Over the last year, there's been little for fans of the U.S. men's national team to get excited about. While patiently waiting for a new manager to be hired to take the program forward, there have been a series of friendlies with varied results. One on hand, there's the pre-World Cup draw at France and September win over Mexico. On the other, a heavy loss to Brazil and stark reminders everywhere that the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup and its transition period is still taking place.
Fans have been introduced to new faces and names, and players who perhaps otherwise wouldn't be getting shots this soon with the senior team have soaked up opportunities to experience an international fixture window the proper way. With the memory of Oct. 10, 2017, still fresh and its anniversary creeping up, though, that's little to rally around.
There is a young core that's starting to be defined, though. A young core of players with major potential for both club and country, some of which is already starting to be realized. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, specifically, are three names that figure to be the foundation for the U.S. as it builds toward next summer's Gold Cup, the 2020 Olympics and then, eventually qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
So it's a natural and poorly timed shame that none of the three will take part in the upcoming matches against Colombia and Peru, which will follow the one-year commemoration of the Catastrophe in Couva.
The injury bug has hit all three, and the timing couldn't be worse for the U.S. given the current set of circumstances. No, the games are ultimately of no consequence. A 6-1 win over Colombia on Thursday will matter no more than a 4-0 loss or a 2-2 draw. But at this point it's about rebuilding a spirit around the program and throughout the fanbase that disintegrated nearly a year ago, and in that trio of talent there is a representation of hope for a more successful future.
All three were in fine form before injuries derailed their ability to suit up for the national team during this window. McKennie, whose chief contributions to the national team don't figure to come in goal-scoring form, had just scored a game-winning goal in the Champions League and a go-ahead goal in the Bundesliga, for the first two tallies of his senior club career with Schalke, before suffering an adductor muscle injury.
Pulisic, meanwhile, had also scored in the Champions League and Bundesliga for Dortmund, continuing his run of electrifying play in BVB's suddenly awakened attack before tearing a calf muscle. The two 20-year-olds are carving their own path in Germany and getting the plaudits that have come along with it. While McKennie has had the chance to feature regularly under interim coach Dave Sarachan, though, Pulisic has played a total of 89 minutes in the last calendar year for the U.S. For a national team to have its top talent go that long playing that little is a rarity.
The two may soon be joined in the Bundesliga by the 19-year old Adams, who scored the USA's game-winner vs. Mexico last month. He has sat out the Red Bulls' last two matches with back spasms and is eyeing a return to fitness for the playoffs, which may precede what has been a widely reported winter move to RB Leipzig, where he would reunite with ex-Red Bulls manager and current RB Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch.
"This is the nature of the national team," Sarachan said in camp on Monday. "Guys get hurt, guys have to miss. We think the depth pool is a good depth pool, and now it's an opportunity for some other guys to step in."
And opportunity has knocked for Marky Delgado and Fafa Picault, who have been called in as replacements but don't carry the same kind of cachet or long-term outlook that Pulisic, McKennie and Adams have built up over the last couple of years.
The three cornerstones of the U.S. midfield are the future, and seeing all three roam the field, together, against two of South America's top sides would have at least presented a major draw and source of joy for a supporter base looking for anything along those lines. At a time when the men's national team will be confronting the most painful moment of its recent past and is looking to write a new story with a new cast of main characters, their collective absence is but a helpless disappointment.