Who is Johnny Cardoso? Meet USA’s Brazil-based midfield addition
With Yunus Musah freshly sidelined by a groin injury suffered at his club, Valencia CF, US men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter has called in young Brazilian-American midfielder Johnny Cardoso to fill his spot for this month’s camp.
It’s a major compliment to the 20-year-old, who has been starting regularly for Brazilian power Internacional, with the Porto Alegre-based side sitting in second place in Brazil’s Serie A as their season moves towards its final weeks on a calendar roughly comparable to MLS’s this year. Cardoso has tallied three goals and two assists in 10 appearances for the Colorado (Reds), alternately working as a holding mid, a shuttler and a right-sided midfielder depending on the tactical circumstances.
Berhalter had dropped a hint about Cardoso in a Wednesday media availability following U.S. Soccer’s release of the 26-man September roster, listing him alongside Portland Timbers star Eryk Williamson as central-mid contenders who came close but didn’t quite make the cut.
“At center mid, Johnny Cardoso is playing every week in Brazil and we like what he’s doing. His team’s doing really well,” said the USMNT boss. “Eryk Williamson has come up, a late surge with Portland, he’s been playing, getting back to his good form, so it’s going to be nice to see how he ends the season.”
Cardoso’s full name is Joao Lucas de Souza Cardoso, though the tag “Johnny” – which he’s worn on the back of his USMNT kit – stuck because of his Denville, New Jersey roots. He was born in the north Jersey town while his parents operated a porcelain business in the New York City suburbs, but they moved back to Brazil a few months later.
He already has three US caps, the most recent coming in a December 2021 friendly win over Bosnia and Herzegovina at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. He also figured prominently in the US Under-23 men’s 2020 Olympic qualifying campaign, which was delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic and unfolded unsuccessfully for the young Yanks in Guadalajara, Mexico in March of last year.
U-23s coach Jason Kreis started Cardoso vs. the Dominican Republic and Mexico and used him off the bench vs. Costa Rica and Honduras, the latter of which was a semifinal match that the US needed to win to qualify for Tokyo, but lost 2-1 to Los Catrachos. Cardoso was used in both deep midfield and as a box-to-box No. 8 at that tournament, in which Kreis used the same 4-3-3 formation as the senior team, to decidedly mixed returns.
Cardoso first broke into Inter’s first team in 2020 under the oversight of then-manager Eduardo Coudet, the well-traveled Argentine who played for the Philadelphia Union in 2010 near the end of his playing career and currently coaches Luca de la Torre at Celta de Vigo in Spain’s LaLiga.
A rangy, physical player, Cardoso was moved from striker to center mid earlier in his career as coaches noted his ball security and intelligent reading of the game, though he’s also shown a capacity to contribute to the attack with set-piece headers, long-range shots and timely penalty-box arrivals.
As veteran correspondent Tim Vickery noted in an ESPN profile at the time, when Berhalter extended Cardoso his first invite in November 2020, Cardoso became the first player called into a USMNT camp from a club outside Europe or North America since Cobi Jones (Vasco da Gama) in 1996. As an early arrival to that camp in Cardiff, Wales, Cardoso was treated to some one-on-one training work with Berhalter and his staff:
“Johnny is a brave boy, if you think about it,” said Berhalter. “He doesn’t speak perfect English, he’s 19 years old, he’s had the farthest to travel to get here. But he’s still embracing everything and taking everything in stride. He’s a great person, very good player.”
Firsthand observations like that, combined with Cardoso’s current club form, have led the USMNT staff to bring him in as another option in the center of the park. The Yanks subtly tweaked their shape and responsibilities in that area in their last gathering, June’s quartet of friendlies and Concacaf Nations League matches, in search of sturdier protection for the back four and more effective distribution in possession buildouts.
“You can tell that he plays in Brazil; he’s a street-smart player,” noted Berhalter of Cardoso back in 2020. “Any type of physical battle, no matter who he’s going against, he can deal with, no matter what his size is. He’s quick on the ball – you can tell he’s in an environment where they value the ball, where you have to take care of the ball, and where you have to play quickly.”