Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna and Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards are set to make their senior international debuts this month, and at first glance it is easy to see why Gregg Berhalter has called the pair up to the US Men’s National team roster for the first time.
After all, how many countries can boast gifted youngsters in the first team pools at two of the biggest clubs in the world?
There is more to it than that, though. “We know it's about building,” said Berhalter when announcing his squad for the upcoming friendlies against Wales and Panama.
“We want to take advantage of our athleticism. I want to see us be very aggressive on the defensive side of the ball, high pressing teams. We have enough speed in the back to be able to play a higher line and I’d like our team to be more compact when we’re pressing.”
Watch: Berhalter on Reyna and Richards in Der Klassiker
In short, following the USA’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Berhalter is aiming to establish a side of top-quality players not only able to cope with the physical and technical demands of the game at the highest level, but to thrive there.
Which is where Reyna and Richards come in. Reyna does not turn 18 until 13 November, but he has already played in all seven of Dortmund’s Bundesliga games this season. Six of those have been starts, including high-profile games against the likes of Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
His return of a goal and three assists from those outings is excellent by any account, while he also has an assist in three UEFA Champions League appearances in 2020/21 so far.
Watch: Reyna's hat-trick of assists against Freiburg
It is hardly surprising, then, that Berhalter wants to take a closer look at the attacking midfielder, who would likely already have made his USMNT debut in March if not for the coronavirus outbreak.
“I don’t think we need to necessarily define where he’s going to be playing,” Berhlater told reporters when asked about the BVB starlet’s potential role in the side.
“What we want him to do is impact the game offensively. We want him to score goals and make assists. I think that’s important. We’re going to put him on the field to do that. I don’t think it’s really important to get specific about where, I think it’s what he’s doing on the field. We want him making goals and assists.”
Given his track record at the Signal Iduna park, there seems little doubt that he will do so sooner rather than later in a senior USA jersey. And with a view to Berhalter’s objective of building a side capable of competing at the next World Cup, the fact Reyna is already regularly facing – and defeating – top level opposition at club level can only stand the USA in good stead.
Watch: Reyna: like father and mother, like son
Berhalter’s side have won their last three games, against Costa Rica, Cuba and Canada, but those sides are respectively ranked 50th, 179th and 72nd in the latest FIFA rankings.
When the USA – themselves ranked 22nd in the world - have rubbed shoulders with tougher opposition over the past couple of years, such as Uruguay (ranked 7th), Mexico (11th) or Chile (17th), they have struggled: two draws, two defeats and just two goals scored across those four games is telling.
Admittedly, key players were missing from all of those fixtures, but the point stands: you need quality to overcome quality. And Reyna has that in abundance.
"When you have a player like that there’s a lot of different ways that you can form him and mould him," he told bundesliga.com. "You can see that he’s really adaptable on that. And that’s what makes him valuable to the team.”
Not only that, but Berhalter is excited to see the Dortmund youngster dovetail with fellow Bundesliga-educated members of his squad, namely Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, saying he will add an extra dimension to the team that has been missing until now.
“When you look at the skill sets of all four of those players, they’re extremely different,” the 47-year-old said. “I think because of that, they fit extremely well together. When you look at Tyler, you have a controlling midfielder with a lot of range, can easily play the No.6 position, can give you that cover in transition, but also can give you the mobility to make good plays defensively and put pressure on the opponent.
“When you look at Weston, he’s a box-to-box midfielder who likes to arrive in the penalty box. He’s strong in tackling, but has that extra offensive edge to him. Then you look at Christian, who is a one-vs-one phenomenon. He’s a guy that can put players on their back heels very easily.
"Gio is a different type of attacking player. I think he’s more of a straight-line player, a guy who can arrive in the penalty box and give a final pass or final cross. I think their skillsets work really well together when you talk about those four players.”
That quartet look set to form the core of the USA’s midfield and attacking positions for the best part of the next decade. And Richards seems unstoppable on his path into the defence, too.
“Of course I'm keeping an eye on him; Chris is one of our central defenders of the future," Berhalter told SportBild of the former FC Dallas youth player in September.
"Bayern has a plan with Chris, he has optimal conditions in Munich, and he's playing competitively. He will further improve his already strong level in the new season."
That has included two Bundesliga appearances in what is, let's not forget, the best team in the world right now that romped to the treble in 2019/20. The 20-year-old came off the bench in the Matchday 1 triumph over Schalke, and even registered an assist for Robert Lewandowski on his maiden start against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 3.
Richards injured his calf in that game but has since recovered, and has been an unused substitute in the team’s last two league outings, while he was also named in the team’s Champions League squad.
And as Richards himself recently said, "If I can play against Lewandowski [in training], I can play against anyone". Few players, if any, in Berhalter’s group are so regularly exposed to that kind of elite-level experience and test.
Not only adept at dealing with ruthless strikers, Richards is also comfortable on the ball, having completed 90 per cent of his passes in that Hertha game. Furthermore, his phenomenal leap and aerial prowess earned him the nickname “Air Richards” in the Bayern reserve side.
"When I got the call that I was invited to camp, I was ecstatic,” the Alabama native said of his inclusion in the Stars and Stripes' senior roster. “It's something I worked my whole life for. My involvement with this upcoming camp, I think if I play like I usually play and train how I usually do, I'll get my shot. There are no guarantees, but I think I have a really good chance of playing once I get there."
Watch: Highlights of Richards' full Bayern debut against Hertha
Standing at 6’3” and weighing 180 pounds, he certainly has the athleticism and speed Berhalter wants in order to be able to play his desired high defensive line and high press.
That is a tactic Richards is already familiar with under Hansi Flick at Bayern, who tend to suffocate their opponents into submission while using it. Brooks, Ream and Miazga all play in different, more defensive, systems at their clubs, so with Berhalter’s time on the practice field limited during the 10-day international break, the Bayern No.41’s know-how in this regard could prove very useful as they establish a new playing style.
However the matches against Wales and Panama pan out, then, Reyna and Richards promise to be prized additions in what is an exciting period of transition for Berhalter and the US national team over the coming years.