USMNT starlet Malik Tillman is DOMINATING for Rangers - but his future for club and country is far from certain

Tillman Rangers 2023
The American starlet has made the most of his time in Scotland on loan from Bayern Munich, but what's next for him is anyone's guess

For a player who is placing so many questions, Malik Tillman is looking more and more like a sure thing.

The 20-year-old U.S. men's national team starlet has taken a leap this season while on loan with Rangers. Maybe not THE leap, at least not yet, but it has been a leap nonetheless. In his first real season of senior soccer, Tillman now has double-digit goals. A good haul, for sure, for a player still very much a newcomer to the top levels of the game.

But Tillman's success in Scotland brings more questions than answers and, heading into a busy summer for club and country, the American's future remains uncertain.

At club level, Tillman's loan at Ibrox is nearing its end and his career can go any which way once it does this summer. Rangers want him back, obviously, but - given his success - a return to Bayern Munich may be on the cards, especially if new manager Thomas Tuchel wants a closer look.

As for the USMNT, it'll be a busy summer considering the program is staring down both the Nations League final and the Gold Cup. It is believed that two different squads will be called in for those two different competitions. Will Tillman make either and, regardless of which, how does he fit into the USMNT's present and future?

Tillman and Rangers are set to face Celtic this weekend, putting the young American under the spotlight once again in Scottish soccer's biggest rivalry. And, heading towards the end of the season, that spotlight will intensify on a player who will certainly be one to watch for fans on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

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  1. Plenty of games, plenty of goals

    Plenty of games, plenty of goals

    After making seven total appearances for Bayern during the 2021-22 season, Tillman was loaned to Rangers for the ongoing campaign. The Scottish giants could offer him first-team minutes, something that is near impossible for young players to come by in an always-competitive Bayern squad.

    He's had plenty of game time, too, featuring 25 times in the league, nine times in the Champions League and five times in the cup for 39 total appearances across all competitions. Tillman, though, hasn't just been playing; he's been one of Rangers' best performers all season long.

    Tillman's 10 league goals are good for third in the Rangers' squad, with only Antonio-Mirko Colak and James Tavernier scoring more with 13 apiece. Tavernier, however, has scored eight of those goals from the penalty spot, making Tillman the club's second-leading scorer from open play.

  2. An uncertain club future
    Getty Images

    An uncertain club future

    We know Tillman's loan spell at Rangers ends this summer. What we don't know is what will happen when it does end.

    Rangers, for what it's worth, are very interested in keeping him. They reportedly have a £5 million ($6.2m) clause that would allow them to purchase Tillman, and manager Michael Beale says they intend to activate it.

    “[Director of Football] Ross [Wilson] is away in the background speaking to Bayern,” said Beale.

    “They have obviously had a change of coach, but we want to activate the clause that we got. There are discussions about that, but he has been really good for us."

    Beale hinted at the interesting part of this potential saga: Bayern's change of coach. And what makes that part matter is that, even if Rangers activate their clause, Bayern reportedly hold one that would allow them to buy Tillman right back.

    Tillman could be welcomed back to Bayern under Tuchel, who would surely like to make his own decisions about the club's young stars. Having impressed in Scotland, Tillman may be a player that Tuchel would want to work closely with as Bayern usher in a new era under the former Chelsea boss.

    You can also add in the uncertainty around two of Bayern's attacking options - Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry. Sane will be entering the final year of his deal next season, while Gnabry has been linked with a move away from Bayern for some time. Should the club move on without either, Tillman could be an in-house option to slot into their current roles.

    All of that adds up to an intriguing summer for Tillman, who could still end up at Rangers, Bayern or elsewhere, should another club pay up to sign the American star. You wouldn't be surprised if a Bundesliga loan was also an attractive option for Die Roten.

  3. Tillman's in USMNT limbo...

    Tillman's in USMNT limbo...

    When Tillman announced his intention to make a one-time switch to represent the USMNT, many thought he would be guaranteed a World Cup spot. As it turns out, that wasn't the case.

    Tillman instead became one for the future rather than the present, but that future is coming up faster than many thought, even if his initial take-off didn't go quite as expected.

    The Rangers star has earned four USMNT caps so far, all of which have come off the bench. In fact, he's only played 108 total minutes in a USMNT shirt as the U.S. prioritized its World Cup-bound stars - understandably; prior to the roster selection, Tillman had scored just two of his 10 league goals.

    He's a whole new player now though, having grown in a big way at Rangers. However, he missed the most recent USMNT camp, the team's first at full strength since Qatar, due to a slight injury. However, the knock wasn't bad enough to keep him out for Rangers as he's scored three goals since that squad was announced.

    Heading into a busy summer that includes both the Gold Cup and Nations League, it remains to be seen where Tillman will end up. He's certainly earned a call-up, but the U.S. hasn't yet made it clear how it will approach the two competitions, although two different squads are expected to contest each one.

    As for where he fits on the field for the USMNT...

  4. Tillman's best position?

    Tillman's best position?

    With Rangers, Tillman has been playing as an attacking midfiedler, something of a No.10 behind Colak or star striker Alfredo Morelos. It's likely his best position, although Tillman is certainly versatile.

    He can play centrally as a No.10 or a No.8, or he can he be deployed out wide if needed, with that seemingly his best chance of breaking into the USMNT line-up. Additionally, there was even talk that he could even start up top at one point for the U.S., given his history as a striker.

    Gregg Berhalter, meanwhile, was quick to praise Tillman's versatility when he was originally called in last year.

    “I think he’s an attacking midfielder in a 3-4-2-1, he could be a pocket winger in a 4-3-3, could be a center mid in a 4-3-3, depending on if he can get his defensive work up to it,” Berhalter said. “But he’s really talented between the lines, really natural with scoring goals, good and calm around the penalty box.

    "Good technique, good with both feet, so a really interesting player.”

    With all of that said, it's tough see what Tillman's best path onto the field is given the current USMNT options ahead of him.

    On the wing, the U.S. has plenty of talent in Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson and Alejandro Zendejas headlining that group. As a No.8, he'd be competing with the MMA midfield of Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, as well as Luca de la Torre, who is just on the fringes of that starting unit. The two positions are, arguably, the most set in stone for the USMNT. That's where the stars are.

    Perhaps, though, Tillman's best chance at seeing the field will be as a No.10, which interim coach Anthony Hudson experimented with in the Nations League. With Adams out, Hudson stuck Reyna in midfield to give him a bit more license to create centrally, rather than the usual 4-3-3. Results were mixed, for sure, but it's easy to imagine a lineup with Tillman in that role with, say, McKennie and Adams behind him.

    This will all be something for the next USMNT coach to figure out but, as things stand, Tillman's versatility should be an asset to the USMNT, even if it does make it less clear what starting spot he could be gunning for in the immediate future.

  5. What comes next?

    What comes next?

    There are still at least four games left in Rangers' season, and Tillman has a chance to end that season with his hands on a trophy.

    Gers are nine points behind Celtic with just three games left to play, making a challenge for the Scottish title all but impossible. In the end, Rangers dropped a few too many points this season, with Celtic ceding just four from their 30 matches so far in this campaign.

    Still, Tillman and co. will be eager to delay the title celebrations this weekend at Celtic Park. This is the Old Firm, after all.

    Rangers could also exact some revenge on April 30 when the two sides face off in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup. The winner of that clash will be all but guaranteed the trophy, with Championship side Inverness Caledonian Thistle and League One's Falkirk playing out the other semi-final.

    A cup success would make finishing second this season a bit easier to swallow for Rangers fans, and it would also give Tillman the perfect ending to what has been a good loan spell in Scotland. What happens after is anyone's guess, but, with or without a trophy, Tillman's time with Rangers has been exactly what he's needed.