The Under-20 World cup ended in a bit of disappointment on in their final match, a loss on penalties to Serbia.
But a loss for the Americans is Real Salt Lake's gain, with Jordan Allen — everyone's favorite young, intelligent winger at the club — set to return to club duty in short order.
It's difficult to say exactly when he'll be available for selection, with training certainly at a high, concentrated level for the event. But Allen's a fine athlete, as are most (perhaps all) of those under-20 U.S. players, and it shouldn't take too long for him to be ready for RSL minutes again.
And honestly, it can't come soon enough. In his second season with the club, he's already becoming a must-have — outside of the 4-0 loss to New England Revolution, he's either started or come off the bench for every match he hasn't missed with international duty. That was due to a knee injury, which seems more of a blip than an omen.
It's been an exciting thing to watch Allen play — even if RSL's in poor form, it's nice to see a young player growing into a role. And while I'm a strong believer in the quality of Sebastian Jaime, it stands to reason that Allen brings a markedly different quality to play. He's younger and less experienced, but he's a more connective player than Jaime has been so far. That's fine. Every player has their specialties, and Jaime has played as a wide forward and less as a straight-forward winger.
Whatever shape we're in, it's clear that Jordan Allen makes this team better. That's remarkable for a 20-year-old with any team, but it's also why the front-office was excited to bring him in last year. For all intents and purposes, this is his true first year as a professional — 2014, while he certainly learned a lot, saw him out with injury and reparative surgery for essentially the entire season.
When RSL plays Allen as an inverted winger — which is to say, putting him on the left flank when is more natural on the right — it provides greater options for the team in building play. The midfielders have a greater opportunity to connect with him, the forwards have an easier time receiving the ball, and there are more late runs into the box. But whether he's inverted or not, he provides qualities like that.
Additionally, Allen is a more defensively oriented player than some of the other forwards around him, and that works to RSL's benefit, too — he's been good at breaking up chances before they start, often at the expense of a yellow card that could have been avoided.
While Allen hasn't been a player (save for that one goal, which we loved) to elevate the result from a draw to a win, his play, combined with the return of Javier Morales, could prove vital.
So the question becomes: Does he start over Sebastian Jaime? It's a tough ask. Jaime has shown some very positive qualities and was involved in a some crucial chance creation in the attack. But Allen could help provide some balance, and maybe that's what RSL needs at this point.
Regardless, the discussion should be saved for Sunday's match rather than Tuesday's. First, because Allen's not likely to play Tuesday, giving him a chance to recover from international duty, and second, because the level of opponent probably won't provide much in the way of discovery.