On the day the U.S. men's national team announced its long-awaited return to action, Sebastian Soto made a further case for inclusion.
The striker, whose international allegiance has come into question in recent weeks, came off the bench at halftime and scored both goals in Telstar's 2-0 win over Helmond Sport on Friday, with the first coming in sensational fashion. Soto, who is on loan with the second-tier Dutch club from Norwich City, now has five goals in six appearances this season.
Soto scored the opener four minutes into his time on the field with an audacious and powerful volley from a tight angle. He doubled Telstar's advantage in the 63rd minute.
The 20-year-old would figure to be a prime candidate for a call-up to a camp that will represent the USA's first with a full player pool available in just shy of a year. (The annual January camp, which was the last time Gregg Berhalter was able to assemble a squad due to the pandemic, falls outside of official FIFA windows).
While U.S.-based players are eligible to be called in, the camp falls right in the middle of MLS's break between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, and with quarantine measures required for players traveling abroad, it's not all that practical for players to make the transatlantic trip in the thick of a pandemic. As a result, a squad heavy on Europe-based players is expected for the camp that will be held in the U.K. and include at the very least a friendly vs. Wales on Nov. 12. A second friendly is in the works after a proposed match vs. Australia fell through following the Australian federation's decision to call off its November camp due to the resurgence of coronavirus cases abroad.
The question facing Soto is whether he'll accept a call-up should one come, stick with the U.S. if one doesn't or hold out for Chile altogether. Soto, who starred for the U.S. at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup, was born in California but has a Chilean father. Last month, there were conflicting reports out of Chile regarding his international future, though no decision was actually made.
Earlier this week, Soto told Dutch outlet NH Sport that he was closing in on one, though plenty still needs to occur before he can represent Chile. He doesn't yet have a Chilean passport (though he says that is in the works), and he would need to file for a one-time FIFA switch due to his participation with the U.S. in the U-20 World Cup and have that approved.
"The decision process is coming," Soto said. "I think it should be time to make a decision in the next few days even. Maybe next week or two.
"I think it's more conversations to have with my family, to be honest, than with the coaches."
Soto indicated that he has been in touch with Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda, whom he called a "really good guy," and that it's still "50-50."
Berhalter addressed Soto's future recently in a SiriusXM radio appearance, indicating a clear interest in the player.
"He's a player we really like. He's been in our program," Berhalter said. "All we want to do is create the environment that players want to be in. We don't like to lose players.
"There’s no way I’d be happy about him going to play for Chile, because we feel like he can be an important player for us in the future.
"It’s trying to create an environment players want to be in, it’s trying to play a way player want to play, and hoping they choose for us. Sergiño [Dest] is another guy, he had options. He could have easily played for Holland and he decided to play for us. So we try to do the work on our end that we can keep these players.”
Even if Soto is called into next month's camp and plays vs. Wales, he wouldn't be locked into the U.S. for good, given it's a friendly, and any public commitment would be a verbal agreement. The next opportunity to play in an official, cap-tying match isn't slated to come until next June, in the rescheduled conclusion to the first Concacaf Nations League. The subsequent Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying matches would also offer that chance.