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Looking at Gooch: What next season could mean for our American youngster

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Lynden Gooch has been in and out of the Sunderland setup in the last year, suffering an injury setback six months ago, but now he’s back - is his best yet to come?

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Manchester City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Lynden Gooch has a big year ahead of him. Last year he threatened to have his breakthrough season under David Moyes in the Premier League, featuring in twelve games in the first three months of the 16/17 season, before his ankle injury ruled him out of action in November. He was arguably our best player in the 2-1 away defeat to City on the opening day of last season and looked ready to stake an unlikely place in our first team.

However, after he returned to full fitness in February it became clear he had seemingly fell out of favour with David Moyes and subsequently he fell down the pecking order. Moyes preferred the ineffectual Borini and Januzaj in wide-midfield roles in the second half of last season, and this left no room for Gooch to continue his development.

Relegation to the Championship was a huge blow for the club last season but the light at the end of the tunnel has already started to burn brightly. Simon Grayson has come in with more positivity than Moyes could muster over the course of a whole season, the deadwood is slowly but surely being moved on and signings that have been mooted seem to align with Grayson's tactics (imagine that!).

AFC Bournemouth v Sunderland - Premier League
Gooch has shown his passion for Sunderland on more than one occasion.
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

The other thing that relegation brings with it is an opportunity for the club's youngsters to prove their worth to a new manager. Simon Grayson has proven throughout his career that if you're good enough to play for him, you're old enough. The same could not be said about David Moyes last season, who kept faith with experienced players like Pienaar even when it was clear they were not justifying their starting berth.

This upcoming season under a new manager is an opportunity that Lynden Gooch needs to grasp with both hands. He seems to have the right mentality for a youngster - ambitious but grounded - and most importantly, seems willing to work hard on the training pitch and during games to maximise his potential.

Gooch has worked hard to come through the ranks at Sunderland's Academy - harder than most in fact. This is because from the age of ten, Gooch spent all his school holidays travelling back from his native California to the Academy of Light. He gave up the chance to spend his summers in California to put in hard hours on the training pitch in Sunderland. If that isn't testament to his drive and determination then I don't know what is.

He worked his way through the U16, U18, U21, and U23 teams, playing various different positions for the club’s youth sides. He is capable of playing a wide midfield role on either flank or an advanced central midfield role.

Grayson has even opted to play Gooch as a centre-forward with the license to drop back into midfield in two of Sunderland’s pre-season friendlies so far. This is unlikely to be where Gooch ends up playing for Sunderland next season – particularly in the light of James Vaughan’s signing – but it is an indication of just how versatile the American youngster is.

Gooch is a dynamic player with plenty of pace, power, and energy in his locker. In fact, when he first broke into the team in the first month of last season, the Telegraph ran an article on the 20 fastest Premier league players. Gooch came second behind Shane Long after clocking an impressive 21.87mph in the first three games of the 16/17 season.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League
Gooch fighting to win possession vs Boro last season
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

He may have a stocky, muscular build but he is deceptively fast, and he certainly used his pace in the few opportunities he had in the Premier League last season, both in an attacking sense and defensively too. He regularly attempted to beat the full-back for pace last year when in possession, and when out of possession he harried and pressed opponents to try to force them into mistakes. He may sometimes be too forceful in his attempts to win possession back (he picked up a yellow in each of his first three Premier League appearances) but his style of play certainly endears him to the Sunderland crowd.

He is an industrious attacking player as opposed to a more skillful forward like new signing Aiden McGeady, for example. But the two would dovetail perfectly together, with Gooch harrying opposition midfielders to win the ball back high up the pitch and give possession to a player like McGeady or Khazri who will (hopefully) make magic happen.

After the Man City game last August, the Sunderland Echo praised Gooch's "energy, fearlessness and endeavour". We'll need that in abundance next season to give us any chance of a promotion bid. In my opinion, Gooch is ready to step up and justify a first-team spot in the Championship next season.

One thing is for certain – he will work hard to make that first-team position his own.