals for them.
Goalkeeper: Brian Schwake
The 19-year-old Schwake still has his whole career in front of him. If he doesn’t suck, it could be a long one. He does, however, play for Linlithgow Rose in Scotland. Heard of them? If not, that’s because they play in the Scotland Feeder Leagues. I don’t know what a Feeder League is, but it’s likely several levels below the Premiership, which is home to storied clubs like Rangers, Celtic, Dundee United, Hibernian and others.
Defender: Stephen Payne
Shaun accused me of writing too many homer articles. And while he’s right about that, I’m passive aggressively clapping back by including as many Southern California guys as I can. Payne was born in Riverside, which I just now noticed could just as easily be in Nigeria as it could in California, but whatever. He’s logging full-time minutes for Vilaverdense in the Portuguese Campeonato de Portugal Prio. That’s a few levels below iconic clubs such as Benfica, but hey, how many minutes are you logging in pro soccer? In Portugal? Where smoking hot women basically grow on trees? Exactly.
Midfielder: Faris Abdi
Hey look, another Southern California kid! Abdi is 21 years old, which low key sucks ass for him because he plays for Al Quadisiya in Saudi Arabia, and rumor has it if you drink alcohol there they lop off body parts. Abdi started his career in 2019 with Austin Bold in the U.S., and while I can surmise little more about them apart from being in Texas, my feeling is he shoulda stayed there. Dude could be getting druuuuuuuuuuuuunk right now.
Midfielder: Lee Nguyen
Remember this guy? This time I believe you. Why? Because Nguyen has logged more than 20,000 minutes of MLS soccer in his career. Those days are behind him as he currently plays for Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. Fun fact, in the off chance that Nguyen did somehow get a call up to the National Team at age 33, it wouldn’t be the first time he did. From 2007 to 2016 he was capped by the U.S. nine times. In his prime, he was a heck of a player.
Forward: Maki Tall
Standing at 173cm, Tall is anything but. I’m clearly running out of jokes and I also don’t have any idea how many feet and inches that translates to. I only know my German parents used to say, roughly translated, “that guy is nearly two meters tall,” to anyone over six feet. 173cm is not two meters. At least it freaking better not be, otherwise I’ll throw my laptop in my non-existent swimming pool and go to bed. Tall is 25, was born in Washington D.C., and plays for Francs Borains in Belgium. They’re an amateur team, which I assume means they’re in a tier well below teams that are…well, in a professional league.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I would remiss if I didn’t credit Soccerway.com here. Without that amazing website and its innumerable soccer rabbit holes to jump down, it would have taken me years to write this article, and I’ve have damn quit after 45 minutes.