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What Aaron Herrera needs to add to get to the next level of his game

To become elite for club and country, RSL’s right back has one more skill to add.

Soccer: International Friendly Soccer-Trinidad & Tobago at USA Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

January camp games for the U.S. Men’s National Team are typically full of empty calories. Yes it is soccer, and yes it is fun (kind of), but a whole host of caveats make it difficult to pull anything too meaningful from the results.

This year’s edition was no different as the USMNT dispatched Trinidad and Tobago 7-0 in a match that was over within the first half hour. For Aaron Herrera however, the match gave him a chance to compete for future call ups and minutes in what is slated to be a very busy 2021 for the National Team program.

Herrera played pretty close to a perfect shift, only misplaying five passes during his 78 minutes on the pitch. He was 2 out of 3 on his crosses and added two key passes on the night, on top of keeping things locked down defensively (and even adding the night’s purest CONCACAF moment).

Despite this, most of the buzz on Twitter and in write ups has been on the other outside back, Rocky Mountain Rival Sam Vines.

Part of this is due to positional need: the USMNT hasn’t had a lockdown starter at left back in years and the position is one of the team’s weakest while right back might be the strongest. But part is due to Vines picking up an assist, something he did by displaying an aspect still missing from Herrera’s game: getting to the end line and delivering a cutback.

There are a lot of good US right backs in the year 2021. Sergino Dest plays regularly for Barcelona (a small club in some part of Spain if memory serves me well). FC Dallas has sold two right backs to Europe in the last year for a combined $10m+. Deandre Yedlin has more than 100 caps in the English Premier League and is barely in the picture for the Yanks.

Breaking into the rotation will be a battle, even for a player as talented as Herrera. RSL’s right back has many of the attributes you want in a modern full back, not only is he rock solid defensively, but he is a reliable outlet in possession. He can receive the ball in tight spaces, carry the ball forward, play progressive passes, and deliver a fine cross in the final third. To go from really good to elite though, he’ll need to take one step further. He needs to get into the box, either by taking guys on 1v1 or timing his overlaps.

This is one of Herrera’s two key passes from the match:

It’s a great cross and you can argue Lewis should’ve done better, or was a little unlucky. But the advantage of cutbacks over crosses is the amount of luck needed is significantly less. Modern attacking fullbacks have to be able to get into the box and deliver higher quality chances than crosses can provide.

Herrera played a solid match for the USMNT and did enough to get a look in future camps. He’ll hopefully feature for the Jason Kreis coached Olympic team. He is a gentleman, a scholar, and one of the brightest rays of hope on the RSL roster. But to reach the next level, for the national team and Real Salt Lake, he has to get more time in the box.