Johnny Cardoso: The USMNT Midfielder Making an Instant Impact at Real Betis

Since falling to Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa Conference League knockout round playoffs, Real Betis’ form has taken a turn for the worse: apart from a 3-1 win vs. an Athletic Club side that played the final hour with 10 men, Betis have picked up just one point from their last five. They sit eighth in the table, two points behind Valencia, three above Osasuna and seven behind sixth-placed Real Sociedad, and they are in danger of missing out on European football for the first time since Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment in the summer of 2020.


Despite their recent struggles, one player whose stock has risen dramatically for the Verdiblancos is Johnny Cardoso. Born in Denville Township, New Jersey to Brazilian parents, Cardoso left the United States when he was three years old and headed to Brazil, developing at lower-tier sides Criciúma and Avaí before moving to Internacional’s academy in 2014. He would spend five years in the youth ranks before making his professional debut on September 15, 2019 in a 3-1 win vs. Atlético Mineiro, becoming a key cog in midfield and racking up 144 appearances for the Colorado.



The United States took note of his impressive displays, calling him up to the U-23 camp in 2019 before giving him a senior debut in 2020, and it was only a matter of time before Europe’s top sides did the same. On December 27, 2023, Real Betis announced the signing of Cardoso on a five-year contract for a fee of $6.3 million. After a busy transfer window that saw Borja Iglesias and Juanmi loaned out, Luiz Henrique secure a big-money move to Botafogo, and club legend Andrés Guardado depart for León on a free transfer, Cardoso has locked down a place in Pellegrini’s first team and emerged as a regular in midfield.


Today, we’re using data to take a deep look at Cardoso’s impressive form at the Estadio Benito Villamarín. Players having played a minimum of 2-90s to a maximum of 7-90s in the midfield have been taken for comparisons. Data used in the visualization haven been taken from FBRef and the data indication for Cardoso has been highlighted in gold for easy identification. This methodology has been applied for all the visualizations used in this article. 



At 22, the American international stands at 182cm (5’9”) is considerably tall and physically attributed. With long balls and positioning being the 22-year-old’s major strengths, the Betis man brings stability and secureness to the Los Verdiblancos. Johnny plays behind the attacking line and above the defensive line acting as a defensive midfielder or a pivot based on the ball situation. 


Showing class and character when being played on either side of the pitch in both attacking and defensive contributions has been the key for him to have become an integral part of the team as a starter with just 11 games played. The endurance to play at a higher intensity for the entire game along with his agility to fight for every single play has been wonderful giving him more experience and a chance to develop his decision-making and football IQ. The footballer can be found in the entire midfield region is not surprising with the elements the midfielder possesses. 



Even though the 22-year-old has more presence in the midfield, he has an equal amount of contribution in the final third. Cardoso has a beautiful right foot which helped him get his first La Liga goal against Athletic Club from outside the goal with a stunning strike. Cardoso always makes him available on the edge of the box giving his team an extra option to find the back of the net, which was the exact set in his first goal for the club.


Cardoso boasts a combination of technique and bravery with and without the ball — he has been selfless on many occasions feeding the ball to another player in a better position than him, but this has made him vulnerable as he often falls into the trap of reading passes by the opponents. 


He has to work on making crucial passes with his weak foot and work even more on his shooting technique. The American has an admirable shooting technique with his favourite foot and that is only when he is left open when applied pressure the USMNT international seems to be disrupted and let his shots fly high at ease.



The 22-year-old has been impressive with his bravery and intelligence to hold on to the ball when applied pressure. He has been excellent in positioning, always moving in a favourable direction to generate space for himself to advance into position to make line-breaking long passes. Cardoso is a well-established player who announces his territory in possession by making rapid passes to set up a threat-creating position.


He is a physical and brave player, allowing him to make dribbles and get past opponents with venom. Cardoso does not have an orthodox dribbling technique, but his skillset has made miracles when it comes to dribbling and making breaking the lines passes. He has been a prominent threat creating player in the middle third and final third in almost every aspect of the game considering one-two passes, laying off, through balls and long balls.


Switching plays at the appropriate time is what the American international lacks in the build-up. Holding the ball on one side of the pitch for too long and allowing opponents to apply pressure causes him to lose the ball in tight situations, resulting in a counterattack for the opposition. Failing to switch play or releasing the ball at the right time when pressurized has caused little problems that could have been costly for Cardoso’s side which is one major area of concerns in the 22-year-old’s game. 



Cardoso has been more effective and productive in terms of defensive contribution; his positioning and football IQ have been key factors for him to set himself up for every play of the game. The fact that he puts his body on line to win back every ball shows the level of determination and bravery, he puts his body on the line for every tackle to win back the ball. He uses his ball knowledge to come away with the ball in 50-50 challenges, reading the game perfectly to seize every opportunity to sneak in for passes and blocks.


He does not shy away from making tackles, his timing to put in the tackle has made it difficult for players to run past him. His IQ to make the duel to his advantage by making the attacker take an extra touch before bringing in the challenge or tackle has been my personal favourite quality of the USMNT star, a point to note is that off 8 games so far, the starlet has given away only 8 fouls. Cardoso makes himself big and uses his physicality to his advantage for aerial duels and he has been successful in more than 75% of his attempted duels, this number is possible only if the player is in the best position to leap in for the challenge. 



The above picture is an example of how well the USMNT international understands the game and executes his knowledge. Cardoso appears to leave his man in front of him, enabling him to receive the ball, but as the ball is played, he covers the ground before his centre back to clear the ball, preventing it from reaching the opponent. Cardoso shows excellent ball reading ability and his positioning helps him make complete the challenge successfully. 


Cardoso is an extremely hard worker willing to put his body on the line. Showing class, character, and leadership qualities in the field. He possesses incredible quality in both attacking and defending contributions that need to improve in certain key areas like shooting ability, the necessity to release the ball and avoid tight situations, switching the area of play and most of all, keeping himself injury-free in order to take his game to the next level.


He still needs game time to increase in experience and his IQ and make him a more dangerous threat with the ball, but at 22, he is already emerging as a vital defensive midfielder who can help stabilize the backline and link together midfield and attack. Cardoso has only racked up 11 appearances for the US men’s national team — six in friendlies and five in the CONCACAF Nations League group stage — but the way he’s playing, don’t be surprised if Gregg Berhalter calls him up for this summer’s Copa América in the United States.


By: Sive Vishwa / @sive_vishwa

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / John Dorton / ISI Photos / USSF / Getty Images