Sam Allardyce should hand Sunderland youngster Lynden Gooch a first-team chance

The 19-year-old American has been putting in some superb displays for the Under-21s this season.

Sunderland’s first-team may be struggling for results this season but it is a different story for their Under-21 side.

The youngsters thrashed their Leicester City counterparts 6-1 on Monday night at the King Power Stadium to cement their place at the top of the U21 Premier League, as one prospect stood out in particular.

19-year-old forward Lynden Gooch scored twice – the second from the penalty spot – and set up Rees Greenwood’s first-half strike to help seal his side all three points, as his link-up play with the likes of Charias Mavrias and Mikael Mandron proved too much for the hosts to cope with.

The American playmaker’s eye-catching display was certainly no surprise, though, as he has been in stellar form for the reserves this season, recording five goals and three assists in nine appearances, as well as winning the Barclays Under-21 Player of the Month award for August after netting in each of his first three games.

His impressive performances even saw former Black Cats manager Dick Advocaat hand him his club debut as a 58th-minute substitute in the 6-3 Capital One Cup second-round win over Exeter City in August, before he was again named on the bench for the subsequent 2-2 league draw at Aston Villa.

A first top-flight appearance has yet to materialise at this point, but with new boss Sam Allardyce needing all the help he can get to lift his side out of the drop zone, he might be wise to look to the California native.

“He [Allardyce] wasn’t here tonight,” Under-21 coach Andy Welsh told SportsByte following the win at Leicester. “But we have had Duncan [Watmore] who has been in and around the first team. Lynden was involved under Dick Advocaat.

“He has to keep the same levels of performance he has been producing over the last few months in order to get himself as far forward and as close to the first-team as he can.”

Gooch, who holds a British passport through his Colchester-born father, first caught the attention of Sunderland at the age of 10 during a centre of excellence tour of Europe, when he impressed the club enough for them to keep bringing him back to England twice a year to train with the academy.

Eventually joining the North East outfit on a full-time basis in June 2012 amid rival interest from Everton and AC Milan [h/t American Soccer Now], the skilful attacker went on to sign a new long-term deal until 2017 last November and later became a regular starter on the right winger for the Under-21s over the following months.

In addition, the American youth international also got his first taste of senior experience in March during a seven-game loan spell at Conference side Gateshead, where he earned some impressive reviews thanks to his energetic outings, and prior to that was part of the US Under-20 squad that sealed qualification for the World Cup at the 2015 CONCACAF Championship in Jamaica.

Surprisingly omitted from the final 21-man squad that travelled to New Zealand in the summer, head coach Tab Ramos would come to regret leaving him at home, as his side crashed out at the quarter-finals on penalties to Serbia after managing just one goal in their final three matches.

“Lynden Gooch will be a very important player for us [the US],” Ramos told American Soccer Now back in September. “I think he has that kind of potential. The issue we had with the current U-20 group for Lynden is that I didn't have a best position for him. I think he's more of a central player—either as a second striker or as a central midfielder. In those positions I felt more comfortable that we had other types of players who could contribute to the team more.

“It's hard to say what was the hardest decision to make for the World Cup but Lynden was definitely one of them because he is always willing to do whatever it takes for the team and he's a good, solid player no matter what position you put him in. We felt that with only 21 spots available for the World Cup, we wanted guys who were more specialists in certain positions.”

Nevertheless, Gooch’s recent performances suggest that he should have been in New Zealand regardless of Ramos’ other options – especially given that he now seems so close to a Premier League breakthrough.

Languishing in 19th-place in the table, Sunderland’s porous defence has been widely pinpointed as the main reason for their struggles so far this season, but the club have also recorded just 111 shots and 165 dribbles in their 11 games, as well as creating only 87 chances - each the fourth-lowest amount in the top-flight.

Allardyce will likely do some customary wheeling and dealing once the January transfer window opens, but until then he is limited for options, and an injection of youth with Gooch alongside fellow fledgling Watmore could be one solution to get the attack going in the meantime.

While capable of playing in a number of advanced positions, as well as deeper in midfield, the teenage American is arguably at his best when operating behind a main striker, and as an impact sub off the bench, he could end up proving a fantastic late-game weapon to begin with.

Though comparisons to US legend Landon Donovan may seem widely outlandish at this stage, the diminutive No. 10 certainly shares a similar physique and playing style to his fellow Californian, but we will not truly know just how good he can be until he gets a chance to prove his worth at a higher level.

Will his first real opportunity come this Saturday against Southampton? Perhaps not, but if he keeps producing for the Under-21s then it should not be long before he joins compatriot DeAndre Yedlin in Allardyce’s first-team plans.

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